CANNES 2000: "We Are all Jokers: We Will Survive Our Problems," The Fest Begins
by Anthony Kaufman
"I have tried to cloak the memories of all the terrible explosions and crimes perpetrated by man in the faces of children and the tears and smiles of women," writes legendary French director Jean-Luc Godard of his latest work, "Origin of the XXI Century," a short film which "synthesizes the entire century in fifteen minutes" to be shown tonight at the opening of the 53rd Cannes Film Festival. "I will not be able to attend your ceremony," he continues in a note posted on Cannes' official website, "because of my timetable and my health. I hope that everything goes well for you. If not, you should take comfort in these lines from the Koran: 'We are all jokers: we will survive our problems.'"
They're wise words from the almighty Godard, as we enter the biggest, glitziest, most stressful film festival on the planet, with more films screening per single day than the entire line-up of some 2-week festivals. There's the Official Competition Screenings, Out of Competition, Un Certain Regard, Critics' Week, Director's Fortnight, Tributes, Retrospectives and the Cannes Market, where 5000 international film professionals descend on theaters across the Riviera town, looking for product to fill their theaters back home.
In addition, there's the technology center MITIC, where discussion of dotcoms, digital tools and Internet distribution will dominate the halls; the American Pavilion, where John Waters goes toe to toe with Joan Rivers, "Blair Witch" gets a second look, and veterans Saul Zaentz and Stanley Donen return; and also invading U. S. alternafests like Slamdance and No Dance who show their films to no one in particular except curious locals. There's also the all-night parties, the near-dawn sales meetings, the stars, the fans, the paparazzi, the press. In short, for the international film industry, a whole lot of potential problems to survive.
Producer/Director Roland Joffe presents the proceedings' first main event with what we hope won't be another problem, "Vatel," a typical choice for opening night film with its promise of epic period sets and story and international star power such as Gerard Depardieu, Uma Thurman, Tim Roth, and Julian Sands. Written by Tom Stoppard ("Shakespeare in Love"), "Vatel" tells the story of Francois Vatel, the master French chef who lived both the high life and the low life during the reign of King Louis XIV. The film was fashioned from French and British money and does not have U.S. distribution. Let's hope it doesn't end up like last year's opener "Barber of Siberia," a 3-hour bore that never saw, nor deserved a States-side release.
The festival closes its doors twelve days later with "Stardom," from Canadian director Denys Arcand, who won a Cannes Jury Prize in 1989 with "Jesus of Montreal." "Stardom" follows a young girl's rise from small-town obscurity to glamorous supermodel and stars Dan Aykroyd, Frank Langella, Canadian director Robert Lepage, and French actor Charles Berling. Canada's Alliance produced the film and it, too, is without a U.S. buyer.
A similarly themed picture also sure to be on distributors' minds is actor Griffin Dunne's latest directorial effort "Famous" (Un Certain Regard), shot on digital video and starring himself as a documentarian trying to capture an actress on the edge of celebrity. Dunne has been honing his craft recently with studio fare like "Practical Magic" and "Addicted to Love," so we will be interested to see what he can do back in the low-budget arena where he started as a producer with films like "Head Over Heels" (1979) and "Baby, It's You" (1983).
Also appearing in Un Certain Regard without U.S. distribution is the last film from the founding Dogma 95 brotherhood, "The King is Alive," from Kristian Levring. An eclectic cast that includes Jennifer Jason Leigh, Janet McTeer, and French actress Romane Bohringer fills out an intriguing premise: eleven bus passengers stranded in the African desert decide to stage Shakespeare's "King Lear" as a diversion in an abandoned town.
In Director's Fortnight, several films from Britain and one U.S. entry should spark distributors' interests. "Little Voice" and "Brassed Off" director Mark Herman premieres "Purely Belter" about soccer fans vying for a season ticket. One wonders how far Miramax is behind this one. Other UK premes include "Dancer" from BAFTA-award winning short filmmaker Stephen Dalry, "Some Voices" directed by Simon Cellan-Jones, and "Honest," the notable Out of Competition directorial debut of the Eurythmics' David A. Stewart, about three criminal sisters who commit heists while masquerading as men.
The only U.S. indie to come from left field is "Downtown 81," the debut film from Italian cinematographer, Edo Bertoglio, which also plays in the Director's Fortnight. One other new American independent notably infiltrated the highly esteemed ranks of Cannes, Frank Novak's Slamdance 2000 Grand Jury Prize winner, "Good Housekeeping," about a white trash family, which screens in the Critics' Week sidebar.
There's the big, glossy premieres, of course, the Coen Brothers' "O Brother, Where Art Thou," Neil Labute's big budget farce "Nurse Betty," Lars von Trier's "Dancer in the Dark" with star Bjork this year's most coveted photo-op (if she makes it to the festival) and new films from such international auteurs as Ken Loach, Wong Kar-Wai, Edward Yang, and Nagisa Oshima. All this potentially good film makes one think, "We will survive."