24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Cannes 2011

How will the Palme d'Or affect 'Tree of Life's' commercial prospects?

May 23, 2011 |  6:30 am


In the coming weeks, there will be plenty of chances to gauge the mainstream appetite for Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life," the story of God and nature and one mid-century family's issues among them, which opens in limited urban release this weekend before expanding in the following week to suburban precincts.

But Sunday's news out of the Cannes Film Festival that the movie had won the Palme d'Or -- one of the few festival prizes to draw universal respect -- raises a more immediate question: How much will the Croisette honor motivate filmgoers to turn out to see it?

The question of a Palme bump has been an interesting one in recent years. Foreign-language films are their own breed, but among English-language titles, the prize has had a limited but hardly insignificant effect on what we see.

Over the last 20 years, it's helped set the table for box-office hits such as "Secrets & Lies," "Fahrenheit 911" and "Pulp Fiction" -- at minimum facilitating momentum the movie already had, and in some cases actively putting it on the map. The average filmgoer may not know a Palme d'Or from a palm reader, but he or she is certainly acquainted with the media that respond to one.

On the other hand, the Cannes prize did almost nothing for "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" and "Elephant," both of which failed to break out of an art-house ghetto.

Certainly a host of factors played into all of these results. But the Palme does seem to help movies that contain big, bold premises (including "Secrets & Lies," about interracial adoption). In that respect, "Tree," with its visual centerpiece featuring dinosaurs and colliding planets, would fit right in. (It's also worth noting that two of these three Palme hits were distributed by Harvey Weinstein, though "Tree" distributor Fox Searchlight is no slouch itself.) "Tree" also stars Brad Pitt, who has shown himself capable of motivating a mainstream filmgoer to specialized fare.

At Cannes, several involved in the international distribution of "Tree" shook their head ruefully when the subject of the film's U.S. fate came up. Romania and France, the thinking went, stood a far better shot of fielding a hit. But of course the odds are always long when you have material as abstract -- and as resistant to being boiled down -- as this. A Palme just makes those odds a little bit shorter.


What Terrence Malick's 'The Tree of Life' is actually about

Brad Pitt and the 'Tree of Life' gang explain Terrence Malick's process

Awards Tracker: Palme d'Or goes to Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life"

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: A scene from "The Tree of Life." Credit: Fox Searchlight


Cannes 2011: A spell of conflict, and then (some) resolution

May 22, 2011 |  6:45 pm


With the major awards handed out and the last of the cinephiles, partiers, salespeople and hangers-on finally packing up for calmer climes, let's take a moment to look back at this year's Cannes Film Festival in all its intensity and strangeness.

The 2011 edition of the world's most prestigious film gathering was historic in several ways. Egyptian directors banded together to create and premiere shorts about their country's revolution just three months after it happened, while more female directors landed in the main competition than ever before (a sharp contrast to Hollywood's glass ceiling).

Less nobly, for the first time in the history of Cannes, a filmmaker was declared persona non grata at the festival. Leave it to Lars.

It was, as might be expected with any 64th installment, sometimes a festival of the familiar — Harvey Weinstein spending millions on high-profile films from the likes of Meryl Streep and Shia LaBeouf, and Woody Allen embraced again, thanks to his opening-night movie, "Midnight in Paris."

But it was also a festival filled with paradox.  Cannes always contains multitudes, but the contradictions rarely have ever seemed this pungent, and they've seldom grabbed so many headlines. Cannes this year saw the European premiere of Mel Gibson's new film — and yet he had to settle for second place for the festival's biggest race-themed controversy. The Croisette also saw a silent film, Michel Hazanavicius' "The Artist," making some of the loudest noise.

It was a festival where the darkest of subjects, a school shooting, was given the flashiest of treatments with Lynne Ramsay's well-received "We Need to Talk About Kevin."

Cannes is filled with old-timers and veterans, and yet one of the biggest splashes came from a young 'un first-timer, "Drive" director Nicolas Winding Refn.

