By Indiewire | Indiewire May 15, 2002 at 2:00AM
WORLD CINEMA REPORT: Ready, Set, Cannes: Betting for the Best
by Anthony Kaufman
(indieWIRE: 05.15.02) -- For your average acquisitions executive, the bleary-eyed 10 days to come at the Cannes Film Festival are a highpoint of their cinema-going year thus far. There's Sundance, of course, where they travel in suspicious packs, stressed out and wary of competitors ready to overspend on films with little futures. Then there are Rotterdam and Berlin, a one-two punch of esoteric gems and overly hyped international co-productions, which follow so closely together that most in the film business forego seeing their loved ones for weeks on end. The fall brings with it the same kind of film-going fervor, but for now, May is here and that's means only one thing: Cannes.
The 55th edition of the French cinema landmark promises the familiar art vs. industry impasse: masterful films made by master directors that only a small handful of moviegoers actually want to see. It's the acquisitions executive's duty to find that one masterful film that audiences will actually crave. Cannes organizers have proposed making their jobs easier this year with a conscious nod to including more popular-minded films on the Croisette. "The Selection committees were more than ever determined to belie the preconceived idea that the Cannes Film Festival segregates general public films from art films," reads a Cannes statement. The official release goes on to cite Woody Allen's opener "Hollywood Ending" as "a comedy - a genre that is not presented enough in Cannes," and the presence of an animated film, DreamWorks' "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron," as "further proof of the desire to make the Cannes Film Festival an event accessible to all," the statement said.
Only if it were that easy. The Cannes selection is always mixed with the rigorous and the glitzy, fine art and pretentious self-indulgence with the lines between the divisions never so easily defined. Last year, Cannes-acquired films like Claire Denis' "Trouble Every Day" and Danis Tanovic's "No Man's Land" appeared to be obvious viable products (the first, a controversial curiosity; the latter, a critical favorite), but once back home in the U.S., away from the haute cinema and hot sun of Cannes, distributors discovered nothing was so clear-cut.
This year, new films from the U.K. appear to be solid bets. While Michael Winterbottom's latest "24 Hour Party People" and Mike Leigh's "All or Nothing" already have U.S. distribution (both under Bingham Ray's United Artists), and a number of British entries are looking to reclaim their place in international cinema after being shut out of Cannes' competition line-up last year. "Sweet Sixteen," Ken Loach's eighth Cannes appearance, returns the director to his British working class milieu after the L.A.-set "Bread and Roses." Canadian David Cronenberg appears with his adaptation of Patrick MacGrath's schizophrenia novel "Spider," a U.K. co-production. But even more titillating than these veterans are films from members of the U.K.'s next wave: director Lynne Ramsay's Samantha Moreton starrer "Morvern Callar," and Shane Meadows' spaghetti western homage "Once Upon a Time in the Midlands" (both in Directors Fortnight), and newcomer Francesa Joseph's low budget comedy "Tomorrow La Scala" (screening in the Un Certain Regard section).
Execs in search of English-language fare will also certainly flock to the world premiere of North American director Peter Sollett's feature debut "Long Way Home" (Un Certain Regard), inspired by his award-winning short film "Five Feet High and Rising." Also bypassing the U.S. festival circuit for a Cannes premiere is Raphael Nadjari's "Apartment #5C" (Directors Fortnight), the New York-based French director's second trip to the festival following 1999's "The Shade."
American films also dominate in an unusually large selection of documentaries this year. Alongside international auteurs like Manoel de Oliveira, Alexandre Sokurov, and Jia Zhang-ke, "Roger and Me" director Michael Moore will appear in the highly regarded competition section with "Bowling For Columbine," a critical look at America's gun culture, which will be actively looking for a theatrical suitor at the festival. Also, actress Rosanna Arquette will unveil her documentary debut "Searching for Debra Winger," inspired by the acclaimed actress' departure from the business. Documentary vets D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus will showcase their latest, the Motown chronicle "Only the Strong Survive" (already acquired by Miramax) and Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen's Robert Evans doc "The Kid Stays In The Picture" (coming soon from the newly-christened Focus) will also be shown. Even acclaimed doc-filmmaker Frederick Wiseman will be on hand to exhibit his "La Derniere Lettre," a filming of his stage production of Vassili Grossman's noted play.
The French are currently fighting to retain their reputation as one of the best art-film industries in the world, and this year, they'll unveil some anticipated new films. The hottest tickets are sure to be the latest from French hipsters Gaspar Noe and Olivier Assayas. Noe, director of shocker "I Stand Alone," reveals his latest provocation, the erotic drama "Irreversible." Last week, one of the film's stars, Monica Belluci, told an Italian newspaper, "'Irreversible' has been made to sow discord, to divide audiences. It's halfway between 'A Clockwork Orange' and Pier Paolo Pasolini's 'Salo'." Oliver Assayas' corporate espionage thriller "Demonlover" promises a lighter intrigue, with starlets Connie Nelson, Chloe Sevigny, and Gina Gershon caught up in illegal Internet activities to the tunes of Sonic Youth. Also to watch in the competition are "The Adversary," the latest film from actress-turned-director Nicole Garcia ("Place Vendome") and Roman Polanski's return (let's all hope) to serious cinema with the Holocaust drama "The Pianist." True cineastes will also be on the look out for "The Son," the latest from Belgian former Cannes winners Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne ("Rosetta"), and "Marie Jo and Her Two Lovers," from prolific Marseilles-based director Robert Guediguian ("The Town is Quiet").
A preponderance of films from the Middle East is also sure to garner attention, lead by Abbas Kiarostami's latest "10" in the competition. Other Iranian stalwarts Bahman Ghobadi and Dariush Mehrjui will show new films, as will Palestinian director Elia Suleiman, Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai, new directors from Algeria, Lebanon, and, for the first time in Cannes history, a director from Syria. An unprecedented two films from Turkey's Zeki Demirkubuz, "Fate" and "Confession," will also screen.
Then there's the wildcards, unforeseen standouts from industries far and wide that wow unsuspecting viewers. Top contenders are Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismaki's "Man Without a Past"; and Argentine new wavers Pablo Trapero ("Crane World") and Adrian Caetano ("Bolivia"), who plan to confirm that country's cinematic vitality with "El Bonaerense" and "Un Oso Rojo," respectively. Two hotshot Thai directors will try to keep the momentum of last year's "Tears of the Black Tiger" success: Apichatpong Weerasethakul, with "Blissfully Yours" and Pen-ek Ratanaruang, with "Monrak Transistor."
And in Cannes's new spirit of inclusion and equality, for the first time the festival will offer filmmakers the possibility of projecting their films digitally. Four competition films were shot on digital (those by Kiarostami, Sokurov and Zhang-ke, and Winterbottom), while numerous others will project their films digitally. With first-time entries from new corners of the world appearing at every successive Cannes, the change could allow for even more diverse works in festivals to come. Or maybe just enable the screening of the next "Star Wars."