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Cannes 2010: At Cannes' opening night, several arrows but few sharp points

May 12, 2010 |  7:31 pm


Books shouldn't be judged by their covers, but sometimes a jacket illustration tells you all you need to know about what's inside, just like a film festival's opening night can suggest plenty about the days that lie ahead.

Cannes kicked off its 63rd edition on Wednesday night with two events that won't go down in infamy but will hardly be canonized in the festival's hallowed pages either. At the main hall in the elegant, starchy Palais, Universal unveiled its soon-to-be-released "Robin Hood," and although the premiere seemed to hit the big-event notes it needed to -- an after-party at a nearby beach-side club that featured paid medieval costume-wearers and a fireworks show amid the champagne swilling and dance-floor shaking -- it also bowled few over with its filmmaking. Those in the room described respectable but not overwhelming applause (a key indicator of any Cannes premiere). And the critics, many of whom had seen the film last week, were lukewarm.

There was concern that a particularly pointed reaction could come from the French, who aren't exactly depicted as saints or literary greats in the Ridley Scott tale.  In the end, the boo birds stayed in their cages -- "we're used to being portrayed this way in movies like 'Robin Hood,'" one French journalist told us afterward -- but the ovations didn't fly with great gusto either, according to many in the room. (That Scott himself wasn't there to take his post-screening bow probably didn't help.) In Cannes terms, it wasn't "The Da Vinci Code" (few experiences could match the 2006 opening-night debacle), but it wasn't last year's "Up" either.

Next door to the "Robin Hood" screening, in the film festival's alternative art house reality, the festival kicked off its competition sessions with a premiere screening of "Tournee," a directorial effort from French actor Mathieu Amalric, who dazzled audiences here three years ago with his astounding performance in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." "Tournee" is a film about a French sad-sack hustler (played by Amalric) who leads a group of American burlesque dancers on a tour of France. The subject matter was vastly different from "Robin Hood," but the reaction wasn't. Although it didn't fail on any major artistic level, most filmgoers, including us, found the burlesque slice of life interesting but the main protagonist opaque and familiar, as we did his problems. It's a character drama light on the characters and the drama. Don't bet on it for your office Palme d'Or pool.

Of course, it's really early, and festivals with weak opening nights can pick up speed, and those that start with a bang can end with a whimper. But for those looking for tea leaves, the two movies combined for an effect that could carry through the festival: typically elegant and without glaring holes, but overly familiar and at times unremarkable.

Maybe it's the ash from Iceland, maybe it's the slow international market, maybe it's the fact that industry types are still talking about Bob Berney, the distribution mastermind behind "The Passion of the Christ" and "Memento," who quit his year-old gig at start-up Apparition several days ago after being hailed as one of the great hopes for specialized cinema (his purchase of "Bright Star" at Cannes last year ignited talk of a rejuvenated market for upscale films in the U.S.). Whatever the reason, it hardly seems to matter; most of those nonfilm subplots have provided better drama than what's been shown on the screen.

-- Steven Zeitchik, reporting from Cannes

Photo: Russell Crowe in "Robin Hood." Credit: Universal Pictures

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