Film Scouts Diaries

2003 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
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by Philipp Hoschka

The films, the stars, the scandals and the rumors - a quick tour through the Cannes Film Festival, 2003 edition.

Cannes, May 14, 2003 - Opening Day - the opening movie "Fanfan la Tulipe" disappoints - a remake of a classic French cloak-and-dagger movie starring Penelope Cruz instead of Gina Lollobrigida, film critics find the movie racist and dull. Before, society reporters muse on a possible encounter between Tom Cruise, his ex-wife Nicole Kidman, and his current partner Penelope Cruz on the red stairs leading up to the "Palais du Festival". In practice, the problem is easily avoided: Tom Cruise cancels his appearance at the last moment due to "too much work".

Cannes, May 15, 2003 - The day of the Matrix - and another disappointment. Shown at the Festival on the day it also opens in the cinemas in many countries, "Matrix Reloaded" does not reach the novelty level of the first version, and is being criticized for its crude pseudo-religious overtones. However, the special effects will result in great talks at future computer graphics conferences.

Cannes, May 16, 2003 - Today marks the end of the Festival's traditional nod to commercial and potentially crowd-pleasing movies such as "Fanfan la Tulipe" and "Matrix Reloaded". Things get serious and "auteur" movies take over the program. Today's pictures include "At Five in the Afternoon", a film by a 23-old Iranian female director. The movie describes the fate of women in Afghanistan after the end of the Taliban regime - how much more politically correct and relevant can you get ? Movie gets mixed reviews, though.

Cannes, May 18, 2003 - This year's "Cannes star discovery" - at least for the French market - seems to be Ludivine Sagnier, appearing in "Swimming Pool". Comparisons with Bardot etc. - everything is there. Gus van Sant's "Elephant" treats the "Columbine High School killing" theme again, but using a fictional story rather than Michael Moore's documentary approach. It follows the life of the high school students involved - not much indicates what will happen, which makes the violence even more inexplicable.

Cannes, May 19, 2003 - Lars von Trier's "Dogville" turns out to be an experiment in minimalism - starring Nicole Kidman, the whole movie is filmed on a stage, houses and streets are marked using chalk on the floor. After doing "Dancer in the Dark" as a musical, von Trier this time uses another story-telling technique of the 1930's, Berthold Brecht's "epic theatre". Average Nicole Kidman fans should probably abstain.

Cannes, May 20, 2003 - Oops - a little scandal! Today's issue of "Variety" stops short of accusing von Trier of "un-american activities" (something that drove Brecht out of the US in the 1940s), but predicts the "best response assured from the Blame America First crowd". Successful provocation, it would seem - especially given that von Trier has never been to the US.

Cannes, May 21, 2003 - Standing ovations for "The Barbarian Invasions" by Denys Arcand. Unintended laughter for Richard Gallo's "The Brown Bunny" - a road movie bordering on the absurd including one more-than-PG-rated scene (you will have to google the details yourself).

Cannes, May 23, 2003 - Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River" is in competition. In his 24th(!) movie, Eastwood not only directs, but also composes the score - no role in front of the camera for him, though - Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon and Laurence Fishburne play in this involved, dark crime piece set in Boston's Irish community.

Cannes, May 24, 2003 - The general speculations on who will win - popluar favorites are Lars von Trier and Clint Eastwood - potentially "The Barbarian Invasion" - or will it be Richard Gallo after all? Envious of Roger Ebert, who files his stories from the beach using wireless Internet access - the whole bay of Cannes is covered by Wi-Fi during the festival. In other tech news, mobile phones with built-in cameras are all the rage.

Cannes, May 25, 2003 - Closing day, prize ceremony - and plenty of surprises, of course. No prize at all for Lars von Trier. Nothing for Clint Eastwood either. No prize for a French movie, even though this year's competition had probably the largest number of French movies in years. No prize for Gallo (some people are visibly relieved). Instead, Gus van Sant with "Elephant" gets both "Best Director" and the "Palme d'Or" - the jury had to ask for an exception to award both prizes to the same movie.

Given the that he atmosphere of this year's festival was marked by US/French political differences, there is a speculation that the jury deliberately opted for van Sant's US-critical American movie rather than von Trier's openly anti-american film. The other theory is that they did not appreciate von Trier's "provocation gimmicks".

In other news, even the French press complains about "the worst selection in years". But that complaint is an old tradition, and it is likely that once the Festival excitement and bickering have died down, many Festival films will be very successful over the next twelve months ("Swimming Pool", "Dogville", "Elephant" and "Mystic River" are top candidates).

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