Yes, We Cannes

By Michael Giltz

Originally published on Advocate.com May 26 2009 11:00 PM ET

The big news at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival -- at least for queer cineasts -- was the ho-hum reception to new films from Pedro Almodóvar and Ang Lee and the breakout success of Montreal's out talent Xavier Dolan. Dolan wrote, directed, and stars in I Killed My Mother, a blisteringly funny account of a mother and son's love-hate (or, more often, hate-hate) relationship. It dominated the Directors' Fortnight, winning three top prizes, including best French-language film and best first or second feature.

Dolan's film will play at the Toronto Film Festival this fall and is rumored to be in the running for the New York Film Festival (which selects only the cream of the crop from other festivals around the world). Confident, handsome, and charming, with just the dash of ego needed for a director, Dolan proved himself a serious talent and is certain to be making films for years to come.

Almodóvar's Broken Embraces came and went in the competition without causing much of a fuss. Starring Penélope Cruz, it features his currently typical mix of melodrama (involving a blind director turned screenwriter, a secretary turned mistress, an angry gay son turned would-be director, a dead titan of industry) that adds up to much less than the sum of its parts. Critics shrugged after checking with each other to see if they'd missed something. Was that all there was, they asked? Yep. On the other hand, the brochure that was distributed to the press to promote the film was by far the most lavish and eye-catching of the fest -- it looked more like a fabulous edition of Vogue than something as banal as a promotional item. Almodóvar still has style.

Lee's mild, amiable Taking Woodstock has a gay central role played by Demetri Martin, and that alone is cause for celebration among his gay fans. It tells the modestly diverting story of a closeted young gay man in the 1960s helping his parents with their ramshackle Catskills hotel when Woodstock comes to town and upends their lives. It too barely caused a ripple even among serious Lee fans and seemed more like a throat-clearing by Lee (who had made a string of serious films) than a substantial work.

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China's Lou Ye scored an upset by winning the best screenplay award for Spring Fever, his convoluted tale of gay and bisexual love in contemporary China. Most critics found it yet another letdown from the once promising Lou. But queers will appreciate the glimpse into life in China for gays, complete with drag bars, punk clubs, and girlfriends and wives who do not take kindly to their men being on the down low. It includes copious amounts of male sex and plot twists that would make a soap opera hesitate. Still, the fact that Lou got the film made at all -- behind the backs of authorities, by the way -- is the most remarkable thing about it. He had been barred from making films for five years after delivering 2006's Summer Palace, another romance, which had the Tiananmen Square tragedy as a backdrop. As of the end of the festival, the authorities in China hadn't taken any steps to censor Lou again.

Other queer films at the fest included the solid "Orthodox Jews in love" story of Eyes Wide Open;Agora, a historical drama with feminist icon Hypatia persecuted by the early Christians; Precious, based on the novel by lesbian author Sapphire and fresh from its triumph at Sundance; Humpday. another Sundance success, in this case about two straight guys making gay porn; I Love You Phillip Morris, the Jim Carrey-Ewan McGregor romance that also made waves at Sundance; the Un Certain Regard winner Dogtooth, which has a bizarre concept and includes some modest queer content; the poorly received drama To Die Like a Man, another film with a tragic drag queen at its center (the cast did look fabulous at the film's premiere, though); a restored version of Visconti's Senso, which stars out actor Farley Granger in one of his best roles; the sexually fluid antics of The King of Escape, in which a middle-aged gay man falls for a 16-year-old girl; the brief threesome in the midst of Navidad; the market screening of Sister Smile, a French biopic about the Singing Nun, who apparently rejected the church and finally found brief happiness when she accepted her lesbian orientation (that freaked out priests in power almost as much as her song "The Golden Pill," an ode to contraception); and the delightfully goofy Belgian stop-motion animated feature A Town Called Panic, which shows the toy characters Cowboy, Indian, and Horse all living together in boisterous harmony.

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It was a quiet festival for deals and parties, but some news was made. Fans of Gossip Girl will be intrigued to hear that Ed Westwick is going to play Heathcliff in a new adaptation of Wuthering Heights helmed by Peter Webber, the man behind Girl With a Pearl Earring. U.K. multihyphenate Stephen Fry stars in The Liar, along with Ian McKellen and Nicholas Hoult, the ne'er-do-well from the U.K. series Skins. The film is based on Fry's novel, which draws liberally from his memoirs, which draw liberally from his life but not so literally that they are ever less than scintillating fun. François Ozon's latest, Ricky, got picked up for U.S. distribution. That was in the market, along with Pedro, a look at activist and MTV icon Pedro Zamora.

John Cameron Mitchell announced that his next project is Rabbit Hole, an adaptation of the acclaimed play about a couple overwhelmed with grief over the death of their child. It stars Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart. Gaspar Noe follows in Mitchell's footsteps by promising to deliver a "joyful porn movie" in which unknown actors will have explicit sex on camera. Some of the most entertaining posters on display in the market were Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead,Hitler Goes Kaput! and Lesbian Vampire Killers, whose tagline is, quite reasonably, "What more could you possibly want?"

Finally, Francis Ford Coppola's black-and-white Italian-ish family drama Tetro had a so-so debut at the Directors' Fortnight. There's not a queer bone in its body. but it will be forever remembered as the film that introduced Alden Ehrenreich, a heretofore unimagined combination of Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, and Jack Nicholson. Mon dieu, indeed.