24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Cannes 2011

Cannes 2011: A video examination, Part 3

May 15, 2011 |  6:57 pm

One of the biggest crowd-pleasers of the Cannes Film Festival thus far has been "The Artist," a silent film about, well, the silent-film era. But although many in the media liked it, others had their reservations. The Times' Steven Zeitchik and the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips offer the reasons to embrace and question the black & white period tale.



 Cannes 2011: A video examination, Part 1

Cannes 2011: A video examination, Part 2

Cannes 2011: Cannes director and 'Memento' producer will collaborate on new film, possibly with Chris Pine [corrected]

May 15, 2011 | 11:15 am

EXCLUSIVE: As his star has risen in the last few years, Chris Pine has become known primarily for action roles -- his reprisal of the Capt. Kirk character in "Star Trek" in 2009, or as the upstart train man to Denzel Washington's veteran rail rat in "Unstoppable."

But those who have sensed that Pine has more serious acting chops could get a chance to see them in a new drama.

Photos: Cannes Film Festival 2011

The actor is in talks to star in a new movie called "Mud," a coming-of-age story that will be written and directed by emergingCannes director Jeff Nichols and produced by "Memento" producer Aaron Ryder, according to a source close to the project who asked not to be identified because talks were ongoing.

In an interview Sunday, Ryder declined to comment on the status of the Pine talks. But he did confirm the project and described it as in the vein of "Stand by Me," essentially a drama about figuring out one's place in the world. 

Nichols is the filmmaker behind the supernatural-tinged drama "Take Shelter," which is playing in the Critics Week section at the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie, which stars Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain, had a strong showing at Sundance and will hit theaters later this year.) [Corrected, 6:33 p.m.: An earlier version of this post referred to its star as Michael Sheen; it is, in fact, Mr. Shannon.]

Nichols' new movie will center on two 14-year-boys who come across an adult fugitive of the law, the titular Mud (who would be played by Pine) and must help him escape off an island in the Mississippi. The ambiguity of the story lies with Mud, who is both an unsavory and a redemptive character and who teaches the boys as much as he learns from them.

The riverside setting and coming-of-age motif will inevitably draw comparisons to Huckleberry Finn, though the film will be set in the contemporary world.

"Mud" comes from a company called FilmNation, which is founded and run by independent-film veteran Glen Basner. Though it initially focused on financing movies by way of the sale of international rights -- it was behind the sale of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's "Looper" and is also peddling the Shia LaBeouf movie "The Wettest County in the World" -- it also is beefing up its financing and production arm under Aaron Ryder, a close associate of Christopher Nolan's who produced "Memento" and "The Prestige," and who will produce "Mud" with veteran Terrence Malick producer Sarah Green.
Ryder said his association with the blockbuster helmer had helped inform his current projects. "What Chris helped teach me," he said, "is that you can make commercially viable movies that people want to see that are still smart and sophisticated."

Basner said he aimed to make an assortment of deals for domestic and international rights on his films and also said the goal of FilmNation was to make movies that used budgets wisely, enabling it to take risks on the original material studios often eschew. "We're not interested in re-creating the movies from the past," he said. "We want to create new ones for the future."


Cannes 2011: Israeli cinema tries to turn a corner

Cannes 2011: Christian Bale's China movie aims to catch America's eye

Cannes 2011: Angelina Jolie's directorial debut coming to U.S. theaters in December

-- Steven Zeitchik


Cannes 2011: Christian Bale's China movie aims to catch America's eye

May 14, 2011 |  1:15 pm


The international film business can bridge a lot of cultural divides But can it knock down one of the great walls of cinema culture -- the one that stands between China and the U.S.?

China allows in precious few American movies every year, despite halting efforts to change that, and almost no Chinese blockbusters succeed in North America. But the people behind the Chinese epic "The Heroes of Nanking" hope their movie can help create a new pipeline.

Photos: Cannes Film Festival 2011

The period drama, which tells of an American priest who puts his life on the line during the Nanking Massacre to shelter more than a dozen prostitutes and students, has roots in Chinese history and cinema. And it's based on a popular Chinese novel. But it also stars a Hollywood leading man, Christian Bale, as the priest and is directed by Zhang Yimou, the award-winning filmmaker who came to mainstream prominence in the U.S. when he staged the pyrotechnics of the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony and has directed numerous films including "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers."

