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Category: Cannes 2011

Cannes 2011: A video examination, Part 4 -- Did Lars von Trier go too far?

May 18, 2011 |  9:29 pm

Lars von Trier made headlines -- the kind you don't want -- at the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday. In a monologue that started with the question of Richard Wagner's suitability as a soundtrack choice, the Danish director of "Melancholia" wound up telling a news conference that he felt sympathy for Nazis and Hitler. Was it a joke gone awry or something worse? The Times' Steven Zeitchik and the Chicago Tribune's  Michael Phillips hash it out.



Lars von Trier says he doesn't deserve a Palme d'Or

Cannes 2011: The six festival films you'll soon be hearing about

Cannes 2011: Director Lars von Trier retracts Nazi comment, apologizes

Cannes 2011: Egyptian short films bring Al Jazeera to the Croisette

May 18, 2011 |  7:19 pm

There have been omnibus films at festivals before, collections of shorts about an event like Sept. 11 or the darkest days of Nicolae Ceausescu's Romania. But those usually come out years after the events that inspired the films, when a country has processed the events as history and audiences can view the movies through a period lens.

Not so for "18 Days," a collection of 10 shorts, told from various perspectives, about the uprising this winter in Egypt that led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. The collection, which played a single engagement at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday night, contained many pieces that mixed real-life, digital camera footage with scripted scenes, giving the whole enterprise an immediacy most fact-based films lack. If cable news ever tried to merge with an independent-film workshop, this is what it would look like.

Even before the shorts screened, their selection had generated some controversy -- two of the filmmakers, Marwan Hamed and Sherif Arafa, were said to have worked on pro-Mubarak campaigns in 2005, prompting at least one actor to boycott the screening.

Perhaps because of their quick turnaround, the films themselves were an uneven bunch. (Personal favorites of this viewer included a short about a slouch who is enlisted to serve in Mubarak's anti-protest goon squad and one about a progressive twentysomething who experiences the revolution through social media.)

But whatever their quality level, the films created a surreal feeling for Cannes, thrusting a venue that's normally at a certain remove from the outside world into the middle of highly charged, contemporary events. The Egyptian uprising, after all, came to a head just three months ago.

Before the screening began, one of the directors stood at the front of the theater and noted that three months ago "had I thought I would have been presenting the world premiere of this film I would have thought myself insane." Ditto for festivalgoers watching it.


Cannes 2011: The six festival films you'll soon be hearing about

Cannes 2011: Can "The Artist" cross over from art-house novelty to mainstream hit?

Cannes 2011: How did the reaction to Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" get so complicated?

-- Steven Zeitchik in Cannes, France


Photo:  An Egyptian man reacts as others use cellphones to take photos of police detaining a number of people who were blocking Tahrir square with razor-wire and barricades in Cairo on April 12. Credit: Associated Press

Cannes 2011: Director Lars von Trier retracts Nazi comment, apologizes

May 18, 2011 | 12:14 pm


Danish director Lars von Trier, an auteur provocateur known for his controversial films, apologized Wednesday after joking with reporters at the Cannes Film Festival that he was a Nazi and that he was glad he was not of Jewish heritage, as he once hoped he might be.

At a news conference for his new film “Melancholia,” starring Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg as sisters, he said that he at one point “really wanted to be a Jew, and then I found out that I was really a Nazi, because, you know, my family was German. Which also gave me some pleasure.”

He added: “What can I say? I understand Hitler, but I think he did some wrong things, yes, absolutely. But I can see him sitting in his bunker in the end. … He's not what you would call a good guy, but I understand much about him, and I sympathize with him a little bit. But come on, I'm not for the Second World War, and I'm not against Jews...I am very much for Jews. No, not too much, because Israel is a pain in the” butt.

He also took a shot at fellow Danish director Susanne Bier, who is Jewish and whose movie “In a Better World” won the Oscar for foreign language film this year.

The remarks were an attempt at humor, but they were met with silence in the roomful of reporters.

