Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Questions Now That Cannes Is over It's Time to Reassess What the Festival Means to the International Culture Debate

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Questions Now That Cannes Is over It's Time to Reassess What the Festival Means to the International Culture Debate

Article excerpt

The screens are dark, the auditoriums are empty, the red carpets at the Palais des Festivals are rolled up and stowed away. Another edition of the Cannes International Film Festival has come and gone, marking 49 years of art, commerce, and star-gazing in one of Europe's most glamorous seaside resorts.

Preparations have already begun for next year's event, which will celebrate a half-century of achievement. It's an excellent time to ask a couple of key questions: Have the functions and purposes of Cannes changed over the past five decades? Is the movie world better off because of it, or are its activities geared mainly toward insiders thinking more of their own careers than the public's cultural needs?

There are no easy answers. Turning to the second question first, it's impossible to separate the overall health of the cultural scene from the accomplishments of individuals who may define success in ways quite different from one another, or even from the bulk of moviegoers who make up their potential audience.

Director David Cronenberg was trounced by many viewers here for the sex-and-violence excesses of his new "Crash." Prior to the Cannes jury giving the film a closing-night prize for audacity and originality, Cronenberg told me he had no regrets about bringing it here because its artistic intentions had at least been acknowledged, if not applauded.

"Crash" novelist J.G. Ballard agreed, telling me he'd rather have his work debated than ignored. Robert Altman similarly called Cannes a good launching pad for his "Kansas City," less a standard melodrama than a moody exploration of American acquisitiveness against a background of traditional jazz.

"I could be directing 'Aliens 4' for a lot more money," Cronenberg noted, acknowledging that his brand of unsettling cinema will always be more seriously received in places like Cannes than on commercial theater screens. Some feel this demonstrates the irrelevance of Cannes to the interests of everyday movie fans. Yet if Cronenberg's next film proves a popular hit - still being planned, it's about an automobile designer and the racing-car circuit - momentum gained from this year's controversy will have helped get the project off the drawing board and on the screen.

Looking at the services provided by Cannes as cinema's most glamorous showcase, it's clear the festival's usefulness has undergone many changes over the decades. First conceived as a way of reintroducing European film to the world market after World War II, the event has served in recent years as a sort of motion-picture Mixmaster, blending European art movies and American blockbusters into programs called eclectic and challenging by some, dazed and confused by others.

Cannes took a decided turn toward the artistic end of the spectrum this year, in part because many desirable Hollywood productions simply weren't finished in time for the programming deadline. …

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