Lights at the End of the Cannes Tunnel

"I’m sort of done with watching movies," one journalist was overheard commenting, while in line for a screening on Thursday afternoon.   And so the late festival drag set in — fatigue from lengthy days in dark rooms and harsh sunlight generally starts to wear down Cannes attendees after a while, especially once the finish […]

Last Updated: May 21, 2009 @ 10:35 PM

"I’m sort of done with watching movies," one journalist was overheard commenting, while in line for a screening on Thursday afternoon.

 

And so the late festival drag set in — fatigue from lengthy days in dark rooms and harsh sunlight generally starts to wear down Cannes attendees after a while, especially once the finish line comes into focus.

 

Nevertheless, the constant barrage of premieres continued.

Today’s competition screenings received warm, if not transcendent, receptions. "A L’Origine" ("In the Beginning"), the bittersweet story of a former prisoner who attempts to rebuild his life as a construction worker, delivered a conventionally inspiring experience that most viewers enjoyed. At the same time, it seemed to carry a lightweight appeal as the sort of forgettable feel-good movie that will probably melt in the shadow of Cannes’s more prominent entries.

In the evening, Palestinian director Elia Suleiman’s latest experimental diary film, "The Time That Remains," screened to a similarly appreciative crowd. Suleiman, whose work uses an essay-like structure to explore political identity in the Middle East, reached great acclaim with 2002’s "Divine Intervention."

 

In his latest feature, the director tracks his father’s experience as a resistance fighter in 1948, then focuses on the Palestinians who chose to remain in the area as minority citizens. Low on dialogue and highly symbolic, it’s a treat for quirky cinephiles — but hardly anyone else.

 

That sat fine with last night’s audience, which loudly applauded at Suleiman’s clever visual statements of defiance — particularly one scene in which he pole-vaults over the wall surrounding his homeland.

Despite these positive reactions, neither "A L’Origine" or "The Time That Remains" have generated much buzz as possible winners of the Palme D’Or. Screening on the heels of last night’s unequivocal hit, Michael Haneke’s "The White Ribbon," it would appear that most of the leading awards contenders have already reached the spotlight.

 

Haneke’s gorgeous black-and-white portrait of a Protestant German village in the early 20th century does not work as a crowd pleaser, but it’s something more than that. A sharply written, subtly performed drama, it manages to capture the dangers of an insular life with grim finality. At a dinner Thursday night, journalists and members of the industry agreed that it was one of two strong contenders for top Cannes honors, the other possibility being Jacques Audiard’s gritty prison drama, "A Prophet."

For buyers, the scrambling continued. On Thursday night, the final market screening of Romanian filmmaker Corneliu Porumboiu’s "Police, Adjective" filled up almost immediately, since word of mouth about the slow-burning crime story had built over the past week. Given its distended narrative, the movie probably doesn’t the have the potential to play to a large audience, but it could do decent business in limited release.

So far, the most significant purchase of the festival belongs to IFC Films, which boldly picked up Lars Von Trier’s divisive "Antichrist." Throughout the week, those who have seen the movie can’t stop talking about its unforgettably grotesque imagery and pure strangeness, but it’s hard to say if such word-of-mouth will translate into a large viewership.

 

The company plans to release the film on VOD in addition to theaters, meaning that anyone can watch the director’s dark vision in the comfort of a living room. But not everyone can replicate the stunning encounter with the movie that many of us experienced at Cannes, since Von Trier plans to create an edited version for television.

With only a handful of competition titles left to unspool, the festival does feel like it has started to wind down. Then again, as "Antichrist" proved beyond a doubt, anything could happen to shake things up.