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The Cannes Can!
A Full Report on the World's Most Glamorous Film Festival
 
 

By Jeremy Mathews

 
 

he Cannes Film Festival came to a bittersweet close on Sunday with festivalgoers not quite as excited as one expects to be at the end of the prestigious event. As the award ceremony ended with a screening of Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times,” it seemed that the collection of restored prints contained several more masterpieces than the official selection.

The feature competition jury, which included French director Patrice Chéreau serving as president and American actress Meg Ryan and director Steven Soderbergh among the other members, gave its seven awards to only four films. Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant,” easily one of the best films, was the big winner with both Best Director and the Palm d’Or.

Chéreau announced that they had broken the rules, as the festival encourages spreading things out, and thanked the festival for allowing the exception — or the three exceptions.

While many thought there were good films that were overlooked, they understood the lack of enthusiasm over this year’s competition that led the jury to award a small number of films.

While last year’s festival included such films as “Punch Drunk Love,” “The Pianist,” “The Man Without a Past,” “Bowling for Columbine,” “About Schmidt,” “24 Hour Party People,” “All or Nothing,” “Irreversible” and “Russian Ark,” this year’s competition started weak, and, although it picked up about halfway through, the competition failed to defy claims that it was one of the worst groups of films in most people’s memories of the festival.

It’s not the best result for a festival that takes film so seriously.


The History and Prestige

On the surface, the Cannes Film Festival is all about glamour. For the big evening premieres, professional star gazers wear tuxedos and flash their cameras while amateur star gazers wait behind barricades, watching as the black-tie attendees walk the great red carpet that leads to the Grand Theatre Lumiere. It’s as if Oscar night started and nobody told them to stop for two weeks.

At Sundance, as in other more casual festivals, the staff greets you in uniform winter coats, but here you recognized them through their blue suits and bow ties. It’s an older, prouder festival that continues to carry out its tradition of grandeur.

But at the same time, the films are just as important, which is why the Palm d’Or is so prestigious. One can’t help but stand in awe of the films that made their start on the croisette —“The 400 Blows,” “Taxi Driver,” “Apocalypse Now,” “L’Avventura,” “Pulp Fiction,” the list goes on. Although the movements that started here would have started without a beach resort premiere, the festival gave them momentum, lent its glory to them for some reciprocation in the long run.

So it is with great reverence and anticipation that thousands of film lovers arrive each year, hoping to discover films that are fresh, magnificent, daring and could change the film world. Hence, a festival that stops short of groundbreaking can be a bit disappointing.


A Competition with the Past

The competition category, usually the heart of the festival, was viewed with increasing displeasure this year, as many of the films tended toward depressing subjects and weren’t done with enough style, artistry and meaning to merit the drudgery. The cause of the scarce selection seemed to be that many directors, including the Coen brothers, Quentin Tarantino, Wong Kar-wai and Ingmar Bergman hadn’t finished their new works. I’d hoped that this would allow some new filmmakers through the door, but most of the films were simply by lesser members of the Cannes club.

Some called it the worst selection in memory. But there were still several worthwhile films —all of the four the jury honored included, although there were more films worthy of recognition.

There are three general prizes for films at the festival. The top prize is the Palm d’Or (which is almost always preceded by ‘coveted,’ seemingly by law). After the Oscars, the Cannes awards are the most respected.

“Elephant” made Van Sant the first American director to win it since Quentin Tarantino won for “Pulp Fiction” in 1994.

Van Sant also won for Best Director, which hasn’t been done since The Coen brothers’ “Barton Fink” won three top awards, the Palm d’Or, Director and Actor. That year the jury, presided over by Roman Polanski, caused quite a scandal, which is why only one award is permitted —or strongly suggested, anyway — per film.

By giving three films double awards, the members of the jury seemed to be saying that they simply couldn’t find much to award this year.

The Grand Prix du Jury sounds quite fancy, but is actually considered second place. It went to the Turkish film “Uzak,” which also received the Best Actor prize for its two stars, Muzaffer Ozdemir and Mehmet Emin Toprak. Toprak died tragically in a car accident shortly after learning that the film was admitted into the festival, so the award is a nice memorial.

