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The latest Pedro Almodovar film, Bad Education, opens the Festival de Cannes (May 12 – 23) and the musical biography of Cole Porter, De-Lovely, will close it; a symbolic programming choice that reflects the role of Cannes in world cinema – celebrate the new, honour the old. Andrew L. Urban (covering Cannes since 1986) previews this year’s festival, including Australia’s presence – and suggests a few special things to do in between seeing films. 

The sense of the cinematic past meeting the present at Cannes in 2004 (the 57th) is evident from its (unappealing) poster of a toddler girl throwing a shadow unmistakable as THAT pose of Marilyn Monroe’s; it is heightened by the opening and closing films: Pedro Almodovar’s Bad Education and Irwin Winkler’s De-Lovely, the Cole Porter biopic. Then there is the Coen Brothers’ remake of The Ladykillers, a 1955 classic, versus the return of the very modern animation about that green guy, in Shrek 2. Even before we see the films, we can see that the choices suggest a certain underlying theme: celebrate the new, honour the old. Or a case of “confirmations and discoveries,” as Festival Director Thierry Frémoux puts it.

And more. Shrek and Shrek 2, strangely enough, symbolise another characteristic of Cannes: it’s unpredictably split personality. Even though the festival is the most highly regarded in the world as an artistic barometer to filmmaking, it has managed to schmooze with the commercial side of the business (especially Hollywood) with great success. So while Emir Kusturica untangles his bohemian sensibilities at one end, Jeffrey Katzenberg strides into the media junket at Cannes with one of the biggest money makers of all time. 

This is probably a healthy sort of schizophrenia making Cannes appear to respect both creative and commercial success. The prestige of having a film in Competition at Cannes is irreversible and undeniable. This is the one thing that Cannes does better than any other film festival: it places the laurel of filmmaking brilliance on the head of the filmmakers so definitely as to make it a permanent mark of the touch of genius. 

The fact that the winners are almost always debatable only adds to the frisson that makes this film festival utterly compelling. (eg Roland Joffe’s The Mission [1986]; boring and ponderous or moving and transforming? Or Emir Kusturica’s Underground [1995]; unadulterated bliss or a snoozer? Or Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the dark [2000]; the work of a genius or a mechanic? And do you remember last year’s controversial winner? (Clue: large animal)

Will this year’s Competition entries produce euphoria or ennui? Who knows as yet. As usual, the Competition list is devoured for signs of meaning in the selection, not by title of course, but by director, along the lines of “the new Gatlif film” etc. (The titles are a bit meaningless as no-one has yet seen the films – selectors apart.) The Competition includes films from the above mentioned Coen brothers, Michael Moore, Olivier Assayas and Tony Gatlif, Walter Salles and Agnes Jaoui among the Westerners. From Asia, it’s a mixture of old and new: Wong Kar-Wai, Mamoru Oshi, Hang Sang-Soo, Kore-Eda Hiorkazu, Park Chan-Wok – and Thailand’s Apichatpong Weeresthakul.

In all, the festival is presenting 56 feature films; 18 in Competition. There are a total of 46 world premières in the combined sections, a new record, and nine are first films, twice that of last year. The number of films submitted is a staggering 3562 (feature and short) up from 2498 last year. 

Quentin Tarantino, President
Emmanuelle BEART (Actress - France)
Edwidge DANTICAT (Writer - United States)
Tilda SWINTON (Actress - United Kingdom)
Kathleen TURNER (Actress - United States)
Benoît POELVOORDE (Actor, scriptwriter - Belgium)
Jerry SCHATZBERG (Director - United States)
Hark TSUI (Director - Hong Kong)
Peter VON BAGH (Film Critic - Finland

Actresses: Charlize Theron, Agnès Jaoui, Ashley Judd, Maggie Cheung, Emily Watson, Sophie Marceau, Zhang Yiyi, Leonor Watling, Cameron Diaz, Jeanne Balibar, Gong Li, Isild le Bescot, Michelle Williams, Penelope Cruz, Emmanuelle Devos, Naomi Watts, Uma Thurman, Diane Kruger, Beatrice Dalle. 

Actors: Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks & Eddie Murphy making their first appearances on the Croisette, Sean Penn, Alain Chabat, Toni Servillo, Kevin Kline, Gael Garcia Bernal, Tony Leung, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Sergio Castelllito, Nick Nolte, Geoffrey Rush, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Vincent Perez, John Leguizamo.

But there is more to Cannes than the Competition (features and shorts). There is Un Certain Regard (showing the distinctive work of filmmakers – see re Australia’s Somersault below), notable Out of Competition presentations and Critics Week (seven new films chosen by a panel of international film critics).

Among the highlights this year: Jean-Luc Godard's new film, Notre Musique, will be screened in Out of Competition. Godard, now 73 but already working on his next film, Paris, je t’aime, is one of the celebrated filmmakers of the Nouvelle Vague of the 50s and 60s; he can expect a surprise at the screening (no, we can’t divulge, but may report on it later). 

Also Out of Competition, Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy, Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 2 and Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead.

And then of course, there is the Marché, a massive marketplace taking place at the same time, where distribution rights to over 500 films are traded across language territories. 

As if this wasn’t enough, some studios/distributors even promote films that have nothing to do with the event, simply taking advantage of having the world’s film media in one town. The secret is to be heard amidst all the shouting. (And to getting invited to the best parties.)

