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Cannes 2011: An Outside Look at this Year’s Film Festival

May 23, 2011

By John C.

The 64th annual Cannes Film Festival came to a close over the weekend, with the jury headed by Robert De Niro awarding Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life the prestigious title of Palme d’Or.  The Kid With a Bike and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia were in the midst of a two-way tie for the second place Grand Prix.   Even though I was unfortunately unable to attend the legendary festival in France, there were numerous reports of goings on both good and bad to keep us all talking.

The Cannes Film Festival opened on May 12th with the world premiere of Woody Allen’s romantic comedy, Midnight in Paris.  Many critics have called it a genuine love letter to the capital of France and Allen’s best work since the excellent Vicky Cristina Barcelona.  I’m looking forward to seeing it later this week, so watch for our reviews on June 3rd.  Numerous high-profile films were screened over the last 11 days at Cannes, both in and out of competition.

The most reported story out of the festival was obviously that of Danish director Lars Von Trier’s inexcusably offensive comments at a press conference following a screening of his new apocalyptic melodrama, Melancholia.  After saying that he “sympathizes” with Hitler and even “understands the man,” Von Trier went on to tell the room full of press that he’s “a Nazi.”  His bizarre and ignorant comments drew comparisons to ones made by Mel Gibson a few years back, and Von Trier was rightfully named a “persona non grata” at the festival.  That isn’t a good thing for his career or film, but Kirsten Dunst was still awarded the festival’s Best Actress prize for her work in Melancholia.

There was no greater pressure put on a single film than the anticipation that surrounded Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life.  A metaphysical epic centred around a family in the 1950’s, the film stars Brad Pitt and gained much buzz for its unique view of the cosmos.  The initial press screening was met with reported boos from certain parts of the packed audience, but it was likely just a few people wanting to cause a stir surrounding one of the fests most hotly anticipated titles.  The fact that The Tree of Life was awarded the top honour at Cannes validates the immense hype that has been growing over the last few years.  My anticipation is quite strong for this one, and Toronto audiences can form their own opinions on the film when it opens in theatres on June 10th.

A mainstream silent film is something that we haven’t seen in quite some time, but French director Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist is said to be a true crowd pleaser.  Taking place in the Hollywood of 1927 and following a silent film star worried as to how the arrival of talking pictures will affect his art, it looks as if this could easily emerge as a unique, moving and very entertaining Oscar contender.  The film was universally acclaimed, as Jean Dujardin won the Best Actor prize at Cannes, proving that a great performance doesn’t have to include the delivery of dialogue.

From what I’ve been told, director Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive was one of the best surprises late in the game, as the film emerged close to the end of the festival and was met with uniformly excellent reviews.  Following a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a wheelman, Ryan Gosling has drawn comparisons to a young Robert De Niro in the lead role and it sounds like this could easily be one of the best action thrillers in recent years.  Winding Refn won the Best Director prize at the festival, and Drive is set to open in theatres here on September 16th.  Fingers crossed for a big premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival just before that.

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