Not surprisingly, director Wong Kar Wai was in the Festival de Cannes spotlight today (Wednesday) as his “My Blueberry Nights” opened the 60th anniversary this evening (and he announced a key deal for a new version of an old film). An overflow crowd of journalists warmly greeted Wong, Jude Law and acting newcomer Norah Jones after the first press screening of the film at the Palais des Festivals. New York Times critic A.O. Scott sat in an aisle on the floor during this afternoon’s conference, while North American distributor Harvey Weinstein stood beside the stage while Wong smiled broadly several times during the press conference. Joking early on that while he was still completing the movie in Los Angeles this week, he was thrilled to deliver a movie to Cannes on time for opening night.
Recalling his long history of debuting films at this festival, Wong added that it was particularly exciting for him this year. While the film marks singer Jones’ debut, he also called it his “first film,” since it marks his English language debut. Higlighting the work of cast Norah Jones, Jude Law, Rachel Weisz, and David Strathairn Wong said, “For me to put the film in competition is a way to highlight their performnces,” adding, “It is a film that we are all very proud of, and so I think it is a good platform–and also Cannes is the right place to show the film for the first time to the public.”
The three-part story of a young woman (Norah Jones) dealing with a particularly bad break-up, “My Blueberry Nights” follows her on a journey from New York to California. Working as a waitress in Tennessee and Nevada to earn money along the way, she befriends a number of people who are each confronting hurdles in their own lives. Written by Wong and Lawrence Block, it was inspired by a short film he made as a coda to “In The Mood For Love.” The short, which screened in Cannes in 2001, featured Tony Leung as a 7-11 store owner and Maggie Cheung as his customer. Similarly, in the first chapter of “Blueberry,” Norah Jones’ “Elizabeth” frequents a small New York City cafe and develops a bond (and a fondness for blueberry pie) with its owner, played by Jude Law, before she sets out on her American road trip.
During production, Wong explained that he wondered whether his new film was in fact a ‘road movie,’ but said he has now concluded, “The film is not about a journey, it’s about distance.”
“Sometimes the tangible distance between two persons can be quite small but the emotional one can be miles,” Wong Kar Wai writes in a director’s statement. “‘My Blueberry Nights’ is a look at those distances, from various angles. I wanted to explore these expanses, both figuratively and litearally, and the lengths it takes to overcome them.” Shot by Darius Khondji, “Blueberry” was filmed in widescreen cinemascope format to underscore that distance, Wong explained.
Judging the immediate reactions of Cannes press screening attendees can be tough, unless a film is met with overwhelming applause or loud catcalls, both of which sometimes emerge from the 4,000 festival journalists. In the case of “My Blueberry Nights,” the post screening reaction as the credits rolled was warm, although did not seem to equal the warmth shown to the filmmaker when he screened “2046” a day late in Cannes three years ago. [Eugene Hernandez]
Redux of Wong’s “Ashes of Time” Via Sony Classics
Shortly after Cannes journalists watched Wong Kar wai’s “My Blueberry Nights’ this morning, news of a deal for his next film emerged. WKW’s next movie is in fact a reworking of his classic martial arts film, “Ashes of Time,” which he made in 1994. Fortissimo Films has licensed Wong’s reworking, tentatively titled “Ashes of Time Redux,” to Sony Pictures Classics for North American release later this year. The film is in the final stages of post-production. Fortissimo’s co-chairmen Michael J. Werner and Wouter Barendrecht negotiated the deal with Sony Classics‘ Michael Barker, Tom Bernard and Dylan Leiner.
With a cast that includes Tony Leung Chiu-Wai (“2046“), Brigitte Line (“Chungking Express“), the late Leslie Cheung (“Happy Together“), in his final role, as well as a “special appearance” by Maggie Cheung (“2046“), the film, set in ancient China, centers on a fallen swordsman driven by greed to both friend and foe. Ouyang Feng (Cheung) is a loner without love, but his bounty hunters, including the “Blind Swordsman” (Leung) and Hung Chi (Jacky Cheung) discover the “intangible secret of true love.”
