A couple of things PopWatch readers might not know about Cannes once you subtract news of Kung Fu Pandas, Indiana Jones, and the pensees of Cannes jury president Sean Penn.
1. No one goes to Cannes’ opening-night movies for the movies, which have a great and glorious history of being mediocre, wacky, overproduced, or otherwise chosen for values that have less to do with moviemaking than with business negotiations. (Someone has to pay for the night’s blowout party.) This year’s compromise folie, Blindness, would never be accused of wackiness — it’s an adaptation of the esteemed novel by Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago about an epidemic of sightlessness that tests human civility. But director Fernando Meirelles, who prettified poverty and squalor in City of God, does the same thing with Saramago’s metaphoric apocalypse, and the cast — among them Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Danny Glover, and Gael Garcia Bernal, add their own dollops of overacting.
2. The same first-day slot that worked so well for 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days last year might prove a charm for Waltz With Bashir, a powerful animated documentary from Ari Folman that further extends the streak of terrific filmmaking coming out of Israel; as with Persepolis at Cannes last year, it also extends the possibilities of animation to tell important, hard stories — in this case the horrified recollections of Israeli soldiers in Lebanon in the early 1980s.
3. Life is tough in an Argentinian women’s prison (Lion’s Den). Life is tough for a downtrodden Turkish family that keeps secrets (Three Monkeys). Life is tough for poor fatherless brothers in Brazil (Linha de Passe). Life is tough when a decrepit Chinese factory is dismantled in the name of modernization (24 City).
4. Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem are such great, passionate, squabbling, Spanish fun in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona that some smart TV producer ought to sign them up as the new Lucy and Ricky Ricardo.
5. The dog of choice for the mahogany-colored, alligator-skinned French retirees who live at the other end of the beach from the Cannes Film Festival world of Kung Fu Pandas and Indiana Jones is still the miniature French poodle.