Originally created 05/15/98

Forget Hollywood: Cannes prefers dark, brooding films



CANNES, France -- After a flashy opening featuring the American star power of John Travolta-turned-Clintonesque, Hollywood has had its night at Cannes.

Now the film festival can get back to familiar subjects: Funerals. Physical disability. Concentration camps.

Those are just some of the areas explored by the 22 films in competition this year, making for a dark selection.

But the lineup at this 51st edition of Cannes also is one of the most anticipated in years, with a number of films seen as possible winners. That's a contrast to last year, when many couldn't name a film halfway through the festival that they considered good enough for the top prize.

The Cannes likes to highlight Hollywood fare on opening and closing nights -- such as this year's "Primary Colors" starring John Travolta as a Bill Clinton-like character running for president.

But when it comes to the 11 days of competition, the festival prefers independent films of a more brooding mode.

"That's Cannes," says veteran festival-goer Alex Ben Block, editor of the Hollywood Reporter. "They like moody films with a disturbing, cutting edge.

"You end up with some that are brilliant, and some that are unwatchable."

There should be both kinds this year. A few examples, from descriptions given to the press:

-- "Those Who Love Me Will Take the Train," a French film by Patrice Chereau, focuses on a long train trip to a funeral.

-- "Life is Beautiful," a highly praised Italian film directed by and starring Roberto Benigni, is about a father and son deported to a concentration camp. It is described as a comedy about the Holocaust.

-- "The Idiots" a much-anticipated Danish film by Lars von Trier, a Cannes winner for his searing "Breaking the Waves." The film deals, roughly, with a group of young people exploring the dark side of life, and is said to contain explicit group sex.

-- "The Hole," from Taiwan's Tsai Ming-Liang, is set just before 2000, when a strange epidemic is sweeping the land, garbage isn't being picked up, and there isn't any water. A man observes his neighbor through a hole in his floor.

-- "Dance Me to My Song," from Australia's Rolf de Heer, is written and acted by Heather Rose. The press notes begin: "What do you do when you're stuck in a (expletive) wheelchair and you can't talk except using a voice machine and your caregiver doesn't give a (expletive) for anything except herself?"

The head of the festival, Gilles Jacob, says he chose so many dark, brooding films because they are better.

"We want to show only very high-quality films," he told the Hollywood Reporter. "So the small, rather cheery family films we see in the United States are not of high enough caliber for us."

And comedies, he says, don't travel well. "Many Neapolitan comedies that make people from Naples scream with laughter don't amuse us at all."

On closing night, though, it will be back to Hollywood in a big way.

The final film, showing out of competition, is "Godzilla."