Cannes, Day 6: Big Bucks and Trash-Talking

The race for the Palme d'Or nears its midpoint, while attention turns to lots of deals and some bad-mouthing at the Cannes marketplace

In the day leading up to the long, long-awaited debut of "The Tree of Life," attention on the Croisette seemingly turned more to the deals being made in the Cannes marketplace – most of them for films that are nothing like the movies playing in the festival, and many for projects that don't even exist yet except as pitches.

Marche du FilmThe healthy market that began last fall at Toronto and continued earlier this year at Sundance is even more in evidence at Cannes, with more than 4,000 films looking for sales in markets all around the world. And in the first five days of the Marche du Film marketplace, many of the movies are finding those buyers, buoying the spirits of Cannes-goers and capturing the attention of the assembled media.

"The buyers are back," says Melena Ryzik. She curiously traces this to the success of "Black Swan" and "The King's Speech," linking them to Cannes acquisitions like "The Artist" and "The Iron Lady." The latter film, with Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher, probably does warrant the "King's Speech" comparison (and now it has the same distributor, Weinstein), but it's such a high-profile project, and such sure-fire awards bait, that it would have been a prime acquisition target even if it never set foot in the South of France.

The Hollywood Reporter, meanwhile, enlists five reporters (under Jay A. Fernandez's byline) to survey the market and come to a similar conclusion, albeit one based on territory sales and remake rights rather than last year's Oscar movies.

“Business is incredibly strong — not just on one or two titles, but across the board," IM Global CEO Stuart Ford told THR.Added A Company CEO Alexander van Dulmen, “There’s a lot of money being thrown around.”

The most interesting part is van Dulmen's comment that the marketplace has also been cutthroat this year, with sellers "bad-mouthing each other's projects" and suggesting that they'll never get made. (Much of the time, of course, they're right.)

Back to the artier fare actually screening at Cannes, not everybody was as enthusiastic about the black-and-white silent comedy "The Artist" as Sasha Stone was. Eric Kohn, for instance, liked the film's concept more than its execution. "If the script had spoken dialogue in place of its anachronistic cue cards, it would be a relentless bore," he says. "The gimmick saves it, but just barely."

Jeff Wells was significantly kinder, calling the film "a winning 'success,' and at the same time a half-and-halfer – a film that delivers beautifully but also leaves you wanting in certain ways." And Variety's Peter Debruge said director Michel Hazanavicius delivered "a heartfelt, old-school romance without the aid of spoken dialogue or sound," but warned, "pic will take careful handling to shatter the arthouse ceiling, as today's auds demonstrate little nostalgia for cinema's roots."

Steven Zeitchik thinks that "The Artist" is a dark-horse candidate in the race for the Palme d'Or – a race, he says, that is beginning to come into focus. With only eight of the 20 titles in competition having screened, and such notable auteurs as Terrence Malick, Pedro Almodovar and Lars von Trier still to come, this proclamation may be a touch premature – but if one is to go by what has screened so far, he says the two frontrunners are Joseph Cedar's "Footnote" and Lynne Ramsay's "We Need to Talk About Kevin."

Then again, as Zeitchik knows, last year at this point in the festival the frontrunners were considered to be "Another Year" and "Certified Copy" and maybe "Biutiful," and few people thought "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" was a likely winner.

The Kid with a BikeOne of the films debuting on Sunday would be a particularly notable Palme d'Or winner: the austere Belgian filmmakers the Dardenne brothers have won the prize for "Rosetta" and "The Child," joining Francis Ford Coppola and Emir Kusturica; a win for their new film, "The Kid With a Bike" (right), would make them the festival's only three-time winners.

AFP.com lauded the film for showing the directors'"stunning capacity for unsentimental storytelling," and David Rooney added, "there isn’t a single unearned emotion in this tremendously moving drama." But Boyd van Hoeij said the film was "something that, on the surface, looks startlingly new, slowly reveals itself to be something surprisingly familiar and not all that effective," and Jeff Wells complained that the film is being overrated by critics blinded by the directors' reputations.

Then again, it's not the critical reaction that'll matter when the Cannes awards are handed out next Sunday. The real question: what films are best-liked by Robert De Niro, and Uma Thurman, and Jude Law, and Olivier Assayas, and the other jurors?

For that answer, stay tuned