On Saturday afternoon at the Cannes Film Festival, filmmakers gathered at the city's Majestic Hotel to tout the project, at a reception thrown by the newly hired U.S.-based sales agent, who has come on to help the film find distributors around the world. (The company's producer, New Pictures, is also currently seeking U.S. distribution.)

Zhang Weiping, who produced as well as financed the film, said that there was a social component to his piece of entertainment.  "Chinese people love Hollywood movies, but in the West there are a lot of misconceptions about China," Weiping told 24 Frames, speaking through a fellow producer, Chaoying Deng, who was translating.  "We want this movie to give Americans and Europeans a perspective on China and Chinese cinema. We want to communicate with every race and people."

Weiping said he wasn't worried about the historical nuances being lost on a non-Asian audience.  "It's a story about heroism, and everybody can relate to that," he said.

Bale has wrapped his scenes in the movie, which has a shooting schedule of Hollywood proportions -- it began in December and finishes in mid-June. Nearly an entire period city was re-created in a neighborhood of Beijing; filmmakers are relying on physical locations over CGI to enhance the film's authenticity.

While the U.S. has a long love affair with martial-arts films, historical and other forms of Chinese dramas have mainly been confined to a niche audience, along the lines of Ang Lee's "Lust, Caution" back in 2007. But filmmakers hope "Nanking" ushers in a new period. "It speaks a universal language, and that makes us hopeful," Weiping said.


Cannes 2011: Israeli cinema tries to turn a corner

Cannes 2011: How will Catholics react to a papal comedy?

Cannes 2011: Finally, the end of secrets on The Tree of Life

--Steven Zeitchik in Cannes, France


Photo: A still from "The Heroes of Nanking." Credit: FilmNation

Cannes 2011: Israeli cinema tries to turn a corner

May 13, 2011 | 11:15 pm

Between the years 2007 and 2009, Israel was nominated for a foreign-language Oscar in three consecutive  years, a feat that since the turn of the millennium has been matched by only one other country, Germany, a place with a far deeper film industry and tradition.

The Israeli movies that were nominated -- "Beaufort," Waltz with Bashir" and "Ajami" -- couldn't have been more stylistically different. One is a realistic military chronicle, another is a dreamlike piece of animation and the third a neo-verite thriller told Rashomon-style. Yet there's one thing they had in common: all dealt with war and ideological division.

At the Cannes Film Festival on Friday night, an Israeli film premiered that's as far from politics as you can get (at least of the national kind). "Footnote," as its English translation has it, tells of two rival Talmud professors at Jerusalem's Hebrew University who also happen to be a father and son -- the elder is an embittered, borderline catatonic who has seen his life's work undone by a quirk of fate; the younger is a striver who has put professional satisfaction above pretty much all human concerns. 

The movie comes from Joseph Cedar, a former soldier and the man who started Israel's Oscar hot streak -- he directed "Beaufort" (more on him from my colleague Kenneth Turan shortly). You'd never know it from this movie, though; it's as far from the battlefield as you can get.

On one level, there's something reassuring whenever the cinema of an ideologically and ethnically riven country moves beyond politics. It took Germany three Oscar nominations and 12 years after the Nazis' surrender before the country was shortlisted for a film unrelated to World War I or World War II: "Arms and the Man," an adaptation of a George Bernard Shaw play. (It's worth noting that this phenomenon isn't always the fault of an awards body; war-torn countries tend to make films about, well, war.)

But on another level, the silence that can greet a non-political movie is cause for pessimism. I've no idea if "Footnote" can go on to generate the same interest as its political counterparts -- the distributor Sony Pictures Classics has bought the film and will attempt to give it the same award season ride as it did "Waltz with Bashir."

But after the media screenings Friday night, there wasn't quite the same buzz in the air as there was when "Bashir" premiered here three years ago. That movie went on to win a Golden Globe, generate widespread coverage and even draw a few million dollars in U.S. box office. "Footnote" could well be the "Arms and a Man" of Israel, the movie that finally gets it over the political hump. But it also could get caught in and prove a Catch-22: for a war-torn country to get its national cinema broad recognition, it must make a great non-political film. But to land in the public eye in the first place it needs to make a movie about politics.


