EYE ON EUROPE
YANKS TAKE GAS AT CANNES
Kirsten Dunst, the star of "Marie Antoinette," waves at her fans
at Cannes. Or was she waving goodbye to director Sofia Coppola?
Boobirds send the Coppolas slinking back to Tinseltown
By MICHAEL JOHNSON
Sunday night, even before the climax, it was clear that the Americans would be left with egg on their faces. Only two movies at the Cannes Film Festival prompted such loud boos and whistles as these two big-budget Hollywood productions: The Da Vinci Code and Marie Antoinette.
To be sure, booing and whistling is part of the irreverent Cannes tradition, but this year the target was strictly American. Da Vinci was written off as incomprehensible and Marie was widely ridiculed for creating a rock music Barbie Doll character and playing around with one of the untouchable themes of French history.
Marie director Sofia Coppola and her father Francis Ford Coppola, after being privately informed that they would not be receiving an award at the final ceremony, quietly left town without attending the screening.
I managed to catch Marie Antoinette in a packed Bordeaux cinema last week and as I watched it I feared for Sofias life. Why such a quirky treatment of the queen was selected as the U.S. entry remains a mystery. It seemed calculated to offend. Director Sofia takes credit for the screenplay and has some explaining to do there as well. Her queen, played by all-American blonde Kirsten Dunst, speaks in casual everyday, American English, as does everyone else. The French audience sat there mystified at this attempt to modernize the events that led directly to the French Revolution.
At the queens court we hear one loud belch and several odd lines from the script. My least favorite was Hes easy on the eye referring to one of Marie Antoinettes handsome man-friends, not her husband. I doubt that she ever said that. And her loose morals led one lady-in-waiting to offer this gem to the queen: I hear you showed Thomas Jefferson around the gardens. Did you show him the royal bush?
No one in the Bordeaux cinema laughed (except me) because the subtitle missed the joke.
No film festival is quite as international and celebratory of the cinema as Cannes. For 12 days in May the perky, pouting stars dominate the entertainment pages with their hopes and dreams. Only 20 movies are in contention for prizes but distributors and deal-makers spend their day watching some of the 500 films available and offering (or not) to save them from going directly to DVD.
For most of the runup to the awards this year, Marie Antoinette was mentioned as a contender for the Palme dOr along with one other entry, Volver, the latest from Pedro Almodovar, featuring Penelope Cruz.
As it happened, the jury surprised everyone. Volver was warmly received but only won honors for Almodovars screenplay and for Best Actress awarded jointly to the five women who played the main roles. Ms. Cruz seemed genuinely happy to share the spotlight with four others.
I also managed to see Volver in Bordeaux and found it a bit of a burlesque, mainly a vehicle for Penelope Cruzs charms. There were only seven other people in the Bordeaux theatre but it may yet catch on. While extremely talky, the Almodovar makes the most of Cruzs physical and acting talents, surely enough to carry it through a good U.S. run. It already is a major event in Spain where Almodovar is treated as something of a cinema god.
The Palme dOr went to Ken Loach for his story of British cruelty toward the Irish in the 19th century, not a popular subject in England but a long-overdue episode for the rest of the world. The film, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, needed to be made, Loach said, because we must understand our past to understand our present and future. When the BBC announced the award, the film was described as the story of the trials and tribulations of the Irish. Actually it is about the brutality of the British occupation troops in Ireland.
The Best Actor award was also grouped for five men who led the cast in Indegène, a story of bravery among the 300,000 French colonial troops from Africa and North Africa in World War II. Again the theme is a hidden footnote to history, and director Rachid Bouchareb made the same points as Loach in explaining why he made the film.
Cannes also has a Grand Prix award, ranking just below the Palme dOr. This year it went to Bruno Dumonts Flanders.
Watching Cannes it is hard to avoid comparison with the tightly scripted Oscars ceremony. Both celebrate film but in very different ways. The Cannes award night is loose and unpredictable. There is no witty monologue. Cannes ensures that the jury is international and that entries come from around the world. Its main service to the industry is bringing notoriety to films that might seem of marginal interest yet are told in stunning ways with great direction and fine acting.
©2006 by Michael Johnson. The photo is courtesy of Movietone. This column first posted May 30, 2006.
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