Monday, May 9, 2011

Cannes Film Festival 2011: A Preview

Cannes 2011 Poster

Note: Post has been updated as of 16:00 PDT on Tuesday, May 10, 2011.

In April 2010, the Blogger had the rare opportunity of meeting a true international star. The enigmatic and talented French singer Charlotte Gainsbourg launched her first-ever concert tour in Vancouver at the famed Vogue Theatre to promote her critically-acclaimed second album IRM. She did not disappoint. Thanks to the generosity of local cultural paper The Georgia Straight and Warner Records, I met Charlotte herself after the show. She was effusive and charming, and a bit nervous. I asked her flat-out if, as the reigning Best Actress winner, she would be attending the forthcoming Cannes Film Festival. Gainsbourg looked a bit taken aback and then replied, with a twinkle in her eye, that she was “unsure”. Sure enough, a month later, she was on hand on the Croisette to present the biggest award of the festival, the Palme d’Or.

The annual Cannes Film Festival, now in its 64th year, is not the biggest such gathering in the world, but it lays claim to being one of the oldest (after Venice) and most prestigious. This is the festival where Bridget Bardot once played in the surf in front of an international cadre of admiring paparazzi. This was where the film that gave rise to the word “paparazzi”, Fellini’s immortal La Dolce Vita, scandalized the Catholic Church and won the top prize, birthing an international sensation and helping popularize European cinematic discourse in North America. This was where notorious Danish director Lars von Trier won prizes year after year but showed his displeasure at not winning the Palme d’Or by first giving the jury the finger one year, and telling them seven years later that they gave him “the wrong award” for another film. Gong Li all but became an unofficial spokeswoman for the festival due to her annual appearance to in support of director Zhang Yimou’s films in the early 90s, every one in which she played a leading role. Sharon Stone never misses the Festival, whether or not she has a film to promote. This is where Catherine Deneuve, Maggie Cheung, Juliette Binoche and, yes, Brangelina come to be seen and to present serious work. To get an idea of the international star power on hand, have a look at this clip.

This year’s festival boasts one of the most exciting lineups in years. In particular, the Blogger is looking forward to the following films in competition for the prestigious Palme d’Or:

Melancholia (Denmark; directed by Lars von Trier)

Described by the director as “a beautiful film about the end of the world”, Kirsten Dunst makes her first appearance as a headliner at Cannes for the first time since Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette met with applause and some derision in 2006. Dunst stars as a newlywed who grows progressively melancholic as the end of the world approaches due to a large foreign interplanetary force threatening Earth’s survival. Von Trier also stated that all his previous films, no matter how bleak they were, had happy endings (a rather bold statement given how depressing many of them are) and that this film will end badly. The film also stars Kiefer Sutherland, John Hurt, Stellan and Aleksander Skarsgård and – yes – Charlotte Gainsbourg! You may view the film’s gorgeous trailer here.

The Skin I Inhabit (Spain; directed by Pedro Almodóvar)

Pedro! Perennial festival favourite Almodóvarhas taken home numerous prizes from Cannes in the past, including for Volver and All About My Mother, two of the Blogger’s favourite films of the last decade. Antonio Banderas makes his first appearance in a Spanish-language film in many years as a surgeon who tries to develop a new skin for his wife, who is slowly dying of skin cancer. Almodovar has said that this film fulfills his desire to make “a horror story without screams or frights”. Given his penchant for creating melodrama and the rapturous reception accorded so many of his films, this should become a festival and art-house favourite. The film’s official website launches soon.

We Need to Talk about Kevin (UK; directed by Lynne Ramsay)

Based on the best-selling novel, a mother comes to terms with her son’s massacre of his high school classmates and his own suicide. A meaty role for any serious female actor, the mother will be played by art house (and this Blogger’s) favorite, Tilda Swinton. I’m certain the Go Fug Yourself girls are waiting in anticipation of what Swinton will wear to the festivities. Despite being a British film, this was shot entirely in the United States and has an American setting. Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead composed the film’s score and, if his work on There Will Be Blood is any indication, it is sure to be as subtly threatening as it is beautiful.

Sleeping Beauty (Australia; directed by Julia Leigh)

The shocking premise of this film is of a young woman (Emily Browning) trained to become a high-class prostitute specializing in fulfilling men’s fairy tale fetishes. The woman in question plays Sleeping Beauty. In the morning, the young woman wakes up and remembers … nothing. And she does the same thing that evening. The film is being presented by director Jane Campion, who The Piano won the Palme d’Or in 1993 and who presented Bright Star to considerable acclaim in 2009. There is an enticing and mysterious trailer available here, although be aware that it is slightly NSFW due to brief nudity.

Hari-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (Japan; directed by Takashi Miike)

Nothing much is known about this, but the title seems to give it away. This is a notable entry as it will be the first 3-D film shown in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. If nothing, a win for the film would give the much-beleaguered Japanese something to cheer about.

This Must Be the Place (Italy; directed by Paolo Sorrentino)

Sean Penn plays a retired rock star who decides to track down the former Nazi interrogator who tortured his father. Although in English, the film was directed by an Italian and is officially entered to represent Italy. Sorrentino won the Jury Prize in 2008 for his acclaimed Il Divo. Frances McDormand also stars. Penn also stars in … 

The Tree of Life (US; directed by Terrence Malick)

Starring Brad Pitt – thus ensuring his presence on the Croisette and certain megawatt coverage – this long-awaited film by exacting auteur Malick is only the fifth film by the director in the last 37 years, and his first since 2005’s The New World. No one is certain as to what the film is about, exactly, and the trailer betrays nothing of the plot. An abstract appears on the film’s Wikipedia page that does nothing to spoil the plot. Maybe there is none? Despite such scarcity of detail, every journalist and their mothers will be fighting tooth and nail to attend this much sought-after screening. You can attempt to piece together the details here.

Lady Gaga has been confirmed to perform a free live concert on the Canal Plus Stage on the Croisette to kick things off on the beach. Now THIS is a party. It might also provide such illustrious and unexpected photo ops, such as this one between Gaga and Sofia Vergara on The Tonight Show:

UPDATE: In a nod to home-grown cinematic product from the Blogger's corner of the universe, the acclaimed Canadian film Repeaters announced just today that the film will appear at the famed Market Place on the Croisette. Good luck to director Carl Bessai, stars Dustin Mulligan, Amanda Crews and Richard de Klerk, and everyone attending the film! The film is already playing in its third week in Toronto. For those of you in the Vancouver area, the film is being screened locally on May 26 at District 319. More information on the film, including the trailer, are available on the film's website.

For more information on the Cannes Film Festival, click here to go to their official website. There is also an excellent summary provided by Nice Matin in French.

This year’s Festival opens May 11 with a gala screening of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and closes on May 22 with the incomparable Catherine Deneuve in Christophe Honoré’s The Beloved (Les Bien-aimés)