The comments grew out of a question Von Trier was asked about his use of music by Wagner in a striking opening sequence of “Melancholia.” The longer he spoke, the deeper the hole got, and he seemed to realize it, as did Dunst and Gainsbourg, who were sitting next to him. Reaching an impasse in his monologue, he ended with “OK, I'm a Nazi.”

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Cannes 2011: With documentary on BP oil spill, a festival tries to dig in

May 18, 2011 |  5:30 am



The Cannes Film Festival isn't known for its documentaries. But once in a while, a filmmaker takes on a current event in a way that gets the crowd buzzing. That happened in 2004 when Michael Moore came in with "Fahrenheit 9/11" and walked out with a Palme d'Or. And it happened last year when Charles Ferguson premiered his "Inside Job" to festival-goers on the Croisette; amid the glitz and opulence, everyone was talking about the perils of greed.

On Tuesday night, the festival tried the trick again by showing Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrell's documentary about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. There would seem to be a promising cinematic story in the tale of a big corporation acting in dubious moral and legal ways, possibly with the help of the U.S. government, leading to a catastrophe.

The backstory on the spill was a good primer for those who have forgotten the cataclysmic events of that spring. And it was noteworthy to see Peter Fonda pop up; the actor-activist executive produced the film and made a small appearance. But any Fergusonian ambitions were soon extinguished. The crowd squirmed restlessly as the film moved from facts about the spill to topics as tenuously connected as the recent revolution in Egypt and the Japanese nuclear disaster, all while asserting some vague conspiracy between government and corporate activities. The filmmakers are activists in the realm of alternative energy (Tickell previously helmed the doc "Fuel"), and they go from showing the working-man victims in the gulf to talking-head voices of outrage who say things like, "The power system won't save us from corporate forces that kill us."

The you-can-make-a-difference activism is present in Moore's films too, of course, but usually after he has entertainingly worked the crowd into a lather, something that, judging by the audience's reaction here, the filmmakers don't do.

There may yet, however, be a filmic story to tell about the spill -- "Twilight" studio Summit is currently developing one, based on a dramatizing of the hours leading up to the spill.


Cannes 2011: The six festival films you'll soon be hearing about

Cannes 2011: Can "The Artist" cross over from art-house novelty to mainstream hit?

Cannes 2011: How did the reaction to Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" get so complicated?

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo. "The Big Fix." Credit: Cannes Film Festival

Cannes 2011: 'The Beaver' director Jodie Foster: Our movie struck out in the U.S. because Americans don't like dramedies

May 17, 2011 |  8:19 am

"The Beaver" at least partly flopped in the U.S. because it starred Mel Gibson. But director Jodie Foster has a different explanation for the film's tanking: American sensibilities.

"It's designed to do something different," Foster told reporters, referring to her film, at the Cannes Film Festival on Tuesday, pointing out that the movie is a high-concept comedy that also has many dramatic elements. "And very often Americans are not comfortable with [that]." She went on to say that she feels American usually want films to fit in one box or another.

The movie, which stars Gibson as a depressed man who puts on a beaver puppet in the name of self-therapy, has failed to crack even $1 million in domestic box office since coming out in limited release on May 6.

Foster said she was hoping for a better response in Europe, where the film will open in many territories after playing the Cannes Film Festival Tuesday night. "I always assumed that because it has a European style it will be well-received in Europe," she said. (It's also worth noting that the Gibson controversies, which involve his alleged rants at ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva and anti-Semitic comments to a police officer in 2006, have created less of a media stir on that continent than in North America.)

At Cannes, Gibson will turn out for the red carpet gala, Foster said. "He won't talk, but he'll be here,"  she said, marking one of the first large-scale public appearances since the Grigorieva scandal erupted last summer.

As she did in U.S. interviews, Foster continued to defend he choice of Gibson as the film's star, despite his baggage and potential drag on the box office. "He handles the charm and the humor of the characters while still keeping his feet in drama," she said. "And the first order of business is to say who's the right actor for the role. At this point I can't think of anyone else but Mel."

