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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Cannes

Cannes 2012: 'Holy Motors' has 'em saying 'Holy Moly'

May 23, 2012 |  9:20 am


CANNES, France -- For those concerned that the Cannes Film Festival has been lacking some over-the-top absurdity -- not to mention a man dressed as a disheveled warlord rampaging through a cemetery and kidnapping models -- worry no more.

The 2012 edition of the festival, which has distinguished itself with quiet dramas such as “Amour,” "Rust & Bone” and “No,” finally has, in “Holy Motors,” the noisy burst of the bizarre that every festival needs, even a tuxedo-clad festival in the image-conscious south of France.

Leos Carax’s new film is an episodic romp around Paris, told with a mixture of spy-thriller moodiness and absurdist comedy. A series of nine vignettes about a rubber-faced man known as Monsieur Oscar (played by the director’s frequent collaborator, Denis Lavant), it shows the hero as he spends a day working for a shadowy group called the “Agency.” He drives around Paris assuming identities and, often, causing some type of mayhem.

In one striking scene, Monsieur Oscar dresses in a skintight motion-capture suit and simulates sex with a red-tailed female creature; in another he dons a pointy beard and acts like a madman in a cemetery, where he bites the fingers off a fashion editor at a nearby photo shoot and then makes off with the model. Then there’s the appearance of Eva Mendes in another segment; we won’t spoil the fun and reveal what character guise she turns up in. Sometimes he goes more conventional, like a dad picking up his daughter. Sometimes the entire milieu seems to exist on another planet. Oh, did we mention Kylie Minogue shows up too?

The whole thing is patently weird and self-knowingly comic all at the same time, and it begs for a comparison to something you know. Except, really, there’s no comparison to anything you know. The best descriptor might be that the episodic structure can feel like levels in a video game (a very, very surrealist video game) and the general vibe of some episodes are of performance-art merriment. Underneath it all lies the mystery of just who this man is, who gives him his orders and why he takes on these strange tasks, but that doesn’t really matter when considering the odd scenes Carax creates.

“Bonkers” and “nutso” were the reactions to media and public screenings Tuesday and Wednesday, with the official gala premiere Wednesday night sure to get the formal-wear crowd wondering what hit them.

The movie has already sparked talk of a Palme d’Or, though if the metaphysical meditation “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall Past Lives” hadn’t won that prize wo years ago, most would surely think this film too weird for any buttoned-down festival jury.

Leos Carax is an enigma in his own right. For one thing, it's not his real name, but an anagram of his first and middle names (he’s actually Alexandre Oscar Dupont, a French American who grew up outside Paris; that name also, inevitably, raises the question of whether Monsieur Oscar is the director’s alter ego). For another, his level of productivity makes Terrence Malick look like Woody Allen — the 52-year-old hasn’t made a feature this millennium, last coming out with a full-length film in 1999, the controversial, possibly incestuous romantic drama “Pola X.”

Will someone distribute this movie in the U.S., and will the audiences they market it to come out to see it? There’s something deadpan and wry that could attract a cult following — a description that might be all too fitting given how cults would seem very much to belong in this movie’s tableaux.


Cannes 2012: Roman Polanski in image rehab? 

Roman Polanski to direct movie about Dreyfus affair

Cannes 2012: Brad Pitt's 'Killing Them Softly, an anti-capitalist screed?

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Denis Lavant in a scene from "Holy Motors." Credit: CNC

Cannes 2012: Roman Polanski receives some therapy

May 22, 2012 | 11:23 pm

Roman Polanski may be moving on to the Dreyfus affair for his next film. But the polarizing director found time to make a pit stop and shoot "The Therapy," a short starring Ben Kingsley as a therapist and Helena Bonham Carter as his clueless patient, in a piece that doubles as a Prada commercial.

Polanski made a rare public appearance at the Cannes Film Festival on Monday to showcase the short and introduce a new cut of his 1979 romance "Tess." He was greeted with wild enthusiasm by the surprisingly young crowd, much of which was born after "Tess" was released. The audience whooped at the new short and then sat for a restored cut of the old film, an adaptation of Thomas Hardy's "Tess of the d'Urbervilles."

