Okay, the stars showed up on the red carpet. But were their movies any good?
Sex for Money
Woody Allen’s frothy Midnight in Paris opened the festival, but Sleeping Beauty quickly drove any romantic notions out of my mind. A contorted first feature by Australian writer Julia Leigh, Beauty stars Emily Browning as a girl reduced (theoretically by financial need, actually by heavy-handed feminist metaphor) to selling her slumbering body to old men. It was a relief to go from that intentionally disordered film to the French drama House of Tolerance, about a turn-of-the-20th-century Parisian bordello that’s presided over by a maternal businesswoman (Noémie Lvovsky) and populated with frank and sisterly young women. There’s nothing romanticized or prurient about the film, shot in velvety textures and paced with an empathetic languor.
The great Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay (Morvern Callar) delivered We Need to Talk About Kevin, a visually dynamic adaptation of the 2003 novel. It lets Tilda Swinton go crazy with maternal ambivalence while her bad-seed son (breakout star Ezra Miller) grows into a monster of the Columbine variety. But in the lost-boy category, the movie that earns my top marks is The Kid With a Bike, the latest humanistic drama from award-winning brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (Lorna’s Silence). As a spectacularly scrappy, angry, abandoned boy, nonpro Thomas Doret gives an amazing performance.
A Little Escapism
Not all the films at Cannes subscribe to the Life Isn’t Beautiful school of filmmaking. Habemus Papam is a typically cheeky comedy from Nanni Moretti and stars the grand European cinema veteran Michel Piccoli as a roguish pope who doesn’t want the job. The Artist is a real beaut — an ingeniously crafted black-and-white silent film by Michel Hazanavicius that, by its very charm, pays sophisticated homage to a bygone era of movies. But my mid-fest favorite is the Israeli Footnote, from gifted filmmaker Joseph Cedar. The tensions in this droll yet deep little tale are both ambitiously intellectual and hilariously primal, pitting a crotchety old man against his adult son, both of them scholars in Talmudic studies.
A Lot of Brad Pitt
Arriving six years after The New World, Terrence Malick’s avidly anticipated The Tree of Life turned out to be a fascinating but confounding blend of the micro and macro. It mixes memories of a boy’s 1950s Texas childhood under the thumb of an autocratic father (a memorable performance from Pitt) with a googly meditation on the wonders of the universe, the afterlife, everything. Heavy, man — and just the right weight for Cannes.