Bringing the total of double winners to three, Quebeçois director Denys Arcand won for his screenplay of the poignant crowd pleaser “The Barbarian Invasions,” which also won the best actress award for Marie Josée Croze. In a touching performance, Croze plays Nathalie, a heroin addict who helps supply a dying old man, her mother’s friend, at the request of his son.

For her film “At Five in the Afternoon,” 23-year-old Iranian director Samira Makhmalbaf won the Prix du Jury, which is third or fourth place after the director award, for the second time for her second film in competition.

“Cracker Bag,” directed by Glendyn Ivin, won the Palm d’Or for short films.

“Elephant” director Van Sant made a name for himself in Hollywood with films like “Good Will Hunting” and “To Die For” after making such films as “Drugstore Cowboy” and “My Own Private Idaho.”

He has since returned to his artsier, more personal roots. His last film “Gerry,” about two guys lost in a desert, was strongly criticized by those who didn’t appreciate the long takes of the characters marching endlessly in search of water, although that film was much better than some of the long-take films here, which I’ll get to later.

Van Sant again uses long shots in “Elephant,” which also received a split reaction. The film is a chilling portrait of high school violence similar to that of the Columbine shootings, told through the everyday lives of several students at the school, all portrayed by unknown Portland, Ore., high school students.

   
Unknown Portland, Ore., high school student John McFarland didn't know the tragic story of his character, whose day is disrupted by a violent shooting, would win the festival's top prize.  

Van Sant uses long tracking shots to give a portrait of what everyday school is like for the kids. We hear gossiping, see an awkward girl trying to get through gym class and see how the kids make it through the day.

During most of the film, time overlaps as we see the day prior to any violence through several characters’ points of view. Characters who we only glimpsed in previous scenes become more alive when the camera goes through the day again, following them. It makes the tragedy more real.

Some criticized the film for not offering a solution or citing the cause of violence, but it would have been arrogant and preachy for Van Sant to act like he had all the answers. Instead, he shows how difficult high school is with subtle things that mean the world to young people trying to grow up.

While “Elephant’s” structure and content explored new territory, many of the best films in competition were not so much radical as creative character studies, most notably “The Barbarian Invasions,” which, despite some proponents of other films, was the only really strong opposition to “Elephant” for the best film of the festival.

“The Barbarian Invasions” sees Quebeçois director Denys Arcand revisiting the characters of his breakthrough film “The Fall of the American Empire,” which came out 17 years ago. The professor Rémy Girard is now dying, and his estranged son Sébastien (Stéphane Rousseau) comes to Canada from his job in London to help.

 

Sébastien works in technologies and makes a lot of money, but his father is a bit disappointed since he isn’t an intellectual like him (“He could at least have read one book!”). Still, he loves his father and finds that his money will help him get through whatever barriers he has, including getting his father a private room in an overcrowded Canadian hospital. All it takes is a few bribes to the administration and union.

The universally strong cast brings a host of issues to the table. It covers drug use, modern day intelligence, unions and more, and does so with amusement and loyalty to no political agenda. As the characters are all quite charming and likable, the emotional impact that arrives at the end is a complete surprise. It isn’t manipulative and it’s so authentic that you don’t expect anything to generate tears, but even at the press screening, full of heartless critics and journalists, people could be heard weeping throughout the theater.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Uzak,” which translates to “Distant,” is filmed in the style that its title suggests. It tells the personal story of a man from a small village who visits his cousin who moved to the city 10 years ago and whom he hasn’t seen for as long. He hopes to get a job working on a boat, but work is just as hard to get in the city as it is in the small town.

The city man has worked as a photographer for a tile company for 10 years and doesn’t have much in common with his old friend, although they both have woman problems. The former is on the verge of becoming a stalker, the latter still has feelings for his ex-wife, who plans to remarry.

The style is quiet and muted, like its characters, which in a way is suiting, but has become rather trendy and was overused in other films in competition. Still, this is the best use of the style on display.

Ceylan dedicated his award to Yilmaz Guney, who won for the film “Yol” in 1982 and was never able to return to Turkey before his death due to the political climate at the time.

Samira Makhmalbaf, daughter of Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, made her second appearance in competition with the politically charged “At Five in the Afternoon.” Set in post-Taliban Afghanistan, the film follows the life of a young Iranian woman who goes to the same school as young girls because they were all only recently allowed to receive an education. Her father still holds onto the old Taliban ideals, but she’s inspired to believe that she could one day be president.

