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Beyond the Multiplex (sarah michelle gellar mention)

Andrew O’Hehir

Thursday 11 May 2006, by Webmaster

President Rudy? See "Giuliani Time" before you cast your vote. Plus: Au revoir — I’m off to Cannes!

May 11, 2006 | Will canoodling with the beautiful people, pink fizzy drink in hand, destroy whatever vestige of indie integrity this column has left? Well, I don’t know that I’ll get to answer that question, exactly, but by this time next week I’ll be filing my first dispatch from the Cannes Film Festival, simultaneously home to all that is most exciting and all that is most bogus about the movie world.

Can that excitement and that bogosity ever be separated? I don’t think so. The film industry is a vast intercontinental spider web of spectacle, connecting the biggest and emptiest Hollywood production with the most gruesome straight-to-DVD gorefest, the most earnest political documentary and the most arduous European art film. The fact that this economy is grossly imbalanced, and that one aspect of it increasingly dominates the others, is a problem, and maybe even a fatal disorder. But the fact that all movies, and all other works of art, enter the world as commercial commodities — in a state of original sin, so to speak — is nothing new.

All film festivals try to do what Cannes has done for nearly 60 years, that is, capture the glamour of Hollywood and the aesthetic credibility of art film, and somehow synthesize a blend of the two. Most can’t quite manage it, and no others, of course, can offer the fancy-schmancy environs of the French Riviera, which already possessed exactly the right combination of class and vulgarity.

Cannes programmers aren’t even pandering, or being hypocrites, when they open the festival May 17 with the world premiere of Ron Howard’s "The Da Vinci Code," and come back a few days later with something the millions of "Da Vinci Code" viewers will never hear about and never see, like Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s film "Climates," or Chinese director Lou Ye’s "Summer Palace." That’s just what they do: The whole idea is to pack the cafes and bistros with overly serious people like me, hoping for artistic revelation, and also with entire families of tourists, hoping for an unscripted encounter with Tom Hanks. (Their odds of getting what they want may be no worse than mine.)

I’ll preview the festival in depth next week, but there are a few obvious premieres everybody’s excited about. Richard Linklater has, count ’em, two movies at Cannes, his narrative adaptation of Eric Schlosser’s bestseller "Fast Food Nation" (in the main competition) and the animated drug saga "A Scanner Darkly" (in the sidebar competition, Un Certain Regard). Sofia Coppola will unveil her follow-up to "Lost in Translation," a film called "Marie Antoinette" that is actually about Marie Antoinette and stars Kirsten Dunst as the eponymous, guillotine-bound queen. (Hmm, is that a spoiler?) I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Even more exciting for the film-geek set, "Donnie Darko" auteur Richard Kelly will premiere "Southland Tales," his long-brewing crackpot-alyptic sci-fi saga, with a huge and exceedingly unlikely cast that includes the Rock, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Seann William Scott, Mandy Moore, Kevin Smith, Janeane Garofalo and Wallace Shawn. There’s also the usual roster of new films from semi-big international directors, including Pedro Almodóvar, Alejandro González Iñárritu ("Amores Perros"), Aki Kaurismäki ("The Man Without a Past"), Nanni Moretti ("The Son’s Room") and Ken Loach. Purely for the sake of journalism, I promise to go to as many parties as possible. Stay tuned.

The brief lull between the end of Tribeca and the beginning of Cannes brings us only a few rather small releases, which probably isn’t a coincidence. My final verdict on Tribeca, by the way, which I feel confident is shared by others: Too many damn movies. A lot of dark and rich documentaries ("The Bridge," "Jonestown," "Jesus Camp," "The War Tapes"), but not nearly enough decent narrative films to justify a festival of that size. One of the great advantages of Cannes is that they’ve whittled down an entire year of new films to 61, and whether you like their selections or not, you can actually see most of them while still sleeping and eating meals.

This week brings us a noteworthy documentary attacking former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is clearly eyeing a 2008 presidential campaign, and an enjoyable, if entirely fluffy, bit of Gallic soap-opera romance, 21st century-style. For good measure, let’s throw in a likable documentary on the spread of Tibetan Buddhism in America. Not exactly great cinema, but I felt very calm during the 57 minutes I was watching it, and God knows I’ll need some of that inner peace in the weeks ahead. Bonjour, Winona! Ça marche? Comme t’est jolie!