Here’s what’s cool about the Cannes Film Festival: You’re just ambling along on a small side street in this sunny beach town in the South of France, and whom should you see dining at an outdoor caf but The Rock. He’s laughing and joking, and clearly not in the dumps over the dismal reception that greeted his movie Southland Tales.
The 160-minute satire, an apocalyptic sci-fi comedy that also stars Sarah Michelle Geller, Justin Timberlake, Seann William Scott and a handful of Saturday Night Live vets, is an incoherent mess that’s likely to undergo re-editing before being released. During the first press screening at Cannes, the walkouts started early and continued throughout the movie. One weary journalist didn’t bother leaving; he simply stretched out across four empty seats and took a nap.
Still, the film is among the 20 titles competing for the coveted Palm D’Or (Golden Palm) prize, and it was written and directed by Richard Kelly, whose freshman effort, Donnie Darko, turned into a cult hit on DVD.
Here are thoughts on some of the other films screening at Cannes (with most to open in the U.S. later this summer or fall):
• Marie Antoinette: Equal amounts of applause and boos came at the end of writer-director Sofia Coppola’s eagerly anticipated biopic about the 18th-century queen who lost her head in the French Revolution. The movie is the giggly teen-girl version of the story, depicting Marie Antoinette (a giddy Kirsten Dunst) as a put-upon pawn of history. One thing is immediately clear: The opulent gowns and shoes (designed by Manolo Blahnik) make the movie a shoo-in for a Best Costume Design Oscar.
• Fast Food Nation: Even die-hard carnivores will think twice before biting into a hamburger after viewing gruesome scenes of cows being slaughtered and skinned at a meat-processing plant in this satire about the fast-food industry. Writer-director Richard Linklater based the film on cowriter Eric Schlosser’s best-selling non-fiction book of the same title. Highlight of the film: A hilarious cameo by Bruce Willis, who plays a meat salesman unperturbed by the cow feces in the beef patties he’s hawking.
• Volver: This immensely enjoyable comedy-drama from Spanish master Pedro Almodovar is about three generations of women in the same family. It features a knock-your-socks-off performance by star Penelope Cruz, who clearly is far more comfortable acting in her native tongue than in English.
• Babel: Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett play married American tourists visiting Morocco, where Blanchett’s life is endangered after she’s accidentally shot by a young boy testing a rifle. The drama, like director Alejandro Gonz lez I rritu’s previous films (Amores Perros, 21 Grams), features multiple overlapping storylines, though this time his tales span the globe. An accomplished piece of filmmaking, Babel is a favorite to take home the festival’s top prize Sunday.
• Suburban Mayhem, a small black comedy from Australia about a 19-year-old girl who gets away with murder, literally. Funny, energetic and in-your-face.
• Jindabyne, another film from Down Under, based on a short story by Raymond Carver and starring Gabriel Byrne and Laura Linney. Although its plot unfolds at a measured pace (movie-critic speak for a little slow), this drama about a group of fishermen who discover a murder victim’s corpse proves affecting.
• Red Road, a British drama set in Glasgow about a woman whose job requires watching security monitors. She finds herself drawn into the life of a man she glimpses on one of her screens. This one goes to unexpected places and features strong performances.
• Lights in the Dusk, the latest deadpan comedy from Finnish writer-director Aki Kaurismaki. Another of his bleak looks at life’s losers, it’s a downer, but an amusing one.
For Leah Rozen’s previous dispatch from Cannes, click here