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This year's main event-movie had of course been earmarked well in advance: Jean-Luc Godard's Éloge de L'Amour, his first Cannes entry since Nouvelle Vague, his first Paris movie since Masculin-Feminin, feverishly tipped in Variety several weeks ago as the best film in his lengthy career. To further stoke the anticipatory hysteria, the organizers scheduled a single press screening in the smallest possible theater (the horde of stampeding journalists outside the Salle Bazin Tuesday morning was an emblematic Cannes moment). Éloge de L'Amour loosely concerns the evolution of a projecta play/movie/novel/opera (the uncertainty about the medium is very much the point) that explores the four phases of love (meeting, passion, separation, reconciliation) through the experiences of three couples (young, adult, elderly). As gnomic and ruminative as much of his recent work, it's also Godard's most accessible film in years, intensely private yet thematically sprawling, at once melancholy and cantankerous (given to bouts of anti-American rhetoric and Spielberg-bashing). The director, who was introduced at his press conference as "God," did his part to perpetuate his outsize, legendarily eccentric personahe consented to only two interviews, and decreed that they be with journalists from Argentina and Russia.
Godard also created the fest's fastest-circulating bit of buzz when he issued a ringing endorsement for a 50-minute French film, Alain Guiraudie's Ce Vieux Rêve Qui Bouge (Real Cool Time), which would otherwise likely have remained buried in the Directors' Fortnight sidebar. (Sure enough, it turned out to be one of Cannes 2001's few genuine discoveries: a witty, concise experiment in narrative pliability that begins as a naturalistic account of a young man arriving at a factory to dismantle a piece of heavy machinery, then shape-shifts before your disbelieving eyes into something altogether more, well, erotic.)
The big surprise of the festival so far, not least because it represents an unexpectedly triumphant recycling of discarded material, has been David Lynch's Mulholland Drive. The film originated as a TV pilot, but after it was dropped by ABC, French producers Studio Canal stepped in, allowing Lynch to reshape the footage (with additional scenes) into a stand-alone feature. The unique circumstances have resulted in perhaps his most ingeniously structured film. For about 100 minutes, Mulholland Drive both obeys and mocks the expository responsibilities of a television pilot: A perky, blond aspiring starlet (Naomi Watts) arrives in Hollywood and instantly befriends a vampy, brunette amnesiac (Laura Elena Herring). And then, at a rupture point cued by a stunning rendition of Roy Orbison's "Crying" (in Spanish), the movie explodes (or, to quote Variety's disapproving chief critic, "makes a severe and unwelcome turn down a lost highway").
Just as the Godard film makes the seemingly counterintuitive choice to capture the present in moody, nostalgic black-and-white and the past in heightened, richly saturated DV colors, Lynch depicts the dream-state in a (mostly) linear narrative and the underlying "reality" via a rapidly disintegrating mosaic of memory shards. (This is but one of many possible interpretations.) The best-looking competition entry I've seen (cinematographer Peter Deming, who also shot Lost Highway, gives the night scenes a velvety thickness), Mulholland Drive takes what die-hard Lynch fan and Slovenian theorist Slavoj Zizek calls the "coincidence of opposites" to giddy, fruitful extremeswithin its seductive hall of mirrors and alter-egos lies an obsessive tale of shattered romanticism, what the director tersely describes as "a love story in the city of dreams."
Judging from the rapturous responses at Thursday's screening, the frontrunner for the Palme d'Or seems to be Nanni Moretti's weepie The Son's Room, in which the Italian writer-director-actor, carefully concealing his customary onscreen smugness, plays a psychoanalyst struggling with the loss of his teenage son. Even if it doesn't win the top prize, it's guaranteed to leave the festival with a U.S. distributor. (In the main acquisition news so far, Miramax has picked up the beyond-camp Thai western Tears of the Black Tiger, and United Artists bought the Bosnian black-comic war drama No Man's Land.) There's still hope, though, with two more competition entries to go, both promisingly titled and both by Asian masters with faultless track records: Shohei Imamura's Warm Water Under a Red Bridge and Hou Hsiao-hsien's Millennium Mambo.
Other articles in this series:
Past Pop for Now People
Dennis Lim surveys the first days of Cannes 2001, starting with a splashy kick-off by Moulin Rouge.
Godard's Newest Masterpiece
Amy Taubin reviews Éloge de L'Amour.
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