"Therapy" -- which has that wide-angle, glossy look that Polanski embraced in "Carnage" -- has Bonham Carter's society woman prattling on about her society-woman problems, while an increasingly distracted Kingsley begins paying attention instead to her fur coat that's hanging on a coat rack. Oblivious to his patient's confessionals, he's soon caressing the fabric before eventually swaddling himself in it.

It's not clear where the high-end ad will eventually run.

Decked out in a tuxedo in front of one of Cannes' smaller screening rooms, Polanski spoke briefly but didn't address the elephant in the room -- the legal situation that has kept him out of the U.S. for more than three decades. Nor did he talk about a new documentary that has him reflecting on his complicated life.

He did, however, offer a thought on "Therapy." Speaking in French (not as fluent as you'd expect), he said that "films could be as good short as long."

And he indulged in some reminiscing about "Tess." Aided by actress Natasha Kinski and others from the film, who stood at the front of the theater with him before the screening, he compared making a movie to giving birth to a child.

He then thanked those who restored the film and, when the camera phones and cheering had both gone down, took a seat with the audience, where he proceeded to watch his film for the next  2 1/2 hours.


Cannes 2012: Is Roman Polanski seeking some image rehab? 

Roman Polanski to direct movie about Dreyfus affair

Cannes 2012: Brad Pitt's 'Killing Them Softly, an anti-capitalist screed?

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Roman Polanski arrives for a premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on Monday. Credit: Alberto Pizzoli / AFP / Getty images


Cannes 2012: Brad Pitt's 'Killing Them Softly': Anti-capitalist screed?

May 22, 2012 |  6:21 am

 Brad Pitt's "Killing Them Softly," directed by Andrew Dominik, has anti-capitalist themesMost feature filmmakers shy away from acknowledging overt political messages in their films, hiding behind platitudes such as "I just wanted to tell the best story" or "I'd rather let others be the ones to interpret my work."

Not "Killing Them Softly" writer-director Andrew Dominik and his star-producer, Brad Pitt, who offered with frankness -- both in the film and at a Cannes Film Festival news conference that followed on Tuesday morning -- their unfavorable opinion of capitalism as recently practiced in the U.S.

Everything you need to know about Dominik's worldview came with a moment in the news conference in which the Australian said that in his experience America is largely about making money, and that that went double for Hollywood.

PHOTOS: Scene at Cannes

Or, as the film's touchstone piece of dialogue has it: "America isn't a country -- it's a business.”

Pitt and Dominik reunited after 2007's "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" for "Killing," which is set to be released commercially by the Weinstein Co. in September. Dominik said at the presser that if "Jesse James" was "a Leonard Cohen song," his new film is "a pop song."

Certainly that's true in terms of genre -- "Killing Them Softly" is a hit-man movie, albeit an arthouse one, and contains many of the schemes and stylized violence you might expect from a film with that label.

But the various criminal elements--including Pitt's Jackie Cogan, who likes to kill his marks from a distance, or "softly"--that try to rub each other out and protect their own interests are, well, often beside the point, their arcs followed slowly and circuitously. Instead, characters serve as symbols of, among other things, the hierarchy in a capitalist system. Dominik's larger notion is that U.S. capitalism is deeply flawed, and that government, whether Democrat or Republican, has let down its people.

CHEAT SHEET: Cannes Film Festival movies to see

Lest there be any doubt about his intentions, the director set his film in 2008, against the backdrop of the economic crisis and the Obama-McCain election. He allows empty campaign promises -- including plenty from Obama -- to play underneath much of the action. The result is a commentary on the cruel Darwinian dynamic of the have-and-have-not crime world; indeed, though it was written before the Occupy movement took hold, it is arguably the first post-Occupy film -- or, perhaps, what the documentary "Inside Job" might look like if it was a fictional feature.

Pitt even said at the news conference that it was "criminal that there still haven't been any criminal repercussions" for the financial crisis, pretty much channeling the spirit of "Inside Job" director Charles Ferguson, who on the 2011 Oscar stage famously said that "no single financial executive has gone to jail, and that's wrong."