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Jodie Foster prepares to address reporters in Cannes, France. Credit: Ian Langsdon / EPA

Cannes 2011: The six festival films you'll soon be hearing about

May 17, 2011 |  2:30 am


In 2007 it was "No Country for Old Men" and "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." In 2009 it was "Inglourious Basterds" and "A Prophet." A bit more than halfway through this year's Cannes Film Festival, it's not too early to predict which films will endure long after the last beachside-club guard dog scampers to different pastures. Here are six movies you didn't know before that you're almost certainly to know about after the festival shuts its doors.

"The Artist." Probably the most crowd-pleasing of this year's entries, competition or otherwise. The story of a silent-film star worried about getting left behind as Hollywood moves to talkies is told with high-concept brio: it's a black-and-white film set in the silent film world. The movie is a serious contender for the Palme 'dOr and will get a big ride from distributor The Weinstein Co., while the warm reaction suggests a media inescapability when the film comes out later this year. It may even make its star Jean Dujardin, already a French A-lister, a big name in the U.S., though his patchy English skills could prove a hindrance.

"We Need to Talk About Kevin." Lynn Ramsay's film had its detractors, and not everyone will want to watch a tale of a mother losing control of her bad-seed son. But Tilda Swinton's performance and the ongoing topicality of teen violence -- not to mention a director with a strong sense of visual style -- means this will be one of the talked-about movies come awards time. The only question is which awards time -- nervous about the commercial prospects, distributors have yet to make a compelling offer.

"The Skin I'm In." Pedro Almodovar's latest hasn't even premiered here yet. But the director's reliable following among a certain foreign-language set,  coupled with the fact that he's now moved into the new territory of a revenge thriller, means that it's almost impossible for the movie not to get noticed long after the Croisette rabble-rousing quiets down.

"Footnote." It may not have the crackling politics of "Waltz With Bashir" or other military-themed Israeli pictures of years past. But the black comedy and strong reviews of Joseph Cedar's latest will ensure this academia-set tale of father-and-son rival professors stays around in the fall and maybe ends up in the mix as a foreign-language Oscar contender to boot.

"Midnight in Paris." It's not clear yet that this will be "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," -- that is, a movie that gets everyone talking about Woody Allen again. But in terms of charm and escapism, this comedy about a struggling writer who mysteriously ends up in 1920s Paris will earn goodwill and maybe even some good box office when it begins rolling out this weekend. It's also a chance to see Owen Wilson try something other than broad-ish comedy.

"The Tree of Life." Love or hate its grand imagery and big-canvas questions, and there certainly have been sturdy numbers from both camps, the Terrence Malick magnum opus will be a conversation piece in the weeks to come. Whether it will be something people see is another matter.


Cannes 2011: Can The Artist cross over from art-house novelty to mainstream hit?

Cannes 2011: Israeli cinema tries to turn a corner

Cannes 2011: What Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life is actually about (yes, we finally see it)

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: John Goodman in "The Artist." Credit: The Weinstein Co.

Cannes 2011: How did the reaction to Terrence Malick's 'The Tree of Life' get so complicated?

May 17, 2011 |  1:15 am


Perhaps it was inevitable, after all the hype about the movie's brilliance and Oscar potential, that "The Tree of Life" ended up where it has: in a place where it still got a decent enough Cannes reception but hardly a stellar or flawless one.

Or perhaps it was just one more strange turn for a movie that was slated to be here a year ago, before its eccentric director continued a tweaking process that had already gone on for years.

In case you haven't been following, the much-anticipated "The Tree of Life"  premiered to a mixed response from the tuxedoed set on the Croisette Monday night. According to the standard by which many Cannes films are measured, it didn't fly that well. The post-screening clapping lasted just a few minutes -- as opposed to the 10 or 12 minutes that's the mark of an unequivocally well-received Cannes screening (as there was for silent film "The Artist" the night before). Whatever the final verdict on the film, there was a bit of a deflated feeling in the room, owing in part, probably, to the way it had been inflated in the first place.

