Buffy Does Cannes!

Up the beach: Sarah Michelle Gellar in 'Southland Tales'

Up the beach: Sarah Michelle Gellar in 'Southland Tales'

Cannes, France—

French revolutionary film reporters came to collect the head of Sofia Coppola after the Cannes Film Festival screening of her period drama Marie-Antoinette, which uses downbeat Cure songs and other cool anachronisms to argue that the titular queen's removal from the throne by an angry mob was, like, you know, a total bummer.

Was there a head left to collect? Robotically reasserting her intentions at the most divisive Cannes press conference since The Brown Bunny's, Coppola found every imaginable way—in English, at least—to maintain that this tale of insular entitlement before the fall isn't political, but personal. Of course that privileged tack didn't help the fashion-loving daughter of winemaker and movie mogul Francis Ford Coppola. Fanning the flames, an American reporter asked, "Is this a very personal story for you in the sense that Marie-Antoinette came from a royal family into a new court, and you've followed your father here to Cannes?" Yes and no, Coppola stammered, looking to star Kirsten Dunst in a beseeching manner that seemed in the context of this conspicuously consumptive movie to say, Can we go shopping now?

Befitting the war at home, the Yankee product at le festival this year was all about drawing the line between us and them. Purporting to flaunt the bohemianism that Coppola banishes from the grounds, John Cameron Mitchell's orgiastic Shortbus ogles an omnisexual colony of New York libertines who position themselves (naked!) in twos and threes against a mostly imagined army of homophobes and prudes. Like Coppola's heroine, Mitchell's—a sex therapist (Sook-Yin Lee) who has never had an orgasm—is a girl who just wants to have fun. En route to a big-bang climax that comes not a moment too soon, Shortbus musters every bit of bourgeois charm in deference to corporate-owned "indies" that'll need to ask their parents' permission to put out a movie with this much queer sex in it.

"Interspecies erotica" is a different matter, as downwardly mobile Kevin Smith won't need to explain to his longtime benefactor Harvey Weinstein why Clerks II pushes its R rating with a bestial sequence pilfered from Bachelor Party. When in doubt, bring in the ass. Another personal project, Part Deux finds Smith's aging Jersey clerks Dante and Randal (Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson) forced to perform their usual gay-panic shtick at Mooby's, home of the Cowtipper. It ain't 1994 anymore. The boys' beloved Quick Stop has surrendered its indie biz to our fast-food nation, economically captured this year by both Smith and his one-time peer Richard Linklater in a pair of virtually identical shots taken from cars cruising corporate-suburban Logoland.

Despite everything, Smith somehow contrives to reunite the characters—including Jay and Silent Bob, if not himself—with their dream. Linklater, in his fictional adaptation of Eric Schlosser's Big Mac-is-murder exposé Fast Food Nation, gives us a more believable figure: a burned-out Mickey's marketing exec (Greg Kinnear) who discovers that his bosses are literally selling shitty food, then evocatively disappears from his investigation of the matter and from the movie. So what if there's shit in the meat? Does it sell?

The culture of addiction remains an intoxicating subject for Linklater, who presented two new pictures in Cannes, the other being A Scanner Darkly, which brings the director back to Waking Life's surreally pulsing world of rotoscope animation for a consciousness-altering take on Philip K. Dick's like-titled sci-fi novel. More user than peddler, both cop-out and cop, Dick's "ultimate everyman" (Keanu Reeves, emoting intensely behind a thick layer of digital paint) begins the Scanner movie at least three times removed from his authentic self, then undergoes psychosis and brain damage with the help of a habit-forming substance even crappier than Mickey's Big Ones. Another philosophical question for Sofia Coppola to enjoy evading: Is ignorance bliss?

Not in Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko follow-up Southland Tales, whose Gregg Araki-esque characters are both dim and brooding. Delivering an even bleaker vision of the near-future than A Scanner Darkly (and that's no small feat), Tales follows an amnesiac screenwriter (played by the Rock!) through a flag-filled police-state L.A. in the year of an election whose outcome is critical in the wake of a nuclear attack on Texas. "I'm fucking a very large and important man," says porn star Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar) of the Rock's alarmingly buff Boxer Santaros, a.k.a. Jericho Cane, whose script imagines the apocalypse being triggered by a baby's fart. Smith turns up in combat fatigues and a long gray beard, giving military orders from a wheelchair; Gellar's triple-X Marie-Antoinette puts out a CD ("Teen horniness is not a crime/Keep an open heart and an open mind"); a literally autoerotic TV commercial has a pair of computer-animated SUVs doing it doggy style. Pointedly dumb (and deeply, disarmingly poignant), Southland Tales may be the most plausible work of film futurism ever made in the United States. Most Americans here hated it.