Cannes critics cool as film competition nears end

A lack of memorable movies mean the 2008 Cannes film festival is unlikely to live long in the minds of many critics, who argue that after a solid start the main competition faded.

Star power was sustained, however, with the red carpet attracting big names like Madonna, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Clint Eastwood, Penelope Cruz, Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford and sports stars Mike Tyson and Diego Maradona.

With four out of 22 films in the main competition this year yet to screen, critics and journalists who have been through 10 gruelling days of screenings, press conferences, interviews and parties struggled to come up with many highlights.

The competition closes on Sunday evening when the nine-member jury headed by Sean Penn hands out the awards, cluminating in the coveted Palme d’Or for best picture.

”Even before the halfway mark, the general mood has been one of disappointment,” said Jay Weissberg, a critic with trade publication Variety.

”Coming off another weak Berlin festival, there is a sense that 2008 is not going to be the best year for films.”

He and several others highlighted Waltz With Bashir as a potential winner of the top prize.

The animated documentary was seen as an innovative way of exploring an Israeli draftee’s memories of the 1982 massacre of Palestinians living in Beirut’s Sabra and Shatila camps.

Other leading contenders included Hollywood veteran Clint Eastwood and Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, underlining how Cannes seeks to unite mainstream cinema with smaller-budget, independent filmmaking.

Eastwood’s The Exchange, originally titled The Changeling, features Angelina Jolie as a 1920s mother who loses her son and comes up against a corrupt Los Angeles police force and a serial child killer as she goes in search of the truth.

Probably more than any other movie in Cannes it has sparked early Oscar buzz, although many critics were underwhelmed.

Family dramas

Ceylan’s Three Monkeys, a brooding family tragedy, leads Screen International’s informal poll of critics, while another family drama, A Christmas Tale by France’s Arnaud Desplechin, is a firm favourite among domestic critics.

Italian entry Gomorrah was lauded for its brave depiction of the brutal world of the Naples mafia in a drama based on a bestseller by Italian author Roberto Saviano.

Two-time Palme d’Or winners Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne from Belgium are seen as contenders with Lorna’s Silence, while two of four South American entries drew praise.

In Lion’s Den from Argentina, Martina Gusman gives a compelling performance as a pregnant woman jailed for murder whose life is transformed by her son, and Line of Passage from Brazil is a compelling drama set in the slums of São Paulo.

Steven Soderbergh’s double bill Che, about the life and death of Argentine revolutionary Ernesto ”Che” Guevara, was deemed by some as too long at over four hours, although it is likely to be released in cinemas as two films.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull marked the return of the whip-wielding archaeologist played by Ford, and although Cannes’ notoriously picky audience found fault with the Spielberg movie, they were expecting a box office smash hit. – Reuter 2008

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Mike Collett White
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