Makhmalbaf doesn’t sugarcoat the situation — Afghanistan still has violence and sexism —but she shows that there’s a ray of hope in the country, even as some try to maintain the Taliban’s reign of terror.

In her acceptance speech, Makhmalbaf said that while the film deals with the possibility of a female president, she doesn’t want to be president when the most famous president is George W. Bush, so she’ll continue to make films.

Among the other films considered award contenders were an ambitious Danish film, a Hollywood production that was difficult to finance due to its morally untidy screenplay and a Brazilian film that marked the return of a master.

If you were to say that Lars Von Trier has done it again, you’d be wrong if you meant win the Palm d’Or. But if by “it” you meant split audiences with a film that completely defies convention, for better or for worse, you’d be right. Von Trier won the Palm d’Or three years ago for “Dancer in the Dark,” an odd take on the musical starring Bjork and incorporating into the non-musical sequences elements of his Dogme 95 movement. Von Trier founded that movement in a call to make films that are “pure,” with natural lighting, location shooting, no props brought in, source sound and handheld camera work.

 

His latest work, “Dogville,” starring Nicole Kidman and Paul Bettany, goes in a different direction. It was shot entirely on a sound stage that represents a small mining town with two dimensional white outlines and written words representing the houses and identifying the streets, bushes and even the dog, although the characters do receive some concrete props, like chairs, desks, and cruel prison devices.

There are sound effects for the doors, dogs and whatnot. The whole cast can be seen much of the time because there are no walls. A cheesy narrator talks like the stage manager in “Our Town,” and a copy of Tom Sawyer is lying around, apparently to signify something.

The story is one of irredeemable humanity being corrupted and then punished, and the violence doesn’t have much impact, since it’s on a sound stage, after all. The film is an interesting experiment, but after three hours feels more like an exercise in a cinematic gimmick than the unique triggering of emotions found in Von Trier’s other films.

The work is the first in a trilogy of films in this style, called the “U.S. of A” trilogy, and many have accused Von Trier, who has never been to the United States, of anti Americanism. “I feel that [the country] is not how it should be,” he said at the press conference, adding “but it could only be because of lies from the media.”

To me, the film seemed to be simply about how all humans are evil, not particularly residents of the United States. Von Trier agreed that the story is universal, but that doesn’t explain why it’s called the “U.S. of A.” trilogy, does it?

Regardless of “Dogville’s” success —it was considered a front runner for the Palm d’Or, perhaps only because it was more experimental than the other selections —the jury showed its opinion by completely ignoring it.

 

They were less justified in ignoring “Mystic River.” The film demonstrates Clint Eastwood’s talent as a director, as his visual presence can be sensed despite him not acting in the film. Shot on location in Boston, Mass., the film opens with two young boys seeing their friend abducted by a pedophile posing as a policeman. It then flashes forward to the present, when the crime still haunts the abductee (Tim Robbins) and his former friends (Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon).

The film centers on a murder investigation, in which Bacon is an investigator, Penn is a bereft father and Robbins a potential suspect. All actors do a tremendous job as their characters are forced to face issues that they’ve been hiding from for years. Eastwood’s direction and Tom Stern’s cinematography add high artistry to the film, and while it might not be revolutionary, it is highly original and authentic in its refusal of traditional and simple moralizing.

Hector Babenco’s “Carandiru” had talk of awards, in part because the famous Brazilian director of “Kiss of the Spider Woman” hadn’t made a film for seven years due to serious illness.

The film studies the lives of various people involved in a historic Brazilian prison riot that occurred in the 1980s. It’s based on a book by a doctor who stayed at the prison and got to know all the prisoners before a SWAT team needlessly killed more than 100 prisoners after they surrendered.

Through flashbacks that can become rather tedious, the film looks at the various crimes that landed the prisoners in jail. This provides insight in the long run, but the episodic nature of the film makes for rather laborious viewing during the first hour or so.

 

The best French film was actually mostly in English. François Ozon’s “Swimming Pool” stars Charlotte Rampling in a strong performance as an English mystery writer who travels to her publisher’s vacation home in the French countryside. Unfortunately, his daughter Julie arrives at the house —and brings a new man every night.

