The possible murder of Princess Diana. The uprising in Egypt. The corruption that engulfs Big Oil and the ineffective media coverage of the BP oil spill and its devastating effects. A French film which the unflappable French people find a bit shocking because it’s about their embattled President Nicolas Sarkozy. And the alleged sexual assaults by the French head of the IMF and one of the leading candidates to replace Sarkozy as the leader of France. Those are just some of the many social issues that have punctuated and defined the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

Cannes always features hot-button politics, whether it’s priests and nuns protesting The Da Vinci Code, MIchael Moore winning the Palme d’Or for Fahrenheit 9-11 or simply Lars Von Trier desperately trying to spice up a press conference for his ho-hum movie Melancholia by the childish joke of calling himself a Nazi. But the 2011 fest is notable for having so many different political issues hog the spotlight both inside the movie theaters and on the Croisette.

Von Trier was clearly joking — albeit in an infantile manner — when he said that he was a Nazi and understood Hitler. The director is known for his provocations and since his new movie seems to be generating indifference, he might have felt especially pressured to perform, as he so often does in the past. It’s like going to see Lenny Bruce and being shocked at the language. What did you expect? Yet The Hollywood Reporter headlined a story by saying Lars Von Trier ‘ADMITS TO BEING A NAZI.” (They should have said “tastelessly joked,” at the very most. Ultimately, the festival proved it too had no sense of humor about such things, denounced the comments and said they had spoken with Von Trier and that “he presents his apology.” End of silly controversy.

Perhaps the movie likeliest to cause political waves in the US — if it can reach beyond Greenpeace fans and win a wide audience — is The Big Fix, a new documentary film about the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Director Josh and wife and co-director Rebecca Tickell use that man-made disaster as a jumping off point to illustrate the tentacles of big business stretching out in every direction. They link the oil companies to financial firms and politicians, they show “impartial” commentators on countless media outlets who are compromised in ways both large and small and they even personalize the issue of the spill’s impact in a stunning manner. Rebecca Tickell developed serious medical issues just covering the aftermath, prompting her involvement in a class action lawsuit.

The critics were generally positive about the movie, though many felt it piled on so many conspiracy theories and proved so all-embracing in its denouncement of the ways of politics and environmental regulation that viewers might get overwhelmed with details or lost in an explosion of exposes. It will be fascinating to see if its muckraking (in the classic, positive sense of the word) mobilizes audiences the way the filmmakers so clearly long to do.

Earlier in the fest, the hot doc was Unlawful Killing, a look at the death of Princess Diana that was funded by Mohamed Fayed, who has repeatedly called the death of Diana and his son Dodi a murder. The grisly lure for some was a photo of Diana, Princess of Wales at the accident that for the first time would be uncensored. It came and went in a flash according to reporters but is sure to be online as soon as a bootleg DVD gets out. In general, the movie was seen as offering some genuinely puzzling details (did it really take three and a half hours after authorities arrived on the scene to get the still-living Diana to a hospital?). But the movie did itself no favors by embracing what was described as a sensationalistic attitude and featuring talking heads like Howard Stern and gossipy author Kitty Kelley.

Two French films created a stir. One was Pater, a confusing faux documentary with actors playing at running for office with one as the current President and the other as his protege. It left the non-French scratching their heads. The Conquest, on the other hand, is a pretty accessible look at current French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his rise to power. Though some of the ins and outs of French politics naturally went over the heads of foreigners like us, the grab for power and the infighting of political campaigns proved universal and in this light amusing feature, rather funny.

Even when Cannes tries to proactively use its platform to shine a light on the struggle for freedom, it can cause headaches. Egypt and Iran both made waves here. Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof’s Goodbye was smuggled out of Iran — he’s been banned from making movies for 20 years — and screened to a polite response that empathized with the difficult conditions under which it was made. The film ran in a sidebar because the fest was worried too much attention might create real problems for the director back home. In fact, the opposite happened and Iran lifted Rasoulof’s travel ban.

For Egypt, the festival called for ten short films from ten prominent directors about the uprising. A fine gesture that tied in nicely with the trailer that begins the Directors Fortnight: it shows footage from the mass movements sweeping the Middle East and says that in these difficult times they miss the voices of censored filmmakers. Nice. But even the positive gestures created a stir: an email from prominent Egyptian activists and members of the creative community says Cannes recruited two directors to the project who were complicit in working with the corrupt Hosni Mubarak regime. Plus they object to inviting the Egyptian ambassador to France who they say discouraged the protests early on. It’s an incredibly thorny problem: how do you decide when someone is merely surviving under oppression versus collaborating with the oppressor to get ahead? Cannes won’t answer that question this festival but it’s one more probing idea raised by the movies and politics that swirl throughout it every single year.


