Friday, May 28, 2010

Cannes Afterglow

SERIES: Major Film Festivals

Joe the Director

By many accounts, the 63rd International Cannes Film Festival took place on the Croissette seemingly under a cloud of gloom. The Festival showed fewer films than last year, there were less Americans attending, the American movies they did screen were mostly disappointing, and the buyers at the film market were not buying as in previous years. They were carefully choosing only one, or perhaps two, films.

The economic downturn that hit the U.S. in October 2008 didn't impact the Festival much last year because many films for the festival were either finished or completely financed, but financing was dropping by this time last year, and productions in Hollywood began to decline sharply. Then, the Euro fell against the dollar this past fall and studio budgets around the world shrank. Generous funding for those "maybe hits," elaborate open-bar festival parties, and unlimited promotional trips took a beating.

Every festival this year has seen a decline in festival budgets, attendance and revenue, and why should Cannes be an exception? Of course, Cannes was also impacted by that unpronounceable Icelandic volcano. Many who may have attended didn't because of unpredictable travel plans. We must wait until the festivals of 2011 to see if this downward pattern continues.

This year, the films at Cannes seemed to mirror the gloomy mood. Roger Ebert's review of this year's Cannes International Festival on Roger Ebert's Journal is basically short and concise[film titles changed to match my style], "Of the first ANTICHRIST screening [last year], I wrote: "There's electricity in the air. Every seat is filled, even the little fold-down seats at the end of every row. This year, I saw some good films, but felt little electricity. The opening night fun of [last year's] UP was replaced by the drudgery of ROBIN HOOD. I was in awe of Mike Leigh's ANOTHER YEAR and the South African LIFE ABOVE ALL, but not much else."

I haven't read anyone who has captured the mood and the films of this year's Festival so concisely and straightforward as has Ebert. Many writing about the festival often used adjectives when referring to films at Cannes like, brooding, plodding, downer, dark, muddled, etc.

Some did not understand the Palm d'or winner, UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES, either. Of the film Ebert writes, "I felt affection and respect for it, but no passion." I shall not reveal his reasoning for that, but you can click the title of the post and read it for yourself. The movie is about a man as he is dying. Adjective? Morose?

I shall reveal that the Thai director, Apichatpong Weerasethak, asked festival goers to call him, "Joe." So, now, we have Joe the Plummer and Joe the Director.

The jury prize (second place) went to A SCREAMING MAN, a film from Chad directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun. It's about a man who was the swimming champ of central Africa years before the film begins, and who now rules in his handsome uniform over the swimming pool at a fancy hotel. When he is replaced by a younger man he loses his identity. Ebert compared it to Murnau's THE LAST LAUGH, and that says everything as to how he feels about this one.

Ebert did not care for Mathieu Amalric's TOURNEE (On Tour), the story of a failed TV producer touring France with a troupe of American burlesque performers, and not because the strippers were past the first blush of youth. Ebert feels there are flaws in the film which make him question Amalric's award for Best Director.

From the feedback I have received from people who were a Cannes, those who viewed TOURNEE thoroughly enjoyed it, but the critics who wrote about it were not as generous. Most would agree with Ebert that TOURNEE leaves loose ends that do not come together. However, Amalric's film strippers joined him on the stage to collect his award and the crowd loved it.

So, Cannes this year was not the sparkling jewel of past festivals, and neither have many festivals been this year. Even the Gulf Film Festival in Abu Dhabi slashed its budget. In this age of instant world-wide electronic communication (streaming video, pod casts, webcams, etc.), the day of the lavish film festivals may be drawing to a close. Something else may be evolving where the film community can come together. Skype, anyone?

To access Roger Ebert's Journal and see more about films at Cannes this year, click title of this post.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Surprise Best Picture Winner at Cannes

SERIES: Major Film Festivals

A film from Thailand received the top Best Picture Palm d'or (golden palm) at the 63rd Cannes International Film Festival's gala awards ceremony today in France. UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES (Lung Boonmee Raluek Chat) took the top honor for director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Remember that, if you can. Needless to say, the win took many by surprise. The director won the third-place jury prize at Cannes with TROPICAL MALADY (2004).

