Cannes Film Fest 2006: In the Company of Al Gore, Keanu Reeves, Inarritu

Cannes Film Fest, May 27, 2006–I can’t think of any other international film festival, or film event for that matter, in which you can see on the same night, often under the same roof, former vice president Al Gore (the docu “Inconvenient Truth”), Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Babel”), American indie icon Kevin Smith (“Clerks II”), black comedian Chris Tucker, Tom Hanks (“Da Vinci Code”), and downtown New York scandalist John Cameron Mitchell (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” “Shortbus”). And that’s for starters.

But this idiosyncratic melange reflects the unique nature of Cannes as a forum of glitzy Hollywood premieres and the Red Carpet, such as “Da Vinci Code” and “X-Man 3,” esoteric art films and documentaries from obscure countries, whose location you need to look up at the map, and schlocky B- movies shown in the Market, where hundreds of international distributors and sales agents shop for new products.

Perhaps star Keanu Reeves put it best, when he said while promoting Richard Linklater’s rotoscoping animation, “A Scanner Darkly”: “Cannes is the grande dame of festivals, because it has both high and low. It’s like having a bistro food and fine dinner at the same time, here you get ‘Apocalypse Now’ and porno together.”

Trust Keanu, he’s not kidding. There was more full frontal on screen in Cannes this year than in any other year in recent memory, and not just in Mitchell’s “Shortbus,” shown at the Midnight section out of Competition, which contains graphic hardcore sex of both the straight and gay kind. Even the Chinese entry, “Summer Palace,” broke its country’s rigid culture and taboos, with a dissection of a sexual affair unfolding against China’s tumultuous political events of the past two decades.

This year, more than huge parties, like those given for “Moulin Rouge” or “Lord of the Rings” in previous years, there were smaller events, that took the shape of cocktail parties for specific movies or events like the nascent Dubai, or brand new Rome International Film Festivals.

Cannes has increasingly become a legit platform for Hollywood to launch its fall and winter releases. The first Friday night, I attended a soiree for Bill Condon’s eagerly awaited musical “Dreamgirls,” which is not opening until Christmas. DreamWorks showed 20 minutes of footage, four songs, which caused quite a sensation.

Starring Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy and Beyonc Knowles, this is an adaptation of the 1981 Broadway play based loosely on the career of the Supremes. After showing with clips of four electric production numbers, that viewers eager for more (always a good sign), the talent came on stage and talk to the audience. “Dreamgirls” thus became the first major movie of 2006 to stake a serious claim for Oscars consideration.

If Ron Howard and Tom Hanks were the early victims of French poison criticism for the poorly received, but later box-office bonanza,
“Da Vinci Code,” Penelope Cruz was the recipient of nothing but love and admiration. As the star of “Volver,” and co-winner of the best actress award, Penelope found herself fielding compliments from friends, journalists, and even strangers. “You can’t imagine how proud of her,” said her director Pedro Almodovar at the party for the film, and Penelope reciprocated with “Pedro is the greatest director. I love him so much.”

There was also a lovely cocktail for controversial filmmaker Oliver Stone’s past and present. The first nerve-crunching 20 minutes of his “World Trade Center” were shown before the 20th anniversary screening of the Oscar-winning “Platoon,” on Sunday night, to a strong response from a packed Salle Debussy. Before the screening, you could chat with Stone and his “Platoon” stars, Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe and Tom Berrenger, and intermingle with Hollywood heavyweights, such as Paramount topper Brad Grey, MGM’s Harry Sloan and Rick Sands, and Initial’s exec Graham King.

The footage tells the 9/11 story from the point of view of Port Authority police officer John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) as he leaves his wife (Maria Bello) for his early morning shift. He and his team, including rookie William Jimeno (Michael Pena) are called to the World Trade Center when the first plane hits the building.

Stone avoids the iconic images, that have saturated the media, but his movie contains enough chilling moments to make your hair rise: the shadow of an airliner sweeping past a building, a mass of swirling paper as the bus reaches the site, dazed faces emerging from the mayhem, the explosions from the upper floors.

Amid confusion and disbelief once the second plane has hit, McLoughlin and his officers head to building five of the WTC and prepare to enter the first tower. The footage ended as the tower falls, floor falling on floor on top of the officers as they struggle to comprehend what is happening. The film follows the efforts to rescue McLoughlin and Jimeno, the last two survivors to be plucked from the rubble.

Stone was greeted by a standing ovation at the screening and given a warm introduction by Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux. In his speech, he acknowledged Hemdale chief John Daly, who fully financed “Platoon” in 1986, when no other studio in town would take the risk, and talked of his quest to illustrate dangerous extremism in the world.

One of the most enjoyable events, somehow disproportionate to the mixed-to-negative response to the movie it celebrated was Columbia’s “Marie Antoniette” party at La Plage de Palais. The bash for Sofia Coppola’s revisionist take on the notorious queen and her husband (played by Kirsten Dunst and Coppola’s cousin, Jason Schwartzman) attracted just the sort of cool, elegant crowd that caused the French Revolution in the first place. The 21st century courtiers admired the stunning view of the French Riviera and then segued into dancing, after a breathtaking fireworks display and a parade of men with torches marched along the dance floor.

It all proved the height of glamour, almost as if to compensate for the near-debacle of Sony’s “Da Vinci Code” soiree, one of the worst opening night parties I have attended, in which there was no food at all! The cuisine for the party included mini-lobsters, tuna tartar on spoon, oysters with mint jelly, and delectable dessertsanything but cake (since the queen became famous for saying, “if there’s no bread, let the eat cake”).

The other noteworthy event was the party for Alejandro Gonzalez’s Innaritu’s “Babel,” at the Nikki Beach, attended by a huge contingency from Mexico, star Gael Garcia Bernal and director Guillermo del Torro, whose “Pan’s Labyrinth” was also in competition. I asked to be introduced to Adriana Barraza, who gives a wonderful, Oscar-worthy performance as the Mexican nanny of Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett’s American kids. Talking about her past, the modest actress revealed that she has been around for a long time and this year marks her fiftieth birthday. Quietly and humorously, I whispered into her ear that she is never to mention her real age again, if she wants to work in Hollywood, an industry notorious for its discrimination against “women of a certain age.”

Paramount studio brass and John Lesher’s Paramount Vantage division (which releases the film in the U.S.) were ecstatic due to the ten-minute standing ovation that the world premiere of “Babel” received earlier that evening at the Lumiere. A steamy Moroccan dinner was served while swirling belly dancers circulated among the low round tables with soft cushions. To whet your appetite: The yummy and expansive Moroccan dinner comprised of many dishes, including shrimp and chicken, served along with plenty of good champagne, good wine, and tea in engraved brass cups.

Star Cate Blanchett achieved some kind of record. Over the 24 hours or so that she was in Cannes (she’s shooting right now “Elizabeth II” in London), I spotted her wearing three different dresses. At the above party, she looked ravishing in a black-and-white kimono-inspired dress. Her co-star, Brad Pitt, who drew raves for his performance, was missing-in-action, sending his sincere apologies as he awaited the birth of his first child with companion Angelina Jolie.

No Cannes Festival is complete with the AmFar event at the prestigious restaurant Moulin de Mougins, again hosted by Sharon Stone, dressed in a long, sexy white gown, who all but ignored the negative response to her latest film, “Basic Instinct 2.” This year, the event was particularly significant since it unfortunately commemorated the 25th anniversary of AIDS.