Lars Von Trier's apocalyptic wedding

Lars Von Trier © AFP

Two years after Antichrist, the director of Dancer In The Dark, which won the Palme d’or in 2000, returns to Competition with Melancholia. This feature film with psychological undertones marks the filmmaker’s first venture into science fiction.

If there’s one thing that cinema followers agree on regarding Lars Von Trier, it’s that each new stage in his film career provokes a reaction. A perfect example from this Danish director who loves improvised scenes and filming with a shoulder-mounted camera is his successful 2009 film, Antichrist, a heavy psychological drama starring Charlotte Gainsbourg (who won the Prix d’interprétation féminine).
Melancholia is Lars Von Trier’s 9th film presented in Competition following in the footsteps of The Element Of Crime (1984), Breaking The Waves (1996, Grand Prix du Jury), and Dogville (2003), and he has decided to venture into science fiction for the first time. Until now this is a genre he has avoided, in keeping with his cinematographic ideals, which involve in particular avoiding special effects.
The plot of this “romantic” (in the words of Lars Von Trier) feature filmed in Sweden focuses on the worrying appearance of the huge planet of Melancholia, which threatens to collide with the Earth. Against this apocalyptic backdrop, Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) and Justine (Kirsten Dunst) are getting married. But the relationship between the bride and her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) deteriorates the closer Melancholia gets.
Of particular note in the cast is Kiefer Sutherland, the hero from the 24 series, and the French actress Charlotte Rampling.

Lars Von Trier : 'I like the notion of suffering and of guilt driving melancholy'

Lars Von Trier © CR

The Danish film director Lars Von Trier, along with Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg and the rest of the Melancholia team, responds to questions from journalists. Extracts.

Lars Von Trier on the plot of Melancholia :

“For me, it’s not really a film about the end of the world but about a state of mind: melancholy. The planet is in the process of being destroyed, yet what’s the point of being worried by it as we’re all going to die anyway!”

Lars Von Trier on melancholy:

“I’ve experienced several melancholic phases in my life. I like the notion of suffering and of guilt driving melancholy. Melancholy exists in the art I like and is an integral part of the most successful artistic forms. Even when I try to do comedies, they become melancholic!”

Charlotte Gainsbourg on the work of Lars Von Trier :

“Before Antichrist, I didn’t know how he worked. This time, everything was very different, even if our collaboration went in the same direction. Lars doesn’t always answer our questions, but I prefer to be kept in the dark to a certain degree”.

Kirsten Dunst on depression :

“Depression is about discovering who you are. People who have been faced with depression always emerge stronger. That is what happens with my character, who becomes ever stronger as the film progresses”.

Lars Von Trier on the romance in Melancholia :

“When I saw the stills, I began to reject the romance. Wagner’s music carried us away to a point where everything had become a bit over-romantic. It’s possible that it’s not even worth watching this film!”

Kirsten Dunst


The Festival de Cannes was disturbed about the statements made by Lars von Trier in his press conference this morning in Cannes. Therefore the Festival asked him to provide an explanation for his comments.

The director states that he let himself be egged on by a provocation. He presents his apology.

The direction of the Festival acknowledges this and is passing on Lars von Trier’s apology. The Festival is adamant that it would never allow the event to become the forum for such pronouncements on such subjects.


The Bottom Line

The end of the world, von Trier-style, is a middling thing as a film.


Cannes Film Festival, Competition


Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgard, Brady Corbet, Cameron Spurr, Charlotte Rampling


Lars von Trier



The Danish director’s brooding contemplation of the planet’s demise is a bit of a bore, writes Todd McCarthy.

CANNES — Lars von Trier manages to turn the end of the world into a bit of a bore in Melancholia.  A brooding cross between The Celebration (Festen) and Armageddon drenched in the tragic romanticism of Richard Wagner, this contemplation of the planet’s demise predictably provides not an ounce of comfort or redemption, nor does it offer characters or ideas with which to meaningfully engage, just ample opportunity to wallow in some rapturous images, glorious music and a foul mood. Absent the deliberate provocations of Antichrist and some of the Danish contrarian’s other works, a middling commercial career seems in store.