And finally, there was the festival's biggest enigma, Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life," whose premiere ensured that the most scrutinized festival director was also the most invisible. Malick sat out the red carpet and the screening feting him and drove the point home when he also sat out the Palme d'Or ceremony Sunday, opting for his producers to accept on his behalf.

There was good and bad, strange and sane, in this year's Cannes. It's the favorable more than the dodgy one hopes will prevail, though in the end it will may well be that both co-exist. It was, after all, that kind of festival.

— Steven Zeitchik in Cannes, France



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

Awards Tracker: Palme d'Or goes to Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life

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

Photo: Sean Penn in Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life." Credit: Fox Searchlight.

Cannes 2011: Terrence Malick and Lars von Trier, Cannes contrasts, strangely united

May 22, 2011 |  2:30 am


Among all the plot lines the Cannes Film Festival has offered over the last week, none has been as compelling as the tale of two directors -- each highly acclaimed, each inscrutable in his own way. One said too much, and one said nothing at all. One got kicked out of the festival midway through it; one never appeared in public in the first place.

And yet for all the differences between Lars von Trier and Terrence Malick, they shared the stage in these May days. They each furnished drama at a press conference, of all places, causing reporters to drop their pens -- Malick when producers declined to acknowledge there was anything wrong with his absence; von Trier, in a more morally problematic vein, when he made his infamous Nazi comments.

Ironically lost in the separate yet parallel stories of these two filmmakers are their movies, which have a surprising amount in common. Both "The Tree of Life" and "Melancholia" make generous use of grand cosmic images, set against soaring classical music, while focusing  tightly on the dysfunctions of one family amid the astral pomp. If you asked a blind focus group to pick out the two movies among the 21 in competition with the most commonalities, a good number would choose "Tree" and "Melancholia."

And yet. There's something telling about Malick's use of cosmic images to portray the world's creation and Von Trier's use of them to show its end. The Texas auteur is fascinated with the origin of all things and Von Trier, ever the nihilist, constantly wants to tear them down.

As interesting as it has been to hear speculation about why Malick declined to show up for his premiere, it's been that much more fascinating, if frustrating, to hear the speculation about Von Trier and his motives. He is either the second coming of David Duke, a horrible and inexcusable racist, or a simple and misunderstood talent, the Manny Ramirez of the international film world, whose missteps are proof of nothing more than his quirkiness. In truth, the reality probably lies in between; he does not really embrace the Third Reich, but his comments also can't be explained away as mistimed jokes.

When we interviewed Von Trier, as his critics were circling and the festival was preparing to eject him, the director had a simple response to all. "Terrence Malick is a clever man -- he knows that it's good to stay home." He seemed to be saying, in that moment at least, that he wished he was Malick. The rest of us could only wish for something more obtainable: that Malick spoke a little more, and Von Trier a little less.


Danish director Refn describes date with Gosling, laces into von Trier

Pitt and Chastain wonder if hype, squareness are behind 'Tree of Life' divisions

With Ryan Gosling’s ‘Drive,’ a different Dane gets his moment

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Lars von Trier. Credit: European Pressphoto Agency

Cannes 2011: Danish director Refn describes date with Gosling, laces into von Trier

May 20, 2011 |  5:05 pm

On Thursday night, Nicolas Winding Refn's "Drive" played to some of the most enthusiastic media crowds at the Cannes Film Festival. On Friday, just as Refn was preparing to premiere his Ryan Gosling-starring film to the public, he sat down with 24 Frames to offer his thoughts on a range of cinematic topics: a festival youth movement, a love for soft rock and that, er, other Danish filmmaker.

While the competition section here tends to favor veterans -- Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar and the Belgian neorealists the Dardenne Bros. are both back once again, among other repeat offenders -- this year's Cannes field also includes a significant number of filmmakers in their 30s and early 40s, comers such as Maiwenn, Lynne Ramsay and Julia Leigh, as well as Refn).

Refn says that emergence of a new class is no accident. “Sometimes the most interesting things come out of age and knowledge, and sometimes they come out of being young, and even the arrogance of being young," said the 40-year-old.

