A graceless biopic derided at Cannes

ONE only has to go back to 2012 to find a Nicole Kidman vehicle that elicited gasps among the critics at Cannes.

A graceless biopic derided at Cannes

In one memorable scene in Lee Daniels’ lurid The Paperboy, Kidman’s grotesque southern belle aids Zac Efron’s jellyfish-stung character by peeing on him. How Kidman, and her director, Olivier Dahan, must have wished for similar balm against the barbs critics directed at Grace of Monaco. Where The Paperboy divided audiences, there was consensus in the dismay that greeted Grace of Monaco’s out-of-competition festival opener.

Dahan was sure-footed in his Édith Piaf biopic, La Vie en Rose, but was all at sea in his portrayal of the Hollywood starlet turned Princess of Monaco, caught between the fairytale and her royal and political obligations. As much rancour has been generated off-screen as on. Princess Grace’s children, Prince Albert and Princess Caroline, pointedly refused to make the short journey down the coast to attend the premiere, but the real drama was the spat between Dahan and his US distributor, Harvey Weinstein. The US mogul, infamously known as Harvey Scissorhands, wanted his own edit of the film for distribution in the States, but the French director stood his ground, forcing Weinstein to abandon his plans.

Off-screen drama is part of festival films. Who can forget the spat last year between Abdellatif Kechiche, the director of Palme d’Or winner, Blue Is The Warmest Colour, and one of his leads, Léa Seydoux? Or Danish director Lars von Trier’s pronouncements on Adolf Hitler, during a press conference in 2011 for his film, Melancholia? Von Trier was banned from the festival. While all were riveted by the von Trier controversy, the steady broadcasting of press conferences on large TV monitors around the festival’s hive, the Palais des Festivals, was interrupted by events unfolding in New York that May. Journalists, delegates and security gazed rapt at those same screens, as news broke of the arrest, in New York, of International Monetary Fund bigwig, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, over allegations of sexual assault.

Two years later, the man himself appeared at the festival, but it refused to give a berth to a new film about him.

Directed by Abel Ferrara and starring another actor, Gerard Depardieu, who has his own pee-related history, Welcome to New York has been deemed too hot to handle. Its producer has blamed a conspiracy of the French media and the political elite for attempts to snuff out the film — always a good move in generating interest: remember English actor Keith Allen’s Princess Di conspiracy documentary, Unlawful Killing, which premiered in a market-place screening in Cannes? It never received a theatrical release, which Allen attributed to dark establishment forces.

At least Ferrara, who made the gritty King of New York, is unlikely to make a film as dull as Allen’s. Undeterred, the makers of Welcome To New York are using Cannes to launch their film, with a private beach-side screening, before releasing it on video-on-demand platforms.

Away from the controversy, Cannes continues doing what it does best: giving a platform to the cream of auteur cinema. After Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner, a masterly portrait of painter JMW Turner, festival attendees await the delights of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s weighty-looking Winter Sleep, the Turkish director’s follow-up to his 2011 Grand Jury Prize winner, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.

Irish interest lies in veteran director Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall. Shot in County Leitrim, the film recalls a time, in 1920s Ireland, when Irish political activist, Jimmy Gralton, opened a free-spirited and Left-leaning dancehall.

It’s the director’s first return to Irish themes, since his 2006 Palme d’Or winner, The Wind That Shakes the Barley.

The festival will also feature new offerings from Dardenne Brothers, Aton Egonyan, and David Cronenberg, as well as eagerly awaited follow-ups, like Tommy Lee Jones’ The Horseman, his first since The Three Burials of Melquiades Estada; The Artist’s Michel Hazanavicius’ new Chechen war drama; and the directorial debut of Ryan Gosling.

* Don O’Mahony is a Cork-based freelance journalist.

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