The skies are dim, the breeze is chilly and the muted weather is matched by the prevailing mood at the 63rd edition of Festival de Cannes, which opened on Wednesday. Perhaps it was fitting, then, that Robin Hood, which stars Russell Crowe as the 12th-century legend and kicked off the festival, received a respectful but less-than-rousing welcome from the press at Cannes.
The handsome, somber-minded spectacle of adventure, romance and historical sweep brings new vibrancy to one of the movies’ most long-lived franchises. Crowe offers a muscular, if deeply furrowed, addition to a long roster of actors who have played the 12th-century renegade, including Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks, Sean Connery and Kevin Costner. For her part, Cate Blanchett brings a brittle sense of self-reliance to Robin’s love interest, Marion Loxley. But the latest Robin Hood received mixed reviews from critics here, ranging from admiration of its pristine production values to boredom with its talkier sequences and two-hour-plus running time.
Blame it on the freak 30-foot wave that drenched this harbor city just last week. Blame the volcano in Iceland, which delayed the flights of several festival-goers, resulting in a more jet-lagged and grouchy audience than usual. Or just blame it on the economic jitters that have swept the European Union. Perhaps all those account for the relatively subdued mood of the festival, which used to be known for buxom starlets and outrageous publicity antics.
So far there has been precious little beachside ballyhoo (last year, in honor of Up, Disney tried to launch a miniature house with multicolored balloons). The Croisette, while busy, is devoid of splashy billboards hyping upcoming projects. Lavish, over-the-top bashes have been nixed.
The only American film in the competition is Fair Game, Doug Liman’s adaptation of former CIA operative Valerie Plame’s book of the same name. (Plame and her husband, Joe Wilson, are expected to be here in support of the film when it premieres May 20.) Two other American titles, Oliver Stone’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, are being screened outside the competition.
Mostly Cannes belongs to the world this year, with such highly anticipated foreign titles as Biutiful, by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, starring Javier Bardem; Outrage, by Takeshi Kitano; Tamara Drewe, by Stephen Frears; and Aurora by Cristi Puiu. The festival also marks the return of some cherished veterans, including Jean-Luc Godard, Abbas Kiarostami, Bertrand Tavernier, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach and Manoel de Oliveira who at age 101 is nearly as old as the medium itself.
USA Today reporter Anthony Breznican said he sensed “mild disappointment” on the part of festival-goers at the absence of mainstream American titles this year. (Several fans were hoping that Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life and Christopher Nolan’s Inception would be here.) “But in their absence, there’s now an eagerness and a sense of potential surprise for movies that probably would have been overshadowed totally by higher-profile behemoth Hollywood movies,” he said.
The austere mood seems to have seeped into the movies themselves. Among a programme featuring films about a disaffected father (Wang Xiaoshuai’s Chongquin Blues), a young photographer’s obsession with a dead girl (de Oliveira’s The Strange Case of Angelica) and divorce (Radu Muntean’s Tuesday After Christmas), only Tournee (On Tour), by the actor Mathieu Amalric, has dared to show a little skin, figurative and literal. The quirkily transgressive backstage comedy-drama features a dazzling cast of American New Burlesque performers strutting their spangled, suggestive stuff as dancers touring France under the tutelage of an anxious impresario, played by Amalric. Tournee offered a brief, unruly burst of joie de vivre in an otherwise solemn opening slate.
While last year featured many films by women, including Jane Campion, Isabel Croixet and Andrea Arnold, this year features no female filmmakers in the competition (the festival has added female filmmakers in recent weeks, in sidebars). And as with Steven Soderbergh’s 4 1/2-hour Che double feature two years ago, this year will feature a marathon sit-in in the form of Olivier Assayas’ 5 1/2-hour Carlos, about 1970s terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, a.k.a. Carlos the Jackal.
In Soderbergh’s case, Cannes didn’t result in his film being picked up for distribution; instead, its lukewarm reception here consigned it to limbo until it was acquired by IFC. (Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and The Da Vinci Code premiered here to similarly negative response; the notices didn’t hurt the latter at the box office.)
But a warm Cannes reception can send a movie into its theatrical life with an important wind of approval at its back. Certainly Allen, whose 2008 film, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, was a Cannes hit that year, hopes the same luck will strike with his newest work, which stars Scarlett Johansson and which the program describes as possessing “a little romance, some sex, some treachery and ... a few laughs.”
Brian Grazer, a producer of Robin Hood who has brought several films to Cannes over the years, called the festival “very important” to a film intended to be a major cinematic event in succeeding months. “It’s an opportunity to capture the whole world’s attention in a single moment,” he said.
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