Bald Natalie, rumpled Woody, kissy Val, and impressive Viggo: Entertainment Weekly's writers review the parties, screenings, and sightings at the grand-pere of all film festivals
George Lucas, Natalie Portman
Credit: Natalie Portman: Jean Baptiste Lacroix/; George Lucas and Natalie Portman: EPA/NIVIERE /Landov

Bald Natalie and more: Our report from Cannes

Eight reasons I know I’m at the midpoint of the Cannes Film Festival:

1. After holding the spot for three days, Woody Allen’s Match Point is no longer the best movie I’ve seen. Hallelujah. We critics had been slapping our foreheads for 72 hours in disbelief that not only is Allen’s reinvigorated new psychological caper the best thing he’s done in ages, but that nothing else artier has made an impression. Then I saw David Cronenberg’s The History of Violence, in which Viggo Mortensen plays a nice family man in a small town who gets in touch with a not-so-nice side of himself, and I bolted upright, alive and excited again about great filmmaking.

2. I’ve bonded with other passionate fans of Marco Tullio Giordana’s six-hour made-for-TV masterpiece The Best of Youth to mourn the flop of his gummy follow-up When I Was Born, a sticky lesson in European immigration and the responsibility of the haves to help the have-nots. A cynical colleague (no fan of Youth himself) who previously predicted that Born would win the top prize had to concede that the follow-up is too bad to pass for good even to a jury headed by Emir Kusturica.

3. The Star Wars stormtroopers in full costume in the lobby of the Palais last night looked no more unusual to me than patrons in black-tie regalia. I still, however, haven’t gotten used to the sight of fleshy, middle-aged European ladies in tight black lace evening dresses with plunging necklines, their cleavage a ravine and their sun-mottled skin a walnut color Miami grandmas might describe as ”enough, already.”

4. I’ve cut back my consumption of dangerously rich French cheese from 5 pounds a day to 2. Unfortunately for my own formalwear, my consumption of 15 croissants a day continues unabated.

5. I no longer giggle when I see photos of competition jurors Toni Morrison and Salma Hayek, smiling for the camera together as the earth spins off its axis. They’re probably discussing cheese and David Cronenberg.

6. This year’s sex-in-your-face provocation, the Mexican fantasia Battle of Heaven, has left no lingering Brown Bunny-like stain of prurience. I’m still not sure what Carlos Reygadas’ stylized melange of criminal acts, religious gestures, political pomp, and oral sex is about, but I’ll defend to the death the director’s right to linger on images of pubic hair.

7. The number of colleagues I observe sleeping through the 8:30 a.m. Important Screening of the Day has multiplied. Not me, mind you — I only doze for 10 seconds at a time, and when I awake, Lars von Trier is still explaining the history of racism to me in Manderlay, his argument-provoking follow-up to Dogville. (I’m on the pro side of the argument — more later.)

8. I love this crazy Cirque du Soleil of a festival — the welter, the glamour, the clouds of cigarette smoke, the chance to see a poetic, nearly wordless little Sri Lankan drama about lust and loneliness followed by a Brazilian variation of Jules et Jim. But this afternoon, in my hotel room, I burst into tears for two scheduled minutes, like Holly Hunter in Broadcast News, pining to be home watching the season finale of Deadwood. –Lisa Schwarzbaum

Freaky fun! Run-ins with Portman, Firth, and Hurt

So here we are. At the midpoint. People will tell you that this Cannes has been quiet. That the movies have been lame, the parties subdued, the action nonexistent. These people are jaded. Ignore them. They probably just had to sit through the set that the band (led by Dawson’s Creek alum Michael Pitt) played at the overstuffed party for Last Days, Gus Van Sant’s riff on the final hours of Kurt Cobain. That would make anyone cranky.

Or, you know, homicidal.