Certainly the prelude offers enticements: Amplified by the darkly yearning strains of “Tristan und Isolde,” von Trier begins with a beautiful close-up of Kirsten Dunst’s face — expressing what can only be described as pronounced melancholy — and follows with a slow progression of strikingly dramatic and often strange images — of galactic phenomena, a golf course, some planets, the sun and moon, a dark horse falling, Dunst in repose — climaxing with a literally shattering shot of the Earth breaking apart as it crashes into a much larger planet.

On a lighter note, we then see from above a white stretch limo laboriously attempting to negotiate a windy road leading to an estate where wedding dinner guests await the beautiful happy couple, Justine (Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skaarsgard). Thus begins the Celebration part of the story, as what by rights should be a merry occasion quickly turns into a nasty public exchange of recriminations between disaffected family members, including the bride’s daft father (John Hurt); bilious mother (Charlotte Rampling); brother-in-law John (Kiefer Sutherland), the mansion’s owner, who can’t help pointing out how much money he’s spent on the bash, and egotistical boss (Stellan Skaarsgard). Through it all, Justine’s sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) wages a losing battle of damage control.

With everyone decked out so elegantly and the scene bathed in rich golden hues bespeaking untold wealth, this introductory section has its moments (including some fleeting scene-stealing by Udo Kier as the harried event organizer). But too many elements don’t really ring true: That these swells can’t for a moment curtail their bad behavior, even for the sake of the couple; that Dunst and Gainsbourg, so entirely different in looks and accents, are supposed to be sisters; that Justine and her mother would retreat to take baths when it’s time to cut the cake and that, after she and her husband finally retire to their wedding bed, Justine slips out in her wedding dress and has sex with a dopey young guy in a sand trap.

A distinctly European privileged-class ennui envelops most of the characters, who, unlike their forebears from previous generations, can’t even manage to get through an evening with a degree of style and good manners. But Justine is much further off the deep end, in a mental category all to herself described by the title; she simply can’t be happy and, by dawn, her new husband has already left (as have all the guests), leaving her to take a beautifully rendered horseback gallop with her sister through the fog.

As Part One is called “Justine,” Part Two is entitled “Claire.” Indeed, Justine goes into profound withdrawal at this point, to the film’s detriment, as one is essentially left to observe the spectacle of Claire’s anxiety about the giant planet called Melancholia that may be on a collision course with Earth. Her husband, who has set up a telescope on the grounds and claims to be in touch with top scientists, insists humanity is not in danger; after all, Melancholia has managed to miss both Mercury and Venus on its surprise journey out from behind the sun and is destined to just do a “fly-by” of Earth.

But Claire correctly believes otherwise, that Melancholia is the iceberg to the Earth’s Titanic. Unlike on board that ship, however, there are no life rafts; nor is there a Bruce Willis to blow it apart before it hits; nor, as might by implied by The Tree of Life, another Cannes entry to contemplate the grand scope of things, is any state of exaltation or grace possible. For von Trier, there is no meaning, higher purpose or anything resembling Godliness, just obliteration and the void.

In the end, then, Melancholia would seem to have two purposes: To express the state of deep depression the director has so often described his being in for the last several years, and to articulate his non-belief in anything beyond our temporal presence on this rock.

In, and sometimes out of, her beautiful wedding dress, Dunst looks gravely beautiful here, although it is arguable that the emotions and state of mind she is meant to express seem more supplied for her than to come from within. Most of the other solid actors are largely straight-jacketed by the one-dimensional, occasionally inexplicable demands of their roles.

The Swedish estate where much of the film was shot provides a stupendously beautiful backdrop, which has been manicured, dressed and photographed to maximum decorousness. The numerous special effects shots possess the desired haunting effect. Von Trier’s advantageous use of Wagner here serves as a reminder that, several years ago, he agreed to direct a Ring cycle at Bayreuth, only to back out when push came to shove.
Venue: Cannes Film Festival, Competition
Sales: Trustnordisk
Production: Zentropa Entertainments27, Memfis Film Intl., Zentropa Intl., Slot Machine, Liberator Prods., Arte France Cinema, Zentropa Intl. Koln.
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgard, Brady Corbet, Cameron Spurr, Charlotte Rampling, Jesper Christensen, John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgard, Udo Kier, Kiefer Sutherland
Director-screenwriter: Lars von Trier
Producers: Meta Louise Foldager, Louise Vesth
Executive producers:  Peter Aalbaek Jensen, Peter Garde
Director of photography: Manuel Alberto Claro
Production designer: Jette Lehmann
Costume designer: Manon Rasmussen
Editor: Molly Malene Stensgaard
Visual effects supervisor: Peter Hjorth
135 minutes

Lars Von Trier has a hit with his new movie at Cannes, but it was his press conference that is making headlines.

