Utpal Borpujari

May 11, 2009

Cinematic geniuses take over 62nd Festival de Cannes

By Utpal Borpujari

At a time when the globe is reeling from the twin impact of economic recession and swine flu, there’s something else that is going to shake up the 62nd edition of the Cannes Film Festival, starting on May 13. Quite obviously, it has to do with cinema, but what cinema! Really, you cannot have anything better than this to lift the gloomy global mood right now.

The Competition, the main attraction of the official selection of the festival, has this year one of the strongest line ups in recent memory, with greats of contemporary world cinema coming up with their latest screen magic coincidentally at the same time to face off against one another at the world’s topmost film festival.

Pedro Almodovar, Jane Campion, Michael Haneke, Ang Lee, Ken Loach, Alain Resnais, Quentin Tarantino, Johnnie To, Lars von Trier – all of them will be walking the fabled red carpet and competing for the Palme d’Or. And as their latest works will explode on the big screen at Festival de Cannes, one can expect fireworks in more senses than one.

 Consider this : With Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces), Spanish auteur Almodovar takes a break from his trademark style of comic melodrama to embrace the “dark” and the “black”. Starring Almodovar’s favourite Penelope Cruz in the role of an aspiring actress, this “film noir” is backdropped in the film world itself. Its creator has described it as “the story of my love for the cinema”, and that itself has made expectations to go sky high.

Or this: Jane Campion, the New Zealander best known for The Piano, will compete with Bright Star, one more intense story that dramatises immortal poet John Keats’ doomed love affair with Fanny Brawne. It was Brawne who inspired Keats to pen some maginificent verse, and Campion’s biopic is bringing that story alive. The film’s title comes from a poem that Keats wrote for Brawne in the flyleaf of his copy of the works of Shakespeare. Campion still remains the only woman director to win the Palme D’Or, and this year her record is being sought to be broken by Spain’s Isabel Coixet with Map of the Sounds of Tokyo and British Angela Arnold with Fish Tank.

Further on, take Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock, which, again, is a complete turnaround from his previous work Lust, Caution, a passionate story in Chinese, set in politically-stormy times in China. Shifting himself from the serious drama like this one and Brokeback Mountain, Lee turns his focus on the history of the legendary Woodstock music festival, adapting Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Life, the memoir of Elliot Tiber, the aspiring interior designer who played a major role in helping the music fest take off on a willing neighbour’s farmland in 1969.

Then there is the Danish maverick and multiple Cannes award-winner Lars von Trier’s highly-provocative Antichrist, a film that could raise the heckles of many. Starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, this film has already created a controversy for being too horrific for the comfort of many, and that is even before its release! A tale about a psychiatrist who takes his wife to the one place she fears the most to help her overcome the grief of their son’s accidental death, the film’s highlight, apart from its brilliant direction, is reportedly the stunning cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle of Slumdog Millionaire fame.

Facing them up will be Inglourious Basterds (the spelling deliberately so) by Quentin Tarantino, the man whose capacity to make extreme violence seem poetry in motion is legendary. Led by Brad Pitt, the film with a huge cast is a war film that according to the director is his homage to Spaghetti Westerns and World War–II movies. With two stories that finally merge, the film divided into five chapters follows a group of Jewish-American soldiers on a mission to take on a group of Nazis and a young Jewish woman who is seeking revenge on these Nazis for killing her parents. And the proof that it is generating enough excitement comes from the fact that already, even before anyone having seen the film, there are debates in the media on how crass its trailors look!

Among this “young bunch” will the ever-young, 86-year old Resnais, whose Les Herbes Folles (Wild Grass) is fronting the strong French representation in the Competition along with Jacques Audiard’s Un Prophete (A Prophet) and Xavier Giannoli’s A L’origine (In the beginning). Contrasting Tarantino and Lars von Trier will be British director Ken Loach of The Wind That Shakes the Barley fame, whose comedy Looking for Eric is a take on enigmatic French footballer Eric Cantona’s life, in which the former Manchester United star player plays himself.

The competiton has a strong Asian representation this year, with Elia Suleiman’s The Time That Remains, a story of a Palestinian family set from the 1940s to the present times, representing the Middle-East, Hong Kong auteur Johnnie To’s crime saga Vengeance, starring French rock icon Johnny Hallyday, and Malaysian Tsai Ming-liang’s all-French cast Visage (Face) finding themselves in hot seats. But the most-anticipated Asian film will be Chinese filmmaker Chun Feng Chen Zui De Ye Wan (Spring Fever) by Lou Ye, who was banned from making films in China for five years in 2005 for submitting  Summer Palace to Cannes without Beijing’s approval. Even this erotic tale was shot secretly in China, and quite surely, it will be lapped up by Cannes visitors. South Korea’s Park Chan-wook of the Old Boy fame  is back with his vampire tale Bak-Jwi (Thirst) and the Asian rearguard is provided by Filipino director Brillante Mendoza’s  Kinatay.

Then there is Austrian shock therapist Michael Haneke, whose The White Ribbon, focusing on fascism in early 20th-century Europe and Italian director Marco Bellocchio, whose Vincere brings alive the story of Benito Mussolini’s illegitimate son. And yes, there is France’s Gaspard Noe, famous for his shocking Irreversible that had led to fainting of some in the audience in the 2002 edition of the festival. He comes this time with Soudain le Vide (Enter the Void). Quite surely, the exalted jury, headed by French actress Isabelle Huppert will have more than a handful.

But it is not only the compeititon that makes up the festival. There are the official sections Un Certain Regard (A Certain Regard), The Films Out Of Competition, The Midnight Screenings and The Special Screenings, as also the Short Films In Competition, Cinéfondation and Cannes Classics sections, apart from the parallel Director’s Fortnight and International Critics Week sections, with quite a few awards up for grabs, the most prestigious among them – next to the Palme D’Or – being the Camera D’Or for the best first film by a director.

The festival will kick of with Pixar’s new 3D animation movie Up, the first-ever time that Cannes festival will open with an animation film, and close with Jan Kounen’s Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky.  Another highlight will be The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus by US director Terry Gilliam, which like the opening and closing films will be an out-of-competition screening and definitely attract more than adequate attention for being Heath Ledger’s last screen role.

And yes, if the darkened theatre is not the place for you, you can always line up along the Red Carpet, and feast your eyes on Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, Jude Law and many more. For those in the business of cinema, there is, of course Marche du Film, the market section which is the biggest in any festival.

But despite its glamour, glitz and commercialisation, Cannes, as its president Gilles Jacob has said, is all about promoting independent cinema. “Independent cinema is not a number of quantifiable things or something to do with a particular generation, it’s an attitude… the Festival de Cannes has decided to continue helping independent creators as best it can,” he says. So then, the Croisette is the place to be from May 13 to 24 for anyone who worships cinema. More so, when people are talking in terms of it being the “bloodiest year” for the festival, thanks to the economic meltdown.

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 10-05-2009)



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