Cannes 2011: A video examination, Part 2

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

Cannes 2011: Sleeping Beauty has a disquieting effect on festival crowds

-- Steven Zeitchik in Cannes, France


Photo: "Footnote." Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Cannes 2011: A video examination, Part 2

May 13, 2011 |  9:55 pm

Julia Leigh's "Sleeping Beauty" and Lynn Ramsay's "We Need to Talk About Kevin" have plenty of similarities. They're both intense dramas with distinct visual styles from young female directors, and they both traffic in questions about female identity. So why can't The Times' Steven Zeitchik and the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips agree on which is the gem and which is the dud? A festival throwdown, Web-video style.


Cannes 2011: A video examination, Part 1

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

Cannes 2011: Spirit of Margaret Thatcher (and Meryl Streep) hovers over festival


Cannes 2011: How will Catholics react to a papal comedy?

May 13, 2011 |  5:00 pm

Nanni moretti The Catholic Church hasn't been known to take kindly to films it perceives as offensive; considering "The Last Temptation of Christ" and "The Da Vinci Code," there's been no small amount of lashing out at films it deems undermine church doctrine.

The Vatican is now taking early shots -- if not quite aiming its full invective -- at Nanni Moretti's Italian-language comedy "Habemus Papam," which deals with a fictional papal selection process and the dysfunction surrounding it.

"Why should we support financially that which offends our religion?" asked a writer in the Vatican-linked Avvenire last month as the film screened in Italy. "We shouldn't touch the pope -- the rock on which Jesus founded its church."

The broader reaction of leaders and lay Catholics, particularly in English-speaking countries, could be equally telling. Moretti, who came to American attention with a family drama called "The Son's Room" a decade ago, here takes on a far more taboo subject -- and with far more irreverence.

The film premiered for English-speaking audiences Friday at the Cannes Film Festival. From the start, when the electricity fails during the convocation, it's clear Moretti has comedy, even farce, on his mind as he portrays the selection process.

After the cardinals all silently pray that they will not be chosen (the responsibility is too much) an underdog candidate is selected --and promptly freaks out. Soon enough, the church has a full-blown nightmare on its hands, as the chosen candidate (Michel Piccoli) begs off on his inaugural address to the adoring crowds at St. Peter's Square and proceeds to spiral into a paralyzing depression. Basically, he doesn't anywhere near this job.

Psychologists are then brought in, allowing for the requisite laughs about repressed sexual desires. Curious about life outside the cloistered Vatican walls, the pope-in-waiting soon escapes into the streets of Rome, in a journey of accidental discovery not unlike Helen Mirren's country wanderings in "The Queen." A panicked spokesman tries to cover up the scandal. He only makes things worse.

Moretti hardly seems to have malice or apostasy on the mind --tenets are never specifically called into question -- but the humanizing and even satirizing of the papal convocation and cardinal mindset is bound to get under the skin of some Catholics. For centuries, this has been a process shrouded in holy secrecy, and Moretti is playing it for comedy.

That it comes on the heels of years of Catholic Church sex scandals and cover-ups won't help; if the Vatican is already trying to repair an image zinged by charges of incompetence or worse, a portrayal of circus-like ineptness won't help.

After finding that official protests often just stoke public interest, the Vatican lately seems to have realized that a muted reaction may be the best reaction of all. It has said it won't issue a formal condemnation of Moretti's movie.

Still, if the film finds an audience in the U.S. -- while there's no distributor yet, the film's comic accessibility hardly rules it out  -- American dioceses may find it hard to sit by quietly. Moretti has already told the Italian press he wouldn't be surprised by a boycott. When it comes to Catholicism, it's usually the historic and the theological films that rankle and bring out the pundits. Moretti may show that a comedy can yield the same result.


Cannes 2011: Everyone feels the need to talk about 'Kevin'

Cannes 2011: A directing stalwart makes a triumphant return to the festival

Cannes 2011: Gus Van Sant's 'Restless' finally sits down

--Steven Zeitchik in Cannes, France

Photo: Nanni Moretti at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday. Credit: Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

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

May 13, 2011 |  3:11 pm

Tree For years, Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” has hovered over the film world like a ghost, staying just out of reach. An intriguing, mysterious project starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, there were hints over the years that the movie tackled themes of faith, family and the reason for existence. And oh yes, there seemed to be a dinosaur involved too.

