Cannes Was All About Death, or Maybe Grandmothers; Money Anyway
``what was it all about?'' Was there a dominant theme to this year's Cannes Film Festival? Did anything unite a slate of films that differed wildly in language, intent and quality?
Judging by the prize winners, death, grieving and family breakdown have been to the fore. The winners of almost all the major prizes featured a storyline including one or more of the above. Only ``Persepolis'' by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, joint winner of the Jury Prize, mixed humor with tragedy.
Although I suppose Best Director winner Julian Schnabel's ``Le Scaphandre et le Papillon,'' about a completely paralyzed man who writes a book, may be seen as uplifting. There are so many ways to carry out this exercise that it's possible to find whatever theme you want.
The wisdom of grandmothers? ``Persepolis,'' ``Alexandra'' and ``Une Vieille Maitresse'' offer that in spades. How about films bent on provoking governments? Michael Moore was characteristically out to get Washington in ``Sicko,'' Satrapi tried hard to play down the irate Iranian response to ``Persepolis'' and the late-arriving documentary ``Rebellion: The Litvinenko Case'' is bound to cause consternation in the Kremlin.
The conflict in Chechnya was prominent in the Litvinenko documentary and ``Alexandra,'' and pole- and lap-dancing featured in too many films to mention.
You could even consider as a theme ``things that actress Asia Argento is prepared to put in her mouth.'' In ``Une Vieille Maitresse,'' it's the blood of her lover-to-be, injured after a duel. In Abel Ferrara's ``Go Go Tales,'' it's her pet Rottweiler's tongue. I didn't get to see ``Boarding Gate,'' the third film she was in at Cannes, but I suspect she must nibble a peanut or something.
Ferrara's ``Go Go Tales,'' a special presentation out of competition, rivaled Harmony Korine's ``Mr. Lonely'' (in the Un Certain Regard section of more independent films) for the wildest casting. Korine had German art-house director Werner Herzog as a priest, alongside James Fox as the Pope and 1960s ingenue Anita Pallenberg as Queen Elizabeth II.
Ferrara cast Pallenberg as an aging night-club hostess, Willem Dafoe as the singing club manager and veteran U.K. character actor Roy Dotrice as his Irish accountant sidekick.
``Go Go Tales'' is pretty good. It's a weird, yet original tale of a seedy lap-dancing club in Manhattan that faces closure if Dafoe and Dotrice can't pull off a lottery-ticket scam that will pay off the building's owner before she sells the site to be developed into a department store. Argento's unusual routine with her big dog is oddball enough, though it's Matthew Modine's singing act with his lap dog in the staff talent show that out- weirds the rest.
The film is Ferrara's love song to the American dream -- a paean to the little guy who pulls off the big one after never giving up. The much-talked-about ``Death Proof,'' by Quentin Tarantino, is also a love song to America, only it looks at the trashier side.
``Death Proof'' isn't as bad as some say it is, and not as good as others would have it. The film portrays a deranged stuntman, played by Kurt Russell, who uses his reinforced car to murder a quartet of women he met in a bar. He tries the same trick again. Only this time, two of the trio of women in the car are also stunt performers, and they gain bloody revenge.
European movie fans haven't seen ``Grindhouse,'' the double feature from which ``Death Proof'' was extracted and lengthened. Tarantino has said that he and Robert Rodriguez cut back their two films ``beyond the bone'' to keep the ``Grindhouse'' running time down. Watching the over-long ``Death Proof'' after research into what has been added (it now runs over two hours), my best guess is that the original time of around 90 minutes would have been the way to go.
Cristian Nemescu's ``California Dreamin','' which took the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section, also deals with America, though this time as an alien power. The U.S. is both repellent and attractive to the villagers in a small Romanian town where a train carrying NATO equipment to the peacekeeping forces in the former Yugoslavia is waylaid by a corrupt and hostile station master.
Cannes, at email@example.com