By Indiewire | Indiewire May 22, 2003 at 2:00AM
Cannes Diary Day 8: A Good Barbarian and a Bad Bunny; Errol Morris' Latest and a "Japanese" Deal
by Stephen Garrett
It was the best of times and the worst of times on the Croisette, as Denys Arcand's "The Barbarian Invasions" enchanted audiences with its highbrow mix of joy and pathos and the universally reviled Vincent Gallo film "The Brown Bunny" drove many critics into spasms of derisive applause during the most painful of its comically exasperating sequences.
Arcand's warmly received Big Chill dramedy (revisiting characters he introduced in 1986's Oscar-nominated "The Decline of the American Empire") centers around liberal Quebecois Remy (Remy Girard), a professor hospitalized with a terminal illness, and his relationships with friends and family -- specifically his estranged son Sebastien (Stephane Rousseau), a millionaire financier who lives in London. A passing reference to September 11th introduces Arcand's concept of modern barbarians at the gate of civilization, and the director uses Remy's hospitalization as a petrie dish for studying the personal and the political in today's increasingly borderless (and capitalist) society. This mainstream intellectual film never lets its higher concepts capsize a basic sense of entertainment, which was much appreciated by its premiere crowd: the end of the film was greeted with overwhelming applause and a few cries of "bravo!"
On the other extreme was "The Brown Bunny," a film critics were eager to see if only for its director's renegade personality -- not to mention a reportedly graphic fellatio scene between Gallo and co-star Chloe Sevigny. The result, though, was an at best tedious exploration of one man's painful longing for his ex-girlfriend. At the press screening, the crowd was only too happy to pounce on its shortcomings, and there were surprisingly few walkouts (most likely because the infamous blowjob comes very nearly at the end). It's hard to remember the last time so many people were so willing to suffer through a movie they so vocally disliked; a few people afterward admitted that they wanted to make it to the end so they knew every dreadful moment to reference in their panning reviews.
If Gallo was fazed by the reception, it didn't show at the press conference, where he and Sevigny seemed guarded but in good spirits. When one journalist asked Sevigny a question about her manager's thoughts on the career choices she was making (she is also here with "Dogville"), she said that he was fine with them, and Gallo followed up by saying, "What passive-aggressive thing do you mean by that?" Otherwise, the press seemed actively considerate -- to the point that Gallo recalled his first, much more contentious visit to Cannes. "I was here in 1991 with Emir Kusterica and I was shocked -- shocked! at the questions being asked. I'm relieved that this is a nicer group of people. It's not like you're asking Lars Von Trier if he fucked Nicole Kidman." True, but von Trier also doesn't make his star suck his cock on camera.
Out of competition, Errol Morris' "The Fog of War" proved to be a profoundly thoughtful exploration of Robert Strange McNamara and his controversial seven-year tenure as Secretary of Defense throughout most of the 1960s. Striking yet another cinematic bull's eye, Morris presents a profile of McNamara, the only interviewee in the film, as he reflects on the professional decisions of his life -- all catalogued by Morris into 11 different "lessons" about wielding power and deciding the fate of nations. Using for the first time declassified conversations between McNamara and President Johnson, and including such bombshells as McNamara's admittance that, had the U.S. lost World War II, he and others with which he had served in the Armed Forces would have been war criminals for what they had committed, "The Fog of War" makes for required viewing for anyone wanting to understand U.S. policy -- both then and now.
In other Cannes news, Fortissimo has closed a deal with Samuel Goldwyn for North American rights to "Japanese Story," an Un Certain Regard selection from Australia directed by Sue Brooks and starring Toni Colette and Gotaro Tsunashima. The deal was negotiated for Fortissimo by Cinetic's John Sloss and Goldwyn's Meyer Gottlieb in L.A., and Tom Quinn and Peter Goldwyn in Cannes. Earlier during the Cannes festival, Fortissimo sold the film's rights for Spain, Italy, Benelux, Portugal, and Greece. Goldwyn's U.S. release is expected later this year.