The actor was more muted than Dominik, but he didn't totally hold his fire either. Asked about the decision to get behind this film, he said that at the time  "we were at the apex of the home mortgage debacle and people were losing homes right and left," adding of this movie that "you believe you're watching a gangster film and it wasn't until the end when it coalesced [at the "America is not a country" volley, as well as a line about Thomas Jefferson that's best experienced firsthand] that you realized it was saying something about the larger world."

Dominik adapted the script from a 1974 novel titled "Cogan's Trade" that obviously lacks these contemporary political and economic elements. The fact that he's writing this as an outsider--an Aussie character is one of the few who gets away clean, which Dominik winkingly acknowledged was a comment on his home country's less rapacious form of capitalism--will only fuel the movie's critics, particularly on the right. On the other end of the spectrum, the film will no doubt go over big in Francois Hollande's France when it premieres Tuesday evening.

And then there's this peculiarity: "Killing Them Softly" is financed by Megan Ellison, who, as the very wealthy daughter of the very wealthy Larry Ellison, is of course a prime beneficiary of capitalism. Is this her attempt at repudiating her wealth or a deeper, more head-spinning contradiction? Dominik might say the latter -- but then, given his belief system, he would say that contradictions are nothing new in the American economic order.


Cannes 2012: Is "Sapphires" a fine gem or costume jewelry?

Cannes 2012: Shia LaBeouf's "Lawless,"' parable for the drug war?

Cannes 2012: Redoing Romeo and Juliet for the "Twilight" generation

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Brad Pitt in "Killing Them Softly." Credit: The Weinstein Co.

Cannes 2012: Michael Haneke's 'Amour' feels the love

May 20, 2012 |  7:23 pm

Michael Haneke's AmourConsensus at Cannes is about an improbable as a Del Taco at the Louvre. But the numerous critics and wide swath of public filmgoers attending the festival seem to have found common ground on a new movie: the mortality drama “Amour." Michael Haneke’s meticulous look at an octogenarian man and the wife he is slowly losing to the after-effects of a stroke (the French-language film is referred to as "Love" in English) scored raves from critics as well as a warmly enthusiastic reaction from the public when it premiered Sunday in a rain-soaked Cannes.

Sunday night’s post-screening standing ovation, a key measure of Cannes sentiment, topped seven minutes, and audience members could be heard buzzing about the film on the way out in the manner you wouldn’t expect from a movie about a slow death.

Like its main characters’ existence, the film’s dramatic furniture is simple. Some problems with their grown daughter (Isabelle Huppert) notwithstanding, octogenarians Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Luis Trintignant) have led a comfortable, cultured life as music teachers, and seem to be enjoying a relaxed retirement. But when Anne is felled by a stroke, their idyll is destroyed. She begins declining mentally and physically, and he is pressed into a thousand difficult tasks while watching the love of his life fade away, asked to do a lot but not able to do anything where it really counts.

It’s the kind of movie that brings filmgoers starkly face-to-face with the realities of failing health and death. Older viewers will be more likely to focus on themselves; younger filmgoers will think of parents and grandparents.

Those with good memories and/or a taste for mortality cinema might watch "Amour" and recall "Away From Her," Sarah Polley's 2006 examination of a marriage ravaged by dementia, though there’s undeniably something more intimate and under-your-skin here. There are also a few shocking moments in the vein of some of Haneke’s more famous provocations, but it’s generally a low-key work; if gentle Haneke isn’t an oxymoron, then that’s how it’s best described. (More shortly from Haneke himself on his eclectic career--from "The Piano Teacher" to "Cache" to "The White Ribbon"--and the process behind this film.)

"Amour" will be released by Sony Pictures Classics later this year, when it will face some hurdles. Some moviegoers know of Haneke’s reputation as a master of the uncomfortable and may pass on those grounds; others simply may not want to see a drama focused on death and dying.

