This is not just a film festival,” said Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull star Shia LaBeouf at Cannes last week. ”It’s the second-biggest event in the world, second only to the Olympics.” The World Cup or the G8 summit might take issue with his ranking system, but since the centerpiece of the event in question was the first Indiana Jones film in nearly 20 years, the kid had a point. In the hours leading up to its May 18 premiere, the long-awaited sequel generated such intense media frenzy that director Steven Spielberg found himself surrounded by hordes of international autograph seekers…and that was just at the private, journalists-only cocktail party.
Once Crystal Skull finally screened, the Indy-fueled insanity died down, and the overall ”good, not great” reaction solidified Cannes’ reputation as an often dicey place to premiere a big film. (The fest threw a big wet blanket on The Da Vinci Code in 2006.) Indeed, the first week of the 61st Annual Cannes Film Festival, which began May 14, proved relatively quiet, with no knockouts on a par with 2007’s No Country for Old Men and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Fernando Meirelles’ Blindness, about a city whose residents inexplicably lose their sight, continued a longstanding Cannes tradition: an opening-night film that receives a mixed response. And thanks to a weaker lineup and the feeble American dollar, at press time there were no high-profile sales. ”You get the feeling everybody is very, very cautious,” said Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker, who premiered Atom Egoyan’s Adoration but had yet to pull out his checkbook. ”There have been many decent films — but I’m not feeling any real strong contenders.”
Which is not to say that audiences inside the Palais did nothing but boo. The animated Israeli film Waltz With Bashir drew comparisons to last year’s beloved Persepolis, but by mid-fest it remained without a U.S. distributor. (Some insiders speculated that the movie, about a 1982 massacre in Lebanon, is too tough a sell.) And many of the best-received titles arrived on the Croisette with distribution intact. Clint Eastwood’s 1920s-set The Exchange, starring Angelina Jolie as a mother whose son disappears, bowed to positive reviews, while Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, a sexy comedy with Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, and Scarlett Johansson, enjoyed a warm reception in keeping with France’s enduring love affair with the New York auteur. Allen was grateful for the unwavering support; he just wasn’t entirely sold on Cannes’ dog-and-pony show. ”I don’t believe any promotion helps,” he told EW. ”I don’t feel that’s what makes people go to the movies — me sitting around saying how fascinating it was working with Penélope Cruz.”
Maybe not, but parading stars around town is the Cannes way. Jolie set off a flurry of flashbulbs at Kung Fu Panda‘s Chinese-themed beachside bash, where she arrived with Brad Pitt, and was followed by her Panda costars Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman. Harrison Ford and companion Calista Flockhart logged many late nights at the swank celeb stronghold Hotel du Cap, and helped celebrate Dennis Hopper’s 72nd birthday party on a yacht. ”I don’t go out much when I’m home,” Ford told EW. ”So when I’m in a place like this, I do exactly what I’m supposed to do: I have fun!” — Dave Karger and Missy Schwartz