This Year
Cannes Film Festival
feature by Gregory Avery, 5 May 2000

The opening night film, Vatel, will bring Gerard Depardieu back to the Festival, where he won a Best Actor award for his turn as Cyrano de Bergerac. It will also hopefully be an improvement over the director Roland Joffé's last film, Goodbye Lover (the screening will be preceded by the showing of a new short film by the great Jean-Luc Godard, On the Origins of the 21st Century). Since the opening film is traditionally shown out-of-competition, the slugfest for prizes won't start in earnest until the next day, May 11. And there looks to be some contenders.  

From the U.S., there's the Coen brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou? (a Depression-era prison break comedy -- and it's a musical, too!); The Yards, James Gray's first film since his highly-regarded 1995 picture Little Odessa; and former B.Y.U. classmate Neil Labute's black comedy Nurse Betty. British director Ken Loach's Bread and Roses is set in the Latino community of Los Angeles and concerns labor strife in the city during the 1980s. Israeli director Amos Kitaï, whose 1999 film on religious orthodoxy, Kaddosh, became a love-it-or-hate-it film, will be showing his newest, Kippur. Trolösa is a domestic drama directed by Liv Ullmann from an original screenplay by Ingmar Bergman. Samirah Makhmalbaf, the twenty-year-old daughter of Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf (director of The White Balloon), will be showing her second film, Takhte Siah (initially translated as The Black Picture, making it sound like it will be something like a film noir, but actually translating as The Blackboard). James Ivory's film of the Henry James novel The Golden Bowl will be presented (setting the stage for Uma Thurman, who appears in both Vatel and Ivory's film, to be this year's la belle de festival), along with new pictures by Michael Haneke, who previously made the hair-raising Funny Games, and Arnaud Despleshin, whose new film, Esther Kahn, will the French-director's first English-language film.

Everyone is going to want to have a look at Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark. Von Trier, who initiated the Dogma 95 school of filmmaking, has turned around and made a new film in which the singer and songwriter Björk plays a factory worker in the American Midwest who periodically breaks into song. There are musical numbers, and Catherine Deneuve plays a woman who works at the factory alongside Björk's character. Von Trier is supposed to have filmed the whole thing using unobtrusive fiber-optic cameras, but how this film fits in with the Dogma school's "vow of chastity" -- sound must never be produced apart from the images, only hand-held cameras may be used, no optical effects or filters, no special lighting, and, also, NO GENRE FILMS (and musicals are considered to be a genre) -- remains to be seen. 

The pictures will also be long. two hrs. three mins; two hrs. twenty; two hrs. forty-four; two hrs. thirty-five; two hrs. fifty-five; three hrs. If you had problems sitting through The Green Mile or Magnolia last Christmas, think again: Japanese director Shinji Aoyama's Eureka is listed with a running time of three hours and thirty-seven minutes. This can create a terrible problem, especially for a filmmaker, because the seats in the Palais' auditoriums make a particular "snapping" sound when people get up to leave before the showing's over. A newborn film's reputation has risen or fallen depending on the occurrence of "the snapping effect" once the lights have dimmed and the screening has started.

But the two most intriguing films this year are from Asian directors (three, if you count Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai's new film, which is currently being called Untitled), along with a series of films to be shown en annexe to the Festival. Very positive word-of-mouth has already preceded Chinese director Jiang Wen's During That War, about Chinese citizens who shelter Japanese soldiers during World War Two -- a highly volatile and perilous situation, given that the Imperial Army killed hundreds of Chinese civilians when it invaded the mainland, and send others to a camp where they became subjects of medical experimentation.

Nagisa Oshima's Gohatto (Taboo) is the director's first feature film in almost fifteen years. After making the absurdist comedy Max Mon Amor, in 1986, Oshima spent years trying to do a film, Hollywood Zen, about the silent film stars Rudolph Valentino and Sessue Hayakawa. While traveling through London's Heathrow Airport, Oshima collapsed in public, having suffered a stroke. Gohatto is his first feature film following his recovery. It is a samurai drama, it has homosexual themes, it features "Beat" Takeshi Kitano in a supporting role, and it is said to be visually ravishing.

The organization CCAS will also be holding, during the festival, an event celebrating women artists on the eve of the "third millennium," and which will spotlight the work of Alice Guy. Guy directed 229 films between 1896 and 1920, produced twelve (from 1911 - 1916), and set up her own production companies in both France and the U.S. However, her place as the first woman film director has often been eclipsed in the history books in favor of Dorothy Arzner, who did not make her first film until seven years after Guy retired from directing.

Out-of-competition, there will be showings at the Palais of new films by John Waters (his long-awaited Hollywood satire Cecil B. Demented), Barbara Kopple (A Conversation With Gregory Peck, with Peck himself in attendance), Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, with Chow Yun-Fat and Michele Yeoh), and Darren Aronovsky (Requiem for a Dream, his first film since Pi). Yes, the Dave Stewart who is credited with directing Honest is the same one who performs with Annie Lennox in Eurythmics. Under Suspicion, with Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman, turns out to be a remake of Claude Miller's Garde a Vue, an excellent 1981 police drama and psychological thriller. And the closing night film will be Canadian director Denys Arcand's Stardom. It was said that the Festival tried to get Mission: Impossible 2 for this position, but, given what happened when the 1998 Festival closed with the remake of Godzilla, the Arcand film might be a better choice.