Not helping in all of this (apart from the 2-hour, 18-minute running time and grandiose imagery that seemed to make some restless) was the absence of Malick himself. Sometimes when a director stays out of sight it can add to the mystery. Sometimes it can do the opposite, making it seem as if he or she is indifferent to public reaction. And sometimes it just seems weird. It was probably a little of the second and a lot of the third that obtained Monday night.

Malick had actually come to this beach town a few days ago and in fact went to dinner both on a previous night and the night of the screening after the movie ended. But he doesn't like crowds or the spotlight, according to several who know him, so he stayed away from the Palais des Festivals during the film's premiere. (A Fox Searchlight spokesman later said that he did come in to the room after the movie screened while the audience was applauding, but covertly.)

Star Brad Pitt and romantic partner Angelina Jolie took a dramatic walk toward each other on the red carpet, epitomizing the kind of glitz this film festival does best. But inside the theater, the mood was cool after the helmer decided to stay away.

Malick's invisibility meant that the ceremonial post-screening bow in front of the crowd -- an oddly important ritual that can reinforce and even offer a window into a film's appeal -- did not happen. Instead, a camera that normally spotlights the filmmaker showed an empty chair presumably reserved for Malick. It was as though something awful had happened to him, even though almost everyone in the theater believed he was just fine, walking somewhere, incognito, on the streets outside the theater (or inside the theater, amid the crowd, as it happened).

All this comes after an earlier screening for media on Monday, when some boos greeted the final scenes before giving way to a generally hearty applause.

Of course, festival reaction is hardly an accurate predictor of commercial success, no matter how warm or cold. The movie will face its true box-office test when Fox Searchlight rolls it out in the U.S. on May 27, while other distributors release in other countries around the same time (though look for ongoing drama in Britain, where a battle over the release date has resulted in legal action involving the distributor and currently no release date in the country).

As for the larger state of Malick ... in the cycle of film-festival receptions, it feels like we're somewhere between the backlash and the backlash to the backlash. The relentless hype of this movie as a transcendental masterpiece really couldn't continue, but until the movie opens, we won't quite be at the point yet when Malick defenders come out to argue their case.

It's hard not to think, when all is said and done, that a number of cinephiles will hail this as a masterpiece, while the masses, at least in the U.S., may need a little more convincing. As for Malick himself, whatever anonymous Cannes street he's currently taking all this in on -- or, perhaps, just pleasantly observing a flock of seagulls -- it's hard not to imagine him wondering how we got to this place, where his movie failed to meet expectations he didn't mean to put on it.


Cannes 2011: What Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life is actually about (yes, we finally see it)

Cannes 2011: Brad Pitt and The Tree of Life gang explain his process, defend his absence

Cannes 2011: Finally, the end of secrets on Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Brad Pitt on the red carpet at the premiere of "The Tree of Life." Credit: Christian Hartmann / AFP/Getty Images


Cannes 2011: Brad Pitt and the 'Tree of Life' gang explain Terrence Malick's process, defend his absence

May 16, 2011 |  5:37 am

With Terrence Malick's long-awaited "The Tree of Life" unveiled in Cannes on Monday morning, his stars and producers came out to talk about the film. But in keeping with his off-the-radar persona, the director himself was nowhere to be found.

Actors Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain anchored a press conference in which they and producers for the first time in a public setting answered questions about the unusual process of shooting this film and occasionally attempted to explain why the man of the hour wasn't present at the press conference.

Longtime Malick producer Sarah Green began by answering a moderator's question about the absence of the filmmaker as well as costar Sean Penn. "Mr. Malick is very shy," she said, adding that he "believe[s] that his work speaks for itself." (Another producer, Bill Pohlad, said Penn was just traveling up from Haiti and would be on the Croisette shortly to promote his other Cannes film, "This Must Be the Place.")

But a little further into the press conference, reporter Chaz Ebert (wife of Roger, who is not in Cannes this year as he finishes his memoir) pressed the panelists, asking if it was at all odd that the director wasn't there to speak for the film he had spent decades putting together. Didn't he feel, she asked, that he had a responsibility to serve as an ambassador for his movie, especially at a director-friendly place like Cannes?