Last year, the movie almost came to the Cannes Film Festival — plans were in motion with organizers — before the enigmatic Malick and the producers pulled back as the festival drew near.

Not long after, the question began to percolate: Perhaps “The Tree of Life” would never come out? After all, Malick had taken an unusually long time to get a movie out before, waiting 20 years after his sophomore effort, “Days of Heaven,” to release his third film, the 1998 war drama “The Thin Red Line,” which was nominated for the best picture Oscar. The new film’s effects — including what looked like a computer-generated dinosaur, revealed in a leaked photo — were indeed taking years to assemble in postproduction. The process dragged out to such an extent that the film ended up with about a half-dozen editors; no one could afford to stay on long enough to complete the job.

All the whispers will finally come to an end Monday as “The Tree of Life” premieres in Cannes before arriving in U.S. theaters on May 27. In interviews, people who worked on “The Tree of Life” described a process filled with almost as much mystery as the themes the movie explores.

Continue reading »

Cannes 2011: Everyone feels the need to talk about 'Kevin'

May 13, 2011 |  6:15 am


It's one of the biggest questions of the Cannes Film Festival so far: Just how commercial is "We Need to Talk About Kevin"?

Lynn Ramsay's feature, her first since 2002 indie darling "Morvern Callar," screened to divisive reaction on the Croisette on Thursday. The movie, told in flashbacks and starring Tilda Swinton as the parent of a recalcitrant and ultimately violent son (played as a teenager by Ezra Miller), put off some critics and filmgoers as a two-dimensional effort that was, essentially, an art-house "Chucky," while prompting many others to extol its performances, emotional punch and strong sense of style. My colleague Kenneth Turan was deeply enamored of it.

The larger question bubbling beneath the debate -- and in the minds of the many distributors pondering an acquisition for the U.S. -- is how broadly it could play to commercial audiences. "Kevin," which is based on a novel by Lionel Shriver, has echoes of another troubled-parent picture, "In the Bedroom." That film was an art-house hit a decade ago, though it came out in a rather different climate for adult-oriented dramas.

There are also genre elements to the film -- indeed, one reporter at a news conference noted how part of it played like a horror movie -- that could help it with a broader audience, though it remains to be seen how much that would come through in the marketing of a rigorous drama.

At a news conference Thursday, filmmakers and performers noted that the movie didn't fit neatly into a box, but that it did contain a high degree of relatability. "This is about a nightmare scenario," Swinton said, "but it's not that far from being [about] a parent" generally. Parenthood is "not about facts; it's about feelings, and it's a bloody business raising a family. and it's a bloody business being a parent, and it's a really bloody business being a child."


Cannes 2011: A directing stalwart makes a triumphant return to the festival

-- Steven Zeitchik in Cannes, France


Photo: Tilda Swinton in "We Need to Talk About Kevin." Credit: Cannes Film Festival

Cannes 2011: Gus Van Sant's 'Restless' finally sits down

May 12, 2011 |  8:07 pm

"Restless," Gus Van Sant's latest exploration of smart but troubled young people, has had a long road to the screen. Shot a year ago, the emo romance-cum-mortality study was supposed to play the Sundance Film Festival this year before it was yanked as the commercial release plan changed.

So it's understandable that the director would feel a certain measure of relief as the movie finally plays to an audience. At a dinner for his drama after it premiered as the opening-night movie in Cannes' Un Certain Regard section, Van Sant seemed to be exhaling now that the picture was finally rolling out.

"If a movie isn't released, it's one thing, but if you know it will be, it's nice to have closure and see it come out," he said in an interview. The film will open in the fall, and while the reviews have as a group not always been kind, the audience at the screening was mostly appreciative (though the movie didn't quite generate the same festival buzz as Van Sant's 2003 school-shooting movie "Elephant," which went on to win the Palme d'Or).