Films sunning themselves in the cool, non-competitive air of the sidebar programs will include new works by Rodrigo Garcia (Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her), Hugh Hudson (I Dreamed of Africa, with Kim Basinger), Griffin Dunne (Famous), Arturo Ripstein (Such is Life), and Tran Ahn Hung (Vertical in the Summer), in Un Certain Regard. In the International Critics Week, Frank Novak's film Good Housekeeping has been described as a family drama with the look of "an interiors magazine designed by Robert Crumb"; while Melvin van Peebles, who made his first film, The Story of a Three-Day Pass (1968), in France, will be premiering his new digitally-made feature, Le Conte de Ventre Plein (A Belly-Full of a Story), during an electronically-facilitated "encounter" with festivalgoers. (Bernardo Bertolucci, who has been designated as "sponsor" of this year's Critics Week, will have a non-digital showing of his debut feature, the wonderful 1962 Before the Revolution, about a young activist who suffers from a "nostalgia for the present.")

The Directors' Fortnight has snagged some major films for inclusion in its program, including Girlfight, the picture which shared the Grand Jury prize at Sundance last January; Elias Merhige's Shadow of the Vampire (formerly called Burned in Light), with John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe in a fictionalized account of the making of F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu; and The Werckmeister Harmonies, the new film by Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr, director of the legendary Satantango. Seven new films by first-time French directors, including Virginie Wagon, one of the co-screenwriters of The Dreamlife of Angels, will be shown. The late Robert Bresson will also be putting in an appearance, in the form of a short filmed interview that will be shown before the Fortnight's opening screening; and there will also be a showing of the recent interview, for Swedish television, with Ingmar Bergman and Erland Josephson, during which Bergman stated he was "completely indifferent" over whether he continued to live into old age or not.

Conspicuous in their absence from any of the Festival's programs: Terence Davies' The House of Mirth, his film of the Edith Wharton novel starring Gillian Anderson; and Benoît Jacquot's Sade, with Daniel Auteuil, the first of two films coming out this year about the Marquis de Sade.

Of course, the best films of all may be none of these, a completely unknown quantity which will seem to come out of nowhere. That's why people go to film festivals, or to films in the first place, to be completely surprised, stunned, awed, and delighted.

So, this May, starlets will once again continue to rip off their clothes by the seaside for the obliging cameras (a quaint custom started by aspiring actress Simone Sylva, in 1954). The new Palais, which replaced the old one in 1983, will continue to be referred to as "the bunker" (for its monolithically block-like architectural style). Critics and journalists will dash dizzyingly from one screening to another, around the specters of Romy Schneider and Alain Delon walking down the Croisette, Claudia Cardinale walking a leopard on a leash, Maurice Chevalier leading a "parade of stars" through town, Jean Cocteau tête-à-tête with Yul Brynner over whether the actor would like to appear in a little film Cocteau was thinking of making called The Testament of Orpheus; where Gina and Sophia exchanged a frosty glance or two as they passed each other by, Jayne could be seen wending her way through crowds while clutching two of her beloved pet chihuahuas in each hand, and two blond goddesses named Kim and Brigitte could be seen, in the crosslights, atop the mere de rouge of the Palais; and where Nastassja Kinski could be seen looking oddly excited by the crush of photographers and press swamping her after a showing of The Moon in the Gutter.

And all this could transform, or not, come next year. The change in Festival directorship should not be taken lightly. In 1997, Felice Laudadio took over as director of the Venice Film Festival, held every September, and his attempt to strike out in a bold, new direction almost wrecked the event, which was in danger of extinction once before, in the early Seventies. Critics and audiences leaving the screenings in Venice that year complained that the films were of highly variable quality; and that some of the ones that were shown not only weren't up to Festival standards, they weren't even very good films to begin with. (Niagara Niagara, a sort-of cross between David and Lisa and Badlands, was a love story between a manic-depressive girl who goes off her medication and a boy with Tourette's syndrome; The Vesuvians featured a talking crow who quoted from the works of Karl Marx, just like the one in Pasolini's film Hawks and Sparrows.) The discontent spread even further the following year, with the film that was chosen to receive the Lione d'Oro, Gianni Amelio's The Way We Smiled (which may or may not have had an effect on the film's getting a U.S. distributor). The Venice fest looked to be in danger of foundering and sinking below the waves to where the Moscow Film Festival now resides. But, before the 1998 Festival had barely begun, Laudadio announced that he was not putting himself in the running for the post of Festival director for the coming year (directors for the Venice festival are chosen by election). The following year, a new director was chosen, the film programming got better, and all was well once more. Festivals, like fresh eggs, require careful handling.

Who will be succeeding Gilles Jacob as director of the Cannes festival? We won't know until June, but it won't be Olivier Barrot. The journalist and T.V. producer, who recently joined the Festival Organization in the capacity of "consultant," was referred to as le dauphin by the French press who widely expected him to take Jacob's place as the new Festival Director. Barrot was not present at the April 18 press conference in Paris where Jacob announced the fifty-third Festival's lineup, and, when pressed on the matter, Jacob acknowledged, "Yes, he has gone away from us." But this year's first tempest-in-a-teapot didn't really get started until April 25, when Barrot, in his own statement, claimed that he had been forced out of his job, in a "brutal and unilateral manner," for reasons that, he said, "have not been brought to my knowledge."Did he jump, or was he pushed? The newspaper Le Monde speculated that there would now be a veritable frenzy of contenders trying to get their hands on the chance to run what has become the biggest film festival in the world.

But that, again, won't be until June. For now, during the next several weeks, stars, filmmakers, producers, distributors, journalists, would-be's and wanna-be's will be scrambling to prepare for several days in which, as the venerable Rex Reed put it, one's priorities consist almost entirely of the following: "[Y]ou...put on your glasses, take an Excedrin, and head for the movies." Or, there's the way movie executive Irwin Shapiro, in 1987, described his outlook on the perennial event: "It has expanded, it has changed, it has been alive and it takes place in the south of France and it is spring." C'est ça.

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