Cannes 2011: The half-way mark
Dave Calhoun rounds up the big hits and near misses of this year's festival
In the cinemas, there was talk about it being one of the strongest events in years – and that’s with films still to come from the likes of Lars Von Trier, Pedro Almodovar and Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Festival boss Thierry Fremaux had talked before the event about this being a lighter edition. Was he kidding? Cannes is often a celebration of the seventh art via stories of sex, death, abuse and unhappiness. Or maybe that’s just life. And yet the opening film, Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’, was a comedy, and a good one: Owen Wilson plays Woody’s alter-ego, a screenwriter from the West Coast, whose soul-searching about being a writer causes him to travel back in time to the 1920s while in Paris with his fiancée. Salvador Dali appears, along with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Cole Porter. Is this a critique of the fantasy of the American in Paris, or a symptom of it? Perhaps both. Either way, it’s gently funny and a better, bolder Woody film than we’re used to these days.
Then the comforting clouds of doom descended. The first competition film, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ by debutante Julia Leigh, arrived from Australia with Jane Campion’s stamp of approval. It’s a creepy, artful glide through the world of a student prostitute, played by Emily Browning It has the dreamy, good-looking perversion of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ – a portrait of depravity dressed in smart clothes and marked by ritual – and Browning bravely gives herself over to this confident, puzzling but promising study in exploitation and body politics.
The programme didn’t head anywhere lighter with ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ and while the uneven and vain ‘Polisse’ from French actor-director Maïwenn has a jokey, knockabout, ensemble feel to it, let’s not forget it’s about a few months in the life of Paris’s Child Protection Unit. Then the clouds began to part, and you could see what Fremaux was getting at. This might be a festival with some laughs after all. Nanni Moretti’s ‘Habemus Papam’ imagines what would happen if a new Pope got the wobbles. It starts well with a serio-comic reconstruction of the Papal Conclave, but once Moretti turns up as a therapist and Michel Piccoli’s Pope starts wandering the streets of Rome, it loses focus.
The real comic entertainment of the festival so far has been ‘The Artist’, a glorious melodrama about the dawn of the sound age in Hollywood – shot like a silent film of the time, down to the 1.33 aspect ratio. French actor Jean Dujardin delivers a performance of great charm as George Valentin, whose career goes into freefall when actors begin opening their mouths. There was comedy of a blacker kind from the Israeli film ‘Footnote’, about the personal and professional rivalries of two father and son academics.
As we went to press, Cannes and this critic were still trying to make sense of Terrence Malick’s ‘The Tree of Life’, which finally screened after many years in the works. The film portrays a family in 1950s Texas, two parents and two sons, moving back and forth from there to both our present and the dawn of time. There are butterflies and sunflowers. Ideas about nature and grace. Dinosaurs. The big bang. Something this ambitious and over-reaching can only ever fail really – and so, sadly, it did. But in beautiful style.
Check our entire review archive at www.timeout.com/cannes
Author: Dave Calhoun
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