Presided by actress Isabelle Huppert, the seminar featured such international directors as Brian de Palma, Sidney Lumet, American Beauty's Sam Mendes, Wim Wenders (Germany), Murali Nair (India), Edward Yang (China), Walter Salles (Brazil), Atom Egoyan (Canada), Thomas Vinterberg (Denmark), Samira Makhmalbaf and Abbas Kiarostami (Iran), along with Nobel Prize winner Nadine Gordimer and former François Mitterand adviser Jacques Attali.
In her opening speech, new Minister of Culture Catherine Tasca expressed lofty ideas about The Place of Cinema in the Cultural-and-Socio-Political Landscape from Yester to Morrow, and the role to be played by Government (always the enemy in the US, more often than not a partner in Europe). Then all participants got down to business. Day One was dedicated to "What's happening right now?," the impact of both new digital technologies and unfettered globalization. Day Two focused more on creativity and how the so-called "art of the 20th Century" could find its rightful place within the 21st Century's "civilization of the image".
What fairly quickly came to light was the gap between the haves and have-nots. Those that have (and/or own) the technology and those who can't afford it. And even if they could, what would the latter have to sacrifice of their cultural identities in order to acquire and use said technology. In his closing speech, French prime minister Lionel Jospin clearly presented himself as the defender and champion of the author, the artist, the creator, the storyteller, the "auteur", a word systematically demonized by entertainment-über-alles entities that can't seem to think culture and commerce can be a happy couple.
Funnily enough, more "auteurs" than ever have come to Cannes with "period movies" (a notion always to redefine.) If Ken Loach, possibly the veteran of this year's selection, and Samira (The Apple) Makhmalbaf, definitely the youngest director in competition (she's only twenty) deal resolutely with the present, costume pieces are everywhere: Versailles' king Louis XIV is present in two films, Roland Joffe's Vatel and Patricia Mazuy's Saint-Cyr; the Coen Brothers' Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou? is kind of a remake of I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang as a 1935 country-musical, Arnaud Desplechin's Esther Kahn is about a 19th Century young woman, James Ivory – the man who can give soul to a teapot – goes back to Henry James with Golden Bowl while Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a female Kung Fu romp, goes all the way back to the Ching Dynasty. As if, at the dawn of the third millenium, a sign of "modernism", or "topicality", was precisely a return to a time when violence was not that of guns and crashing cars, but that of feelings and emotions, perhaps far more revealing of the world we live in.
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