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Good Morning, Cannes: Liberace Lights Up the Homestretch

As the festival moves into its final five days, Steven Soderbergh's HBO movie joins the Coen brothers and Asghar Farhadi as the best in show

The TV movie did just fine in the temple of cinema.

Steven Soderbergh‘s “Behind the Candelabra” was made for HBO and is headed for a Sunday debut on the cable channel, a situation forced on the director when the movie studios he approached thought the tale of Liberace and his young lover Scott Thorson wouldn’t attract a straight audience.

Getty ImagesBut it won raves playing on the big screens in Cannes, where its director won the Palme d’Or for his first film 24 years ago. Soderbergh (left) has said that “Candelabra” will be his last, though at a Cannes press conference on Tuesday he backtracked slightly, saying “I’m absolutely going to take a break,” but adding, “I don’t know how extensive it will be.”

At any rate, words like fabulous were tossed around a lot in “Candelabra” reviews from Cannes, and suddenly the cable-TV flick was being spoken of alongside the Coen brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis” and Asghar Farhadi‘s “The Past” as one of the festival’s best.

Jeff Wells called it Soderbergh’s “most emotional and touching work” and said Michael Douglas was “easily the top contender night now for a Best Actor prize.” (With Douglas ineligible for the Oscar, Wells means a prize from the Cannes jury.)

“It’s entertainment with a capital, fur-lined E, though I suspect Liberace wouldn’t have cared much for it,” wrote Guy Lodge at In Contention.

If one is to believe psychic James Van Praagh, Lodge is wrong about that last bit. “I think he’s pretty happy with it,” self-proclaimed psychic-to-the-dead-stars Van Praagh told Joy Behar. (There’s video on Behar’s site, but you don't really want to go down that road.)

Lodge’s review, by the way, was headlined, “Brilliant ‘Behind the Candelabra’ deserves the biggest screen possible.” And that headline was echoed by two other critics, who offered advice to HBO viewers who will be seeing the film on the small screen.

First, Manohla Dargis in the New York Times:  “On Sunday, when ‘Behind the Candelabra’ – Steven Soderbergh‘s peekaboo-look at the glittering, gold-engorged, crystal-encrusted life and loves of Liberace – plays on HBO, find yourself the largest television you can. Because no matter how well it will scale down on TV, this exploration of sex, lies and bigger-than-life celebrity deserves to be seen on a bigger-than-life screen.”

Then, Amy Taubin in Film Comment: “I just saw ‘Behind the Candelabra’ on the big screen, and size does maximize the pleasure. But if you’re watching on TV, pump up the volume. It may be a Fifties melodrama done Seventies-style, but the sound design is up to the minute, and it’s great.”

Another word on the Soderbergh film, as well as several others, came from Chaz Ebert, who wrote a series of “postcards” to her late husband Roger at RogerEbert.com. In addition to talking about the talking about the constant stream of well-wishers who’ve told her how much Roger meant to them – Lars Ulrich of Metallica being one of the most recent – Chaz gave Roger a rundown of the four movies she saw on Tuesday.

Her day began with “Behind the Candelabra,” which she found “surprisingly good.”  But she didn’t care for Claire Denis’ “Bastards,” saying she found it “distasteful and hard to understand.” She thought Lucia Puenzo’s “Wakolda,” about an ex-Nazi doctor hiding in Argentina, was chilling and sinister, and then opted for something lighter: a screening of the restored four-hour 1963 Richard Burton-Elizabeth Taylor bomb “Cleopatra,” which she said didn’t seem so bad 50 years later.

Getty ImagesFox CEO Jim Gianopulos brought along actress Jessica Chastain (right) to introduce “Cleopatra,” and Jessica brought along an enormous diamond and sapphire necklace that Burton gave to Taylor. Apparently, Bulgari brought along some bodyguards to watch over Ms. Chastain, or at least to keep their eyes on her bling.

The second half of Cannes has now begun, so Eugene Hernandez posted a “Cannes at the Midpoint” roundup on the Film Society of Lincoln Center website.  He said this is a point when festivalgoers typically “debate whether the … festival is a disappointment or marks the start of an exception new season of cinema,” but “with a driving rain and a howling wind trying the tolerance of attendees at many moments during the first half of this event, festival-goers have been particularly short-fused and impatient.”

The consensus, he says: “Inside Llewyn Davis” and “The Past” are the favorites to win the Palme d’Or, while other standouts include “Like Father, Like Son,” “Stranger by the Lake,” “Omar,” “The Congress” and “Heli.”

The two biggest breakout talents, he added, were Oscar Isaac in “Llewyn Davis” and Adam Bakri in “Omar.”

Finally, the Cannes tweet of the day comes from film writer Matt Dentler: “How do I know I'm back in LA? Cab driver asks where I'm coming in from. I say Europe. ‘Cannes?’ is his only reaction.”

And, of course, the cabbie was right.