05.19.09

Cannes' Eight Buzziest Films

The inside scoop on the films everyone on the Croisette is talking about—from Lars von Trier’s gore-fest to Tarantino’s World War II epic and Almodóvar’s so-so latest.

The Cannes Film Festival is nirvana for movie talent. But what Cannes giveth, Cannes can taketh away. Some invitees gain career cred; others earn public ridicule. On Sunday, the competition jury, led by French star Isabelle Huppert, will announce the winners of the Palme d'Or (Critical favorite Jacques Audiard's A Prophet is considered the likely winner). In the meantime, here are eight movies people are talking about on the Croisette, and the inside scoop from the Riviera.

Antichrist

Danish bad-boy/depressive Lars von Trier delivered both shock and awe with Antichrist, an intense marital drama starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a couple grieving over their dead child. The film quickly veers from a simple dark tale to a shocking gore-fest, rife with religious obsession and graphic sex—including genital mutilations and a bloody hand job that will earn the picture an NC-17 in the U.S….if anyone dares to release it. The press corps applauded and booed lustily after the first showing last Sunday night, and at the press conference goaded the director into declaring himself “the best director in the world.”

The Buzz: Von Trier may have finally gone too far. But he did grab the spotlight for the first time since 2003’s Dogville, and a U.S. distributor will likely buy the new film if he agrees to make some trims.

Bright Star

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New Zealander Jane Campion returned to the festival 16 years after Palme d’Or-winner The Piano with Bright Star, an unabashed period piece about the unconsummated two-year romance between 23-year-old tubercular poet John Keats (up-and-coming Brit Ben Whishaw) and his 18-year-old neighbor, Fanny Brawne (Aussie breakout Abbie Cornish). Pathe International sold the film in advance of the fest to ex-Picturehouse chief Bob Berney and his financier-partner, Bill Pohlad, knowing that the duo have much to prove with their as-yet-unnamed specialty distributor. Targeting teen girls, they plan to launch Bright Star via the Toronto International Film Festival September 18.

The Buzz: If Bright Star and its two young stars catch on with audiences, it could last through Oscar season. But is it sexy enough? Adding more would be “absurd and inaccurate,” scoffs Campion, who was attracted to the purity of young love. “You have contraception now.”

Broken Embraces

Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar, who won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Talk to Her in 2003, returns to the Croisette with a valentine to frequent muse Penélope Cruz, who plays a first-time actress torn between her possessive sugar daddy and her charismatic director. Cruz barely recovered from a bout of food poisoning to soldier through her PR paces Tuesday.

The Buzz: Early reviews of the Spanish director’s latest are of the modest “good, not great” variety. Still, Sony Pictures Classics will release it stateside November 20.

Taking Woodstock

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Returning vet Ang Lee took a chance returning to the Cannes competition, 12 years after The Ice Storm, with Taking Woodstock, a mildly comedic behind-the-scenes look at some of the people involved in staging that event. A sprawling ensemble led by Comedy Central’s Demetri Martin as real-life Catskills motel proprietor Elliot Teichberg is hit-or-miss; the low-budget movie earned mixed reviews, partly because Lee keeps his distance from the stage of the iconic 1969 event. Liev Schreiber pops as a cross-dressing ex-Marine.

The Buzz: The movie will need to stage a recovery before its August 14 release. Focus Features chief James Schamus, who also wrote the screenplay, promises to learn from Cannes and retool the marketing campaign to manage audience expectations.

Tetro

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Thirty years after Apocalypse Now won the Palme d’Or as a work in progress, Francis Ford Coppola returned to Cannes with Tetro. But he did not arrive in triumph, in a gala competition slot. Instead, he turned down an out-of-competition offer and tiptoed into a Cannes sidebar, the Director’s Fortnight event, with the operatic, black-and-white, multinational Tetro, which he cast with Vincent Gallo and Carmen Maura when Matt Dillon and Javier Bardem dropped out. “It’s a personal independent film,” explained the director, who is releasing the movie himself. “Nothing in the film really happened, but it is all true.”

The Buzz: While Tetro marks an improvement over Coppola’s opaque 2007 effort, Youth Without Youth, it plays best to non-English speakers.

Up

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Pixar goes 10 for 10 with its latest CG adventure, about an old man sailing his house with air balloons to South America. In a first for the festival, Cannes conferred prestige to the team behind Monsters Inc. and Wall-E by giving an opening-night berth to an animated family film—in 3-D, no less. “I don’t want this to end!” cried beaming Pixar/Disney animation czar John Lasseter from the top of the red carpet steps of the grand Theatre Lumiere.

The Buzz: Up is a cinch to be among the year’s best-reviewed Oscar contenders—albeit in the animated feature ghetto.

Still to come this week:

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

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The Buzz: Heath Ledger’s unfinished last film, which Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell stepped in to complete, has been screened several times for buyers but not press, who won’t see it until Friday. Buyers say it’s gorgeous but not commercial; they’re waiting for the price to come down.

Inglourious Basterds

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The Buzz: Nobody will have seen Quentin Tarantino’s World War II epic starring Brad Pitt until Wednesday—it clocks in at a final running time of two hours, 27 minutes, well under Palme d’Or winner Pulp Fiction’s two hours, 40 minutes. Now Tarantino must manage expectations. “Tarantino is the most overrated director,” says Ab Zagt of the Dutch daily newspaper Algemeen Dagblad. “Fans swallow everything he does. He could be the best director in the world. He has fooled around too much. I wish he would grow up.”

“I find it hard to believe,” responded Tarantino to me, over Champagne at the Carlton Terrace, “that everybody who has watched the movies I’ve made wouldn’t find something impressive. But I have never seen it with an audience. The Cannes screening is the first time. I’m happy with the movie. The bottom line is, if you like my movies you’ll like this one. This what is I do.”

Anne Thompson launched the daily ThompsononHollywood blog in March 2007, when she joined Variety as a columnist. Previously, she was deputy film editor of The Hollywood Reporter, where she wrote the weekly syndicated column "Risky Business" and the Riskybizblog. She has also served as West Coast editor of Premiere and Film Comment, and senior writer at Entertainment Weekly.