prepares for a final fling of glitz and glamour on Sunday
with the award ceremony, Spanish veteran Pedro
Almodovar's film Volver leads the pack in the
race for the coveted Palme d'Or prize. The ceremony
will bring to an end 12 hectic days of films, parties,
and wheeler-dealing over oysters and champagne along
the Croisette waterfront, with critics agreeing that, while
not a vintage year for cinema, it was a good one.
Allan Hunter of
Screen International said the main
disappointment was the absence of a film that created
genuine buzz among the 4,000 journalists and critics
in town. "The wow factor appears to be all that is
missing in a year that hindsight may judge to have
been better than average." Todd McCarthy of Variety
agreed, calling it a "so-so vintage" at a festival he
considered "oddly muted."
Four of the 20
competition films have yet to premiere, including possible
contenders for the best film award, so latecomers are
another unknown quantity in a festival notoriously
hard to predict. Also ready to spoil Almodovar's
party is the Cannes juries' reputation for favoring weighty
arthouse fare that few ordinary cinemagoers will ever
actually see. "The problem that people have with
Almodovar is they think there are no
philosophical themes in his work, which is barmy," said Mark
Cousins, a leading author on cinema.
Volver is one of the competition's most
commercially viable films and stars an inspired Penelope
Cruz as a hardworking woman who encounters what
appears to be her mother's ghost looking to lay to
rest the quarrels of the past. With it in the leading
pack is Babel, by Mexican director Alejandro
Gonzalez Inarritu, which features impressive
performances from Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in a
sweeping story of barriers--personal, social,
cultural, and political.
cinephiles' lips are Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan's
Climates, Red Road by first-time British film
maker Andrea Arnold, Lights in the Dusk by
Finland's Aki Kaurismaki, and French films Charlie
Says and Days of Glory. Briton Ken Loach's
The Wind That Shakes the Barley, about the
Irish struggle for independence from the mainland in
1920, got the competition off to a strong start, while Lou
Ye's Summer Palace from China was warmly
received. French critics have not written off Belgian
director Lucas Belvaux's The Right of the Weakest.
largely disappointed audiences, failing to live up to the
hype. Opening the festival this year was out-of-competition
The Da Vinci Code, Ron Howard's eagerly
anticipated adaptation of the Dan Brown bestseller, which
underlined what the director called the "disconnect"
between critics and the general public. Despite lousy
reviews and snorts of derision among the Cannes
cogniscenti, the $125 million picture went on to storm the
box office last weekend in a near-record opening.
Of the three U.S.
films in competition, Sofia Coppola's Marie
Antoinette was the critics' favorite, and despite
some boos at the press screening of the vibrant film,
starring Kirsten Dunst, many French critics lavished
it with praise. Southland Tales, by cult hit
Donnie Darko creator Richard Kelly, was
described as long, unwieldy, and confusing and scored lowest
in unofficial critical rankings in Cannes.
ahead was Richard Linklater's Fast Food Nation, a
drama adaptation of Eric Schlosser's bestselling
critique of the major burger chains. Weighty themes
were prominent in 2006, with Oliver Stone in town to show 20
minutes of his forthcoming World Trade Center
starring Nicolas Cage, and Irwin Winkler presenting clips
from Iraq war drama Home of the Brave. (Mike