That prompted Pitt, who gamely fielded questions for the better part of an hour, to offer a publicity-agnostic point of view. "I don't know why people who make things in our business are expected to sell them. I don't think that computes with [Malick]," Pitt said. The actor went on to compare the absence to a man who designs houses not being forced to deal with a real-estate transaction, or to any creator who prefers to stay out of the fray. "It's an odd thing for an artist to sculpt [something] and then try to sell it."

He also said he thought hearing a director speak about a film could ruin the experience of watching it. "You know when you have a favorite band and you hear them talk about lyrics and you're immediately disappointed, and you can't listen to that song anymore?" he said.

Why a director is or isn't present at a film festival is rarely of interest to most people outside the festival's bubble. Still, it was either fitting or frustrating for some, after years of mystery and a movie that was itself mysterious, to find the man who created a work wasn't there to engage with them.

Just minutes before, "The Tree of Life" screening divided audiences; in at least one of the two theaters the film was being shown, some boos came up before the applause started. Then again, just as a public screening at a film festival can be a misleadingly positive affair, press screenings can be an insular and grumpy place. Two years ago, you could barely find a journalist enthused about "Inglourious Basterds," and we know how that turned out.

Pitt, Chastain and producers did go into some detail about the process of making "Tree," which was improvisational and aimed at capturing moments more than it was constructing scenes. The film was a "complete lesson in letting go of all control of what you expect any outcome to be," Chastain, who played nurturing mother Mrs. O'Brien, said. "You can't plan any moment in his films," she added, describing how Malick would shoot a character interaction and then be taken with a woodpecker or another moment in nature and quickly shift the camera there.

Pitt, who plays a stern father figure, called the process a "leap of faith. But that's the point," he said. "You know you're in good hands so it's not really that scary." The actor also talked about the movie's themes, particularly its connecting the story of the universe with one family's struggles and the process of growing up and/or raising a family. "I was surprised by the structure," which he said he found "quite ingenious, this marriage of the micro with the macro." He added, "I hope it speaks to all cultures [about] childhood and growing up and deciding who you're going to be as you go from a child to an adult."

Pitt, who by far fielded the most questions, struck a candid pose on a number of subjects, including religion. "I got my issues, man. You don't want to get me me started," he responded, only half-joking, to one questioner. He went on to say that although he understood that some found comfort in it, "I myself found it stifling."

Toward the end of the press conference, one reporter asked producers if, given the length of time it took to complete the movie, they ever felt that Malick needed to be more disciplined. Green jumped in quickly. "He's the most disciplined director I've ever worked with," she said. "He works days and nights and weekends," searching for the right shot or moment, she added. "He knows it when he sees it."


Cannes 2011: What "The Tree of Life" is actually about (yes, we finally see it)

Cannes 2011: Finally, the end of secrets on Malick's "The Tree of Life"

"Tree of Life" cinematographer: It was like no set I ever worked on

-- Steven Zeitchik in Cannes, France


Photo: Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain at the press conference for "The Tree of Life." Credit: Anne-Christine Poujoulat / AFP/Getty Images

Cannes 2011: What Terrence Malick's 'The Tree of Life' is actually about (yes, we finally see it)

May 16, 2011 |  2:32 am


After several years of filmgoer anticipation -- and nearly 40 years of gestation in Terrence Malick's mind -- "The Tree of Life" was finally unveiled Monday morning to the media at the Cannes Film Festival.

Even before the trailer hit the Web in December, many questions about the mysterious project had bubbled up. How much does Sean Penn's character actually speak? Is there really a dinosaur in the film, and how big is its role ? And what's the darned thing about?

In order, the answers are: not much (but his weather-beaten face says volumes); yes, and it's kind of an important part; and, finally, well, the last one is tricky.

