'Blindness' may prove perceptive

Meirelles pic offers hard-to-digest food for thought

CANNES -- An odd movie to open the fest? Even the director and star of "Blindness" suggested Wednesday that their movie seemed a surprising choice to kick off the 61st Festival de Cannes.

Speaking at the opening-day press conference, helmer Fernando Meirelles and actress Julianne Moore mused about how hard it might be for the gala crowd Wednesday evening to chow down in their finery after seeing this bleak allegory about the collapse of civilization.

"It's a big honor, and it's big pressure -- but not perhaps the best film to open a festival with," Meirelles said when asked by a reporter how he felt about being In Competition.

However, given all the disasters around the world that have piled up pell-mell since Portuguese novelist Jorge Saramago penned his masterpiece in 1995 -- SARS, tsunamis, Katrina, Myanmar -- a movie about the fragility of our civilization might not be that odd a subject and might indeed set the tone for what is shaping up to be a relatively sober Cannes, "Indiana Jones" notwithstanding.

Most of the discussion at the press conference revolved around the topical and political themes implicit in this unsettling tale about people who inexplicably lose their sight, then become institutionalized and neglected by the government. They have to rebuild society from scratch, and doing so reveals the brutish and redeeming features of humanity.

Several folks leaving the first screening dubbed it " 'Lord of the Flies' for adults.' "

"There are many layers to the film beyond the obvious," the Brazilian Meirelles said about the discoveries he made on each reading of the book. Aside from the undignified aspects of humanity that the film reveals, he said there is plenty of black humor, mostly at the expense of government politicos and policies.

"It's happening now. Make the movie now," recalled screenwriter Don McKellar, referring to friends who rang him in the wake of Hurricane Katrina urging him to get on with the script. Although he and Meirelles insisted that the movie does reflect the zeitgeist of the moment -- we're living in very fractious times globally -- but not any one disaster, country or politician.
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