UNCLE BOONMEE deals with the final days of a man, a father, dying of kidney failure as the ghost of his dead wife returns to tend him, and his long-lost son comes home in the form of a furry jungle spirit.

Academy Award winners, French actress Juliette Binoche and Spanish actor Javier Bardem, received best-actor honors. However, Bardem shared his award with Italian actor Elio Germano who received the honor for his role in Italian filmmaker Daniele Luchetti's OUR LIFE, a drama about a father, a widower, with three sons.

Binoche, who is featured on this year's Festival Official Poster [above], won her best-actress Oscar for THE ENGLISH PATIENT, and won the Festival award for her role in CERTIFIED COPY, directed by past Palme d'or winner Abbas Kiarostami.

The second-place grand prize (Grand Prix) in the best film category went to French director Xavier Beauvois' solemn drama OF GODS AND MEN, based on the true story of seven French monks beheaded during Algeria's civil war in 1996, received the second-place grand prize. They were monks, so they probably weren't fathers.

Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's film A SCREAMING MAN received the third-place Jury Prize. Again, it's a tragic father. This father loses his cherished job as a swimming pool attendant to his son amid his country's civil war, which brings on tragic consequences.

French filmmaker and actor Mathieu Amalric won the directing award for ON TOUR, in which he plays the manager of a troupe of American burlesque strippers performing around France. His five stripper stars joined him onstage, at his request, as he accepted his award.

South Korean director Lee Chang-dong, won the best screenplay award for POETRY. A grandmother (Yun Junghee) struggles to write a poem as she copes with the onset of Alzheimer's and her troublesome grandson.

The Festival's Camera d'or award for a first-time filmmaker went to Michael Rowe's LEAP YEAR (Año bisiesto), a raunchy romance set in Mexico City. Rowe is an Australian-born transplant to Mexico. The jury that awarded the Camera d'or was headed by Gael García Bernal who happened to have been born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. Just saying.

As reported in the previous post, South Korean filmmaker Hong Songsoo's HA, HA, HA, a drama of alternating memories shared by two friends over drinks, won the Un Certain Regard Section.

The Festival closed with the premiere of French Director Julie Bertuccelli's THE TREE, starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, a mother-daughter drama.

To see the list of all winners in all section, with links to each film, click title of this post.

American Director Tim Burton was President of the Jury, and the 19 movies in the feature competition were:
ANOTHER YEAR directed by Mike LEIGH
FAIR GAME directed by Doug LIMAN
LUNG BOONMEE RALUEK CHAT (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives) directed by Apichatpong WEERASETHAKUL
OUTRAGE directed by Takeshi KITANO
POETRY directed by LEE Chang-dong
ROUTE IRISH directed by Ken LOACH
SZELÍD TEREMTÉS - A FRANKENSTEIN TERV (TENDER SON - The Frankenstein Project) directed by Kornél MUNDRUCZÓ
THE HOUSEMAID directed by IM Sangsoo
TOURNÉE (ON TOUR) directed by Mathieu AMALRIC
UN HOMME QUI CRIE (A screaming man) directed by Mahamat-Saleh HAROUN

To access the Web Site Page with links to each film in competition, CLICK.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Some Cannes Winners Announced

SERIES: Major Film Festivals

63rd Cannes International Film Festival, 12 - 23 May 2010

This weekend the 63rd Cannes International Film Festival (CIFF) begins the announcement of winners in various competitions. The first award was given Thursday. The Critics Week top award, Grand Prix Semaine de la Critique, went to a documentary from Denmark about the war in Afghanistan. ARMADILLO, directed by Janus Metz is the first documentary to screen in competition since the section became competitive twenty years ago, and the first announced award at the Festival.

