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.

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