Cannes Has That Scaled-Back Feeling

Early signs point to fewer executives and titles that just aren’t hot enough to acquire.

Last Updated: May 14, 2009 @ 4:12 PM

The 62nd Cannes Film Festival got under way on Wednesday night, as stars, jury members, auteurs and executives walked the red carpet for "Up," Disney/Pixar’s 10th collaboration.

But even as everything kicked off with glitz and glamour, this year’s edition may not be immune to a changing world.

Under siege from a faltering world economy and shadowed by the quantum leaps of technological change, the festival is under pressure to prove its worth.

Early signs indicate the festival will be more sparsely attended by Hollywood insiders because of the economy, and there are few films here available for acquisition of a size to attract the major studios. By midnight on Wednesday, the normally-packed patio of the Martinez Hotel, just across from the Palace Festival, was nearly empty.

But it was only day one. The world recession economy be damned, brightly colored balloons filled the air along the oceanfront Croisette on Wednesday evening. The sidewalks and streets were jammed nose to nose with expectant fans, some of whom had been there for two days to lay eyes on the makers of the Pixar film (the picture didn’t really feature movie stars– unless you count Ed Asner).

"Up" is an endearing story about a 78-year-old man who ties thousands of balloons to his home in search of South America. The movie opens in theaters on May 29.

After the premiere screening, hundreds crowded into a beachfront party which, again, seemed less lavish than many before it. Disney erected a floating centerpiece of hundreds of colorful balloons out on the water, as executives Dick Cook and Mark Zoradi mingled with guests. (The party, too, seemed understated despite the balloons; there was fruit and chocolate, and small cups of ice cream passed around, a far cry from the displays of previous years.)

Usually, opening night is a place for stars. (See slideshow of this year’s red-carpet festivities.) And there will be, as usual, a collection of auteurs premiering their recent films. Films in competition feature new work from directors who are seasoned veterans of the festival, including Pedro Almodovar, Ken Loach, Ang Lee and Jane Campion. (See festival lineup.)

But all eyes will be focused on next Wednesday, when Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” premieres. Tarantino and Cannes are nothing short of a classic combination.

The director shocked Cannes in 1992 with “Reservoir Dogs” and returned a hero in 1994 with “Pulp Fiction,” a red-carpet experience that put his gang of Travolta-Uma-Willis in the cinematic history books.

In 2007, he was back with "Grindhouse," but the results — from critics and from fans — were less spectacular.

“Inglourious Basterds” is a revenge film in the true Biblically Tarantino sense. The film — the trailer of which suggests a heightened, brutal violence even Steven Spielberg avoided in “Saving Private Ryan” — stars Brad Pitt as an American organizing a group of Jewish American soldiers out to exact swift, shocking acts of retribution behind Nazi lines.

Meanwhile, the festival itself is said to be simmering on a low flame this year, with fewer parties and a smaller presence by American film professionals.

Acquisitions executives complained that there was little to see at the annual film market.

“There are so few acquisitions to be had, it’s kind of shocking,” said one senior marketing executive from a major studio. “This year it’s really slim pickings.”

Among the films still available include “Agora,” a drama starring Rachel Weisz and Max Minghella from director Alejandro Amenabar.

Sony Pictures Classics did pick up two films on Wednesday, “Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinski” the story of a love affair between the iconic fashion designer and Russian composer, and “The White Ribbon,” by German director Michael Haneke. (See related story.)

Meanwhile, Vanity Fair has canceled its black-tie affair, while there are reported drops in yacht rentals and hotel room reservations.

“We decided not to do an event this year,” said Vanity Fair spokeswoman Beth Kseniak about its event. “Pretty much for economic reasons, we didn’t do the dinner and after-party.”

 

 

As for some title highlights this year, Lars von Trier will debut “Antichrist,” starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, about a grieving couple taking refuge in the woods.

 

Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock” is a quirky comedy from Focus Features starring Comedy Central cult actor Demetri Martin. Martin plays an interior designer in 1969 deciding how to come out to his parents while helping them run their run-down Catskills hotel.

 

Campion, who won the Golden Palm for “The Piano” in 1993, returns to Cannes with “Bright Star.” The film is another romantic drama set in the 19th century, about a love story between the poet John Keats and his next-door neighbor Fanny Brawn, an outspoken student of fashion.

 

Other films in competition are from Korea, Hong Kong and French films from acclaimed directors Jacques Audiard, Gaspar Noe and Alain Resnais.

 

The Un Certain Regard section features almost no American films. One exception is Lee Daniels’ “Precious,” about a pregnant Harlem teen, which won the grand jury prize at Sundance earlier this year.

 

Another certain draw will be Terry Gilliam’s long-delayed “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,” which is relegated to the end of the festival. The film feature Heath Ledger’s last performance before his death in 2008 from an accidental overdose.

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