Today, in Salle Debussy, nine films and two hours of screening will culminate in the Palme d’or for short films. The Cinéfondation and Short Films Jury, presided over by Atom Egoyan, will announce its Cinéfondation Prixes of 2010 tomorrow, Sunday evening, during the Festival's gala awards ceremony. There is no U.S. short film in this competition, and only one in the feature film competition.

The jury members are film directors Carlos Diegues and Marc Recha, and actresses Emmanuelle Devos and Dinara Droukarova. The films in competition are:
Estaçao (Station), by Portuguese Marcia Faria;
Blokes (Blocks), the short film by Chilean Marialy Rivas;
Chienne d’histoire (Barking Island) directed by Serge Avedikian, an Armenian born in the Soviet Union, now from France;
Micky Bader, the short film by Swedish Frieda Kempff;
Muscles, Australian director Edward Housden;
Maya, Cuban director Pedro Pio Martin Perez;
Ezra Rishona (First Aid) by Israeli director Yarden Karmin;
To Swallow a Toad is a short animated film by Latvian director Jurğis Krāsons; and
Rosa, which is both the title of the short film by Argentinean director Monica Lairana and the name of the main character in her film.
Read more about the films in the short film competition.

Other Cinéfondation prizes to be awarded at the awards ceremony:

First Prize Cinéfondation - TAULUKAUPPIAAT (The Painting Sellers) directed by Juho Kuosmanen;
Second Prize - Cinéfondation - COUCOU-LES-NUAGES (Anywhere out of the world) directed by Vincent Cardona;
Third Prize - Cinéfondation Ex-aequo - HINKERORT ZORASUNE (The Fifth Column) directed by Vatche Boulghourjian;
Mention - JA VEC JESAM SVE ONO ŠTO ŽELIM DA IMAM (I Already Am Everything I want to have) directed by Dane KOMLJEN.

Director Claire Denis is head of the jury for Un Certain Regard section, and joining her are: Patrick FERLA, Journalist - Radio Télévision Suisse; KIM Dong-Ho, Director of Pusan Film Festival; Helena LINDBLAD, Critic - Dagens Nyheter, and Serge TOUBIANA, General Director of the Cinémathèque Française.
Un Certain Regard Prize - Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema - HAHAHA, directed by HONG Sangsoo.
Jury Prize - Un Certain Regard - OCTUBRE (OCTOBER) directed by Daniel VEGA.

All juries. Click title of post to visit the Official Web Site.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Critics Week Winners, and Possible Palm d'or Winners, at Cannes

SERIES: Major Film Festivals

63rd Cannes International Film Festival, 12 - 23 May 2010

A documentary about the Afghanistan war from Denmark won the top Grand Prix Semaine de la Critique, as the Critics Week section came to a close in Cannes. ARMADILLO, directed by Janus Metz, is the first documentary to screen in competition since the section became competitive twenty years ago.

In other Critics Week Awards, both the SACD Prize and ACID/CCAS Support went to BI, DUNG SO! (Bi, Don't be Afraid!), directed by Vietnamese Phan Dang Di (or Dang Di Phan); the Young Critic Award (OFAJ) went to directors Ola Simonsson & Johannes Stjaerne Nilsson for SOUND OF NOISE; the Canal+ Award for Best Short Film went to BERIK, directed by Daniel Joseph Borgman; and Kodak Discovery Award for Best Short Film was awarded to DEEPER THAN YESTERDAY, directed by Ariel Kleiman.

Two films screened in competition last night at the 63rd Cannes International Film Festival. FAIR GAME, the only American film in competition, and Ken Loach's ROUTE IRISH (see previous post).

FAIR GAME (USA), directed by Doug Liman (THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM), starring Naomi Watts (Valerie Plame Wilson) and Sean Penn (Joe Wilson) is considered a possible contender for a Palm d'Or. It is based on the saga of illegally "outed" CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson.

No one connected with the Bush White House has been charged with betraying Plame Wilson. However, her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, alleged that unnamed and never charged White House officials were out to discredit him after he wrote a 2003 New York Times op-ed piece saying that the Bush administration had manipulated intelligence about weapons of mass destruction to justify the invasion of Iraq.

