Cannes 2011: From Brangelina to Lars von Trier

The year's biggest movie bash offers "Pirates 4," "The Tree of Life," new Woody Allen and Almodovar films, and more

Topics: Cannes Film Festival, France, Johnny Depp, Pedro Almodovar, Tilda Swinton, Woody Allen, Movies,

Cannes 2011: From Brangelina to Lars von TrierRachel McAdams and Owen Wilson in Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," which opens this year's Cannes Film Festival.

CANNES, France — Sunlight is glistening off the distant blue-and-white breakers, and vaguely famous-looking young women with impossibly high heels pause in their stroll down the Boulevard de la Croisette to watch workmen tacking down the red carpet outside the Palais des Festivals. It is time once again for the beautiful, the pseudo-beautiful, the brooding and the parasitical to reconvene on the Côte d’Azur for global cinema’s greatest carnival. The Cannes Film Festival, whose 64th edition launches on Wednesday evening with the premiere of Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” does not command the same level of worldwide attention as the Oscars and probably never did. But as an annual celebration of the movies’ marriage of art and commerce — and as a trashy, glamorous, nosebleed-snobbish and ultra-populist spectacle — Cannes remains unlike any other event on the planet.

As is customary, this year’s Cannes lineup features the world premieres of enormous Hollywood productions aimed at an audience in the hundreds of millions, intimate personal films that may almost literally never be seen again, and nearly everything in between. Early on Saturday morning, the horde of journalists will pack into the Grand Théâtre Lumière, the legendary main auditorium here, to see “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” with Johnny Depp and Penélope Cruz, a movie we could have seen at home with less glitz but a great deal more comfort. A couple of days later we’ll do it again for Terrence Malick’s long-awaited “The Tree of Life,” with Brad Pitt and Sean Penn (which was initially expected at Cannes last year).

Those two films may well be the biggest news events of the next week — but in all honesty it isn’t those movies that make Cannes so great. It’s the fact that I can see those movies and also see, say, the newest film from little-known Japanese director Naomi Kawase (a personal fave) or “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” the debut of young Canadian director Sean Durkin. There seems almost no end to the potential riches on the Riviera beachfront this spring; picking just 10 films to spotlight in advance has been tough. (There, I’ve gone and jinxed it.) I’ve selected five movies with reasonably high star quotients, name directors and obvious audience appeal, and five more that are just as exciting (to me, anyway) but are flying a bit more under the radar, at least from the perspective of ordinary American moviegoers.

Of course this is all guesswork. Here’s what we actually know, so far: 1) It might sound lame to open Cannes with a 21st-century Woody Allen movie. OK, it actually is lame, but one of the most inexplicable things about Europe is how much people here love them some Woody. I guess it’s part of the love-hate relationship with America that plays such an enormous role in this continent’s cultural life, but even in those terms it doesn’t make much sense. Anyway, good, bad or indifferent, the Woodman’s cinematic postcard to the French capital will be a huge deal here. 2) Some things proclaimed here as masterpieces will be ignored by the world, while other things mocked by the Cannes critics will make zillions. 3) When you hear about a movie here that provokes booing and widespread walkouts? Seek it out and see it, when you get the chance; it’s probably good. 4) I will spend almost two weeks in a beach resort adjacent to one of the world’s great food and wine regions, and will dine largely on sandwiches and pizza and come home without a tan. The suffering! It’s hard to bear sometimes.


The Tree of Life A personal, family-based film that stars Brad Pitt and Sean Penn and is also, somehow, about the evolutionary history of life on earth. A beautiful if utterly inscrutable trailer. A legendary director (Malick, still best known for “Badlands” and “Days of Heaven”) viewed by some as a visionary master and by others as a pretentious ass, whose filmmaking career appears half-paralyzed by indecision and procrastination. These are the mysterious ingredients of “Tree of Life,” which is almost guaranteed to be a major debate topic here.

Melancholia Any Lars von Trier film is guaranteed to be a media circus at Cannes, and whether you like the guy or hate him, give him credit: He gets people to pay attention to small-audience art-house movies, and that’s not easy. “Melancholia” appears to be an odd, Trier-ian blend of the country-house wedding movie with a “Donnie Darko”-style story about the end of the world, and presumably won’t horrify and galvanize audiences quite the way “Antichrist” did two years ago. No genital mutilation! A box-office plus but a P.R. minus! An intriguing transatlantic ensemble includes Kirsten Dunst, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Charlotte Rampling.

