Sat, May 24, 2003 - Page 16 News List

Films critical of the US favored at this year's Palme d'Or


As the Cannes film festival gets set to hold its glamorous closing ceremony tomorrow, a handful of movies taking a skeptical view of the US have emerged as front-runners for the prestigious Palme d'Or award.

Dogville, by Danish director Lars von Trier, The Barbarian Invasions by Canada's Denys Arcand, and Elephant by US director Gus Van Sant have all risen to the top of the field of 20 vying for the prize.

But, while US media, keen to emphasize the political rift between Paris and Washington over Iraq have been sensitive to anything that might betray an anti-US bias, the directors themselves have denied they were making a scapegoat out of America.

"I feel like an American actually: Ich bin ein American," von Trier said after a screening of his film, a dark tale of human morality set in a small US town that has become the reviewers' clear favorite.

The movie, starring Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman and portrayed as a stage play with almost no props or sets, tells the story of a woman running away from gangsters, who is taken in by the residents of the town, only to become a prisoner of their increasingly depraved desires.

Arcand, too, said America was a focus of his French-language film -- but that the theme was fitting as it was a follow-on from his acclaimed The Decline of the American Empire 17 years ago.

"I am neither anti- nor pro-American," he told a media conference.

In Elephant, the volatile issue of US gun laws returns to the screen as Academy Award-winning American director Van Sant revives the drama of Columbine High, site of the worst school gun massacre in his country's history.

Outside the competition, the land of the Star Spangled Banner also caught the imagination of filmmakers.

In Belleville Rendez-Vous, an amusing feature-length cartoon by French director Sylvain Chomet, the main characters -- themselves French caricatures -- find themselves in a version of Manhattan populated with waddling, fat-bottomed, giant-toothed morons.

And in The Fog of War, US director Errol Morris raises questions about the flexing of US military power in the past and today with his documentary on Vietnam war-era US defense secretary Robert McNamara.

The criticism comes during a tough time for the US attendees at Cannes -- economically speaking, that is.

The diving dollar and shrinking US economy have hit the Riviera party circuit hard, cutting the size and number of functions meant to promote individual films or studios. US attendance in the market section of Cannes, where film deals are made, is down 7 percent this year.

The Hollywood Reporter, a US film industry magazine, said it was likely that "Cannes 2003 will go down as a soft market for American dealmakers".

But the US has struck back in terms of productions being screened and with star power.

Keanu Reeves turned up for the premiere of The Matrix Reloaded, which has gone on to bumper box office success around the world. And Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kevin Costner, Meg Ryan and Elizabeth Taylor have all been spreading the Hollywood halo over the festival.

Yesterday, Clint Eastwood was scheduled to present Mystic River, a thriller he directed that is in competition for the Palme d'Or.

Though the film is termed "conventional but worthy" by The Hollywood Reporter, two of the actors in it -- Sean Penn and Tim Robbins -- were fiercely opposed to President George W. Bush's war on Iraq, raising the possibility of one last criticism before Cannes closes tomorrow.

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