The maverick Danish director, who is receiving accolades for his Kirsten Dunst-starring apocalyptic tale “Melancholia,” is no stranger to outrageous statements — in 2005, he said President Bush dreams of being spanked by Condeleezza Rice — shocked the assembled press with his answer to a question about his interest in the Nazi aesthetic.

“The only thing I can tell you is that I thought I was a Jew for a long time and was very happy being a Jew, then later on came [Danish and Jewish director] Susanne Bier, and suddenly I wasn’t so happy about being a Jew. That was a joke. Sorry. But it turned out that I was not a Jew. If I’d been a Jew, then I would be a second-wave Jew, a kind of a new-wave Jew, but anyway, I really wanted to be a Jew and then I found out that I was really a Nazi, because my family is German. And that also gave me some pleasure. So, I, what can I say? I understand Hitler. I think he did some wrong things but I can see him sitting in his bunker. I’m saying that I think I understand the man. He is not what we could call a good guy, but yeah, I understand much about him and I sympathize with him … But come on! I’m not for the Second World War. And I’m not against Jews. No, not even Susanne Bier. I am very much for them. As much as Israelis are a pain in the ass. How do I get out of this sentence? Okay, I am a Nazi. As for the art, I’m for Speer. Albert Speer I liked. He was also one of God’s best children. He has a talent that … Okay, enough.”

The press were both shocked and laughed at von Trier’s comments, though Dunst was more mortified than anything; at one point, she hid behind the director and said, “Oh, God!” in agony.

To top it off, he also offered that he was planning on making a long porn film with Dunst and co-star Charlotte Gainsbourg, and that perhaps his next film would be a movie take on “The Final Solution.”

After the press conference, he made sure to clarify to the Associated Press that he was largely kidding about his comments.

“”I don’t have so much to say, so I kind of have to improvise a little and just to let the feelings I have kind of come out into words,” von Trier said. “This whole Nazi thing, I don’t know where it came from, but you spend a lot of time in Germany, you sometimes want to feel a little free and just talk about this (expletive), you know?”

As for Melancholia, it’s in contention for the top prize, with critics raving about its take on the end of the world.


La Conquête (The Conquest), a first for the political film genre


La Conquête (The Conquest), a first for the political film genre

Xavier Durringer © AFP

In La Conquête (The Conquest), Xavier Durringer has created an unprecedented feature film. The piece is being presented Out of Competition and examines the current French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, played by Denis Podalydes. Never before has an active Head of State been the subject of a film.

Nicolas Sarkozy, Dominique de Villepin, Rachida Dati and many other politicians who are currently making headlines can now be seen on the big screen. La Conquête (The Conquest), directed by Xavier Durringer, is a first in cinematic history. “When Eric and Nicolas Altmayer approached me about a film telling the story of Nicolas Sarkozy’s rise to power, written by Patrick Rotman, I was a little concerned, because there’s never been a film about a sitting President – not even in the US” says the director. La Conquête (The Conquest) is not a documentary: it is a piece of fiction, and the characters are played by actors. But scriptwriter Patrick Rotman insists, “There are some scenes, fewer than ten, which are completely true (…). The overwhelming majority have been invented, but the political content and commentary is correct. We wanted to create a detailed and faithful reconstruction”.
The film covers the five years running up to the election of the current president, played by Denis Podalydes. Xavier Durringer gives a behind-the-scenes view of his rise to power that involved so many arguments and confrontations, and centres on those around him. The film also features Cécilia Sarkozy, played by Florence Pernel, Claude Guéant portrayed by Hippolyte Girardot, and even Jacques Chirac, bearing a striking resemblance to Bernard Le Coq. “We were determined from the outset to retain the names of the main characters, which led to a few legal issues,” says Xavier Durringer. “But the more people advised me to stay away from the subject, the more passionate I became about seeing it through. I had to make this film”.

Sarkozy film reveals his ruthless rise to power 

President Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo / AP

President Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo / AP

There are few things that a politician fears more than ridicule but this is especially so in France, where snigger-angst is etched in the genes.

Put yourself in the thin skin and elevator shoes of President Nicolas Sarkozy as he contemplates an upcoming movie about his controversial rise to power.

