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CANNES ’99: Mom’s The Word, As Cannes Films Highlight Motherhood; Fest Wraps

CANNES '99: Mom's The Word, As Cannes Films Highlight Motherhood; Fest Wraps

CANNES ’99: Mom’s The Word, As Cannes Films Highlight Motherhood; Fest Wraps

by Anthony Kaufman

As the 52nd Cannes film festival wraps up tonight with a screening of
Oliver Parker’s adaptation of “An Ideal Husband,” the busiest two weeks
of the film world comes to a close, leaving behind approximately five
thousand exhausted journalists, countless numbers of merciless
stargazers and a select group of esteemed world filmmakers who have
shocked and bored, exhilarated and confounded, incited laughter and
induced deep sleep. For many, the year was a bust. Names like Carax and
Egoyan returned with films not nearly as laudable as their last and
veterans like Kaige and Ripstein took more time for their stories than
most had the patience for.

At the awards ceremony tonight, the clear favorite is Pedro Almodovar,
whose “All About My Mother” continues to be most often-mentioned delight
of the festival. Take note, however, that the jury consists of only 3
North Americans out of the 10 (Jury President David Cronenberg and
actors Holly Hunter and Jeff Goldblum) so winners may be skewed towards
a more Euro-aesthetic. For instance, Takeshi Kitano and Jim Jarmusch’s
entries pleased more international audiences than those speaking in
English. Raul Ruiz’s “Remembrance of Things Past” adaptation was also a
favorite in the French trade magazine, Le Film Français, while the
American journals were frustrated with the obtuse narrative. One thing
is for sure about Cannes, it’s winners are not always the most
championed films. Previous winners like “Eternity and a Day” and “Taste
of Cherry
” screened in the last days of the festival, where most viewers
were already packing their bags or at least, distractedly dreaming of
their loved ones and creature comforts back home. In that coincidental vein,
the new effort of Belgian filmmakers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne (“La Promesse“),
“Rosetta,” might possess the gritty naturalist force that propelled last year’s
“The Dream Life of Angels” to much acclaim.

Portuguese elder filmmaker Manuel Oliveira (“Journey to the Beginning of
the World
“) is another dark horse, whose quiet new film “La Lettre” had
consistent positive word of mouth among critics and looks destined for a
New York premiere in September at the New York Film Festival, where many
of the Cannes titles are likely to end up. David Lynch’s departure from
his usual surrealism with the subtle, small film “The Straight Story
was also well-liked, but it may not have the dramatic punch to pull off
the Palme d’Or.

If there is any thematic thread to be gleaned from this last Cannes of
the millennium, mothers (lost and found, new and old, triumphant and
suffering) appeared in many of this year’s titles. While last year’s
festival was known for its licentious sexuality, most notably in
“Happiness” (pedophilia) and “The Idiots” (hardcore sex), among others,
Cannes ’99 was certainly a more family affair, with mom an integral part
of many of the films. The most notable is, of course, “All About My
Mother,” Almodovar’s account of one mother who loses her son in a car
crash and returns to Barcelona to find the boy’s father to tell him the
tragic news. There she finds more mothers than we’d expect, a
mother-to-be, a transvestite mother, a worried mother and a mother of
the stage. Almodovar alone seems to have cast a wide net of mothers.

Other mothers whose children die or have died are featured in Lynch’s
“The Straight Story,” Lynne Ramsay’s “Ratcatcher” and Coppola’s “The
Virgin Suicides
.” Then there are the teary-eyed moms who have lost their
children in Jeremy Podeswa’s “The Five Senses” and Winterbottom’s
“Wonderland” (which also features one notably provocative birth scene).
There is also no shortage of children seeking their mothers; the
narrative behind Kitano’s “Kikijuo” is based on a young boy’s road trip
to find his mother, both physically and emotionally, while Atom Egoyan’s
protagonist in “Felicia’s Journey,” Mr. Hilditch has Oedipal desires
for a mother who remains a ubiquitous force to the thrust of the story.
John Sayles’ “Limbo” tells the struggle of a mother and daughter’s
strained relationship in Alaska while Italian director Marco
Bellocchio’s Competition selection “La Balia” (The Nanny) focuses on a
young woman who becomes the mother figure for a couple’s newborn, after
the baby refuses his birth mother’s milk. And Peter Greenaway begins his
film with the mother’s death, and then finds 8 and a half symbolic
replacements in the guise of different concubines for the aggrieved
father and his sexually adventurous son.

Mothers struggling with several to-capacity families were integral to
two Director’s Fortnight entries: “East is East,” where mother must
contend with her five boys and one daughter, and Angelica Huston’s
“Agnes Browne,” where Huston plays an Irish mother with seven kids. And
though Catherine Deneuve plays the young protagonist’s aunt in Carax’s
“Pola X,” she is the only mother he has; and the image of her riding on
a motorcycle through a tree-lined forest in the dead of night is
probably the most lasting in the film, and perhaps even the festival.

Okay, so the only mother in Jarmusch’s “Ghost Dog” is an off screen
voice, but there is a pattern definitely emerging here. Why all this
maternity at the end of the millennium? To make up for last year’s
provocative sexuality? To provide some vision of family values in a
historical moment filled with crisis? Whatever the reason, Mom was a
fixture in all her forms, and if Cannes 99 was a disappointment, at
least it gave us the opportunity to contemplate our moms. Though with
all the parties, press conferences and crazy antics on the Croisette,
it’s doubtful that anybody really had the opportunity to ponder her.

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