At first she’s distracted and can’t work, but soon finds inspiration in the girl as the film hints at its own mysteries. Rampling’s atypical performance was considered a strong candidate for Best Actress.

The young Ozon (“Under the Sand,” “Eight Women,” “Sitcom”) has established himself as an up and-coming director, and here demonstrates his sharp humor and sense of irony again. His direction creates a noir-ish tone, but he manages to make the film a character study that uses plot twists brilliantly. Ozon’s camera has an equal eye for concern and amusement, making his films unique experiences.

The FIPRESCI critic’s award went to Russian director Andrew Sokurov’s (“Russian Ark”) “Father and Son.” As the title suggests, the film is a bizarre, homoerotic tale of a father, a former army man and his son, a young soldier, who live together in an odd relationship.

“A father’s love crucifies, and a loving son allows himself to be crucified,” says the son, adding that he doesn’t know what it means. The film is about equality and lack thereof in love, and the film encounters characters in search of things to love, who don’t require something to love and who have the upper hand in love.

Also of note, if only for its ambition, is “The Tulse Luper Suitcases, Part I. The Moab Story,” by U.K. director Peter Greenaway, whose projects are always interesting. The film is the first part of an eight-hour trilogy that is part of a giant multi-media project that includes 92 DVDs, an extensive web sight, art installations and a video game.

This first part’s style includes titles that feature split screens showing auditions for different parts and scenes in which one angle is placed over another shot.

The English hero goes on an odyssey that includes a trip to Utah’s Moab desert (see related article in the Reel section).


The Day the Competition Died

While some felt certain films were snubbed, many felt that this year’s competition called for a limited number of awarded films.

Several of the films in competition, while well-made, didn’t have the ambition or daring often associated with the prize winners. André Techiné’s “Les Égarés” (“Strayed”) is a standard World War II drama about a probably widowed mother, excellently played by Emmanuelle Béart, who receives help from a strange homeless boy after a German air raid destroys her car and leaves her and her son and daughter stranded. The story is well-acted, but is fairly routine all around.

Just as harmless is the Italian film “Il Cuoro Altrove” (“A Heart Elsewhere”) by Pupi Avati, a light drama about the son of a papal tailor who travels to Bologna to teach and ends up seduced by a blind aristocrat. Neither of these films are particularly bad, but neither take the risks required to make something great.

 

As for the Chinese film “Purple Butterfly,” about underground resistance to the Japanese during World War II, I can’t say much because I have no idea what happened. At the violent end, a lot of characters die but it has little impact because it’s a mystery who the characters are, or even if all of them were introduced.

Many films indulged in the fad for minimalism that’s been infecting film for the last 20 years and has recently reached a new high. One simply has to look at past festival entries like “Stranger Than Paradise” and “Songs from the Second Floor” for proof that energetic and joyous filmmaking can be found in static shots. But simple mathematics prove that the equation for all masterpieces isn’t to make a film about men who sit around with blank expressions, looking off into the distance and not responding when people talk to them.

Denys Arcand commented that the early scripts he wrote with the ideas covered in “The Barbarian Invasions” were too depressing and dark until he thought of continuing “The Fall of the American Empire” to make the concept lively and with a strong set of characters. It appears that several other Cannes films were shot from a first draft.

Some of these films’ directors did a better job at minimalism than others by adding humor or interesting ideas to their work, most notably “Uzak.”

Kyoshi Kurosawa’s “Bright Future” made its almost irredeemable story of an aimless adolescent in Tokyo more interesting by throwing in a bright, colorful poisonous jellyfish that invades the rivers of Tokyo. It offered some much needed spirit to an otherwise desolate film.

The other works done in this style are forgettable and not worth reporting on, but the film most remarkable, most disciplined in its eagerness to be awful, was Vincent Gallo’s “The Brown Bunny,” which is essentially a 20 minute short film about a blow job with 100 extra minutes at the beginning. It’s as if Gallo wanted to make something that would make Abbas Kiarostami’s films look exciting. The baffling existence of this film requires attention.

Gallo is an excellent actor, and his first film, “Buffalo 66” was a lovingly made —if gleefully disorganized and uneven— energetic film. “The Brown Bunny” is more consistent, but it’s consistently awful.

