Last year we had all the hype of the 50th Anniversary and the worst slate of films in all the years I have been going -- it seemed they wanted to celebrate but they weren't quite sure how. Films directed by Johnny Depp and Gary Oldman were insultingly bad --- ok we did have The Sweet Hereafter and LA Confidential, but at the time, it seemed like the longest damn fortnight I've ever been through. There were more parties than there had been in years, but on the screen, at the villas and on the beaches, everyone seemed to be just going through the motions -- unsure of themselves and what they were supposed to be doing.
Ever the optimist, I hoped at the close of last year that this year would bring back films for films' sake -- minus the hoopla of an anniversary celebration. And the list that Giles Jacob announced a few weeks ago appears to have been worth waiting for. Yes, there are a few that pop off the page to make you wonder what in the hell they are doing there -- Blues Brothers 2000 for example -- even if it is out of competition. The Opening and Closing films -- Primary Colors and Godzilla --announce that American studios are back in force -- but overall the slate looks like an intriguing mix of spotlighting new talent and a reunion of some old friends.
Johnny Depp is back again -- but only in front of the camera in Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Depp has become a regular Cannes habitue with appearances last year for his The Brave and a year or two before for Ed Wood. Another actor who has been there almost every year since Barton Fink is John Turturro, but this year he comes as a director with his Illuminata in competition.
And it is directors who are the focus of Cannes and this year the veterans are returning in force:
From John Boorman -- who brought us Deliverance, Hope and Glory and Excalibur -- there is his newest -- The General. (Boorman's directorial debut was in 1965 with one of my teenage guilty pleasures Having a Wild Weekend starring the Dave Clark Five -- hey, we all have to start somewhere)
From Hector Babenco comes Foolish Heart -- his first film since the 1991 At Play in the Fields of the Lord. Babenco is the director who brought us Pixote and Kiss of the Spider Woman and is always interesting.
Ken Loach is back in Cannes as well - His Hidden Agenda in 1990 created as much heat off screen as on when a fight literally broke out during his press conference -- journalists yelling at Loach he was pro-IRA and other critics jumping on the accusers. This year Loach is in competition with My Name is Joe.
Carlos Saura is back with his latest film Tango. It's out of competition, but if memory serves the last time Saura was in Cannes was with Peppermint Frappe in 1968 -- the historic year where the festival closed down as a result of international demonstrations. The curtain literally came up on Peppermint Frappe with Geraldine Chaplin and others hanging on for dear life -- the lights went up in the theater, down in the projection booth and that was the end of the 1968 Festival.
One of the many ramifications of that year was the creation of the Director's Fortnight -- and this year both the Director's Fortnight and the Un Certain Regard sidebar are screening films that could just have easily been in the main competition. The rules are much tighter for the competition -- films should have only been screened in their country of origin, released for only a certain period of time, made for the big screen, etc -- and that in part explains the placement of films like Ingmar Bergman's television film In the Presence of A Clown, Robert Duvall's The Apostle and Jake Kasdan's Zero Effect in Un Certain Regard.
These are only a few of the over fifty films officially being screened and then there are the hundreds in the marketplace. So this year I vow not to complain even if the rain clouds follow me to the riviera because there will be plenty to see in those glorious theaters. And besides, I know I have an ace in the hole --if all else fails, I will see at least one truly great film --- on Friday May 22, Orson Welles' A Touch of Evil will be on the big screen in all its glory.
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