From the Europeans I know, and from what I have read about many there, it's highly unlikely that the voters at Cannes will have any warm and fuzzy feelings for G.W. Bush or Dick Cheney. Therefore, barring this being a terrible film, I'm putting my chip in the win column for it.

Director Ken Loach is working with his regular screenwriter, Paul Laverty in ROUTE IRISH (see previous post for more. The film stars John Bishop, Mark Womack and Geoff Bell. The cinematographer is Chris Menges (THE KILLING FIELDS).The movie examines the difficulties experienced by British men working as contractors.

In light of the success of last year's THE HURT LOCKER, ROUTE IRISH (UK / France), cannot escape some comparison to HURT LOCKER. THE HURT LOCKER simply alluded to the problem of adjustment for returnees from Iraqi combat and Loach digs deeper. Yet, there is no doubt that Bigelow's film will be used for comparison. It is timely and topical but is it a good movie? Critics seem to be split on that.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Romania's "New Wave" at Cannes, Reviews, Plus

SERIES: Major Film Festivals

First, Ken Loach's ROUTE IRISH, a last minute addition to films in competition at the 63rd Cannes International Film Festival (CIFF) brings the number to 19. Loach's THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY won the Palme d'Or in 2006.

The title ROUTE IRISH is from the infamous, dangerous road that links Baghdad’s international ‘Green Zone’ with the city’s airport, and it marks the 73-year-old director’s first attempt to grapple with the Iraq War of the past six years. But ROUTE IRISH doesn’t deal with high politics. Instead, it explores the murky world of British ex-soldiers who work for private contractors in Iraq.

Trailers of all films in the Special Selection Competition.

Reviews from Cannes IFF: ROUTE IRISH / Iñárritu's BIUTIFUL

Now, Romanian films at Cannes. Romania's Cristi Puiu returns to competition at Cannes with what he describes as a "mind-blowing" crime story, AURORA screened Friday night at the Festival. Puiu, winner in 2005 of the Cannes section showcasing new talent, "Un Certain Regard," for THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU, is the leading figure of the tiny country's "New Wave" school, which seemingly came out of nowhere about that time.

It did not take long for the world film community to take notice. Since then, the Romanians have won a number of top world awards. Among them are Corneliu Porumboiu, Catalin Mitulescu, and Cristian Mungiu, who won the 2007 Cannes Palme d'Or for 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, 2 DAYS.

Mungiu won best European Director and the film won best European Film at the 2007 European Film Awards. Romania submitted it for Oscar® consideration in the Best Foreign Language Film category for 2007 for the 80th Academy Awards.

To the amazement of many, myself included, the film was not nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Some suggested that the Academy members did not nominate it because it dealt with a woman having an abortion. Others, because they felt the production values were below par. The Austrian film, THE COUNTERFIETERS, directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky won the Oscar, which it richly deserved among those nominated. However, Mungiu's film deserved a nomination.

Puiu's THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU is the story of a man who dies, a victim of an uncaring health-care system. His latest, AURORO, is the story of a man who kills. Puiu has explained that the title AURORO, refers to the precise moment when day breaks and nature awakes.

In the movie, 42-year-old Viorel, an engineer, drives around Bucharest determined to put an end to the insecurity that has dominated his life since his divorce. He decides to make justice as he understands it, brutally intervening in other people's destinies. His actions throw him into a new life, a new day.

AURORA is the second installment of a planned "Six Stories from the Outskirts of Bucharest." In this installment, Puiu decided to play the lead character himself. Meanwhile, Cristian Mungiu has no directorial projects in the works at the moment.
Review of AURORO and then some.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Cannes Notes: ROBIN HOOD, no big whoop

SERIES: Major Film Festivals

Cannes has a multilingual Web site in eight languages. Take a look.

Also, have you been wondering who the person is in poster above? Keep reading . . . . .