The film is a hyper-realistic road movie. Gallo plays a motorcycle racer who travels from New Hampshire to Los Angeles, where he used to live with his girlfriend, Daisy, played by the excellent Chloe Sevigny.

He meets three random women along the way with personalized necklaces or purses that reveal they are named after flowers. These encounters never last more than five minutes and end with Gallo leaving without saying anything.

There’s also a trip to Utah’s very own Bonneville Salt Flats in which Gallo drives his motorcycle back and forth.

Most of the film’s two hours consist of long shots of the road from Gallo’s dirty windshield. Seriously. The audience actually applauded when he stopped, got out of the car and changed his shirt. At least it was something.

As the film’s writer, director, producer, star, editor, cinematographer and production designer, Gallo is undoubtedly at fault here, considering that Sevigny does the best she can to make the film interesting during her short screen time. The film is, indeed, one of the most tragically self-indulgent films of all time.

That these films can make it past the Cannes screening process, which narrows 900 films to 20, shows that minimalism, whether justified or not, is the new trend. But there are still filmmakers who love the medium enough to search for other ways to tell stories and we can only hope that their films appear next year.

Bertrand Blier’s “Les Côtelettes,” by contrast, had plenty of style, but it didn’t go anywhere and received the same collection of boos as “The Brown Bunny.” The film starts off interestingly enough, with a old man eating dinner with his son and mistress.

An old man disturbs him by knocking on the door and announces that “I’m here to piss you off.”


Unfortunately, Blier never gets the tone right as he cuts from different locations in the same scene, and the film feels false even in its own stylized environment.


Promise of French Cinema Revival Not Fulfilled

The festival opened with talk of a resurgence in French cinema, but now that it’s over, mostly everyone is mute.

With the exception of “Swimming Pool,” none of the French competition works earned much admiration. “Les Côtelettes” inspired boos, “Tiresia” inspired walkouts, “Les Égarés” inspired little reaction at all.

A short but surprising bit of violence involving blinding a woman with a pair of scissors inspired the walkouts on “Tiresia,” which actually wasn’t that bad. Bertrand Bonello’s film is a modern-day adaptation of a Greek myth that is indeed a bit pretentious and melodramatic, but is at least more intriguing than some of the other films.

The myth is of a soothsayer who is both man and woman. She/he is abducted and blinded, then goes to the countryside, is taken in by a religious girl and has visions.

Bonello appropriately casts both a man and woman as Tiresia, so don’t think that those hormone drugs work wonders if you see the pictures from before the abduction and after, when she/he hasn’t been taking her hormone drugs and grows a beard.

To compensate for the double casting of one character, Bonello oddly puts Laurent Lucas in both the role of the abductor and the priest who investigates Tiresia’s visions. They aren’t the same characters, but they look like it. It’s a tad confusing.

Out of competition, the festival opener “Fanfan la Tulipe” was a swashbuckler remake starring Penelope Cruz and Vincent Perez. The Hollywood Reporter excellently summed up the screening reaction with the headline “Cannes Pan for ‘Fanfan.’”

Also out of competition, “Les Temps du Loup” (“The Time of the Wolf”) reunited director Michael Haneke and Isabelle Huppert, who both won prizes for “The Piano Teacher” in 2001. Unfortunately, this dark tale of a largely destroyed and chaotic earth captured little of the brilliance of the last film.

Lucas also appeared as a predator, this time a sexually abusive doctor in “Qui a Tué Bambi” (“Who Killed Bambi”) by Gilles Marchand. The film wasn’t very well-received, although as a creepy thriller it did have some effective scenes.

The general consensus was that if French cinema is going to revisit its glory days, it’s not going to be with this lot of films.


Out of Competition

The several respected sidebars at Cannes were scoured even more than usual this year given the lower quality of the competition.

The big out-of-competition premiere of “The Matrix Reloaded” in the giant Grand Theatre Lumiere offered the great experience of seeing the action spectacle in what’s considered the nicest cinema in the world. The film also came with a multimillion-dollar party that was supposedly the most expensive Cannes party of all time.