Describing the film isn't easy because "Tree" rarely follows a conventional narrative path, and in fact contains only snippets of what most viewers would consider dialogue. And yet there are thousands of words that can, and likely will, be written interpreting Malick's shots. So here goes. (Incidentally, this isn't a review, but an impressionistic take on a movie whose first screening concluded just a short time ago. Also, note that there are spoilers ahead -- not in a traditional, the-butler-did-it sense; you couldn't spoil this film that way if you tried, but certainly in terms of the arc and individual scenes. And of course if you want to see for yourself, you won't have to wait much longer: Fox Searchlight releases the movie to theaters on May 27.) 

The movie starts off with a tragedy in the small-town Texas family of Mr. and Mrs. O'Brien (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) circa the middle of the 20th century. The family learns of it by messenger, and we divine that one of their three children is now dead. Mother and father mourn the loss of the child in different ways, a function of their very different constitutions. Mr. O'Brien has some kind of solid, if unremarkable, 1950s job at an airport (though we later learn he always wanted to be a musician).  Chastain's character, a devoted housewife, is a nurturing mother and almost angelic spirit, which stands in sharp contrast to her husband's stubborn and rage-prone personality.

When the news about the death comes, Mr. O'Brien responds by doing work around the house and lowering his head through the pain, while his wife takes walks into the woods, crying out to the heavens for an explanation. Their personalities bleed into their worldviews too, with the much-described conflict between his "nature" and her "grace" highlighted in the trailer.

Continue reading »

Cannes 2011: Can 'The Artist' cross over from art-house novelty to mainstream hit?

May 15, 2011 |  7:14 pm

The applause was still raining down at the Palais on Sunday evening, nearly 15 minutes after it started, for "The Artist," a black & white silent film about a fictional star of black & white silent film. The irony wrote itself: A silent movie was getting some of the loudest applause of the festival.

Michel Hazanavicius' tale examines a successful performer circa the late 1920s (the A-list French actor Jean Dujardin) whose career goes into decline when the talkies come on and his nonverbal skills become expendable. At the same time, an ingénue he has helped mentor (Bérénice Bejo) begins, with her bubbly voice and personality, to become an A-lister. (More from my colleague Kenneth Turan on how Hazanavicius made the movie in the coming days.)

It's easy to see why the audience here adored it -- there are the kinds of echoes of the original "A Star Is Born" and "Singin' in the Rain" and a host of other golden-era Hollywood movies that will delight fans of classic films. And there's a formal ambition that the Cannes crowd almost always loves. If ever there was a movie tailor-made for the upscale Croisette audience, this is it.  After Sunday night, it wouldn't be surprising to see the movie compete seriously for the Palme d'Or.

But once it gets out of the festival bubble, a question looms: Can "The Artist" play to more than the TCM set?

Other films that employ some kind of formal novelty don't suggest a major windfall.

Examples of those include "Black Dynamite" (a 1970s-style blaxploitation movie made in 2008), the throwback movies of Guy Maddin and the marathon-sized epics "Carlos" and "Che," which in their own way garnered attention for more than just their content. None of them reached more than a very specialized audience.

"The Artist" has some advantages over those movies. It's not nearly as somber or serious as most of them, and in fact balances lightness and melancholy in a way that, as film fans often complain, contemporary Hollywood movies rarely do anymore. It also stars Hollywood names of some note -- including John Goodman and Penelope Ann Miller (though they're mainly supporting players). And the film does have a contemporary resonance; it's about the fickle nature of celebrity and the addition of new technologies to movies, the latter in a way that will call to mind the encroachment of and debate over 3-D.

Maybe most important, "The Artist" has Harvey Weinstein, an old hand of turning obscurities into conversation pieces.

At a party after the screening, the movie's cinematographer noted to 24 Frames that the film has a commercial challenge, pointing out that even in France, where its star is well known, it could face issues because people want to see him talk and joke, not necessarily act silently.

"The Artist" will hit theaters later this year. Its certain to get reviewer and media attention for the sheer novelty of the enterprise. How much noise it will make with audiences remains a question.


Cannes 2011: The Artist paints a surreal picture

Cannes 2011: Finally, the end of secrets on Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life

Cannes 2011: Israeli cinema tries to turn a corner

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "The Artist." Credit: The Weinstein Company


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