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Cannes Film Festival Showcases Directors

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: This is from the opening ceremony yesterday at Cannes on the French Riviera: a swell of music, a cascade of tinkling chimes, angelic voices, music that poses the question, how do you say schmaltz in French? The occasion, the greatest gathering of film stars since the White House Correspondence Association dinner, the Cannes Film Festival, or as the MC Edward Baer(ph) called, it�

Mr. EDWARD BAER (Master of Ceremonies, Cannes Film Festival): (Speaking foreign language)

SIEGEL: The magical universe of the Cannes Film Festival. This year, the brightest stars in that universe are the people who make the movies, the directors. They're calling this the year of the director. And joining us from Cannes is Xan Brooks, film writer for the Guardian.

Why the year of the director, Xan?

Mr. XAN BROOKS (Film Correspondent, Guardian): Well, I think this a kind of an act of defiance, in a way, by Cannes. It's in the time of greatest dire straits with the economic crisis kind of biting, they've sort of gone back to their specialty. It's almost like the old heroes of festivals past sort of coming back in the hour of greatest need.

So you've got a whole kind of troop of directors who've won the Palme d'Or in previous years, everyone from Lars von Trier to Francis Ford Coppola. And then you've also got a lot of the kind of the darlings of the festival who've never quite done it, like you know, people like Pedro Almodovar and Michael Henniker, and they're all here in competition.

SIEGEL: And is there any other indication that this is a Cannes Film Festival in a year of dire economic recession?

Mr. BROOKS: Well, the official word is that it's business as usual, and everything's completely fine and hunky-dory. And there are just as many film titles in the marketplace that have been registered, as there were last year, something like sort of four and a half thousand, and yet, the kind of the word on the ground isn't quite as encouraging as that. They're saying that there's just not as much kind of conspicuous wealth floating around.

A lot of the kind of the big major studios are maybe staying away. Vanity Fair has canceled its party. The hire of yachts, you know, that great indicator of wealth is down. And so there's a sense that that kind of Cannes - traditional Cannes fraternity of the riverboat gamblers, the sort of the billionaire playboys maybe aren't here this year.

SIEGEL: Well, what movies are there that people are talking about, and what have you seen that's interesting so far?

Mr. BROOKS: Well, this is the thing, isn't it? I mean, in theory, the Cannes Film Festival should be about the movies, and it's still very early days. So it's a little bit like being a kid at Christmas and looking at all the kind of the wonderful presents by the Christmas tree, and all the wrapping looks great you don't know quite what's in it.

But you know, the festival began with a nod to Hollywood with the out-of-competition screening of �Up,� the new film by Pixar, which was, you know, reliably winning, winsome fare from Pixar and seemed to go down very well.

We've also had already a film called �Spring Fever� by the dissident Chinese filmmaker Lou Ye. Now, Lou Ye was here a couple of years ago and made a film called �Summer Palace,� which is a bit about Tiananmen Square, and this so kind of enraged the Chinese authorities he was banned for five years from making a film. So the fact that he's back here with another film suggests that he's found a way to get around that ban.

We've also got a film by Pedro Almodovar, �Broken Embraces,� which is a beautiful film starring Penelope Cruz. I'm not sure it adds up to very much, but it's kind of ravishing to look at. And then earlier today, I saw �Tetro,� which is a new film by Francis Ford Coppola.

SIEGEL: And good?

Mr. BROOKS: Very good. You know, Coppola obviously is one of the great giants of film and one of the great beasts of Cannes and then has obviously kind of seriously gone off the rails recently and then went 10 years without making a film. And this is very much going back to his kind of independent roots. It's a black and white film set in Argentina starring Vincent Gallo. And it's a little long. It's got a bit of sort of fat on its bones, but it's a big kind of swooning, romantic film, the kind that you don't really see anymore, and it was refreshing to see him do it.

SIEGEL: Sounds like a tough assignment.

Mr. BROOKS: It's hell out here, I've got to tell you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Okay. Well, thanks for sharing with us, as they say.

Mr. BROOKS: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Xan Brooks from the Cannes Film Festival who writes about film for the British daily, the Guardian. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.