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Buzz in short supply at Cannes 2010

COMMENTARY: 63rd edition of festival was a muted affair

CANNES -- Some of the films were way too long, business was way too flat, the stars on the tapis rouge were predictably thin, and everybody's attention span is getting ever shorter.

That pretty much sums up the 63rd Festival de Cannes, plus the fact that it took way too much effort for many travelers to get here, courtesy of that ever-shifting volcanic ash cloud.

There was a fractured edge to the proceedings because buyers, sellers, producers and filmmakers remain wearied by a recession that hasn't yet dissipated; if anything, it's worsened across southern Europe. The Brits on hand seemed distracted by their own faltering economy and by trying to figure out what their new coalition government has in store for them. The Germans, once a reliable fest mainstay, fielded few entrants in the sections and generally played things low profile.

One also could sense the muted tone in that there were very few stunts on the beach or over-the-top signage blanketing the hotels. There were parties aplenty -- including the chock-a-block market opening, complete with Chinese fireworks over the Mediterranean, and Vanity Fair's exclusive do at the Hotel du Cap -- but none really was for the record books.

Not that the event didn't have its cinematic charms. In its effort to balance art and commerce, organizers managed to provide a little something for everyone, even if no one I talked to on the Croisette seemed irrationally exuberant about anything.

Universal's "Robin Hood," Fox's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" and Woody Allen's "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" upped the ante with glitzy red-carpet and media appearances by Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Michael Douglas, Naomi Watts, Allen and Oliver Stone. The press of flesh to get a glimpse was as thick and rabid as it is any year, and the general audience (if there is such a thing in Cannes) seemed more appreciative of these three Hollywood concoctions than did, say, the hardened media corps.

An old hand at these things, Douglas, with his streaked silver hair and suave manners, played the matinee idol to the hilt; Josh Brolin also got into the swing of it, doing double duty in the Stone and Allen pictures.

The only U.S. picture in the main Competition, "Fair Game," unspooled Thursday evening, for which Watts returned to town (her co-star, Sean Penn, was missing as expected) along with director Doug Liman.

The Hollywood quotient aside, no other picture seemed to set the tone for the proceedings or to be the automatic shoo-in as the Palme d'Or winner. If anything, the overall selection seemed a tad thin, certain auteurs brought disappointing efforts, and even projects in the market didn't seem to be wrapping up presales with any alacrity.

"Tepid" is how one veteran critic put it, describing his reaction to most of what he had seen by midfest. He was referring to pics by Takeshi Kitano, Wang Xiaoshuai, Daniele Luchetti and Im Sang-soo, among others.

A basic question continued to arise at the news conferences following the Competition screenings. Here's how one diplomatic French journalist phrased it, speaking to a director on the podium: "By making such an austere, rigorous, slow-paced movie, do you not risk boring your audience?"

One helmer -- in this case Xavier Beauvois, also French -- summed up the auteurish stance: "Speed, speed, speed. That's what Hollywood does; I do not do jump cuts."

Yet another decried "Plasticine Hollywood," and a third lamented short attention spans and how tweets and cell phones and whatnot are undermining personal intimacy. Not surprisingly, perhaps, most movies were of a somber, downbeat or outright depressing nature.

There was a sprinkling of upbeat fare: Stephen Frears' sprightly "Tamara Drewe" was a scintillating concoction; Mathieu Amalric's "Tournee" was a rollicking tribute to nouvelle burlesque and featured the fest's only zaftig stars, as in blonde stripteasers from the States.

 

As for performances that could cop the top prizes, those being talked about most fervidly were Javier Bardem's intense, in-your-face work in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Biutiful" and Lesley Manville's tour de force as a boozy, aging single in Mike Leigh's "Another Year." (The latter film was snapped up by Sony Pictures Classics in one of the few deals concluded here.)

Three other hot tickets showed just how varied a cornucopia can be enjoyed in Cannes by those who are "into" movies -- two very long and one arguably too short.

A restored version of Luchino Visconti's "Il Gattopardo," arguably the "Gone With the Wind" of Italy, was a feast for the eyes -- not to mention the wonderful acting from Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale. The latter two were on hand to take a bow alongside Martin Scorsese, who was instrumental in spearheading the new print.

Olivier Assayas' "Carlos," about international terrorist Carlos the Jackal and starring Edgar Ramirez, screened Wednesday in its five-hour televisual version; it already has been picked up in the U.S. by IFC and likely will get a lot of ink stateside.

Then there's the just-finished "Stones in Exile," an hourlong documentary about the Rolling Stones and their sojourn on the French Riviera during the early 1970s; the pic is selling like hotcakes to broadcasters worldwide. As I write, a seemingly endless queue is forming outside the Directors' Fortnight venue for the first screening, to which Mick Jagger supposedly is showing up to take questions.

Barring the unforeseen from Jagger and company, Cannes this go-round has lacked a proper scandale. No film has been roundly booed or yanked; no one has caused a ruckus.

Of course, there's always something noteworthy going on in another part of the film forest, as it were. A petition has circulated among cineastes here on behalf of Roman Polanski in the wake of another (could the timing be a coincidence?) revelation about his sexual misconduct years ago. And Juliette Binoche, star of Abbas Kiarostami's Competition entry "Certified Copy," promptly broke out in tears during a news conference when she learned that another Iranian director, Jafar Panahi, had begun a hunger strike in a Tehran jail.