While all the stars, producers and technicians were there, the elusive directors Larry and Andy Wachowski were nowhere to be found. The two haven’t made a public appearance in four years and even had a no-publicity clause put in the contract for the two “Matrix” sequels. Producer Joel Silver said that they were still finishing “The Matrix Revolutions,” the final installment which opens in November.

The film offered a bit of a paradox, since most agreed that it was made with a great deal of passion, but regretted that many of the small, personal and artistic films at the festival would be pushed aside as the giant box office returns came in.

Another well-liked premiere film was the animated French film “The Triplets of Belleville,” which combined 2-D and 3-D animation with a humorous screenplay.

The Un Certain Regard selections, which still qualify as “official selections,” featured some high-quality works, at least one of which was only kept out of competition for political reasons.

The Un Certain Regard film critics prize went to Shari Springer Berman’s and Robert Pulcini’s brilliant American film “American Splendor,” which wasn’t in competition because it won the top prize at Sundance in January. The film tells the life story of comic book writer Harvey Pekar and combines documentary and archival footage of the real-life people with excellent dramatizations. It allows the actors to be compared with the people they represent, and perfectly captures the attitude of Pekar’s work.

Other Un Certain Regard prizes went to “La Meglio Gioventi,” Marco Tulio Giordana’s six-hour Italian film that covers 40 years of history, “Mille Mois” by Faouzi Bensaidi and “Crimson Gold” by Jafar Panahi, who also made the moving “The Circle.”

 

Also in Un Certain Regard, “September” is a German film that examines the lives of several people who weren’t involved in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, but still felt the impact of the tragedy and were changed in various ways.

The International Critic’s Week sidebar opened with Campbell Scott’s touching “Off the Map,” which premiered at Sundance. The film is character-driven, engaging and features great performances by Sam Eliot and Joan Allen.

Julie Bertuccelli’s “Depuis qu'Otar est parti,” won the Grand Prize and Le Grand Rail d'Or. The Jeune Critique award went to Allan Mindel’s “Milwaukee Minnesota,” about a disabled fisherman. Mindel is a cinematic purest who despises video, digital and special effects. “Reconstruction,” directed by Christopher Boe, won the Label Regard Jeunes as well as the Camera d’Or, the festival wide prize for best first film.

The Canal Plus Award, for short film, went to Eivind Tolas’s “Love is the Law,” an odd little newscast parody in which a dry anchorman recites a poem about Jesus telling people to love and the joy of various sexual acts and other love practices.

The Director’s Fortnight included several intriguing films, including multiple award winner “Osama” by Sedigh Barmak, the first film shot entirely in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban.

Overall, there were several interesting films at the festival, if you knew where to find them.


The Greatness of Documentaries Is Not Fiction

While the festival doesn’t generally admit documentaries into competition (“Bowling for Columbine” was an exception last year), some documentary selections put the competition to shame.

Errol Morris, one of the best documentarians, if not filmmakers, of all time, added another excellent study to his canon. “The Fog of War” is taken from 20 hours of interviews with Robert McNamara, who served under Kennedy and later Johnson as Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War and also helped avert disaster during the Cuban missile crisis.

Looking straight into our eyes, McNamara describes the problems of Vietnam, a war he knew couldn’t be won, and makes a call for reason and diplomacy before jumping into war. The work is particularly timely, and there was a large round of applause when he said that if many of your allies disagree with you, you might want to re-evaluate your opinion.

Morris uses striking visuals, like dominos falling on a map, to capture the chain reaction that war can cause, especially in the nuclear age. This is one of the most important films at the festival.

Wim Wenders (“Wings of Desire”) arrived not only to preside on the jury for the Camera d’Or, but with “The Soul of a Man,” the first film in “The Blues,” a series of documentaries produced by Martin Scorsese. The film studies the lives of three lesser-known blues legends.

Best of all, it’s filled with music. Both archival recordings and performances of the musicians’ songs by modern musicians like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, John Spencer Blues Explosion, Bonnie Raitt and many others make the film a wonderful celebration of the music.

Also screening was “Charlie,” Time Magazine critic Richard Shickle’s examination of the life and career of silent comedian Charlie Chaplin.


The Marché and Its Favorite Malcontent

 
Lloyd Kaufman, founder of Troma Pictures and director of "The Toxic Avenger," holds up a character mask that looks just as vivacious as its creator after, he might say, the elitism of the festival sucked away his spirits.  