A last minute addition to films in competition is Ken Loach's ROUTE IRISH, which brings the number to 19. Loach's film THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY won the Palme d'Or in 2006. The film tells the story of two Liverpudlian ex-soldiers who go to Iraq to work as private contractors, and will screen 20 May.

Julie Bertucelli's, THE TREE, with Charlotte Gainsbourg, Marton Csokas and Aden Young, will be presented at the Festival's Closing Ceremony. Her first feature film SINCE OTAR LEFT won the Grand Jury Prize of the Critic's week at Cannes in 2003. She is the daughter of French director Jean-Louis Bertucelli.

ROBIN HOOD, the epic by British director Ridley Scott starring Russell Crowe as Robin Longstride and Cate Blanchett as Marion Loxley, screened out of competition on Opening Night of the 63rd Festival de Cannes, Wednesday, May 12th, 2010. It was the world premiere for the film, which was presented out of competition. It is in release in the U.S. now.

Other notables in the cast are Max Von Sydow, Lea Seydoux and William Hurt. In the movie, King Richard (Danny Huston) and his soldiers pause on their way home from Palestine to attack a French castle. I haven't seen it, but I have heard the French were routed. And, as it turns out, the response to the movie at Cannes was less than stellar. Hmmmm.

I came across three excellent reviews. The first is an audio review by National Public Radio's Kenneth Turan, and he is spot on when he says, sort of, that Scott's movie is about Robin before he was forced to take up residence in Sherwood Forest's hood with his merry men, but there is little that is merry about this movie. Listen.

A. O. Scott's review in The New York Times, 14 May, is more in-depth for those of you who wish to read deeper.

Owen Gleiberman in the current issue of Entertainment Weekly sums up Crowe's Robin Hood and the movie, "[Crowe's] so grimly possessed with purpose that he's a bore, and so is the movie."

The world premiere of Oliver Stone's WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS. was Friday, 14th, screening out of competition. It is a sequel of Stone's WALL STREET ( 1987), starring Michael Douglas, who is back as Gordon Gekko.

Appearing with Douglas is an a-list cast, including Josh Brolin, Shia LaBeouf, Carey Mulligan, Charlie Sheen, Susan Sarandon and Frank Langella. Compared to ROBIN HOOD's lukewarm reception, Stone's new movie can be labeled a critical success at Cannes.

Woody Allen's latest, YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER, will screen out of competition next week. This Allen movie has a large and diverse cast, including Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin (he's been busy this year), Anthony Hopkins, Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto and Lucy Punch. It's U.S. release is scheduled for September.

As I reported in a previous post, there is only one U.S. film in competition, FAIR GAME, based on the true story of CIA agent Valerie Plame, starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts (another busy one), and directed by Doug Liman (THE BOURNE IDENTITY).

The person on the poster? It is a photograph of French actress Juliette Binoche (THREE COLORS: BLUE, WHITE, RED) by Brigitte Lacombe, graphic design by Annick Durban. To access the Cannes IFF Official Site click title of this post.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Here Comes Cannes 2!

SERIES: Major Film Festivals

63rd Cannes International Film Festival, 12 - 23 May 2010

Latest news from The Hollywood Reporter is that director Ridley Scott will not attend the Festival and will miss the opening night premiere of ROBIN HOOD. Scott is recovering from knee surgery. However, Universal is flying in a major delegation to support the film, including producer Brian Grazer and virtually the entire cast including Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Mark Strong, Oscar Isaac and Max Von Sydow.

As mentioned in the previous post, American director Tim Burton is President of the Feature Film Jury this year. Those joining him on the jury, which will award the Best Feature Film Palm d'Or are:

Kate Beckinsale, actress, UK (Whiteout);
Alberto Barbera, Director of the National Museum of Cinema, Italy;
Emmanuel Carrere, (author, screenwriter, director), France;
Benicio Del Toro, Oscar-winning actor, Puerto Rico (Traffic and 21 Grams);
Alexandre Desplat, Oscar-winning composer, France (Julie and Julia, Fantastic Mr. Fox);
Victor Erice, director, Spain (The Spirit of the Beehive);
Shekhar Kapur, (director, actor, producer), India; and
Giovanna Mezzogiorno, actress, Italy.