La Conquete (The Conquest), to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival which opens tomorrow, is being promoted in the press as an unprecedented mix of eye-popping skullduggery and ego-popping comedy.

Drawing on what its makers say are real-life events and verbatim conversations, La Conquete vows to expose the ruthlessness, paranoia, foul language and raw insults that lie behind politicians’ public smile and suave statements.

The movie’s source material is indeed compelling.

Short on height but big on ambition, bossy but funny in equal measure, Sarkozy is an outsider who for five years fought his way to the top job after shouldering aside the old guard.

On the way, Sarkozy fell out with his predecessor and one-time mentor Jacques Chirac, as he faced traps and cabals set by Chirac’s lieutenants.

He fought viciously with former Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, whom he suspected of framing him in a case of financial sleaze.

Sarkozy famously vowed to hang the sleek-haired diplomat “on a meathook”.

Just as he set his hands on the glittering prize in May 2007, Sarkozy was laid low by wife Cecilia, around whom his entire life revolved.

Cecilia, who had plotted his career down to the finest detail, left the newly minted President for another man.

It is the first time that the French cinema has made a feature-length movie about a national leader still in office, a format blazed by the British film The Queen and W, Oliver Stone’s biopic about George W. Bush.

La Conquete will be released on May 18, little more than a year before the next presidential elections and at a time when Sarkozy’s opinion-poll standing is plumbing the depths.

But director Xavier Durringer denies that this will be a hatchet job or an attempt to sway the vote. He sees it as the portrayal of a complex character, caught in the dilemma of ambition and love.

“It’s the story of a man who conquers everything and loses his wife,” said scriptwriter Patrick Rotman.

Rotman, a historian by training, said he spent months reading books about Sarkozy and interviewed Cecilia at length to help portray scenes which, he claimed, are as accurate as is possible in a motion picture.

The film’s poster, devised by a British ad agency, shows the diminutive Sarkozy perched on a stool that is cranked up to such a height that his head is cut off and his feet cannot touch the ground.

The trailer shows Chirac’s killer streak beneath an avuncular exterior.

“I should have crushed him,” Chirac sighs. “I should have done it with my left foot, it brings good luck.”

“Many people are going to be surprised by the violence and cruelty of the language,” said Rotman.

“It’s because in politics, you kill with words. Every journalist who hangs around politicians knows that when the camera and the microphone are off, they all curse like troopers, especially Chirac and Villepin. Sarkozy’s thing is to fly into towering rages with his entourage.”

Sarkozy is portrayed by Denis Podalydes, whose last big gig was as Richard II at the Avignon arts festival last year.

“What interested me about the role was the challenge of not showing Sarkozy in the image which he offers to the public but instead to seek out his moments of abandonment, of sadness, to find a rhythm of behaviour by using simple moments,” Podalydes said in an interview with the newspaper Nice Matin.

Meanwhile Sarkozy’s current wife, supermodel-turned-singer Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, plays a cameo role as a museum guide in a Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris, which has been chosen for the festival opening.

The film has a roster of stars, including Marion (La Mome) Cotillard, in a screwball comedy with Paris as its romantic backdrop.

The New York Times describes Midnight in Paris as a stinker that should never have left the drawing board. “This germ of an idea calls for an antibiotic,” it said.



3 Hours in Heaven with Cannes Classics





3 Hours in Heaven with Cannes Classics

Marcel Carné © DR

Cannes Classics presents Children of Paradise* by Marcel Carné just as it was released in 1945. That’s 3’10’’ of film shown in the Salle du Soixantième.

“We quickly realised that we were going to have a long film” Marcel Carné explained. “And André Paulvé (producer, Ed.) suggested that I do it in two epochs”. The director therefore decided to film his storyj with dialogue written by Jacques Prévert, in two parts. The first, known as Le Boulevard du Crime (Boulevard of Crime) describes the meeting between Garance, played by Arletty who had worked under the director already in three other films, and two men – a dandy named Deburau and the Count of Montray, played by Jean-Louis Barrault and Louis Salou. The second part, L’homme blanc (The Man in White) tells the story of what has become of these characters six years later. The French director agreed to organise his film in two parts, but on one condition “that for the Paris screenings, it be shown in one go”. Despite the film’s length and the raised ticket price, it was a box office hit as soon as it was released and ran for 45 weeks thereafter. Cannes Classics has today chosen to show Marcel Carné’s feature film in one sitting.

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