Much of the promotional campaign, though, could be built around the actors, whose back stories are almost as compelling as the film. In their eighties themselves and, as a press conference indicated, more slow-footed than they once were, Riva and Trintignant hark back to an earlier time in entertainment. Riva, whose performance here makes her an instant Oscar contender, began her career in the wartime romance "Hiroshima Mon Amour" 53 years ago. (She would turn 86 the day of next year's Oscars, the oldest age of any nominee in history by about five years.)

Though 81,  Trintignant  has been working even longer, notably starring in movies such as Costa-Gavras’ best picture nominee “Z” over a remarkable 56-year career.

Still, Trintignant had been in retirement and hadn’t had a bona fide film part in nearly 15 years before Haneke lured him back. “I didn't want to act in films anymore,” Trintignant told reporters Sunday morning, saying he had been concentrating on occasional theater work. “But when Haneke offered me this part it was an exception,” describing how demanding the filmmaker is.  He then added to some laughter, “I think he's one of the great directors in the world, and it’s a wonderful opportunity. But I won't do it again.”


Cannes 2012: Is 'Sapphires' a fine gem or costume jewelry?

Cannes 2012: Shia LaBeouf's 'Lawless,' parable for the drug war?

Cannes 2012: Redoing Romeo and Juliet for the Twilight generation

--Steven Zeitchik


 Photo: Amour. Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Cannes 2012: Is 'Sapphires' a fine gem or costume jewelry?

May 20, 2012 |  5:26 am

Last week at this time, even attentive Cannes-goers hadn't heard of "The Sapphires," an Australian comedy about an Aboriginese singing troupe that's directed by an unknown and featured no prominent stars.

But as is often the case at a festival, Wayne Blair's 1968-set movie -- which centers on a quartet of struggling Aussie singers who find unlikely fame in Vietnam performing for U.S. troops -- vaulted from obscurity in the blink of an eye. And as is also often the case at festivals, Harvey Weinstein was the reason for the jump.

As Cannes was getting underway last Wednesday, Weinstein bought the movie's U.S. distribution rights -- he would go on to pick up three movies in three days -- putting the film on the map for festival-goers. On Saturday "The Sapphires’" stock rose further after a spirited premiere screening that saw the  unknown Australians who play the singers (Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell) as well as Irish actor Chris O'Dowd (who plays their manager) get rousing ovations.

Weinstein stoked the flame further when, later that night at a party for his Cannes film "Lawless," he walked up to a reporter and, grabbing the reporter's arm, said: "Have you seen ‘The Sapphires’? ‘The Artist’ just happened again."

Fans of the film said that while it may be a little too soon to make that proclamation, the movie’s music, comedy and feel-good premise position it strongly for breakout success.

But not all Cannes-goers were on board. Around the festival's parties Saturday night and the screening halls Sunday morning, some said the whole thing had the feeling of classic Weinstein showmanship. While the naysayers acknowledged that the film (which is not yet dated for release) had crowd-pleasing elements, it was nothing that hadn't been done before or better in working-man comedies like "The Full Monty."

And others pointed out that it was unlikely to get anywhere close to the critical support of "The Artist." Indeed, a quick survey of critics around Cannes suggested that the film did not measure up to the festival’s top offerings. As Variety critic Justin Chang tweeted a few hours after he had seen Michael Haneke's "Love," "A film like 'Love' reminds you of the folly of festivals. Went straight to 'Sapphires' afterward, resented having Haneke's spell broken."

Festivals are often about the delicate game of managing expectations. The same movie can be a masterpiece or a disappointment depending on whether people see it believing it should or will be great. Weinstein has now set the bar high. We'll see if he meets it...or moves on to another acquisition.


Cannes 2012: Redoing Romeo and Juliet for the Twilight generation

Cannes 2012: Gael Garcia Bernal says 'No'

Cannes 2012: Shia LaBeouf's 'Lawless,' parable for the drug war?

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "The Sapphires." Credit: The Weinstein Co.