Despite any youthful arrogance, Refn's demeanor differs significantly from that of said other Dane, Lars von Trier, who was declared persona non grata by the festival Thursday for his comments about Nazism. Asked what he thought of those comments, Refn replied: "What Lars said was just very, very mean. Coming from a Jewish family myself, it saddened me that someone would say something like that without thinking what it means to so many people."

Refn -- who was born in Copenhagen but spent his pre-adolescent and teenage years in New York, and says he considers himself a Dane by passport only -- went on to take a shot at his birthplace too. "The problem with Denmark is that it's in its own little world even though it wishes to be international," he said. "We had a similar problem with these [anti-Muslim] cartoons which were completely unnecessary and did not serve any purpose rather than just to get a reaction."

Then he circled back to Von Trier. "To say things like [what he said] shows you live in such a small-minded country. The ceiling is so low in Denmark it's not hard to get the spotlight. [But] to do things like what Lars did you should do when you're 18. It's kind of pathetic when you're a 60-year-old man." (Ironically, Denmark is often regarded with fondness by contemporary Jews for the monarchy's decision to stand in solidarity with Jews during Hitler's WWII aggression and the rescue of thousands of Jews by ordinary Danes.)

Despite Refn's break from his home country, it is hard to avoid grouping him with at least some filmmakers from the region. He's best known for the "Pusher" trilogy, a  gritty series about the Copenhagen underworld that fits nicely with other Nordic genre films such as "Let the Right One In," "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and "Snabba Cash" -- and differs from many of the high-cinema offerings in the Cannes competition.

But Refn says he sees the world evolving to a place where the tuxedoed set starts accepting a wider range of movies. "For younger audiences and filmmakers, genre is the new arthouse," he said. "I came from a family that worshipped the French New Wave, which was a form of rebellion, and the way to rebel against that was to go out and see 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre.' "

Refn also talked about the time he first met Gosling, over dinner in Los Angeles, when Refn was buzzed on anti-flu medication. After asking Gosling to drive him home midway through the meal, the actor turned on the car radio, only to come upon REO Speedwagon's "Can't Fight This Feeling." "And I don't know if I was really high on anti-flu medicines, or maybe there's just something about that song, but I just started crying," recalled the director. "Ryan probably thought it was the worst first date ever."


With Ryan Gosling's 'Drive,' a different Dane gets his moment

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Ryan Gosling in "Drive." Credit: FilmDistrict

Cannes 2011: Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain wonder if hype, squareness are behind 'Tree of Life' divisions

May 20, 2011 |  1:30 am

Brad Pitt was sitting in a suite high above the Croisette earlier this week, pondering the divisive reaction to “The Tree of Life,” the long-awaited Terrence Malick movie about life, death, religion and nature, among other things.

“That doesn’t bother me,” he told 24 Frames. “Really. I much prefer that some people love and others don’t get it, as long as it starts a discussion. That’s a bigger win.”

At screenings earlier in the week, some Cannes-goers had embraced Malick's boldness, while others resisted it, as boos and applause would often mix together. But Pitt was keeping a sunny attitude. “Certainly it’s engaged people in conversation. To me that’s a huge success.”

He said he did realize how buzz could work against a film, especially in the hothouse environment of a festival.  “Terry being Terry, there’s a weight it carries,” the actor said. “And this thing has been in incubation for so long. Hype is always dangerous because you could never answer all the expectations."

Just down the hall, co-star Jessica Chastain was offering her own explanation for why some had bristled.

“The qualities that some people will find it difficult is why I think it’s brilliant, and that is that there’s nothing cynical about it," she said. "It’s not cool. I’m a great fan of Michael Haneke, but his movies are really edgy and dark. There’s something about them that’s really cool. And this is a film that says we’re essentially good. And maybe the public has a harder time thinking that.”

Chastain did say that she thought a longer view was necessary in evaluating "Tree's" power. “Even if the film isn’t a great success, I know it’s something people will be coming up to me in 30 years and saying, ‘You were in that film.’"