Drive Take cult director Nicolas Winding Refn, whose last two movies (“Bronson” and “Valhalla Rising”) established him as a prodigious, visionary, almost uncontrolled talent while barely making a nickel. Add rising star Ryan Gosling of “Half Nelson” and “Blue Valentine.” Mix with an implausibly large budget and some fast cars and you have an action-adventure movie that’s almost certainly the most unlikely competition entry at Cannes this year, and an object of worldwide yearning by film geeks. There doesn’t seem to be an embeddable online trailer yet, but here are the first two minutes. Sold!

The Skin I Live In Longtime art-house fave Pedro Almodóvar returns to Cannes without recent muse Penélope Cruz — but with Antonio Banderas, star of several of his groundbreaking ’80s flicks. Banderas plays a plastic surgeon with a bizarre Frankensteinian obsession in what’s described as a 1940s-flavored horror melodrama. Despite numerous premieres here, Almodóvar has still never won the Palme d’Or, and yes, that’s a hint and a hunch.

Restless Gus Van Sant’s latest is an intriguing-looking outsider love story, starring Mia Wasikowska as a cancer patient and Henry Hopper (son of Dennis) as an alienated young man whose best friend is a WWII Japanese ghost. But is it a commercial Van Sant movie in the “Good Will Hunting”/”Finding Forrester” vein, or a Euro-friendly art-house oddity in the “Elephant”/”Paranoid Park” vein? Either way, it’s the opener in Un Certain Regard, Cannes’ slightly artier second-string competition, which is often where the most exciting films are found. And Van Sant is a contender for the Jerry Lewis-Woody Allen awards, which convey the undying loyalty of European culture-vultures upon American filmmakers who are all but forgotten at home. (Other recent nominees: Jim Jarmusch, James Gray, Abel Ferrara, Lodge Kerrigan.)


We Need to Talk About Kevin It’s taken a long time for Scottish director Lynne Ramsay (“Morvern Callar”) to bring Lionel Shriver’s acclaimed novel about a troubled teen and the aftermath of a school shooting to the screen, but Ramsay has a rep as Britain’s undiscovered secret and expectations are huge. Indie heroes Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly — an unlikely but irresistible pairing — star as the estranged parents of the titular Kevin (Ezra Miller).

Hara-Kiri: The Death of a Samurai Coming hard on the heels of ultra-prolific Japanese genre maniac Takashi Miike’s samurai opus “13 Assassins” comes his next samurai movie — and it’s the first 3-D film ever included in the Cannes competition! (To be clear: Other 3-D films have been shown at Cannes in non-competition slots, including the latest “Pirates of the Caribbean” entry this year.)

This Must Be the Place Hardly anyone in America saw Italian director Paolo Sorrentino’s dazzling “Il Divo,” an Oliver Stone-meets-Scorsese political phantasmagoria that was one of the genuine cinematic breakthroughs of recent years. Now Sorrentino turns to English-language film with this eagerly anticipated fable about an aging rock star (Sean Penn) who’s hunting for a Nazi war criminal. We definitely haven’t seen that movie before. Frances McDormand, Judd Hirsch and Harry Dean Stanton co-star.

Oslo, August 31st Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s “Reprise” is one of the terrific undiscovered movies of the last decade, an exhilarating comic fable about art and life that splits the difference between Godard and, say, “High Fidelity” with tremendous cinematic craft, an irrepressible sense of humor and genuine heart. (Fun fact: Trier is indeed a cousin of Lars von Trier.) Trier’s new film “Oslo, August 31st” — that’s when and where the main character intends to kill himself — screens in the lower-wattage Certain Regard competition, and I will happily skip other things to catch it.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia He has a subzero commercial profile in the United States, but Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan (“Climates,” “Three Monkeys”) has developed a modest but intense international following for his brooding, Bergmanesque urban dramas. (Which are never officially even a little bit about such “Turkish” questions as the role of Islam or the ambiguous, intercontinental status of his country, by the way, but may indirectly wind up being about those things after all.) If this story about a doctor living on the rural steppes (I’m guessing it’s meant to recall Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya”) is the masterpiece Ceylan hasn’t quite made yet — well, OK, no, it won’t change much of anything. But people in Cannes and in Turkey will sure be excited, and you’ll be able to watch the movie on VOD in like six months.


More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>