No "Sex" on the beach at Cannes

Fernando Meirelles' "Blindness," starring Julianne Moore, to open Cannes fest, with Barry Levinson's "What Just Happened?" as the closer.

By Andrew O'Hehir
Published April 29, 2008 10:33PM (UTC)
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Mark Ruffalo, Julianne Moore and other cast members in a scene from "Blindness."

Carrie Bradshaw may have passed through Paris on her way toward reuniting with Mr. Big in the final episodes of "Sex and the City," but she won't be hitting the Riviera beaches this spring. After long deliberation, Cannes Film Festival artistic director Thierry Frémaux and his programmers have passed over Michael Patrick King's quasi-awaited chick-flick magnum opus, "Sex and the City: The Movie," for the festival's prized opening-night slot. As announced on Tuesday afternoon in Paris, their choice is Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles' "Blindness," an adaptation of Nobel laureate José Saramago's novel starring Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Gael García Bernal. The film will also be included in the Palme d'Or competition.


"Blindness" is certainly a classier, more obviously Cannes-worthy choice. But only time will tell whether the film gods are playing one of their sardonic jokes. Saramago's novel, a symbolic and apocalyptic fable about a world where almost everyone has gone blind, is a masterful work but one that would seem devilishly difficult to render as convincing drama. Has Meirelles (the director of "City of God") risen to the challenge, or constructed one of those mid-level, literary-dreary films that British critics call "Europuddings"? On one hand, I'm personally grateful not to have to sit through the SATC film at Cannes; on the other, the red-carpet festivities and nasty reviews would have been fun.

As long expected, Barry Levinson's "What Just Happened?", a movie-world satire whose ensemble includes Robert De Niro, Bruce Willis, Sean Penn and John Turturro, will be the Cannes closing-night film. Levinson has reportedly recut the film since its Sundance premiere, where it was widely considered a failure -- but then again, the list of Cannes-enders notoriously includes a great many obscurities, oddities and failures. Given that Penn is the Palme d'Or jury president this year, and De Niro will present the Palme d'Or at the May 25 closing ceremonies, "What Just Happened?" can be viewed as part of a package deal.

Two more competition films were announced today to complete the official selection. One of those is American: "Two Lovers," starring Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow and directed by James Gray ("We Own the Night"), a Cannes favorite son who may be next in line for Woody Allen's role as the Yank filmmaker most neglected at home and admired abroad. The other is "Entre les murs" ("Between the Walls"), the latest from French director Laurent Cantet, who directed Charlotte Rampling so memorably in the surprise art-house hit "Heading South."


Penn's Palme d'Or jury has also added two new names: Marjane Satrapi, the Iranian author and co-director of "Persepolis," and French actress Jeanne Balibar, most recently seen in Jacques Rivette's "The Duchess of Langeais."

Lineups for the two Cannes sidebar festivals, International Critics' Week and the Directors' Fortnight, have also been finalized. I'll have more comments in due course, but the Fortnight will open with "Four Nights With Anna," the first feature from legendary Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski in 17 years, and also includes new films from French director Claire Simon, Catalan director Albert Serra and Argentine director Lisandro Alonso. The lone American entry is 24-year-old New York filmmaker Joshua Safdie's "The Pleasure of Being Robbed." Critics' Week will open with "Seven Days," the new film from the Israeli brother-sister duo of Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz. (Ronit was the sexy divorcée in "The Band's Visit.")

Andrew O'Hehir

Andrew O'Hehir is executive editor of Salon.

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