Woody was searched. So was Sharon. And Harvey. At the 55th annual Cannes Film Festival, plebes and stars alike were scanned by metal-detecting black wands and forced to watch as burly security guards pawed through their stuff. But you didn’t need to be elbowed by the gendarmerie to know this normally giddy beach town felt different this year.
”The words Cannes and politics are redundant,” explained Miramax’s L.A. president, Mark Gill. ”Cannes has always reflected politics.” But in 2002, what was reflected was unusually unsettling, with international trouble – and lack of international money – casting a pall that was subdued, serious, and even scared.
In the Palais, audience members were treated to the Israeli Kedma and the Palestinian Divine Intervention (the latter won the festival’s Jury Prize, also known as third place). There were Ken Loach’s and Mike Leigh’s examinations of working-class misery in the U.K., with Sweet Sixteen (for which Paul Laverty took Best Screenplay honors) and All or Nothing, respectively; Atom Egoyan’s out-of-competition exploration of the Armenian genocide in Ararat; and Roman Polanski’s Holocaust-themed entry – and ultimate Palme d’Or winner – The Pianist. In fact, the tenor was pretty much set by the end of the second night, when Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine – the first documentary accepted into competition in 46 years – premiered, showcasing America’s peculiar passion for guns and violence. While U.S. attendees slunk low in their seats, at the end of the screening a French audience member offered support, shouting ”You may have zee guns, but we have zee fascists!” Champagne, anyone?
Actually, there were a few reasons to pop the bubbly. Despite the bleak subject matter, most agreed that the competition films – judged by directors David Lynch (Jury chairman), Claude Miller (The Accompanist), Regis Wargnier (Indochine), Bille August (Pelle the Conqueror), Walter Salles (Central Station), and Raoul Ruiz (Time Regained), and actresses Christine Hakim, Sharon Stone, and Michelle Yeoh – amounted to the strongest slate in years. Alexander Payne brought About Schmidt, starring Jack Nicholson in a performance most felt stood among the best of his career. (See EW critic Lisa Schwarzbaum’s take on page 48.) Paul Thomas Anderson – who shared the best director honors with South Korean helmer Im Kwon-Taek – introduced Adam Sandler as a serious actor in his quirky (and blissfully short) romantic comedy, Punch-Drunk Love. And Michael Winterbottom explored 1980s new-wave music and his beloved Manchester, England, in 24 Hour Party People.
But with most of the big movies already sold to distributors and the global recession very much in evidence, the marketplace proved dismal. ”We actually had good [business], but generally I think it’s as bad as it has ever been,” said Peter Sussman, CEO of Alliance Atlantis Entertainment Group, the company behind Ararat, Bowling for Columbine, and The Good Thief, a Neil Jordan film bought by Fox Searchlight. ”All of us have to be extremely careful. [Now] losing out on a new opportunity could be as much a blessing in disguise as a lost opportunity.”