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Cannes 2010: Addition by subtraction and the final sum

May 23, 2010 |  3:01 pm

For all the noise and crowds on the Boulevard de la Croisette these last 12 days, the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, which came to a close Sunday evening, was defined as much by the elements that weren't there as by those that were.

A trio of the film world's most outsize personalities -- figures who no doubt loomed large in the mind of artistic director Thierry Frémaux as he began programming the festival in the winter and early spring -- didn't turn up. For reasons of injury, schedule or simple reluctance, Ridley Scott, Sean Penn and Jean-Luc Godard all stayed home despite world premieres that surely would have earned them a lion's welcome. The result was several conspicuous holes torn through the presentations of some of the festival's most anticipated movies.

The industry side of this global cinema gathering, meanwhile, brought a similar motif. The much-rumored announcement of Harvey Weinstein's and Ron Burkle's purchase of the Miramax library didn't materialize, as negotiations continued throughout the festival (and hit the skids Friday afternoon).

Another independent-film business fixture, Bob Berney, while technically present, felt missing, as he came to the festival just three days after resigning his post at start-up distributor Apparition and with no apparent means of acquiring films. It was just last year at Cannes that Berney announced the formation of the label with the purchase of Jane Campion's “Bright Star” (in its lone year of operation, Apparition's buys were few and its release performance tepid).

A similar muted feeling ran underneath many of the film presentations. Brash and loud movies were rarely in evidence among the festival's most beloved titles, replaced by seemingly unassuming films that only gradually turned into discoveries.

Last year, the two most talked-about movies at Cannes were big-budget Hollywood extravaganzas: the 3-D stylings of “Up” and the filmmaking bravura of Quentin Tarantino and his “Inglourious Basterds,” both of which brought a degree of Hollywood panache. They were joined by other forms of media spectacle -- the long-awaited premiere of the posthumous Heath Ledger film “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” and by cinematic shock-jock Lars von Trier, who unveiled his brutal, polarizing “Antichrist” at the festival.

This year, two of the most-talked about films were a drama about a couple in their twilight years, Mike Leigh's “Another Year,” and “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall Past Lives,” a mystical drama from the Thai up-and-comer Apichatpong Weerasethakul. “Boonmee” went on to win the Palme d'Or, besting movies from higher profile filmmakers such as Alejandro González Iñárritu and Doug Liman, and underscoring that this year's festival was in many ways defined by the personalities below the radar.

Both films reflected major voices in the world of international cinema --  one established, one emerging -- but both premiered with little fanfare and gained currency through the slow burn of word-of-mouth.
Meanwhile, the theme of several buzzed about movies concerned, quite literally, what wasn't there -- namely wealth and equitable treatment -- as “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” and Charles Ferguson's documentary “Inside Job” stoked interest by exposing the problems that led to the financial crisis.

But unlike Michael Moore, who at past Cannes Film Festivals has grabbed attention by issuing an obstreperous cri de coeur, Ferguson's surgical critique made its mark  precisely because of its restraint, its even-keeled, at times even dry presentation, giving it added heft.

Class issues also percolated through several other movies, including Iñárritu's tale-of-the-downtrodden, “Biutiful”; Lim Sang-soo's “The Housemaid”; and “Carlos,” Olivier Assayas’ biopic about the Marxist guerrilla leader and terrorist Carlos the Jackal.

That last film was one of the few to get attention by its sheer presence -- at a running time of five hours and 19 minutes, it was impossible not to notice it.

Like filmmaking itself, film festivals are cyclical. No sooner will someone pronounce a trend over than it starts up again, or a new one takes its place.

And if this festival were characterized by unlikely absences and a scattered quiet, it probably didn't matter. The crop of films was as strong as ever, and it came not only from old-school fixtures such as France and Iran (the latter of which saw the premiere of Abbas Kiarostami's acclaimed “Certified Copy”) but also from such newer powers as Korea (which boasted “Housemaid,” Lee Chang-Dong's critically well-regarded “Poetry” and Un Certain Regard prize winner “Ha Ha Ha”) and Romania, which continued its string of Cannes hits with Radu Muntean's poignant and powerful “Tuesday After Christmas.”

U.S. directors also acquitted themselves well, as Gregg Araki's “Kaboom” and Derek Cianfrance's “Blue Valentine” were both exceedingly well-received. When the noise subsides, this year's Cannes suggested, the talent can finally be heard.

-- Steve Zeitchik

Photo: Outside the Carlton Hotel, workers construct a billboard advertising "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps." Credit: Sean Gallup / Getty Images.

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