Deborah Mailman ... Gail 27,563 
Jessica Mauboy ... Julie 49,477 
Shari Sebbens ... Kay 44,598 
Miranda Tapsell ... Cynthia

Cannes 2012: Redoing ‘Romeo & Juliet’ for the Twilight Generation

May 19, 2012 |  1:03 pm


CANNES, France -- A film version of "Romeo and Juliet" seems to pop up every generation. Are the Millennials ready for one to call their own?

The people behind a recently wrapped production of the classic love story believe they are. The simply titled “Romeo and Juliet” is a somewhat unexpected collaboration between high-end Austrian design house Swarovski (it financed and also brought some of its fashion savvy) and Julian Fellowes, the novelist and Oscar-winning screenwriter (he wrote the script).

Starring British teen Douglas Booth and “True Grit” It girl Hailee Steinfeld as the star-crossed pair, the film looks to capitalize on the timelessness of the love story and the youthful appeal of its stars. It is being directed by Carlo Carlei, an Italian director who shot the traditional costume period piece in Italy earlier this year.

The film is still being edited, with footage shown to buyers here at the Cannes Film Festival. The idea is to eventually land a U.S. deal and bring it out Stateside, possibly, though not necessarily, in 2013, according to producers. It’s one of several new spins on the classic play currently being attempted by Hollywood and independent financiers.

At a swishy beachside party Saturday night aimed at shining a light on the Steinfeld project, filmmakers gathered to toast their film and woo distributors such as Sony Pictures Classics, whose executives were in the room. Sparkly Swarovski bracelets were handed out and a designer-cocktail menu with concoctions like "The Capulet" and "The Montague" was served. 

But despite the setting and the source material, the filmmakers said they were aiming for youthful, populist entertainment.

“It’s a classic story that we want every teenager in the world to come see,” Ileen Maisel, one of the film’s producers, told 24 Frames, adding that even though the dialogue retained Shakespeare’s flavor, it was uttered in “understandable iambic pentameter."

Or as one of the film’s publicists put it: “This is ‘Romeo and Juliet’ for the Twilight Generation.”

Central to that effort is Steinfeld, a teen star since her breakout turn in “True Grit" in 2010. It was hard Saturday night to forget Steinfeld’s presence in the film, with a giant painted portrait of her dressed in full Juliet regalia adorning one end of the party's lounge space.

The tortured-love vibe of “Romeo And Juliet” is felt strongly in much of today's youth entertainment. But given that baby boomers had their version of the Shakespeare classic (Franco Zeffirelli’s in 1968) and Generation X had its version (1996’s quick-cut “Romeo + Juliet,” directed by Baz Luhrmann), it was only a matter of time before someone in the 21st century tried the actual thing. The Cullen-obsessed, these filmmakers hope, want some of their dramatic romance without vampires, too.


Cannes 2012: Gael Garcia Bernal says 'No'

Cannes 2012: 'Gomorrah' director aims at sins of reality TV

Cannes 2012: Shia LaBeouf's 'Lawless,' parable for the drug war?

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth in "Romeo and Juliet." Credit: Swarovski Entertainment

Cannes 2012: Shia LaBeouf's 'Lawless,' parable for the drug war?

May 19, 2012 |  5:58 am


CANNES, France -- With its atmospheric period details and heavy helpings of outlaw violence and dialects, the Prohibition-era bootlegging drama "Lawless" practically smells like it's from another era.

But those who worked on the Shia LaBeouf-Tom Hardy movie, which has its black-tie premiere Saturday night at the Cannes Film Festival, say it's surprisingly of the moment.

"There are a lot of parallels to today, with the economic crisis, the political crisis, the war on drugs," director John Hillcoat told reporters at a press conference Saturday morning after the drama screened for media. "At one point we even had a montage at the beginning with what was happening now with the Mexican cartels, and that wound back to the '80s cocaine wars in Cuba and heroin in New York ... until we landed on Prohibition.

"That was the birth of serious crime," the Australian director added, "and it feeds into everything that's going on today."

Based on Matt Bondurant's family memoir "The Wettest County in the World," "Lawless" centers on a group of brothers in 1920s Franklin County, Va., who find their lucrative bootlegging business threatened by rivals as well as a conniving law-enforcement officer (played by Guy Pearce). There are numerous gun battles and moments of heavy violence -- and not the kind of abstract or poeticizied violence one might typically expect from a Cannes film.