“I am pleased that the Sony Classics team will be working with Fortissimo and myself to present ‘Ashes’ to the North American audiences,” commented Wong in a statement. “They fully understand what this film means to me and how I see its place in my creative history.” [Brian Brooks]
Fortissimo Adapts to Market
This is the first major announcement for Fortissimo since the Amsterdam-based company arrived in Cannes Monday. Fortissimo’s Cannes line up includes a competition film as well as one film each in the festival’s sidebars Critics Week and the Directors Fortnight. “We’ve had a very successful business [concentrating] on auteurs and foreign-language films,” said the company’s Michael Werner to indieWIRE Tuesday afternoon in Cannes.
Still, Werner commented that willingness to evolve is crucial for survival in the ever-evolving film industry as audience tastes continue to be in flux and costs continue to surge. “We have to choose as wisely or more wisely then before,” said Werner about the projects Fortissimo gets involved with. “When we get involved [with projects] it is probably going to change. The cost of bringing a film to the market place is enormous. Just bringing a film to Cannes costs $100 – 125,000… We have to live like an amoeba, you have to adapt to the changes around you.” [Brian Brooks]
PAVILION PROFILE: Korea Celebrates Cannes ’07 Success with Eye on Hollywood’s Challenge
With two competition films in addition to four other titles screening at this year’s Festival de Cannes, South Korea perhaps has a happily disproportionate number of films in the fest. Since 2000, the country has set up its headquarters on Pavilion row with the aim of promoting Korean cinema.
“Korean film struggles with a dominant American industry,” said Kim Hyae-joon, secretary general of KOFIC, the Korean Film Council, which spearheads the Pavilion’s efforts and is the country’s official office promoting Korean film. “We want Korean film to compete with Hollywood product.”
Both Kim Ki-duk‘s “Breath” and Lee Chang-dong‘s “Secret Sunshine” joined this year’s competition. Compared to about a half-dozen American directors vying for the Palme d’Or, it is impressive considering the country is about 17% the size of the U.S. population.
Kim’s “Breath” is a love story involving a convicted prisoner who “slowly falls for a woman who decorates his prison cell,” while Lee’s romantic/comedy “Secret Sunshine” revolves around a woman who moves with her son to the town where her deceased husband was born. As she tries to come into her own and set out a new path, another tragic event intervenes.
“Nowadays, we have a lot more [well-known] directors aside from Kim Ki-duk–a result of a strong domestic market,” said Kim Hyae-joon. He said the domestic market helped augment interest overseas, though production of homemade film is currently in the decline–again a result of blockbuster successes for films like “Spider-man.” Still, in the United States, Joon-ho Bong’s action thriller, “The Host,” which Magnolia Pictures released beginning in March, received a great deal of fanfare and fans.
KOFIC has also been involved in publishing as a means to spread the word about its homegrown filmmakers. An English-language book on Lee Chang-dong was recently published, following previous efforts on Im Kwon-taek (“Low Life“) and Kim Ki-young (“An Experience Worth Dying For“), while future books on Im Sang-soo (“The Old Garden“), Lee Myung-se (“Duelist“), and Yoo Hyun-mok (“Son of Man“) are also in the works for 2007. There is also a compilation book planned for directors Jung Ji-woo, Kim Tae-yong, Jang Joon-hwan and Zhang Lu. In addition to books, the annual Pusan International Film Festival has grown into a behemoth in its own right, attracting film fans and industry from around the world to the South Korean seaside port in October, which spotlights films from Korea and the rest of Asia in addition to titles from around the world.
“Diversity is important for the future of the Korean film industry in order to allow for new voices and new stories to be told,” said Kim Hyae-joon about Korean cinema.
And, courting the press is certainly a time-honored method in spreading the word. The Korean Pavilion plans to host a reception on Tuesday for international press and critics at its seaside Cannes residence on Pavilion row, while a “Korean Film Night” soiree is also on the schedule. [Brian Brooks]
The latest from the 2007 Festival de Cannes is available anytime in indieWIRE’s special section.