She may not need to wait decades, though: As of Thursday evening, the film had scored a perfect 100% rating among top critics on Rotten Tomatoes.


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

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "The Tree of Life." Credit: Fox Searchlight

Cannes 2011: With Ryan Gosling’s ‘Drive,’ a different Dane gets his moment

May 19, 2011 |  8:05 pm


The focus these last few days at Cannes has been on Lars von Trier and the controversial Nazi comments he made after unveiling his movie "Melancholia." But another Dane pulled the wraps off his new film Thursday night on the Croisette, and he’s getting attention for all the right reasons.

Nicolas Winding Refn, a genre director who is swimming in high-end auteur waters for the first time, got some of the best responses of the festival when his bloody Scandinavian-flavored crime piece “Drive” debuted to the media Thursday night.

Starring Ryan Gosling as an automotive stuntman and laconic tough guy who’s as dexterous with his fists as he is with a steering wheel, the in-competition film winds through a tender relationship (with Carey Mulligan), a mob-centric heist and a general study in violence and (a)morality. Judging by the enthusiastic audience reaction, it's a blend that worked. (You can add it as the seventh film on our   six-films-to-watch-shortlist from earlier in the week.)

"Drive," which comes to U.S. theaters in September, also has a Nordic moodiness and style. In fact, rarely before can we remember something so Scandinavian in sensibility being recast as something this American -- the film is set in Los Angeles (note an opening sequence involving a Clippers fantasy scenario) and features a deep bench of Hollywood talent that includes Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks and Christina Hendricks. It's also based on a hard-boiled American novel by James Sallis.

Winding Refn is probably best known for the Danish-language “Pusher” trilogy, about the Copenhagen underworld, as well as “Bronson,” a black comedy about a dangerous criminal. But he’s a newbie when it comes to competing against world-cinema legends like the Dardennes and Pedro Almodovar.

Then again, he may be at the fore of a new trend. Scandinavian-inflected movies, particularly of the genre kind, have been gaining popular appeal in the U.S. in recent years -– witness remakes of vampire tale “Let the Right One In" and hacker mystery "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" -- while the dark-winter-of-the-soul action tales of Christopher Nolan have been carving out their place at the Oscar table. Perhaps it was only a matter of time before a movie with a genre skin and a Nordic heart got its big-stage Cannes moment.


Cannes 2011: Lars von Trier retracts Nazi comments

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

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

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Ryan Gosling in "Drive." Credit: FilmDistrict


Cannes 2011: Lars von Trier's 'Melancholia' could get a release-plan tweak

May 19, 2011 |  7:03 pm


How’s this for the ultimate film-marketing nightmare? You’re the Israeli distributor of Lars von Trier's “Melancholia.”

That’s the problem faced by Shani Films, the company that had bought and been all ready to release the director's new movie.  Three days ago, it hardly seemed unwise: You had a movie with a sci-fi element and actors that travel, like Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg. And Shani had experience with Von Trier's work: It had released his 2006 workplace comedy, "The Boss of It All," in Israel.

Hardly unwise, that is, until Von Trier went and made some very badly received comments about Nazis and Jews.

According to one source who was briefed on the discussions but asked not to be identified because of their proprietary nature, TrustNordisk, the Danish film entity that has been handling international rights for the picture, has offered Shani the opportunity to revert the rights and be reimbursed the fees it paid. It is not yet known if Shani will accept the offer.

(In America, Von Trier's film is scheduled to be released by Magnolia Pictures, a subsidiary of Mark Cuban's entertainment empire, in the fall. As of Thursday night, an executive told 24 Frames all plans to release the film remained on track.) Spokesmen for Shani and TrustNordisk were not immediately available for comment.

Shani may not be the only distributor to be given a refund deal: One source familiar with TrustNorskisk’s plans said distributors in several other countries could soon be receiving the same offer.

Chalk up one more bizarre occurrence at this year's Cannes Film Festival to Von Trier: He's helped introduce the notion of film-rights refunds.