 "That's the way Hillcoat does his violence," said LaBeouf, who brings a certain level of candor to film festivals (two years ago at Cannes he admitted that he and the filmmakers "botched" the latest Indiana Jones). "It' s messy, it's dirty, it's realistic. It's not rehearsed like a ballet."

Nick Cave, the musician turned screenwriter who wrote the script, said it was a kind of bloodlust that made him want to write the film.

"I didn't have that much interest in when it was actually set. It was more the flavor of that book that took me ... the excessive violence," he said, then deadpanned, "That's what titillates me, sentimentality and excessive violence."

Much of the violence of the 1920s, of course, stemmed from the ill-conceived  ban on alcohol, prompting both Hardy and LaBeouf to be asked if today’s war on drugs was similarly misguided.

"As the professional -- in retirement," Hardy began, then paused. "I don't want to make any political statements. There's a good argument to say 'legalize drugs' and a good argument to say [don't] .... That's my stand -- whatever floats your boat." Then he added, “Just don't get caught."

LaBeouf, who in the past has had a reputation for wild living, seemed set to answer the question when the moderator instead stepped in to call on another reporter. "Next question, next question," LaBeouf said, smiling.


Cannes 2012: 'Gomorrah' director aims at sins of reality TV

Cannes 2012: Is Roman Polanski seeking some image rehab?

Cannes 2012: An Osama bin Laden battle brews by the beach

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf in "Lawless." Credit: Weinstein Co.

Cannes 2012: 'Rocky' producer to take fight to Rebekah Brooks

May 18, 2012 | 10:06 am


Few media figures get liberal pundits' blood boiling more than Rebekah Brooks, the disgraced former News of the World editor who has been criminally charged in the News Corp. phone-hacking scandal.

But for moviedom, there’s a different question: Can she make a good film subject?

Gene Kirkwood, a longtime Hollywood producer who counts "Rocky" and "The Pope of Greenwich Village" among his credits, is betting she can. He's acquired rights to Suzanna Andrews' February 2012 Vanity Fair article about the redheaded wunderkind brought low and aims to turn it into a feature. (You can read the original piece here.)

In an interview at a Cannes hotel Friday afternoon, Kirkwood explained why he thought she'd make a captivating protagonist despite an, er, distinct lack of sympathy.

"It's a 'Great Expectations' story about a person who came from nothing. If Dickens was around today, he'd be writing the screenplay." Kirkwood said, adding. "You don't mess around with the facts; you tell it very straightforwardly and let the drama come out naturally."

The Brooks project, which has not yet brought on or a writer or director, leads the slate of a new company called BiteSize Entertainment that Kirkwood is forming with a tech entrepreneur named Ron Bloom (who currently runs a video-platform outfit known as Melvio).

The idea, he and Bloom said, is to merge the speed and savvy of digital culture with the glitz and talent of Hollywood, all in the service of theatrical features. They laid out how they'd like to do it -- a group of low-budget movies, a production studio being built at the W hotel on Hollywood Boulevard, making  content that will help market the film ahead of its release instead of being tacked on to a DVD.

"We want to show the drama behind the drama," Kirkwood said.  "If it were 'Rocky,' you'd see us running from the Teamsters, or Sly doing his thing down in Philly."

Bloom added, "People are a lot more interested now in how a movie comes together.  We'll give them a  lean-forward way to connect to the film before it even comes out."

The pair also disclosed several other new projects: a dark comedy with "Breaking Bad's" Bob Odenkirk and Bryan Cranston, a movie about Noel Coward’s brief stint in a Vegas nightclub and, intriguingly, “Dream Child,” a script by the late Dennis Potter, acquired from his estate, that examines the real-life relationship between Lewis Carroll and the girl who inspired “Alice's Adventures in in Wonderland.”

All of them, they say, can move through development quickly because the company will operate like a digital studio more than a movie one.

Though the short-form world of Web content hasn't merged gracefully yet with big-canvas theatrical storytelling, Kirkwood said he thought the time was right for a change.

