By Alan Scherstuhl
By Mark Holcombe
By Scott Foundas
By Nick Pinkerton
By Michael Atkinson
By Scott Foundas
By Keith Phipps
By Alan Scherstuhl
The wonders of modern technology (and good ol' Xanax): Odd couple Quentin Tarantino and Sofia Coppola actually look cute strolling arm in arm up the red-carpet steps on my laptop DVD player, which I'm using as a catch-up tool on the late-night plane toward the Cannes Film Festival. No worries about what the nervous flyer and procrastinating critic may have missed since the world's swankiest film event got underway three nights ago. Columbia University Professor Annette Insdorf relays the crucial information on the IFC's Cannes Opening Ceremonies--Live! program (I burned it to disc before leaving home): Festival jury president Tarantino and his fashionable date are, the professor reports, "very good friends."
Seems cozy camaraderie is what it's all about a year after le festival--with the help of Elephant, The Fog of War, and Dogville--came under fire from patriotic critics for having fostered a kind of cinematic Coalition of the Unwilling. This year, Shrek 2 is in competition for the Palme d'Or. And Tarantino--the very embodiment of style over substance (and the most valued contract director at Disney-owned Miramax)--has promised to bring only aesthetic considerations to bear on his determination of excellence. Which doesn't stop him from momentarily surrendering Coppola's grip in order to raise his fist in solidarity with the laboring members of Intermittents du Spectacle, whose representative--protesting government reforms to unemployment benefits--has been allowed by fest officials to stand on the red carpet with the word negotiation printed on the back of her coat.
Convenient for international bridge-building purposes, that word is spelled identically in English and French--while the language of good business is universal. Who'd run the show if Cannes bosses pissed off the projectionists on opening night?
Fifteen hours of sleep (whew!) and I'm ready for the overt anomaly of this "apolitical" Cannes: Fahrenheit 9/11. The 11:00 a.m. press screenings in the Buñuel and Bazin theaters are jammed, hundreds of journalists having been turned away. Clearly it's not just Americans who want to witness Michael Moore's attempt to kick our unelected president out of office.
With expectations high, the movie opens with a bang--the "Florida victory" fireworks of 2000--and then a whimper. "Was it a dream?" Moore wonders in voiceover, sounding not sarcastic but sad. The great surprise of Fahrenheit 9/11--particularly in light of Moore's bombastically jocular Bowling for Columbine--is that the movie sustains this delicate tone of weary disillusionment for the better part of two hours.
Leaving himself largely offscreen (a wise choice), regular-guy-turned-superstar Moore instead assumes--and seeks to strengthen--the viewer's identification with some of the Bush regime's victims. These include: black voters represented in vain by black members of Congress, U.S. taxpayers forced to subsidize Dubya's golf game for the first three quarters of 2001, loved ones of those killed on September 11 (the events of which are rendered through bloodcurdling sounds over a pitch-black screen), the unnumbered casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq (Moore's agonizing footage focuses on dead and wounded children), the U.S. soldiers who've come to wonder what the hell they're fighting for (besides the possibility of steady pay, contingent on survival), and a Republican woman--Flint, Michigan's Lila Lipscomb--whose support of the president gradually turns to rage after her son dies in combat. (The deceased's last letter home: "I really hope they do not elect that fool, Mama.")
The film's critics--some of whom would have needed to find an impartial objection no matter what movie Moore had delivered--complained that the documentarian veers too far from his stated topic (Bush the String-Pulling Evildoer and Saudi/Halliburton Supplicant) in order to incorporate the aforementioned voices of dismay and dissent. Speaking as a sporadic supporter of Moore, I'd say the director's strategy here is both humane (How to speak about evil without identifying its victims?) and shrewd (How to speak to the ordinary voter in an election year without putting him in the picture?).
Granted, the "hard" evidence that Moore presents in Fahrenheit 9/11 isn't particularly hard and it's not at all new. (And he doesn't say a thing about Israel and Palestine--subjects of the next movie, we're told.) But what he does say--attributing it to Orwell's view of societal hierarchy as based on power's explicit support of poverty and ignorance--is plenty persuasive. And he's going to be saying it through a helluva loud bullhorn, whatever creative solution Disney forces Miramax to find in order to fulfill the terms of Moore's contract: to get the movie in U.S. theaters by the Fourth of July (and on DVD a month before November 2). As my Croatian-born Cannes hotelier concurred this morning (in the course of serving what he playfully termed my "freedom breakfast"): That's pretty rad.
On to less earth-shaking matters: My good fortune getting into coveted screenings at Cannes this year has come to an early end. After chatting with an L.A. critic in the festival press office around lunchtime, I decide to follow him up the ritzy Rue d'Antibes to the Star multiplex for Michael Winterbottom's Nine Songs--which isn't part of the festival, but is showing in the "market" as a way for its producers to garner distribution offers. Market screenings in Cannes are generally open to critics if seats still remain after the rest of the industry has had its way. But not always (the rules are made at the producers' discretion), so Nine Songs is a risk for us writers, who could miss not only this screening if we don't get in, but others that are starting soon halfway across town. Part of the appeal is that Winterbottom's movie seems risky for distributors, too: It apparently follows a young man and woman in London who go out to a rock concert, come home and have wild sex, go out to another rock concert, come home and have wild sex, go out to another rock concert, come...you get the idea. Another part of the appeal is the total running time: 69 minutes.
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