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by Peter Knegt
May 20, 2009 11:34 AM
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ROUND UP VI: "Antichrist" In America; "Basterds," "Folles" Find Mixed Reactions

The scene in Cannes. Photo by Peter Knegt.

The frenzy surrounding the Cannes premiere of Lars Von Trier's "Antichrist" culminated today, with IFC acquiring the film for U.S. release. "IFC Films goes for two Wednesday with its second Cannes acquisition announcement of the day. Lars Von Trier's much ballyhooed debated "Antichrist" will come to the U.S. after all," indieWIRE's Brian Brooks reported. "Von Trier, whose fiery press conference, which managed to both polarize and excite the Cannes Film Festival, set off a debate among many insiders about whether the film was releasable in America. IFC said the cut will be the same version screened in Cannes."

Already long tied to distributor Weinstein Company, Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" was the major film screening in competition today. indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez reported from the scene, noting that like Von Trier, Tarantino "continued the steady stream of auterist language being found here in Cannes this year... Taken out of context, [Tarantino's words] might seem to rival the recent Lars Von Trier declaration that he is 'the best film director in the world.' In this case, Tarantino’s comment was a bit more nuanced."

Hernandez was referring to following QT sound bite: “I love [my characters] from this god perspective because I am god as far as the characters are concerned, because I created them."

Critics, on the other hand, didn't seem to love Tarantino's characters this time around.

"Given what the world expects from Quentin Tarantino - the man, the myth, the pastiche-driven movie machine - his latest feature, 'Inglourious Basterds,' stands out for its seemingly low ambition," reported critic Eric Kohn for indieWIRE, going on to say that "the story of Nazi-hunting Jewish soldiers delivers on the colorful brand of unserious entertainment implied by the plot, but no matter how much extreme contextualization and heavily stylized techniques Tarantino introduced to the production, 'Inglourious Basterds' feels like a bubblegum sidedish to the heavy dinner plate of his career. While not intentionally a rudimentary project, it automatically becomes one by the limits of its design."

Most critics shared Kohn's sense of disappointment with "Basterds" which doesn't, in their view, quite match the director's best work. "The film is by no means terrible but those things we think of as being Tarantino-esque, the long
 stretches of wickedly funny dialogue, the humor in the violence and outsized 
characters strutting across the screen, are largely missing," says The Hollywood Reporter's review.

"Terrible" would seem to be The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw's assessment of the film, however. In his one-star review he rants: "Quentin Tarantino's cod-WW2 shlocker about a Jewish-American revenge squad intent on killing Nazis in German-occupied France is awful. It is achtung-achtung-ach-mein-Gott atrocious. It isn't funny; it isn't exciting; it isn't a realistic war movie, yet neither is it an entertaining genre spoof or a clever counterfactual wartime yarn. It isn't emotionally involving or deliciously ironic or a brilliant tissue of trash-pop references. Nothing like that."

Finally, a more mixed appraisal of the film comes courtesy of Dave Calhoun writing for Time Out. He writes that while "Tarantino is mostly smart enough to let his usual, entertaining extravagances serve the story rather than the other way around... For all its shallow pleasures, there’s no getting away from the troubling theme of sadistic revenge at the heart of 'Inglourious Basterds', a theme that’s hard to take seriously in such a movie, about such a period of history."

A scene from Alain Resnais' "Les Herbes folles." image courtesy of the Cannes Film Festival.

The other film screening in competition today - Alain Resnais' "Les Herbes folles also found its share of detractors, but unlike "Basterds," some critics were completely won over.

"Some may remember the 2009 Cannes Film Festival for the ephemeral brouhaha of 'Antichrist,' but time will be most understanding of all to 'Wild Grass,' the new masterpiece by Alain Resnais," gushes Daniel Kasman for the Auteurs Notebook. "It has breathed life not just into the festival but into cinema itself, a true, effervescent delight as sad, hilarious, and wonderful as can be imagined, which is exactly the point. It is the ultimate Resnais film, an entire story, an entire cast of characters, and entire candy-colored film world all pitched as speculation."

Jordan Mintzer, writing for Variety, notes that "'Wild Grass' shows that although Resnais has grown more light-hearted in old age, he hasn't lost his desire to challenge the viewer on all levels" noting that it's "more freewheeling than 2006's 'Private Fears in Public Places,' but with a similar networking structure that connects the destinies of several melancholy adults into one intriguing web."

On the other hand, Duane Byrge, reviewing the film for The Hollywood Reporter dismisses the film as "a polished ditty from revered French director Alain Resnais. He's revered and he's French, and that's the likely explanation for inclusion of this demi-divertissement in the Competition... With its thin narrative and elliptical story jumps, 'Wild Grass' crashes and burns in a pretentious and unsatisfying manner." While The AV Club's Mike D'Angelo takes it even further, not necessarily criticizing the film, but calls it "nuts," refusing to grade it and saying "the film baffled [him] like few movies have baffled [him] before" (If you only click one link here, do check out this review).

Either way, neither film that screened in competition is likely to ever make an updated version of this list by Time’s Richard Corliss. He names his ten favorite Cannes' competition films of all time, from 1949's "The Third Man" to Tarantino' own "Pulp Fiction" to recent Palme d'Or winner "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days."

There's six films left to screen in competition - including tomorrow's highly anticipated "The White Ribbon." We'll see if any of them reach the heights of Corliss' chosen ten.

Be sure to check back here at indieWIRE for ongoing coverage of the Cannes Film Festival. You can also track any of the competition titles on indieWIRE's freshly launched Cannes film pages, which have now been updated in respect to the films that screened today.

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