Cannes Unknowns: Who Will Be the Next Bertolucci, Von Trier, or Soderbergh?
by Anthony Kaufman
They once traveled to the Croisette as neophytes, unproven commodities whose careers received a sudden injection of esteem by showings at the Cannes Film Festival. Filmmakers from Francois Truffaut, Satyajit Ray, and Bernardo Bertolucci to Lars Von Trier, Steven Soderbergh, and Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu all found themselves launched onto the world cinema stage with their landmark Cannes debuts. As a 26-year-old Soderbergh quipped after receiving the Palme d'Or at Cannes 1989, "It's all downhill from here."
With the 57th Cannes Film Festival kicking off next week, a wave of beginners are about to crash the Riviera with hopes of critical acceptance, Golden Palms, and a bucket load of international sales. Will American directors like Jonathan Caouette ("Tarnation"), Nicole Kassell ("The Woodsman"), and Jacob Aaron Estes ("Mean Creek") make a splash in the Directors Fortnight section, giving them a higher profile than the rest of their Sundance '04 alumni? Or will they get lost among the shuffle of new international auteurs from Kazakhstan, Japan, and Lebanon?
By the simple fact of its esteemed place in the Cannes competition (alongside such art-film giants as Wong Kar-wai, Emir Kusturica and Olivier Assayas), German filmmaker Hans Weingartner's "The Edukators" (a.k.a. "Happy Days Are Gone") is generating some of the biggest buzz among discovery-seekers. "The Edukators" is also the first German film in competition since Wim Wenders' disastrous "Far Away, So Close" won a grand jury prize in 1993. Starring Daniel Bruhl ("Good Bye Lenin!"), Weingartner's new movie involves a love triangle among three anti-capitalist rebels that echoes the filmmaker's angst-driven youth-centered debut, "The White Sound" (winner of Germany's respected Max Ophuls prize and a selection of New Directors/New Films 2002). Venerated art-film sales agent Celluloid Dreams is on board for sales.
The Official Selection's Un Certain Regard sidebar is home to several newbies, including opening selection "Bienvenue en Suisse," Léa Fazer's first feature starring Emmanuelle Devos ("Read My Lips"). Fazer is joined by a number of anticipated features from fellow female directors.
After a handful of award-winning shorts ("Strap on Olympia," "Flowergirl"), Aussie Cate Shortland unveils her first feature "Somersault," a reputedly strong drama about a teenager who runs away from home and ends up in a ski resort in Australia's Snowy Mountains. Exec produced by veteran Jan Chapman ("The Piano") and being sold by Fortissimo Film Sales and John Sloss' Cinetic Media, "Somersault" follows in the footsteps of last year's Australian entry, "Japanese Story," which was one of the few movies to sell to a U.S. distributor during last year's festival.
Austrian filmmaker Jessica Hausner's second film "Hotel" (being sold by The Coproduction Office) is also set in a mountain resort, about Rita, a young newly hired receptionist, who learns that her predecessor disappeared under mysterious circumstances. If Hausner's latest effort has any of the pungent stylistic touches, detailed characterizations, and chilling twists of her sharp-edged debut "Lovely Rita," it will be one to watch.
Also in Un Certain Regard, Mexican filmmaker Sebastian Cordero's second feature "Cronicas" has the lineage to make for a Cannes must-see. A thriller produced by Alfonso Cuaron ("Y Tu Mama Tambien") and starring John Leguizamo and Leonor Watling ("Talk to Her"), "Cronicas" follows a Miami news reporter's zealous quest to nab the story of a serial killer who hunts down children. Cordero's award-winning gritty debut "Ratas, Ratones, Rateros" (a.k.a. "Rodents") played at Slamdance 2000 and "Cronicas" won a 2002 Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers award.
For more high-brow cineastes, the section will also premiere French-Afghani writer Atiq Rahimi's"Earth and Ashes," a richly photographed Cinemascope drama set in his war-ravaged homeland about three generations of Afghanis; "Whiskey," the story of two brothers reunited after their mother's death from Uruguayan team Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll, known for their deadpan 2001 fest favorite "25 Watts"; and "Passages," a debut feature from Chinese filmmaker Yang Chao, who won a student film prize at Cannes 2001 for "Runaway," his downbeat portrait of a young man gripped by failure.
The Critics Week sidebar, devoted to first and second-time filmmakers, is rife with potential breakouts and contenders for the Camera d'Or, the prize given to the best debut film across the festival's sections. (In recent years, Critics Week has launched "Amores Perros," "Respiro," "Reconstruction," and "Since Otar Left.")
Advanced word on the slate points to 28-year-old Palestinian filmmaker Tawfik Abu Wael's "Atash" ("Thirst") as this year's breakout. According to former Celluloid Dreams staffer Pierre Menahem, who is repping the picture, "the family tragedy tells the thirst of the Palestinians to live on their land, the thirst of Arab women to get rid of the male tyranny, [and] the thirst of the son to go to school and get educated." Shot in "gorgeous" Cinemascope and produced by Israeli Avi Kleinberger ("Divine Intervention"), "Thirst" was also tipped by Critics Week selection committee member Jean Rabinovici as one of the strongest films in the Critics Week competition.
Joining "Thirst" among the festival's tough tales about the Middle East is Keren Yedaya's "Or," a French-Israeli co-production about a prostitute and her daughter fighting to survive on the streets of Tel Aviv. Starring Ronit Elkabetz, the memorable girlfriend from Israeli art-house hit "Late Marriage," "Or" is Yedaya's feature debut, following a string of award-winning shorts such as "Lulu" and "Les Dessous."
Critics Week will also present another pair of works from burgeoning French-language women filmmakers, Eleonore Faucher's "Brodeuses," the story of a pregnant 17-year-old who finds refuge with an embroiderer for haute couture designers (being sold by Flach Pyramide) and "CQ2 (Seek You Too)," the second film and reportedly more mature work from veteran Quebec actress and singer Carole Laure. Wisely stepping behind the camera, Laure leaves the performing to her daughter, newcomer Clara Furey, who plays a teenager who channels her lust for life into contemporary dance. Programmer Rabinovici admits he didn't care much for Laure's debut, "Marie's Sons," which played in the sidebar in 2002, but he was "astonished" by "CQ2 (Seek You Too)."
With additional unknowns in the Cannes Market and a plethora of new works from far-flung locales across the globe, the next Ken Loach, Leos Carax, or Guillermo del Toro could be among them. As Rabinovici says, "It is always the most interesting thing to discover new filmmakers from everywhere."