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Frames from Cannes
Clash of Titans on the Croisette
By Gautaman Bhaskaran
South Asia Editor
The Croisette: The Promenade de la Croisette or Boulevard de la Croisette, meaning "Avenue of the little cross," is a prominent road in Cannes, France. It stretches along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea and is about 2 km long. The Croisette is known for the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, where the Cannes Film Festival is held. Many expensive shops, restaurants, and hotels line the road. From Wikipedia

Great auteurs make great films, so one is told. But even masters do not make masterpieces every time they wield the megaphone. Yet, the Cannes Film Festival, all set to roll on May 13, 2009 has seldom missed out on great directors.

The Festival's dashing General-Delegate, Thierry Fremaux, who has now been at the helm of the annual event for eight years, once told me that they would never ignore a great helmer. His or her movie would certainly be included in the Festival. It is for audiences and critics to decide whether the work is good or bad.

Toeing this line, Fremaux has packed this year's top Competition slot with some of the biggest names in the world of cinema. Cannes' majestic sea front called Croisette, where the main screening venue – Palace – stands, would literally see a clash of titans, a clash that would remind us of the medium's golden era, and perhaps Cannes' as well when Satyajit Ray, Fellini, Antonioni and Kurosawa showcased their cinema, nay showcased their own worlds. This year, Ken Loach, Quentin Tarantino, Michael Haneke, Lars Von Trier, Pedro Almodovar, Marco Bellocchio and Jane Campion would perhaps step in. Admittedly, except perhaps for Almodovar, Loach and Von Trier, the rest do not quite measure up to the likes of Ray, Fellini and other masters. Yet, they are arguably good and have been part of Cannes for a long time.

Tarantino, Von Trier, Campion and Loach will be looking for their second Palme d'Or. Almodovar, Bellocchio and Haneke, described as "perpetual bridesmaids." will be vying for their first trophy.

However, a closer look at the movie titles reveals the classic Fremaux touch: go for the explosive. In fact, during his first years in office he tried hard – and even succeeded – in avoiding the clichéd and the predictable. Some of the films he chose created waves, not just ripples. Vincent Gallo's "Brown Bunny" was one. Lou Ye's "Summer Palace" was another. This year, could well see a replay of such provocative fare.

Lou is back again on the Croisette with his "Spring Fever." which he made clandestinely after the Chinese Government banned him post "Summer Palace" in 2006 from making any movies for five years. Fremaux has scheduled this work on May 14, just a day after the Festival opens. "Summer Palace." with its full frontal nudity and the backdrop of Tiananmen Square, ran foul of Beijing, and "Spring Fever" may well be as confrontational with its story of three people caught in lust and passion.

Von Trier divided Cannes folks and film fraternity with his "Dancer in the Dark" (the making of which reportedly saw sparks flying between the director and his lead player, Bjork) and "Dogville." "Dogville" is set in a small Colorado town, but was actually shot in Europe, Von Trier's debilitating phobia for air travel coming in the way. When American critics panned his work, and asked him to explain his "lie" , Von Trier was unruffled. His answer was devastating: Was "Casablanca" shot in Morocco? This year, Von Trier is back with his horror work, "Antichrist" about a grieving couple retiring to a secluded forest for solace only to find that Nature has other plans.

If Von Trier is the enfant terrible of Danish cinema, Park Chan-wook is the bad boy of Korean cinema. Nobody can forget his notorious 2004 Cannes Grand Prix winner, "Oldboy, in a hurry, and his latest Competition entry, "Thirst" , is a vampire thriller to boot.

Austrian auteur, Haneke's young fascist period drama, "The White Ribbon" may well kick our inside out the way his 1997 "Funny Games" did. There were actually some people who rushed out of the auditorium to vomit. So gut-wrenching it was.

But Fremaux has words to soothe our churning stomachs: "Hungry moviegoers will still find a healthy spirit of artistic discovery and renewal in this 62nd edition." But that they may come packaged in the macabre is another story.



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Gautaman Bhaskaran is a veteran film critic and writer who has covered Cannes and other major international festivals, like Venice, Berlin, Montreal, Melbourne, and Fukuoka over the past two decades. He has been to Cannes alone for 15 years. He has worked in two of India’s leading English newspapers, The Hindu and The Statesman, and is now completing an authorized biography of India’s auteur-director, Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Penguin International will publish the book, whose research was funded by Ford Foundation.

 

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