Every year, all of my best intentions to see all of the films in the main competition at Cannes are dashed by the end of the second day when the deluge of various different award sections and marketplace screenings begin to pile up between press conferences, interviews, yacht parties and the need for sleep.
The film that opens the festival is always outside of competition for the Palme d’Or and is frequently a Hollywood sacrificial lamb; this year’s Da Vinci Code more than fit the bill. At Da Vinci’s opening day press conference, you could see anguish on the faces of Ron Howard, Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Jean Reno, Ian McKellen and Paul Bettany as they faced a room full of unmoved critics. It was clear that all of the back-slapping that went on during the film’s production had come back to haunt the director and actors, and there was nothing for them to do but make flat jokes amidst an air of discontent.
Audience scorn took the form of boos and hisses for (Donnie Darko director) Richard Kelly’s unreleasable 160-minute fiasco Southland Tales and for Sophia Coppola’s uselessly fluffy Marie Antoinette. While Coppola’s film didn’t sink to the Battlefield Earth nadir of Southland Tales, the young director’s value of style over substance grated on audience nerves.
The Director’s Fortnight, also referred to as the Quinzaine (pronounced “can-zan”) des Realisateurs, hit a high note with William Friedkin’s tantalizingly shocking adaptation of Tracy Letts’ play Bug, about a lonely waitress (played brilliantly by Ashley Judd) who enters into a romantic relationship with a paranoid drifter (played by the play’s original actor Michael Shannon). Bug is a horrific allegory, about real and imagined government-driven dangers, that Friedkin uses to ratchet up suspense and shock beyond anything Alfred Hitchcock ever achieved. It was my favorite film of the 33 films I saw at the festival, with González Inarritu’s Babel running a close second.
Political documentaries returned with a vengeance to the festival after last year’s hiatus following Michael Moore’s Palme-winning year in 2004. Al Gore’s elucidating and frightening documentary An Inconvenient Truth, about the imminent threat of global warming, sent up an S.O.S. flare that was redoubled by Aaron Russo’s (Trading Places) indispensable America: From Freedom To Fascism about the IRS’ illegally imposed national income tax, the Federal Reserve Bank’s criminal acts that have devalued the dollar to “.04” and the American government’s plan to implant every citizen with a tracking device after the National Identity Cards go into effect in 2008.
Sacha Baron Cohen (aka Ali G) gave the festival a much-needed jolt of hilarity with his Larry Charles-directed movie Borat, about Cohen’s Kazakhstan-born character Borat’s attempt to make a documentary in America. The movie had the audience howling with prolonged fits of laughter, including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who attended the screening.
Prominent among the hundreds of marketplace films seeking buyers was writer/director Laurie Collyer’s Sherrybaby, starring the ever superb Maggie Gyllenhaal as Sherry, a recently released ex-con attempting to rebuild her life and reclaim her 5-year-old daughter from her protective brother and sister-in-law. The movie caught me off guard as an insightful and heartfelt drama destined for a theater near you.
Richard Linklater made Cannes history by being the first director in the festival’s history to have two films in competition. With his largely well-received adaptation of Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation (in the main competition) and his thoughtful cinematic rendition of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly (in the Un Certain Regard category), Linklater made an indelible stamp on the festival.
The Cannes 2006 festival will be forever remembered as the year of Latin films. González Inarritu’s Babel, Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, Adrian Caetano’s Buenos Aires 1977, Pedro Costa’s Youth On The March and Pedro Almodovar’s Volver all proved to be films worthy of sharing a place in competition for the Cannes’ grand prize.
The Cannes Film Festival is the world’s most prestigious film festival, and is held annually in Cannes, France.