The truth is that while things have been slow compared to last year — and how could they not, given the fireworks generated by Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 — there have still been plenty of decent films, and a good deal of wildly entertaining weirdness. All you have to do is look around. There’s Soon Yi, dragging a miserable looking Woody Allen past a gauntlet of gawking Frenchmen on the Croisette, snipping at him to hurry the hell up in French. (His movie Match Point is good, by the way. And no, I haven’t been drinking. Much.) Next, a line of stormtroopers marched up the red carpet, offering a laser gun salute to a bald — yes, you read that right, BALD — Natalie Portman (her head is shaved for the new action movie V for Vendetta). I myself almost killed William Hurt, plowing into him while deep in conversation with an agent friend. Nice guy, William Hurt. Didn’t even tell me to watch where the hell I was going.

The parties have been equally freaky. On Friday, I had to greet Colin Firth in front of an HD TV screen that was showing his explicit sex scene with Allison Lohman in Atom Egoyan’s Where the Truth Lies. (Yes. It was awkward. Very, very awkward.) On Saturday, the fete for Edward Norton’s Down in the Valley went from bad to worse when people figured out that: a) The stars weren’t coming until about 1 a.m.; b) They had trekked 30 minutes out of town to hang out with snooty bartenders; and c) There was a Hustler party next door complete with strippers. Needless to say, defections abounded. Last night, there was a stunning fireworks show to celebrate the premiere of Star Wars — and even the most jaded festivalgoer stopped to ooh, ahh, and point.

What’s not to love? Cannes is busy. It’s dizzy. And it’s all good fun. And some of the movies are even good. (Like Lisa, I loved David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence). Don’t let anyone tell you different. — Daniel Fierman

Keees and Tell

Okay. I’ve made it halfway through my first Cannes film festival and have yet to shed a single tear. (Ouaaaaais!) See, I was warned that this fest, unlike Sundance or Toronto, can be absolutely brutal. The unruly crowds! The constant chaos! The Eurotrash! There’s been plenty of all of that (especially the latter; a word to the wise: avoid the Croisette on weekend nights), but it’s all surprisingly manageable.

My veteran colleagues assure me that this Cannes has been the quietest in ages. Other than the hum that Monsieur Woody ”eez back” with Match Point, there’s been no breakout buzz frenzy. Audiences have either slept through or walked out of Gus Van Sant’s Last Days. Ditto for the Edward Norton mess Down in the Valley. Even the provocative Lars Von Trier seems poised to pass through town without causing much of a stir. At this morning’s press conference for his film Manderlay, the Danish director’s only remotely controversial pronouncement was that ”Mr. Bush is an ass—-.” Yeah, like that’s gonna excite a room full of Europeans.

Of course, Cannes is far from boring. Those lucky enough to hang out with the cast of Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang at the sickeningly exclusive Hotel du Cap last Friday were treated to a priceless Val Kilmer show. In the middle of a press roundtable, for instance, the eccentric actor bounced up from his seat and planted a kiss on his costar Robert Downey Jr.’s cheek. Awwww. Meanwhile, jury member Javier Bardem lounged by the paradisiacal infinity pool. Just last night, The King‘s Gael Garcia Bernal and his Y Tu Mama Tambien buddy Diego Luna made young women in slinky dresses swoon at a party aboard the Big Eagle Yacht, one of many gigantic boats docked here. And at a cocktail party for Picturehouse exec Bob Berney, Last Days‘ Kim Gordon and hubby Thurston Moore (a.k.a. Sonic Youth’s star couple) watched with amused bewilderment as Paris Hilton held court. The heiress is promoting her National Lampoon movie, Pledge This! On principle, that’s all I’ll say about her.

Call me a tube freak (go ahead: others have), but one of the best parts of Cannes is the festival’s official TV channel — if only because the French host, Pierre Zéni, calls Shane Black’s movie Keess Keess Bong Bong. Say that a few times, and I swear you’ll find yourself smiling. It worked for Downey and Black, who smirked their way through the interview, right there on live television.

Vive le cinéma international! — Missy Schwartz