Cannes Film Fest 2005: Year 58–Back to Auteur Cinema

Cannes Film Fest 2005–There were not many masterpieces or major discoveries in the 2005 edition of the Festival de Cannes. After an experimental year, in which the main competition featured a wide range of films, including two documentaries and animation, the 2005 edition of the Festival de Cannes was back to its more classic roots as a showcase of auteurist cinema.

Most of the directors in the main competition were established auteurs. Ten of the 20 directors have been in competition before and five have won the Palm d’Or. German helmer Wim Wender, who won the 1984 prize for Paris, Texas, was back for the sixth time with Don’t Come Knocking, a pale imitation of his first collaboration with screenwriter Sam Shepard.

Austrian Michael Haneke has competed three times and won the 2001 Grand Jury Prize for The Piano Teacher. This year, he was represented with Hidden (Cache), a psychological thriller with strong political overtones starring Daniel Auteuil and Juliet Binoche.

Danish iconoclast provocateur Lars von Truer, who won the 2000 prize for Dancer in the Dark, showed the second installment of his American trilogy, Manderlay, this time around dealing wit slavery. Ron Howard’s daughter, Bryce Dallas, who made a splash last year in The Wood, replaced Nicole Kidman, who had appeared in the first segment, the 2003 Dogville.

Canada’s two most prominent auteurs, David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan, were also back this year. Cronenberg had many premieres at Cannes, including the controversial Crash, which won the grand jury prize, and Spider. This year, he was represented with a different kind of film, a personl though less idiosyncratic take on a familiar genre, A History of Violence, with a terrific cast, headed by Virgo Mortensen, Ed Harris, Maria Belo, and William Hurt.

Three-time Cannes competitor Atom Egoyan an has experienced ups and downs in Cannes. His last two outings here, Felicia’s Journey, in 1999, and Ararat, two years later, were disappointing. But festivalgoers recall fondly his showing at Fortnight and his early entries in competition, Exotica in 1994 and The Sweet Hereafter. Sadly, his new film, Where the Truth Lies, a period mystery thriller inspired by the Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis partnership, did not represent a return to form for the gifted director.

As expected, Cannes favorites were back on the Croisette, including David Cronenberg, Michael Haneke, Wim Wenders, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Atom Egoyan, Amos Gitai, Hou Hsiou-hsien, Jim Jarmusch, Gus Van Sant and Lars Von Trier.

The only debut film to grab a competition slot this year is Tommy Lee Jones’ The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, represneting the U.S., along with Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’ Sin City, Gus Van Sant’s Last Days and Broken Flowers by Jim Jarmusch.

In all, half of the 20 pictures in competition are English-speaking, also something of a record. Woody Allen’s Match Point and George Lucas’ Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith were among the high-profile pictures screened out of competition.

While Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 was the controversial winner of the Golden Palm last year, documentaries were absent from the competition this time, although Brit helmer Adam Curtis’ neo-conservative critique The Power of Nightmares received a special screening. There were also no animated films in competition.

Opening night was Lemming, the new film from Gallic helmer Dominique Moll, who was in competition at Cannes in 2000 with his second film, With a Friend Like Harry, that Miramax released to mixed results in the U.S.

Overall, the 2005 Cannes Festival was not great. With the exception of the Dardenne brothers, whose morality tale, The Child, won the Palme d’Or, none of the directors in competition made a new work that measured up to or surpassed his previous films.

Hence, Gus Van Sant’s Last Days was not on par of his previous work, Elephant, which won the Palma door in 2003. Von Trier’s Manderlay was not as good as Dodgeville, and with all of the praise, Haneke’s Hidden lacked the impact of Funny Games or the resonance of The Hour of the Wolf, which showed out of competition last year.

My favorite film in competition was Croneberg’s History of Violence, a genre film that combined best elements of a classic Western and a family drama. As I pointed out in my review, Croneberg managed to infuse his personal vision into a familiar topic, a family threatened by forces from within and without. Bound to get strong critical support, it’s not only Cronenberg’s most accessible film in years, but also the first American film so far with strong Oscar potential in the best picture, director, and acting categories. For some mysterious reasons, that frustrated many American critics, the jury was not impressed and the film left Cannes empty-handed.

The 21 competition entries can be divided into four groups:

Excellent (3 films)
Good (5)
mediocre (3)
weak (8)

There seems to have been consensus that the worst film in competition, that has no business being in the main lineup, was the French entry, To Paint or Make Love, an old-fashioned, bourgeois film about two middle class, middle age couples that engage in the kinds of games and liaison we first saw in Paul Mazursky’s Bob, Carol, Ted, and Alice, back in 1969.

Competition Films (ranked in quality):

Excellent

A History of Violence, David Cronenberg: A

Hidden (Cache), Michael Haneke: A

L’Enfant (The Child), Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne A-

Good

Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Tommy Lee Jones: B

Sin City, Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez: B

Broken Flowers, Jim Jarmusch: B

Last Days, Gus Van Sant: B

Lemming, Dominik Moll: B

Mediocre

Battle in Heaven, Carlos Reygadas: B-

Three Times, Hou Hsiao-Hsien: B-

Weak

Manderlay, Lars Von Trier: C+

Don’ Come Knocking, Wim Wenders: C+

Where the Truth Lies, Atom Egoyan: C

Shanghai Dreams, Wang Xiaoshuai: C+

Bashing, Masahiro Kobayashi: C

Election, Johnny To: C

Free Zone, Amos Gitai: C

Kilometer Zero, Hiner Saleem: C

Once You’re Born, Marco Tullio Giordana: C

Worst Film in Cannes:

Peindre ou Faire L’Amour, Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu: D

Films in Competition (alphabetical order)

Bashing, Japan, Masahiro Kobayashi: C

Battle in Heaven, Mexico, Carlos Reygadas: B-

Broken Flowers, France-U.S., Jim Jarmusch: B

Cache, France-Austria-Germany-Italy, Michael Haneke: A-

Don’t Come Knocking, Germany-France, Wim Wenders: C+

Election, Hong Kong, Johnny To: C

L’Enfant, Belgium, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne: A-

Free Zone, Israel-Belgium, Amos Gitai: C

A History of Violence, U.S.-Canada, David Cronenberg: A

Kilometre Zero, Iraq, Hiner Saleem: B-

Last Days, U.S., Gus Van Sant: B

Lemming, France, Dominik Moll: B

Manderlay, Denmark-Sweden-Netherland, Lars Von Trier: C

Quando Sei Nato Non Puoi Piu Nasconderti, Italy, Marco Tullio Giordana: C

Peindre ou Faire L’Amour, France, Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu: D

Shanghai Dreams, China, Wang Xiaoshuai: C+

Sin City, U.S. Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez: B

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, U.S., Tommy Lee Jones: B

Three Times, Taiwan-Japan, Hou Hsiao-Hsien: B-

Where the Truth Lies, Canada, Atom Egoyan: C