"So much of Hollywood development moves so slowly, and people in Hollywood get frustrated by it. All the actors up in the Hollywood Hills -- they want to work and they can't because the studios don't make their movies. We'll give them an outlet. Val Kilmer can come play Mark Twain if he wants."


Cannes 2012: 'Gomorrah' director aims at sins of reality TV

Cannes 2012: Is Roman Polanski seeking some image rehab?

Cannes 2012: An Osama bin Laden battle brews by the beach

Cannes 2012: Moonrise Kingdom aims to restore Wes Anderson's crown

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Rebekah Brooks leaving a London solicitor's office this week. Credit: Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

Cannes 2012: Is Roman Polanski seeking some image rehab?

May 17, 2012 |  4:23 pm



Roman Polanski isn’t one for public appearances these days. And film festivals probably aren’t the director's favorite place in any event; it was only three years ago that he was arrested while trying to attend one.

But this year’s Cannes Film Festival is subtly turning into Roman-ville.

The Paris-born, Poland-raised director hovers over the festival with a new documentary, “Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir,” in which he is seen or heard on camera for nearly all of its 94 minutes, sharing thoughts about his life (including his legal travails) with longtime friend Andrew Braunsberg. The film screened to a warm reception from the Cannes faithful on Thursday.

On Monday, Polanski will hover over the festival more literally — the Paris-dwelling director is scheduled to come to Cannes for a special screening of “Tess,” his 1979 romance that was the first film he made after fleeing the U.S. on pending statutory rape charges. He may even make some remarks introducing the film, according to one person who was briefed on the director's plans.

“Memoir,” a documentary filmmaker who specializes in Hollywood named Laurent Bouzereau, is a straightforward conversation between Hollywood producer Braunsberg and Polanski from when Polanski was under house arrest in his Gstaad chalet. At the time, there was a lot of uncertainty about the director’s future — a Swiss court had yet to reject a U.S. attorney’s extradition request — but Polanski appears calm, recalling events from his earliest days in Nazi-occupied Poland to the present. He describes details from his childhood, with friends and family members ripped away from him by the SS, that might soften even the hardest Polanski hater.

The filmmaker makes no excuses for his sex crime, but he clearly feels he paid the price. He also wants to correct misperceptions, such as his fleeing being an act of bail-jumping. “There was no bail,” he reminds in the film. And he apologizes to his victim, Samantha Geimer — while still taking a shot at the way the media has treated her.

The movie is coming out in several European countries, including Italy, where it's being released this weekend. There is not yet a deal in place in the U.S. — though as Braunsberg told 24 Frames after the screening, that’s unquestionably the most important venue for the director.

Polanski apparently deliberated for two months before deciding he wanted to sit for the documentary.  What motivated him to step out of the shadows? Despite a lifelong skepticism of the press, he might at 78 finally be interested in defining himself instead of allowing strangers to do it for him, Braunsberg said.

“There is only story. And that’s the true story you see in this film,” Braunsberg told 24 Frames after the screening. (Polanski also recently decided to make a movie about the Dreyfus affair, a decision that could easily be read as a statement of his belief that he too has been railroaded by a prejudicial justice system.)

Before the screening, Braunsberg told the audience he felt the movie was a step toward doing what had never been done, the first phase of a potentially larger process of explanation. “This is the beginning of the beginning of who Roman is,” he said. “What you are about to see is an image of Roman from Roman's own mouth.”


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Roman Polanski to direct movie about Dreyfus affair

Cannes 2012: Moonrise Kingdom aims to restore Wes Anderson's crown

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Roman Polanski in "Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir." Credit: Pathe International.

Cannes 2012: An Osama bin Laden battle brews by the beach

May 16, 2012 |  7:35 pm



CANNES, France--The news today that Harvey Weinstein was poised to buy an assassination-of-Osama-bin-Laden movie called “Code Name Geronimo” brought a jolt of politics to the just-opened Cannes Film Festival, where the deal was being negotiated.

