Cannes Diary Day 7: Weariness on the Croisette, Except for a "Dogville" Feeding Frenzy
by Stephen Garrett
A feeding frenzy has developed around Lars Von Trier's "Dogville," the only film so far at the Cannes Film Festival with any sort of widespread popular and critical appeal. Its Danish sales rep, Trust Film, capitalized on Monday morning's enthusiastic screening by upping the North American asking prize from $4 million to $6 million, effectively shutting out anyone other than deep-pocketed mini-majors: those in the final circle include Miramax and Fine Line. Also gaining suitors is the sex-fuelled Scottish noir "Young Adam," a stylish, often powerful and very commercial adultery melodrama set on a barge and starring Ewan McGregor, Peter Mullan, and Tilda Swinton -- not to mention a whole lot of full-frontal Ewan shots. And Fine Line is a shoo-in to land distribution rights to Gus Van Sant's "Elephant," continuing a relationship with cable-TV producer HBO Films that began last January with Sundance winner "American Splendor."
Meanwhile, the films in Cannes' main competition continue to unspool and underwhelm. The latest trio includes Hector Babenco's prison drama "Carandiru," a two-and-a-half-hour journey into one of the most overcrowded and infamous detention centers in Sao Paolo. While Babenco is a welcome sight back on the film scene, his newest effort feels like a baroque collection of somewhat tired prison clichés, jazzed up by Brazil's singularly colorful culture of passionate personalities (the film, based on a nonfiction bestseller, is a huge hit in its native country).
Creating its own mini-bursts of walk-outs is Bertrand Bonello's "Tiresia," a deeply bizarre and truly unlikely tale of a Brazilian transsexual kidnapped by a French priest hungry for a whore but so repulsed by the she-male that he stabs out his/her eyes. The titular Brazilian is then nursed to health by a sympathetic good Samaritan and suddenly becomes a prophet whose extrasensory perceptions call the attention of the church -- as well as the tortured priest. Scoring major points for originality, "Tiresia" never truly connects its far-flung dots in any meaningful way and results in a lot of head-scratching for those willing to stay to the end.
Worthy but not completely resonant is Kiyoshi Kurosawa's look at Tokyo's disaffected youth in the uneven drama "Bright Future." Memorably using a poisonous, glowing red jellyfish as the film's visual motif as well as its symbol for vibrant but potentially lethal alienation, the film follows two aimless young adults as they consider becoming full-time employees at a warehouse -- until one ends up being thrown in jail for the murder of their boss. At turns whimsical, mysterious, moving and frustratingly ponderous, "Bright Future" shows more potential than it fulfills. And the highly anticipated new film from Michael Haneke, "The Time of the Wolf," also falls far short of greatness. Ineligible for competition because one of its stars is festival jury head Patrice Chereau, "Wolf" depicts life in a world devastated by an unexplained but cataclysmic event. Its visually arresting cinematography showcases major portions shot without any discernible light, creating a world of moral and literal twilight almost completely drained of color or vibrancy. And despite the thematic potential of its visual stylishness, "Wolf" offers little in the way of discernible or compelling drama or conflict, prompting a few walk-outs and, at the end of its premiere, loud and enthusiastic booing from many in the audience whose patience had long run thin.
Life along the Croisette this year has a feeling of weary resignation. Parties are fewer and smaller, and hot tickets are not as prized as in years past. Even the dependably lively Hotel du Cap -- Cap d'Antibes’ home away from home for Cannes' most wealthy and powerful film industry elite -- has been a surprisingly muted after-hours spot. The night that "Dogville" played to exultant crowds, the only celebrity seen enjoying the hotel's high-roller bar scene was Nicole Kidman (who seemed to prefer spending most of her time on the hotel's empty terrace sharing an intimate moment with a very low-profile Adrien Brody). At this halfway point in the festival, some participants are already packing their bags and heading home, while the bitter-enders hunker down for the final stretch of moviegoing -- a gauntlet that still includes potentially exciting work from established auteurs Clint Eastwood, Alexander Sokorov, Vincent Gallo, Peter Greenaway, and Bertrand Blier. Let's hope the festival has saved the best for last.