Cannes 2011: in interview, Lars von Trier says he doesn't deserve to win the Palme d'Or

Cannes 2011: Lars von Trier retracts statement about Nazis

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

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "Melancholia." Credit: TrustNordisk

Cannes 2011: A video examination, Part 5 -- The biggest misconceptions about the festival

May 19, 2011 |  5:37 pm

The Cannes Film Festival isn't easy to explain to people who haven't been to it. In fact, it isn't easy to explain to people who have, either. A mix of world-class directors, celebrity glitz, hard-core cinephiles and general mayhem, Cannes yields as many misconceptions as it does truths. The Times' Kenneth Turan and Steven Zeitchik and the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips run down some of the things they find least understood about the world's most prominent cinema gathering.


 Cannes 2011: In interview, Lars von Trier says he doesn't deserve a Palme d'Or

Cannes 2011: A video examination, Part 3

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

Cannes 2011: Organizers call Lars Von Trier remarks 'unacceptable,' 'intolerable'

May 19, 2011 | 10:58 am


The backlash to Lars von Trier's comments about Nazism intensified Thursday, as the Cannes Film Festival declared the director persona non grata at the world's most prestigious cinema gathering, effective immediately.

After Von Trier jokingly said he was a Nazi and more a German than a Jew at a news conference on Wednesday, festival organizers issued a statement saying they were "disturbed" by the comments. Then the festival's board of directors convened and returned with a stronger statement on Thursday afternoon.

"The Festival de Cannes provides artists from around the world with an exceptional forum to present their works and defend freedom of expression and creation," it said. "The festival's board of directors, which held an extraordinary meeting this Thursday, May 19, profoundly regrets that this forum has been used by Lars von Trier to express comments that are unacceptable, intolerable, and contrary to the ideals of humanity and generosity that preside over the very existence of the Festival. The Board of Directors firmly condemns these comments and declares Lars von Trier a persona non grata at the Festival de Cannes, with effect immediately."

The step was highly unusual; a festival spokesman was not immediately available for comment, but several 20-year veterans of Cannes said they could never recall a declaration of this sort before. The consequences of the board's move remain unclear, though it's safe to say that any hope the Danish director had for a Palme d'Or for his film, the otherwise well-received English-language sci-fi-family drama "Melancholia," or a return visit with future films, is now in all but gone. It was unclear whether the festival's competition jury, which this year is being headed by Robert De Niro, has been instructed to disqualify "Melancholia."

Earlier Thursday, before the declaration was issued, Von Trier showed some contrition in an interview with The Times. But he also had some harsh words for organizers, who had called him Wednesday. "It's a major thing at the festival, and very problematic for the festival. And that's a little strange, because even if I was Hitler, what does that have to do with my film being here? It's a festival for films, not for directors," he said.


Lars von Trier says he may be done with news conferences -- and that he doesn't deserve Palme d'Or

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

-- Steven Zeitchik in Cannes, France

Photo: French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg and Danish director Lars von Trier at the Wednesday news conference for "Melancholia' at which Von Trier made his controversial remarks. Credit: Guillaume Horcajuelo / EPA

Cannes 2011: In interview, Lars von Trier says he may be done with news conferences -- and that he doesn't deserve a Palme d'Or

May 19, 2011 |  6:17 am


On Wednesday, Lars von Trier set off a worldwide firestorm when, in his typically provocative way, he attempted to make a number of jokes about being a Nazi who sympathized with Hitler.

Less than 24 hours later, he added contrition to his repertoire, without letting up too much on the provocation.

In one of his first interviews since the controversy exploded Wednesday at a news conference for his Cannes film "Melancholia" -- and on the same day the festival declared him persona non grata -- Von Trier came off like a man who regretted the whole incident even as he seemed to take a small amount of playful enjoyment in the fact that, once again, he had gotten a lot of people worked up.

He began the conversation with an apology considerably more elaborate than the terse statement sent out on his behalf by his publicity team Wednesday afternoon.