It also sets up one of the most epic film-meets-politics moments in a long time--not to mention a potential catfight with Sony Pictures. That studio  of course has its own Bin Laden movie, titled “Zero Dark Thirty” and directed by “The Hurt Locker” helmer Kathryn Bigelow,” due before the end of the year.

Weinstein has basically closed the rights deal for the independently made "Geronimo," according to a person familiar with the negotiations, and is talking as though he's pretty much decided to release the movie in late September or October. That’s a crucial period because it of course comes before Americans head to the polls--and while voters and talking-heads will be debating just how much credit President Obama deserves for the killing. The election could affect the film, and the film could certainly affect the election.

INTERACTIVE: Cheat sheet guide to Cannes films

(Already "Dark" has been the subject of scrutiny from congressional Republicans over whether the script benefited from classified information. It remains to be seen whether another movie, this one right before the election--and from a noted Hollywood liberal,  no less--spurs its own backlash.)

 In releasing the movie during the pre-election period, Weinstein would take a page from his own playbook. He famously pulled a similar move in bringing out Michael Moore’s “Farenheit 9/11" the summer before the Bush-Kerry contest in 2004. It didn’t sway the results for the Democrats, though it certainly paid off for the Weinsteins at the box office.

 “Geronimo” is directed by John Stockwell, the actor turned-director of water-themed commercial pictures such as “Dark Tide” and “Blue Crush” as well as the Kirsten Dunst romance “Crazy/Beautiful.” It stars Cam Gigandet, baddie from the first “Twilight,” as a key member of the team that assassinated the Al Qaeda leader.

Stockwell’s new movie, shot this winter and spring, isn’t finished — a sales trailer and limited additional footage is what's being shown to Weinstein and international distributors — so anyone buying it must really want a Bin Laden movie.

After talking to those here on the Croisette with knowledge of the production, here’s what we do know about the film.

The movie centers on three groups: the CIA, the U.S. military leadership and the SEALs who went on the risky mission. It takes its best shot at theorizing what final piece of intelligence tipped the decision for Obama to send in the SEALs. (No one has proved what exactly prompted him to pull the trigger on the operation.) There’s no footage of  Obama, actual or actorly, in the current cut of the film, though that may change. It doesn't take a heavily partisan position, though it does shine a light on an event that the administration touts as a major success. It's basically an indie action movie, and it's more modest in budget and scope than "Zero Dark Thirty."

So what would an October date for "Geronimo" do to Sony? It would certainly put the screws to the studio, which pointedly decided not release “Zero Dark Thirty” before the election, presumably out of fear of politicizing the film. 

Sony is now set to release its film Dec. 19, and while a spokesman said it had no plans of moving off that date, even a “Geronimo"  success could poison the well for another Bin Laden movie two months later. This isn’t two wildly different takes on Snow White, after all; it’s a dramatization of the same event.

Private grumbling will no doubt come from both sides about which version stands a better chance at the box office.

Weinstein executives and the film's producers will point out that they will have first-mover advantage. Sony will say that with Bigelow and fellow Oscar winner/screenwriter Mark Boal, they have the stronger pedigree. (Their movie, incidentally, stars Joel Edgerton and Mark Strong.)
Harvey Weinstein must also contend with his own very crowded calendar. With new movies from Quentin Tarantino, David O. Russell, Andrew Dominik and others,Weinstein already has perhaps the most high-profile fall slate since breaking away from Disney seven years ago.

And if the chess match wasn’t complicated enough, “Geronimo" comes from financier-producer Voltage Pictures, which previously worked with Bigelow and Boal on "The Hurt Locker. (We're guessing that didn't all end well--especially after campaigning from the Voltage chief got him banned from the Oscars.)

And finally, there's this: One of the reasons Weinstein's fall slate is so crowded is that it's populated by a couple of movies from big-game financier Megan Ellison, with whom he's gone into business. And what other picture did Ellison produce for the fall? Sony's Bin Laden movie.

State Department politics don't get this complicated.


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How should Hollywood react to the killing of Osama bin Laden?

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Osama bin Laden. Credit: Rahimullah Yousafzai / Associated Press


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