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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

WAGES OF LIVING THE HARD LIFE

As NY Times critic A.O. Scott points out in his dispatches from Cannes, the French have a pedigree for a certain type of American filmmaker. Gus Van Sant, Woody Allen, the Coen Brothers, Michael Moore and Jim Jarmusch. In reality, these auteur filmmakers don't have the following anywhere in America that Cannes has created for them -- none of our American festivals have given them as much prominence or honors. But Cannes has elevated them to a position of international influence for their uniqueness and personal vision.

France was the foremost nation that fought for a cherished position for the author and authorship as a concept. Through the centuries, the French insisted that authorship is a transcendental right and cannot be negotiated either in contract or transferred in payment -- a radical concept. Hence it should not be surprising that the Americans filmmakers Jim Jarmusch, Joel and Ethan Coen, Woody Allen, and Gus Van Sant are honored in France more than in their home country.

Appearing at Cannes for the eight time, Jarmsuch screened his film BROKEN FLOWERS which stars Bill Murray and a cast of top liners Sharon Stone, Jessica Lange, Julie Delpy and Chloe Sevigny along with Jeffrey Wright. Only writer/director Jarmusch can comically elongate a story to avoid the obvious emotional sentimentality one-two-three that American films demand regardless of whether they are Hollywood or indie films. The New York 80s gen filmmaker is astude in avoiding heavy-handed metaphors and allows the viewer space to contemplate what his characters are thinking. Too many movies want to beat you over the head telling what their characters are thinking. It is nice to get the breathing space.

A film directed by another great icon of 80s independent filmmaking Wim Wenders unreels at Cannes. DON'T COME KNOCKING written by Sam Shepard offers a similar story of a hard living soul vacant playboy in search of unknown offspring. Jarmusch and Wenders careers have interesting intersections that come together again with story theme but also in the form of Minnesota actress Jessica Lang who plays almost identical roles. BROKEN FLOWERS and DON'T COME KNOCKING provides an interesting contrast between the two writer/directors working with similar material.

Gus Vant Sant's LAST DAYS is said to be loosely based on the final days in the life of hard living of Seattle grung rocker Kurt Cobain along the theme of the price of fame and raw genius. Although, Van Sant's central character Blake is fictional, we know he is Cobain because of the famous hat with ear flaps that Cobain always wore in the last year of his life. The problem Van Sant is sure to encounter, especially with the Cobain faithful, is the comparisons that are sure to be drawn between the soundtrack's uneasy renditions of Nirvana's originals.

Bent Hamer's FACTOTUM features what many are saying a personal best performance by Matt Dillion in another story about a hard lviing, woman abusing middle aged male. Lacking a unknown offspring waiting Burkowski's alter-ego, FACTOTUM could easily be seen as another variation of this years Cannes theme of middle-aged men paying repentance for living the hard life.

Cannes awards will be announced in ceremonies on Saturday evening May 21st.

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