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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 11, 2001

54th Cannes Film Festival marks 'return of Americans'

Advertiser News Services

"Moulin Rouge" opened the 54th Cannes Film Festival Wednesday on the shores of the Riviera. The movie is also competing for the Cannes' grand prize.

20th Century Fox

The 54th Cannes Film Festival opened Wednesday on the shores of the Riviera with lots of buzz about the return to popularity of screen musicals and American movies, all sparked by the festival-launching screening of Baz Luhrmann's modern musical "Moulin Rouge."

The voluptuous, daffy "Moulin Rouge" — an explosive pop collage co-starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor as star-crossed lovers caught up in a frantic spectacle staged at Paris' storied 19th-century nightclub — was cause for critics and journalists from America to point once more to what was sorely lacking in last year's fest: a strong presence from their own country.

Luhrmann and his tabloid-hounded leading lady Kidman may both be Australian, and co-star McGregor may hail from Scotland, but their film is still definitely and triumphantly a Hollywood product, fresh from 20th Century Fox, whose legendary searchlight logo even figures extensively in the movie's very first sight gag. And it not only opened this year's festival, it's also in official competition for Cannes' grand prize, the Palme d'Or.

This year's competition marks "the return of the Americans," said Gilles Jacob, the festival's president.

Five U.S. movies out of 22 are competing until May 20 for the Palme d'Or. Three are independent productions: Joel Coen's "The Man Who Wasn't There," David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" and Sean Penn's "The Pledge." The others are Hollywood studio productions: Besides "Moulin Rouge," there is Victoria Jensen and Andrew Adamson's animated movie, "Shrek," produced by Dreamworks SKG.

The last U.S. film to win the Palme d'Or was Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" in 1994, when the director was booed as he climbed onstage to collect the prize. Since, Joel Coen won best direction for "Fargo" in 1996.

There is also a strong American presence in the second-tier official selection, Un Certain Regard, and in the showcase series, Directors Fortnight (four films apiece), including debut directing efforts from actors Ethan Hawke and Jennifer Jason Leigh. And this year's classic retrospective series is entirely devoted to great Hollywood comedies of the '30s and '40s, from "Bringing up Baby" to "The Lady Eve."

The United States also boasts the hottest party ticket: New Line's already storied palatial launch party for the Christmas release "The Lord of the Rings" (of which only a fragment will actually screen).

Diverse lineup

Most exciting for some is the presence of new or reworked films from the directors of "Taxi Driver" and "Apocalypse Now," ex-Cannes jury presidents Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola.

Scorsese will offer "Il Mio Viaggio in Italia," a four-hour look at the Italian movies he loves best. Coppola is attending — along with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, editor Walter Murch and others — with his new four-hour re-edit of "Apocalypse Now," titled "Apocalypse Now Redux."

Not that the rest of the world is being slighted. Some regions and countries may have complaints, but the 2001 schedule has a really provocative lineup of major directors from many countries.

They include new entries in or out of competition by France's much-admired Godard ("Eloge d'Amour"), confrere Rivette ("Va Savoir") and dogged documentarian Claude Lanzmann ("Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 p.m."); Japan's audacious Shohei Imamura ("Lukewarm Water Under the Bridge"), austere Kore-Eda Hirakazu ("Distance") and idealistic Masaki Kobayashi ("H-Story"); Italy's neo-realist master Ermanno Olmi ("The Profession of Arms") and comic genius Nanni Moretti ("The Don's Room"); Iran's critical darling Abbas Kiarostami ("ABC Africa"); the prolific and dynamic Mohsen Makhmalbaf ("Kandahar") and Portuguese silent film veteran Manoel de Oliveira ("Je Rentre a la Maison").

Musical comeback

Meanwhile, "Moulin Rouge" marks what Luhrmann believes is the revival of the Hollywood musical — a genre that's been out of favor for decades.

Exploding with kaleidoscopic images, "Moulin Rouge" is a tragicomic romance based on the myth of Orpheus, who journeyed to the underworld to rescue his true love. Set at Paris' hedonistic Moulin Rouge nightclub in 1899, the movie draws on pop music from the 20th century.

Lavish musicals such as "Meet Me in St. Louis" and "Singin' in the Rain," once a Hollywood mainstay, have become rarities. Even while "West Side Story," "My Fair Lady," "The Sound of Music" and "Oliver!" packed theaters and won best-picture Oscars in the 1960s, musicals were fading because of high production costs and a move toward cinematic naturalism.

But Luhrmann thinks his movie — and others such as last year's "Dancer in the Dark" and the upcoming "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" — are at the vanguard of a musical comeback.

"We've come through a period of extreme naturalism in film based on how convincing an illusion of reality one can make, and the musical didn't fit that," he said. "But audiences today are so aware of cinematic manipulation that they recognize that illusion of reality is just another form of manipulation."

Today's younger audiences might also be more receptive to musicals because they grew up on MTV, said John Cameron Mitchell, who directed and stars in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." "It's changed what it means to be young, and music video has loosened things up so that for young people, it's kind of natural that narrative goes with rock music."