Film Community Offers Early Word on Cannes '04 Selections
by Brian Brooks
Reactions to the 2004 Cannes lineup run the gamut from "exciting" to "underwhelming," based on comments from insiders informally polled by indieWIRE during a quick round of phone calls and emails to industry members as well as regular iW contributors. Some people commented on their surprise at films that did not appear in the Cannes competition and Un Certain Regard sections. As for the movie to watch, Jack Turner, V.P. of acquisitions and production at United Artists, indieWIRE World Cinema columnist Anthony Kaufman and iW critic Peter Brunette each cited the Wong Kar-wai's "2046."
Other titles received early buzz as well. Turner cited competition film "La Nina Santa" by Lucrecia Martel, as well as Jonathan Nossiter's winemaking epic "Mondo Vino" (screening out of competition) as films to watch. "Mondo Vino" is supposed to be brilliant," he added. Generally, Turner said that this year's Cannes is shaping up to be a high profile one for international titles. "It's exciting, Cannes is not making it easy for anybody -- not catering toward the [U.S.] domestic acquisitions industry -- which they never do anyway, but it's quite all over the map," Turner said. He also mentioned Un Certain Regard films "Hotel" by Jessica Hausner, Cate Shortland's "Somersault," and Niel Mueller's "The Assassination of Richard Nixon" as films he is "keen" to see.
ThinkFilm chief Mark Urman cited the heavy prevalence of Hollywood in the Cannes roster for 2004. "A lot of great directors and Cannes favorites will be there. There's more Hollywood (as opposed to American) films than one might have expected." Still, Urman is upbeat about this year's event. "All in all, there's a good balance between known quantities and potential discoveries. Un Certain Regard certainly looks more 'alternative' than it's been in recent years."
Both Urman and Turner said that they were surprised this year's festival does not include Mike Leigh's "Vera Drake." "The absence of Mike Leigh surprised me. I hear it's strong and this year was one of loyalty, so why no loyalty to Mike?" commented Urman to iW, adding, "The inclusion of 'SO' many pre-exposed, non-mandatory films like the latest Coen Bros., 'Bad Santa,' 'Kill Bill' -- when not all of them are absolutely great -- is a bit surprising. And I'm always surprised when films like 'Troy' show up at the Palais. Does it mean the film is extra good or that the fest is overly eager to have Brad Pitt on the red carpet?"
Wellspring head of acquisitions Marie Therese Guirgis offered a more general assessment of Wednesday's announcements. "I think in terms of the major known filmmakers, there are not many surprises." She also added she was pleased the competition includes "lesser-known" films. Upcoming directors in the Un Certain Regard program also figured highly for Guirgis. "It is always [beneficial] when there are directors who I don't know. There are not any clearly obvious ultra-prominent films in that section." There are a few films she has been tracking that she'll be watching at Cannes "to see them in their final stages" she added, but Guirgis said that she is also on the look out for lower profile titles. "Sometimes, it's the discoveries that end up being more exciting then the ones you know going in expecting to like."
Paramount Classics acquisitions exec. Susan Wrubel agreed that the lineup did not offer many surprises, but called it "very solid." Wrubel was pleased to see Martel's "La Nina Santa" and Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "Tropical Malady" in the competition. The diversity of the Un Certain Regard line up, like Guirgis, also seemed to catch Wrubel's attention. "I'm impressed with Un Certain Regard because the old masters are mixed with new filmmakers." She cited Benoit Jacquot's "A Tout de Suite," Sergio Castellitto's "Non Ti Muovere" and, like Turner, Hausner's "Hotel" as specific films that figured prominently in her overview of the section. Additionally, the inclusion of Juan-Pablo Rebella's "Whiskey" in Un Certain Regard brought personal satisfaction for Wrubel because that film had been given finishing funds by Global Film Initiative, a charitable foundation where she worked prior to joining Paramount Classics.
iW's regular correspondents were put off by the lineup's high profile inclusion of Hollywood studio titles. "Overall, I think the competition is underwhelming, though it's always hard to tell in advance," said Peter Brunette who writes regular reviews for indieWIRE and is a Cannes veteran. "My overall sense is that there is a preponderance of crowd-pleasers," was World Cinema correspondent Anthony Kaufman's reaction. "While it may satisfy some of the more populist critics, I have to wonder whether having 'Fahrenheit 9/11,' 'The Ladykillers,' 'The Life and Death of Peter Sellers,' 'The Motorcycle Diaries,' and 'Shrek 2' in the competition will wear down more discerning critics, who look to the festival for high-art cinema." Brunette concurred with Kaufman in his opinion adding, "'The Ladykillers' I found uninteresting and 'Shrek 2' is included for some Hollywood pizzazz. I expect it will be good, but it's hardly the kind of film an American critic goes to Cannes to see."