Feature films are the main emphasis of the Festival. However, there are other sections:

Short Films, featuring nine films running between 15 -20 minutes. A Palm d'Or will be awarded, Sunday May 23rd. None from the U.S.;

Cinéma de la Plage (Cinema on the Beach), begins showing Thursday the 13th, and includes FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, director Fred Zinnemann's 1953 classic;

Cannes Classics, accompanies contemporary films from the Official Selection with a program of restored films and lost films that have been found again, as part of their release on DVD, or re-release in theaters;

Cinéfondation will present 13 films selected from 1600 entries submitted by film schools from all over the world;

And, in addition, Marco Bellocchio will give the Cinema Masterclass, Wednesday the 19th in the Buñuel Theatre.

Download the Official Selection Screening Schedule. Click title of this post for link to the Festival's Official Website.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Here Comes Cannes!

SERIES: Major Film Festivals

63rd Cannes International Film Festival, 12 - 23 May 2010

In May, there is only one major international film festival and that is Cannes. Unfortunately, this year the Festival is literally opening under a cloud.

Travelers to the French Riviera must dodge the volcanic ash still spewing from the Icelandic volcano as the resort hurriedly cleans up the debris from a recent Mediterranean storm. Those are natural crises that pale under the economic cloud of failed economies such as Greece, and possible failures in Spain, Portugal and other European economies. Meanwhile, the U.S. economy tries to toddle back to stability.

Nonetheless, the Festival will open Wednesday with it's usual grandiose flourish, featuring the world premiere of Ridley Scott's ROBIN HOOD, starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. Then, for 11 days, both the famous and not-so-famous will walk and watch the red carpet, attend party after party, stand in line to view movies in crowded screening rooms, and distributors will scout the film market for potential blockbusters as well as second-string bargains.

The promoters of the Festival bring in the International glitz and glamour to attract attendees, but they also provide showcases for smaller grittier films which fuel the Cannes marketing machine. In today's weakened world economy, the Cannes film market brings vital financial sustenance not only to the Festival but, also, to various economies around the world.

However, neither ROBIN HOOD, WALL STREET: Money Never Sleeps, in which Michael Douglas reprises his role as ruthless corporate raider Gordon Gekko, and Woody Allen's latest, YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER, will be among the 18 feature films in competition to be judged by the jury headed by director Tim Burton.

The only U.S. entry for competition is FAIR GAME, based on the true story of CIA agent Valerie Plame, starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts, and directed by Doug Liman (THE BOURNE IDENTITY). The Festival's publicity makes a point that the emphasis will not be on glitz but on substance and the films selected support it.

More on this blog about the Cannes Festival will follow during the next two weeks. Please, come back daily to follow the Festival where you should find information not always included in posts elsewhere. Please leave comments, ask questions, or offer information you would like to see in this series. Click the title of this post to access the Festival's Official Site.

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Saturday, May 01, 2010

Tribeca Heineken Audience Award

SERIES: Major Film Festivals

Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart

Just announced. The documentary RUSH: BEYOND THE LIGHTED STAGE, directed by Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn is the Heineken Audience Award winner at the NYC Tribeca Film Festival. Rush is a Canadian rock band based in Toronto. They formed in 1968. They are still recording and performing. They will receive a $25,000 prize from Heineken. The award is chosen by attendees at the festival, either in person or those who purchased a Tribeca Film Virtual pass to view films online.

Second Place went to family favorite SNOWMEN, and in Third Place is the New York doc ARIAS with a TWIST: THE DOCUFANTASY. Together, these three films make for a diverse trio. All three will screen tomorrow (Sunday), plus other award winning films. Click title of this post for more on the films.