"Restless" stars the late Dennis Hopper's son Henry as the moody Enoch (in an eerie turn, the character is mourning the death of his parents) and a relationship he strikes up with the quirky and sunny Annie (Mia Wasikowska) who keeps her spirits up despite her likely imminent death from a terminal illness. It's a kind of modern spin on "Love Story"; you know the girlfriend is going to die, so the movie is mainly about what the couple does with the time remaining. (There's also a subplot involving the ghost of a kamikaze pilot, whom Enoch sees in fantasy sequences.)

At the dinner, Wasikowska told 24 Frames that while shooting "Restless," she was very aware of the footsteps the youthful romance was following and hoped to avoid the pitfalls along the way. "I find it very difficult as a teenager to connect to teen movies," she said, "But when I read [Jason Lew's] script, I thought it gave adolescence intelligence."

The movie also traffics in mortality themes, but  Wasikowska said she was impressed by how the filmmakers treated the subject of death. "I liked how [the script] handled the sentimental moments," she said. "A film doesn't need to be sappy to be moving."

Cannes 2011: Restless reviews point to Gus Van Sant sitting out this Oscar season

Cannes 2011: A video examination, Part 1

Cannes 2011: Sleeping Beauty has a disquieting effect on festival crowds

--Steven Zeitchik in Cannes, France


 Photo: Mia Wasikowska and Henry Hopper in "Restless." Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Cannes 2011: Spirit of Margaret Thatcher (and Meryl Streep) hovers over festival [Updated]

May 12, 2011 |  7:48 pm


Sometimes the most interesting movies at the Cannes Film Festival aren't playing the Cannes Film Festival. They're projects -- everything from scripts to finished movies -- that are being sold at the market, the rights bazaar that runs concurrent with the elegant screenings of auteur films.

There was the year, for instance, a quirky ballet movie that hadn't shot a single frame of footage was being shopped for a very reasonable price. That project turned out to be a little film called "Black Swan." (No one bought it.)

So far this year one project is rising above the rest: "Iron Lady," Meryl Streep's take on Margaret Thatcher. The movie, which shot this winter and tells of both the personal and professional life of the former British prime minister, has plenty of buzz around it; entire blogs, in fact, are devoted to tracking it.

As with many films in the market, though, there's a problem: No one's seen the blasted thing. The sales agent that's handling rights here, Pathe, is looking to make a deal with a buyer in the U.S to distribute the film, which is currently in post-production, based on footage alone. If it can close a sale, the movie could hit theaters this fall and become a force in Oscar season.

As for who might pick it up, the Weinstein Co. is believed to be at least one of the serious contenders, according to two competing buyers. A spokesman for the company did not immediately reply to a request for comment, but the awards-minded firm would be a logical home for several reasons, not least of which is that Harvey Weinstein doesn't have an obvious best picture contender yet this year. That's a notable absence in any season but certainly in the wake of the Weinstein Co.'s win for "The King's Speech" this year. "Iron Lady" may be a credible candidate.

[Updated, 4:41 a.m. May 13: A source familiar with negotiations confirms that Weinstein has indeed acquired rights to the film. The company is expected to issue an official release shortly.]

Still, there are questions. One buyer who spoke to 24 Frames on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of rights dealmaking, noted that buyers had until now been holding back to see if Streep plays a convincing Thatcher; footage is now being shown to executives. The movie is also directed by Phyllida Lloyd, whose previous film credit, "Mamma Mia," doesn't scream serious biopic.
"Iron Lady" does play strongly to several current trends: It comes off the strong box office for the British "King's Speech," touches on U.S. interest in British public figures a la the recent royal wedding, and  centers on a political leader with a strong anti-union stance, a subject that's been prominent in the news for several months now. And, oh yes, it stars Streep, who's had a remarkable string of box-office hits and has been nominated for an Oscar an eye-popping five times since 2000. And of course "The Queen" was a hit in the U.S. five years ago. Don't be surprised if a deal for "Iron Lady" happens at this spring festival and the movie hits theaters in the fall.


Cannes 2011: "We Need to Talk About Kevin" a triumphant return for a festival stalwart

Cannes 2011: A video examination, Part I

Cannes 2011: "Sleeping Beauty" has a disquieting effect on festival crowds

-- Steven Zeitchik in Cannes, France

Photo: Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in "Iron Lady." Credit: Pathe UK


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