"I'm really sincere when I say I don't really know what hit me. I can understand if you take things out of context. This was very sarcastic and very rude, but that's very Danish. I'm very sorry that it's being taken the wrong way," he said from beneath a straw hat as he sat in the garden of a hotel in Mougins, a town about six miles north of Cannes, where he stays during the festival. "I must say that I believe strongly that the Holocaust is the worst crime against humanity ever, and I do not sympathize with Hitler one second."

He did make light of the email statement Wednesday in which he apologized, saying it didn't come with much feeling behind it. "All apologies to me are nonsense. It's saying 'I did something wrong,' but what does that help? I think it makes the whole situation much worse." Why, then, did he send it out? "It's something called damage control."

Von Trier has been known to take shots at everything  from fellow filmmakers to American values, cultivating an image of the auteur shock jock. But he said that, despite the fraught nature of the Nazi comments, they were far from substantively motivated. "I didn't want to hurt anyone at all [with this]. Sometimes I hurt people on purpose, when there's provocation that I want to get through that has a meaning. This doesn't have a meaning." He continued, "I've studied how bad the Jews have been treated in [places such as]  Poland and France. This is something that matters very much to me. And this was an idiotic way to behave."

But for all his remorse, he said he believes that at least part of why the incident became such a live wire was because of the country in which he made the statements. "The reason why it's so big, especially here, is that France has had a problematic relationship with Jews, and you [as an interview subject] shouldn't touch such things. But on the other hand, being a cultural radical, you should touch such things."

He said he felt the flap was blown out of proportion by one group in particular: the Cannes Film Festival. Organizers called the filmmaker Wednesday to express their concern, and also released a statement that they were "disturbed" by the remarks. It's a reaction Von Trier has trouble understanding. "It's a major thing at the festival, and very problematic for the festival. And that's a little strange, because even if I was Hitler, what does that have to do with my film being here? It's a festival for films, not for directors," he said.

In a similar vein, he continued to stand by his belief that one should separate art from artist. "Albert Speer was for me a great artist, and we must accept that there can be big artists, like Riefenstahl, that suddenly get their room to work because of a dictatorship. There are people who want me to take that back, but for the sake of truth I can't do that."

But when asked whether he felt Cannes jurors upset by his comments could make the same distinction with his work, he replied flatly, "I don't deserve to win a [Palme d'Or]."

He also said he didn't know if he would ever sit for another news conference. "I'm not sure I'll leave Denmark again," he said, though anyone who knows Von Trier knows that tongue-holding is not something he practices often. He did say he was eager to return to his home country, where he plans on shooting both a soft-core and hard-core porn movie.

"I want to be surrounded by porn people who love me for what I am, who say, 'Where do you want the erection, where do you want the penetration.' Where it's not complicated. There wouldn't be a porn star running out there saying 'Lars said this or Lars said that.'"

As for "Melancholia," most of the interview was given over to the question of the day, though he did talk a bit about how he wanted to make a film about depression with a supernatural gloss.

Finally, the director said his own Jewish background  -- his father,  Ulf, was Jewish, although the director learned as an adult that the man was not his biological parent -- complicates the question of what he does and doesn't feel comfortable saying about Jews. "Half my life I've made very many Jewish jokes because when you are Jewish, you're allowed to do that. And now I feel kind of in-between."

But then he seemed to undercut the sensitivity of the moment when he added, "I'm very much into the Jewish stuff. Even when I found out I'm not Jewish by my genes, all my children have Jewish names. I'm actually" he pauses -- "too Jewish." And then realizing how that could be misconstrued, he said, "Oh ...", using an obscenity and leaning his forehead against the table in a playful what-have-I-done pose. "Don't write that." He added , "I'm just an idiot that should just say home in Denmark and never talk to anybody."


Cannes 2011: Lars von Trier retracts statement about Nazis

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

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

-- Steven Zeitchik in Mougins, France

Photo: Lars von Trier. Credit: EPA


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