Well, there’s Geoffrey Rush starring in Stephen Hopkins’ The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, in Competition … and Cate Shortland’s debut feature, Somersault, produced by Anthony Anderson, has been selected for Un Certain Regard. Described as a visually haunting story of a young girl's self discovery set at the foot of the Australian ski fields, the film is also elgible for the Camera d’Or. Somersault features Abbie Cornish as the young protagonist, along with Sam Worthington, Lynette Curran and Erik Thomson, and the striking landscape of Jindabyne in southern NSW in winter.

"Australian films have a proud history at the Cannes Film Festival, most recently last year with the selection of the critically acclaimed Japanese Story in Un Certain Regard and the Palm d’Or win by the short film Cracker Bag," said Carole Sklan, Director, Film Development of the Australian Film Commission. "The selection of Somersault is great news and the AFC is particularly pleased to have supported the development of Cate Shortland and Anthony Anderson¹s careers by funding a number of their short films as well as assisting the development of Somersault."

Producer Anthony Anderson has collaborated with Cate on each of the short films. This is his first feature also. The pair have been developing the script for Somersault over 6 years, with assistance from the Australian Film Commission and the New South Wales Film and Television Office, through its intensive script workshop, Aurora.

Through Aurora, Anthony and Cate met the highly regarded producer Jan Chapman who came on board as Executive Producer of the film in 2003.

The prestigious Cinéfondation section for student films has invited Pia Borg’s animated film Footnote from the Victorian College of the Arts to screen amongst only 20 international films selected.

A few new Australian films will be shown to selected buyers privately at Cannes.
Paul Cox, a past Cannes favourite, has completed his latest film, The Human Touch, about the relationship between Anna and David, which is tested when a wealthy gentleman, Edward, enters Anna's life. His worldliness and seductive charm awakens in Anna a consciousness that manifests itself through 'touch'. She embarks on an intimate journey of self-discovery and physical fulfilment to arrive at a deeper understanding of her own sexuality and the necessity for touch and the human need for love. 

The cast includes some Cox favourites: Jacqueline McKenzie, Aaron Blabey, Chris Haywood, Rebecca Frith, Aden Young, Terry Norris.

Alkinos Tsilimidos is not a big name in Australian film (as in well known) but his first two feature films are both highly regarded by the industry: Everynight Everynight (invited to Venice, Toronto, Montreal), and Silent Partner (Montreal and Toronto). Economical (not to say micro budget), they are credit to his natural talent. Now, he’s going to Cannes with his latest film, Tom White, which, like Cox’s film, will be shown privately to selected buyers. 

Tom White has a loving family and an adequate career, but when his workload is downscaled he disappears from his family without a trace. He becomes an anonymous street person travelling through a contemporary underworld that is as unexpectedly funny as it is tragic. Stars Colin Friels, Loene Carmen, David Field, Bill Hunter, Dan Spielman, Angela Punch McGregor, Rachael Blake, Jarryd Jinks.

A celebration of 25 years of Cannes festivals will be the highlight for the New Zealand contingent this year, who have planned a party on Sunday May 16, helped by 12 boutique winemakers from New Zealand as well as Bollinger, Matterhorn Cocktails (and other drink brands) and music by Fat Freddy's Drop (jazz/funk/soul fusion band). 

They will also celebrate the selection of David Rittey’s short, Closer, for Official Competition.

(in between seeing films)
· Gatecrash the Australian Film Commission’s 8th floor Penthouse Suite with its large roof terrace, and perve down on Cannes (do NOT tell them I suggested it!);

· Take a seat (with the misspelt name of a film star, eg Barbara Streisand, stamped on the back) at the Bar du Festival on the Croisette, wait for half an hour for service and perve on Cannes;

· Stroll along the beach side of the Croisette and count the number of billion dollar private cruisers anchored in the bay;

· Saunter up the steps from the pavement to the Carlton Terrace for a $25 gin and tonic and perve on the hoi polloi walking past perving back at you;

· Put on a hired Tuxedo and slip into any group arriving for a Competition screening just so you can walk up the red carpeted steps, between 800 paparazzi on either side and a madly cheering crowd of 3,000, before the French security guards throw you bodily over the side;

· Have a delicious lunch, with a bottle of Domaines Ott rosé (finest in the world and local to Provence), at the Plage du Festival beach restaurant, the Mediterranean lapping 3 metres away, just beyond the topless sun-bathers;

· Book a table for dinner (on another day) at La Machou, in the winding cobbled lane (filled with restaurants) that leads steeply up to Le Suquet,;

· Watch the old timers of Cannes mix with some youngsters for serious games of petanque, in Liberation Square facing the Old Port (if you turn your back on the Old Port you’ll be perving on McDonalds);

· Spend a day going up and down in the lifts in the glorious Carlton Hotel, and see how many stars you can ride with (eg Elizabeth Taylor is a regular, Kevin Cline, Ashley Judd, Robbie Williams, Natalie Cole, Elvis Costello, Pedro Almodovar, Tom Hanks and this year’s Jury President Quentin Tarantino are some possibilities)

Published April 29, 2004

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Somersault - Australia's entry, Un Certain Regard


The Human Touch

Tom White


Bad Education - opening night film

De-Lovely - closing night film

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