The economic downturn may take its toll at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, which opens Wednesday night. But as always, the show will go on.
Studios are cutting back on parties and all the glitz that goes with them, according to news reports. Moreover, there will be fewer people around to cover Cannes, as news organizations around the world trim costs. (Several, in fact, have tightened up by eliminating their movie reviewers.)
Nevertheless, those who attend may see a bumper crop of good and intriguing films, Variety’s Jay Weissberg told Reuters. “We’ve all been hoping Cannes would pull something out of the bag to make us feel good again. On paper, they have.”
Leah Rozen, film critic for People magazine, said there are several promising contenders for the Palme d’Or, Cannes’ top prize, as well as a number of notable movies premiering out of competition.
“What Cannes really is, is an international festival, and you really see world cinema,” she said. “This year, there are 52 films that are going to be represented, of which 20 are in competition.”
Two of the films in competition are American: Quentin Tarantino’s World War II movie, “Inglourious Basterds,” and Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock,” a tale about the 1969 music festival.
Tarantino told The New York Times that he’s been hoping to do a war movie for years.
“You’ve got to make a movie about something, and I’m a film guy, so I think in terms of genres,” he said. However, the maker of “Pulp Fiction” and “Jackie Brown” added, that doesn’t mean what he ends up with resembles what he started with: “It’s simply the spark that starts the fire.”
“Inglourious Basterds” was inspired by a 1978 Italian film that starred Bo Svenson (“Walking Tall, Part 2”) and football player-turned-actor Fred Williamson (“Black Caesar”). Tarantino’s film, which he characterized to the Times as “not a remake,” stars Brad Pitt and Mike Myers.
Cannes has been good to Tarantino; he won the Palme d’Or for “Pulp Fiction” 15 years ago. Buzz has been high on “Basterds” since Tarantino announced the project several years ago.
“Taking Woodstock,” the new film by “Brokeback Mountain” director Lee, is based on the book by Elliot Tiber, whose hotelier parents owned a musical festival permit in Bethel, New York, where Woodstock was held. The cast includes Liev Schreiber, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Emile Hirsch, Imelda Staunton and Eugene Levy as Max Yasgur, on whose farm the festival was finally held.
Other films in competition include Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist,” Jane Campion’s “Bright Star” and Pedro Almodovar’s “Broken Embraces.”
But this year’s Cannes festival is attracting plenty of attention for its out-of-competition films as well. The festival is opening with “Up,” the latest animated work from Pixar.
“That sort of breaks convention to open with what is, basically, a fancy cartoon,” Rozen said.
Also at Cannes will be Heath Ledger’s last film, “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.” The Oscar-winning “Dark Knight” actor died during the making of the Terry Gilliam film; Gilliam managed to complete it by doing some rewriting and casting other actors — including Jude Law, Colin Farrell and Johnny Depp — to play Ledger’s part.
Despite the interest in seeing Ledger, the film is still struggling to find a buyer, though Entertainment Weekly recently reported that a Los Angeles screening went over well. Cannes, which also functions as a huge film marketplace, may widen the net in attracting distributors.
But much of the fun from Cannes comes from the films that emerge from nowhere. Recent winners of the Palme d’Or include 2000’s “Dancer in the Dark,” which established singer Bjork as an actress, and “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” a Romanian film that ended up topping many critics’ lists in 2007.
“One thing that always surprises me is that some of the films you have the lowest expectations for turn out to be terrific, and sometimes the bigger films turn out to be disappointments,” Rozen said.