There is a four-foot statue that resembles a shorter, grimey brown-skinned version of Max Shrek in “Nosferatu.” He is the title character of “Blood Gnome,” of course. In another booth, a poster brags of “The Best Hindi Horror Film Ever!” and other titles found during a short walk include “Super Ninja” and “Spymate” —which is, indeed, from the company that brought you “Air Bud.”

Yes, these films are at Cannes, but they aren’t part of the official selection. They’re in the Marché, or Market, where distributors from around the world gather in search of new films. Some of the buyers and sellers are big names that you’ve heard of, others are direct to-video companies that target specific demographics and spend little on advertising to equal a big profit margin. Some entrepreneurs make sums approaching the Hollywood elite, although they don’t usually get to dine with them.

Among the booths, there are filmmakers still trying to land their films alongside veterans at the game.

Among the veterans is Lloyd Kaufman, director and founder of Troma Films. His works include “The Toxic Avenger” and other gleeful exercises in bad taste. He first came to Cannes in 1971, where he spent all his money on a space in the market and slept on the beach with his film print. He went into hotels and slipped fliers for his films under the doors.

“People here used to admire the independent spirit,” he told me. Speaking with Kaufman is more an exercise in listening to a stream-of-consciousness recalling of his problems with the industry than having a conversation.

“People forgot that the independents started this festival,” he said, claiming that the festival’s recent policies have eliminated the “real spirit of cinema.”

Kaufman said that although he’s been attending the festival for 33 years, “I’m treated like shit here. If the people on the street here didn’t love us, we’d leave,” he said. “I’m one of the true living auteurs,” he said without a hint of modesty, “and they come over and are rude to me in front of customers.”

Kaufman is no longer permitted to hand out fliers inside the hotels —the other night he was kicked out of the Carlton because his bow tie was undone —and laments that the young film-loving students who come to the festival can’t see anything, even if he gives them an invitation, because they don’t have the right badge. “They know more about cinema than most of the people here… It’s all about preventing new people from joining,” he said.

At the time we spoke, Lloyd was preparing for a Troma-staged demonstration in front of the Carlton during the festival, calling for “reel independent cinema.” The demonstration took place, although it didn’t immediately put an end to the elitism.

“They had two guard dogs on the red carpet. Do they think Osama bin Laden is going to ride a camel in?” Or maybe Kaufman with his Toxic Avenger mask.


Under the Sign of Fellini

Giant posters throughout the Croisette shouted “Viva Il Cinema” in tribute to the great Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini, who died 10 years ago. The music from Fellini’s films, by great composers like Nina Rota, filled the area daily. Some of the master’s best-known works like “La Dolce Vita” and “La Strada” were shown on the beach at night as well as some lesser known and later works like “Intervista,” “The Clowns” and “Ginger e Fred.”

Claudia Cardinale arrived at the screening of the 1963 film “8 1/2” to a lengthy standing ovation and showed the young stars what glamour is all about. Her beauty and the beauty of the film as a whole inspired people with cinema’s glory days.

The film, along with the dozens of others from his career that were shown, stood as a testament to the director’s influential career, which started out in Italian Neo Realism and then controversially broke away in favor of the truths of poetic visuals.

Several documentaries were shown, one examining the deleted final scene of “8 1/2,” one with rare interviews, another looking at his unconventional process, which usually involved little trace of a screenplay and him being the only one with a strong idea of what was going on.

In addition to the Fellini films, there were several other significant restorations, including Jerry Schatzberg’s 1973 film “Scarecrow,” of which no quality prints were previously available, and the Italian film “I Dolci Iganni” by Alberto Lattuada.

 
Chaplin enjoys the pleasures and pains derived from riding on giant gears in "Modern Times," one of his many films that was recently restored.  

The screening of “Modern Times” celebrated the upcoming release of high-quality DVDs of all of Charlie Chaplin’s films, but was unfortunately digitally projected instead of shown on a 35-mm print.

This collection of film reminded festivalgoers that, even if they had to sit through “The Brown Bunny,” cinema is still a realm of endless possibilities, as long as the filmmakers are willing to explore them. As Fellini said, long live the cinema!

jeremy@red-mag.com