By Eugene Hernandez | Indiewire May 24, 2007 at 5:00AM
A group of films from established American filmmakers, all adapted from books, are among the most acclaimed films in competition as the Cannes enters its final weekend in France. Critics, programmers and insiders all consider Julian Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," Gus Van Sant's "Paranoid Park" and The Coen Brothers' "No Country for Old Men," frontrunners for prizes at this year's festival and among the best films screening here at the 60th Festival de Cannes.
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
The latest film from Julian Schnabel has had audiences buzzing here this week, many saying it is the front-runner for the Palme d'Or for best picture, which is awarded by the festival's jury. Based on Jean Dominique Bauby's 1997 book "Le Scaphandre et la Papillon," Schnabel's French-language film of the same name -- translated as "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" -- looks at Bauby's life. A noted journalist from France, Bauby was the editor-in-chief of the French magazine, Elle before suffering a severe stroke which left him mute and paralysed. Unable to speak or write, he composed his autobiography entirely by dictation through a series of blinks and some grunts. He died in France three days after the book was published.
A hot commodity among buyers since its premiere in Cannes earlier this week, the film was acquired for North American distribution by Miramax in a deal announced just today (Thursday) at the festival.
Saying the he hoped the film would be "a tool...a self-help device that can help you handle your own death," Schnabel was originally given the book by Darin McCormack, who had served as a nurse to former Warhol Factory manager Fred Hughes. Schnabel would read to Hughes, who was confined to a bed in New York as a result of debilitating multiple schlerosis. Producer Kathleen Kennedy, a frequent collaborator with Steven Spielberg, handed actor Mathieu Almaric (who plays Jean Dominique Bauby) Ronald Harwood's script for the film after Johnny Depp had to bow out due to commitments to "Pirates of the Caribbean."
Elaborating on the ideas behind the movie during a Cannes press conference, Schnabel explained, "Sometimes I see things and I feel very happy and I feel that life is a wonderful thing," he explained. "Other times I wonder, why does (anyone) have to die...and then you think about making something meaningful out of your life."
"This is going to sound crazy," Schnabel said of Bauby. "He's kind of like Christ, becuase he is dying for our sins in a way."
"(He) tells you, grab the present, look into your interior life."
Explaining his performance as the French editor and writer, Matthew Amalric called the paralyzed writer a sort of "peeping Tom," adding, "There is a great power that one has within silence." And while Schnabel spoke of the inherent Christ-like metaphors at work in the film, Amalric continued, "I didn't want to turn him into a saint, I just wanted him to be a human being."
"No Country For Old Men"
"Being here at this table, with the Coens in Cannes, is like a dream," beamed actor Javier Bardem earlier this week. Well known for his work on Julian Schnabel's 2000 film, "Before Night Falls," the actor is in Cannes with a lead role in Joel and Ethan Coen's latest feature, "No Country For Old Men."
Adapted from the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name, the film stars Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, and Kelly Macdonald, in a violent crime drama set in the American Southwest.
While some had imagined the movie being adapted into a western, the Coens see it a bit differently.
"We saw it as a crime story," explained Joel Coen during a press conference in Cannes, saying that after the fact he and his brother Ethan noticed some similarities between their new film and their 1996 work, "Fargo."
Humorous moments punctuate what is the examination of violence in "No Country for Old Men," a topic that came up during a lunch with the Coens and actors Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin earlier this week in Cannes.
"There are certain moments where it depends on who is behind the camera," Bardem related, reflecting on the tone of the movie and the sometimes uncomfortable laughter that greeted screenings of the movie here at the festival. "It could be funny. Laughter is a way to release that (tension)."
And commenting on working with the Coen Brothers, Bardem added, "They dont talk much (but) they are always ready to give you the right anaswer. "The don't tell you much information unless you want it."
Equally distinctive is the collaboration between director and actor in Gus Van Sant's latest, "Paranoid Park." Adapted from Blake Nelson's young adult novel of the same name, the film is the story of a kid who hangs out at a popular Portland, OR skate park where he accidentally kills a local security guard and tries to keep the death a secret. Gabe Nevins stars as Alex, the teen with the secret.
A film with rich sounds and imagery, Van Sant's "Paranoid Park" is presented in a nearly square 1:37 aspect ratio, merging in one film many of the stylistic elements employed in his recent trio of films, "Elephant," "Gerry," and "Last Days." Notable in this case, however, is an even stronger narrative structure that offers a window into the lives of a group of young people.
"I've been attracted to characters that are young," Van Sant said, when asked in Cannes about his consistent creation of movies about younger people. "Its my calling, I guess." A number of roles were cast using MySpace. Later, Van Sant added, "I really like working with non professionals because...I think in doing that I am trying to bring out a few of the things that are natural to them and sort of filming that side of them rather than creating from scratch... or having the actor build it."
As for the sound and look, Van Sant has woven a number of natural audio and soundscape work into the soundtrack, utilizing some musique concrete that is built upon real world sounds. Much of it is work by musician and sound artist Ethan Rose. For the images, Van Sant worked with frequent Won Kar Wai collaborator Christopher Doyle and Rain Kathy Li as his D.P. The duo utilized some Super 8 footage, shot by a local who regularly shoots in the park, for scenes of the kids skating. And they slowed it down for its usage in the film. "Because neither of us are skaters, (using slow motion was) the only way to approximate what we (wanted)...to try to give it a form that we know, celebrating this incredible energy. The physicality of skating," said Doyle.
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