Political Party

Waiting for the Big Ones

If Miramax has its way, the American media will be responsible for the success of—if not the situation represented in—the Brazilian Un Certain Regard entry City of God, which revels in the spectacle of gun-toting children shooting up Rio's favelas. Fernando Meirelles's overlong (but easily fixed) example of post-MTV third-world neo-new-wave brutalism seems certain to equal the success of the similar Amores Perros and perhaps even cross over as an exotic gangsta epic.

The 2002 Competition is unusually political, and not just because of Bowling for Columbine. Marco Bellocchio's My Mother's Smile—which arrived in Cannes pre-condemned by the Italian church—starts promisingly as a sort of Catholic Kafka story with the hero discovering that his mother has been nominated for sainthood, but it ultimately chokes on its posh atmospherics. Amos Gitai's inept but not inapt Kedma is an anti-Exodus (and anti-Saving Private Ryan) that takes a radically diasporist view of Israel's existence. It's balanced, so to speak, by Elia Suleiman's better, if less ideologically nuanced, Divine Intervention. Like his Chronicle of a Disappearance, Suleiman's new film evokes the "absurd" Palestinian position, albeit with a greater degree of apocalyptic rage. (In a Hong Kong-inspired F/X sequence, the film's silent, L'Oréal-girl heroine turns terrorist ninja.)

So what's America's problem?: From Bowling for Columbine.
photo: Alliance Atlantis
So what's America's problem?: From Bowling for Columbine.

Divine Intervention seems a good bet for some sort of jury prize—helped by the decision to screen Atom Egoyan's Ararat out of competition. For all Egoyan's intelligence, his evocation of the 1915 Turkish extermination of their Armenian population—its presence in Cannes already officially protested by Turkey—labors painfully under its burden of positive representation. The filmmaker would have had to be as loose as de Oliveira to handle the outrageous narrative of his convoluted script.

One suspects (and hopes) that the 2002 Palme d'Or winner has yet to screen. The Competition is intentionally backloaded, with new films by David Cronenberg, the Dardenne brothers, Aki Kaurismaki, Roman Polanski, and Alexander Sokurov, not to mention Gaspar (I Stand Alone) Noé, Alexander (Election) Payne, and especially Jia (Platform) Zhangke still in the offing. Biggest early disappointment: Olivier Assayas's Demonlover, a murky multinational meditation on digital anime and cyber porn that strives for 10-minutes-into-the-future hipness but seems years behind Cronenberg's 1983 Videodrome.

The oddest entry so far, without a doubt, is Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love—a small romantic comedy long on incongruous charm for starring Adam Sandler. The most avant-garde thing about it is that, albeit a less daring elaboration of the Sandler persona than Little Nicky, Punch-Drunk Love actually is an Adam Sandler film—the star playing a Happy Gilmore-type nebbish barely in control of his ultraviolent impulses. Moreover, for much of the movie, Anderson demonstrates as uncluttered and classic a visual style as Albert Brooks's. Sadly, Punch-Drunk Love is an elegant vehicle that, hampered by a weak script and a total absence of chemistry between Sandler and co-star Emily Watson, ultimately pulls up lame.

Will the movie appeal to the French taste for unfunny comedy? Could Sandler—who has been coiffed and directed to resemble Geisha Boy-era Jerry Lewis—even be embraced, along with Woody Allen and Michael Moore, as a misappreciated American icon? As with the Palme d'Or, only a fool would dare predict.

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