Cannes neither shy nor retiring

Film festival celebrates its 65th birthday with typical glamour and glitz, says Don O’Mahony

CANNES has gone birthday-cake crazy for its 65th film festival. There’s Marilyn Monroe adorning the posters, about to blow out a single candle. Inside the Palais Des Festivals building — the nerve centre of the festival, where films are screened and deals are done — the images of cake-eating excess hang high above.

Among those celebrating with a cake are Carole Lombard, Marlene Dietrich, Errol Flynn and Clark Gable. Kirsten Dunst, in the title role of Marie Antoinette, provides one of the few on-screen images of confectionery excess. In the week that saw the Socialist Francois Hollande become president of France, the message from Cannes is: let us eat cake.

Those images are predominantly indebted to American cinema. Cannes may be the crucible for European auteur cinema, but it has always held a candle for Hollywood. Recent years have witnessed a détente between the two. Last year’s line-up was rich with Cannes favourites Almodovar, Kaurismaki, von Trier, Sorrentino, Ceylan and the Dardenne brothers, but it was the American exile in Paris, Terrence Malick, who took the grand prize. In a neat piece of cross-cultural exchange, The Artist, the love letter to early Hollywood history which premiered in Cannes, took the top prize at the Academy Awards.

Consider the inclinations of the president of the jury when predicting a winner. Last year’s jury was headed by Robert De Niro, and this year Nanni Moretti, the Italian director of Palme d’Or-winning The Son’s Room, is charged with the task.

Among this year’s director contenders are David Cronenberg, Leos Carax, Ken Loach, Abbas Kiarostami, Alain Resnais and Michael Heneke, but the task of opening the festival fell to Wes Anderson, whose eighth feature ensured that there would be star power on the red carpet. Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton are the ostensible stars of Moonrise Kingdom, but the film belongs to young leads Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward.

Both play unhappy 12-year-olds who fall in love and plan to escape their stultifying situations. Hayward plays Suzy, the only daughter of the Bishops (McDormand and Murray), lawyers whose marriage has entered a trough. In the opening sequences, Anderson expertly evokes Suzy’s feeling of being trapped in a doll’s house. The resourceful Sam (Gilman), an orphan, is plotting his escape from a scout troop. When the scout leader realises he has fled, the scouts reveal their antipathy towards the escapee. It is revealed that the young pair had been plotting their escape since meeting a year previous. Enter Bruce Willis’s local sheriff, a sad figure who has been conducting an uninspiring affair with Mrs Bishop. A quiet, hangdog man, he is the first adult to establish a rapport with Sam.

It seems perverse of Anderson to gather all these stars and then have them cast as bit part players in the budding romance — even Harvey Keitel makes a small appearance as a scout commander. The only one close to being a scene-stealer is Anderson regular Jason Schwartzman. Perhaps it’s a deliberate ploy on the director’s behalf to emphasise how marginal adults are when you are two young lovers pitted against the world, but the film only engages when the runaways fetch up on a secluded bay — their ‘Moonrise Kingdom.’ Their relationship brings e warmth to the film; something Anderson has been accused of lacking.

If you don’t like any of Anderson’s films, such as Rushmore or The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, you may find his new film as excruciatingly wan and mannered. However, for a film whose soundtrack is dominated by such odd musical bedfellows as Benjamin Britten and Hank Williams, it just about comes together, culminating in a bizarrely affecting ending. Like the proverbial birthday cake, we await more savoury delights.

Looking ahead, Irish interest resides in market screenings such as the Pat O’Connor-helmed Michael Morpurgo adaptation Private Peaceful, Kirstin Sheridan’s Dollhouse, which premiered in Berlin, Kieron J Walsh’s Jump, Ciarán Foy’s Citadel, which won an audience award at this year’s South X SouthWest, Oscar winner Terry George’s Whole Lotta Soul, Conor McMahon’s chiller Stitches and Belfast punk film Good Vibrations.

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