The first Saturday of Cannes, usually the busiest day in terms of just about everything, belonged to Gus, Carol and Amy.
First up, Gus Van Sant and total revenge against booing critics’ negative reaction Friday night to the press screening of his moving new film Sea Of Trees, which they just didn’t seem to get. However the official premiere crowd Saturday night did get it — to the tune of what I am reliably told was a two-and-a-half-minute standing ovation. At the Baoli Beach after-party many told me they had tears in their eyes. For the filmmakers it was understandable relief after an unnecessary pile-on from some in the Cannes critical fraternity. Star Matthew McConaughey and director Van Sant were swarmed by well-wishers. Earlier in the day at the press conference McConaughey said people have a right to boo if they want to. He has far too much class.
Co-star Naomi Watts, like McConaughey excellent in the film, told me she isn’t going to read those reviews. “It is completely disorienting to wake up in Cannes to that,” she said, somewhat confused about the initial reaction. Cannes Jury member Sienna Miller was chatting it up with her, telling me she is a huge fan of Watts. And who isn’t? Screenwriter Chris Sparling whose script was originally on Hollywood’s prestigious Black List, said he was just relieved it got such a good reaction at its Cannes premiere, rather than what the critics had him braced for. One moviegoer said that having read those reviews she was prepared for the worst and instead got just the opposite. Watts actually wondered why Cannes allows reviews to appear before the premieres, and it is a good question. Studios regularly hold critics to embargos, but here, once the film is seen either the night before or the morning of the premiere, critics are free to write or tweet whatever they want, leading to embarrassing situations like what happened with Sea Of Trees in putting an initial cloud over the festivities.
Roadside Attractions toppers Howard Cohen and Erik d’Arbeloff were also relieved about the nice crowd reaction Saturday, but said they still haven’t dated the movie, which may not appear until 2016, a similar strategy to the one they used with Mud, their 2013 Cannes pickup. I was also curious about their SXSW pickup Hello, My Name Is Doris starring Sally Field in what some critics were touting as an awards-contending performance, but they are not sure when it will open, perhaps next March said Cohen. They are researching it now. Field is enormously popular within the Academy, and playing a romantic lead at her age could be attractive to her fellow actors, many older than she is. A March release would seem iffy if Oscar is even a possibility, but the Roadside guys say the movie isn’t easy to categorize and they want to be sure to get the right date. A December qualifying run could be something that will be discussed, but it’s all up in the air right now.
Meanwhile, speaking of Oscars, one of The Weinstein Company’s and the Cannes competition’s big hopes for this year, the December release Todd Haynes’ Carol, got its first screening for the press Saturday night and the reaction was euphoric, particularly for stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, both instant possibilities for Oscar nominations respectively in lead and supporting actress. Of course Blanchett can do no wrong and was equally great in the March smash Cinderella, and already has two Oscars under her belt. But this title role is simply too good to ignore as she plays a wealthy wife and mother in a broken marriage who begins a scandalous lesbian relationship with department-store clerk Mara. The 1952-set story examines the taboos of the time but seems very contemporary in the telling, including a red hot love scene between the pair that had eyebrows raised in my row (although nowhere near the levels of 2013 Palme d’Or winner Blue Is The Warmest Color).
Haynes of course is obsessed with this era, having already brought the brilliant Far From Heaven to the screen in 2002. That film, which starred Julianne Moore and grabbed four Oscar nominations, also had gay themes running through it. It seems Haynes, with his Douglas Sirk influences, is intrigued with the idea of doing what was known in the ’50s as a “woman’s picture” but giving it a sense of reality that wasn’t possible in the female-driven vehicles back then. Actually in some ways Carol has echoes of William Wyler’s 1961 drama, The Children’s Hour with Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn as two teachers who are accused of having an “unnatural” relationship. MacLaine has always complained that the film was watered down in the final cut back then, not really dealing with these issues. I saw it again recently at the TCM Classic Film Festival and though it is a victim of its less-forthcoming times, it still holds up.
By the way, Rooney is just a beautiful marvel in Carol — at times a dead ringer for the young Audrey Hepburn and at other times, Jean Simmons. This girl is a movie star. On a negative note, although Haynes serves women brilliantly, the men in Carol don’t rise above one-dimensional, although Kyle Chandler gives it a try. But no matter, in this year of the woman at Cannes, this movie resonates. Hopefully the small, impeccably made film won’t be hyped to the heavens by critics here (the opposite problem of Sea Of Trees) because it really just needs to be discovered by audiences on their own. It is based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 romance novel The Price Of Salt (script adaptation is by Phyllis Nagy), which was clearly way ahead of its time. It’s only taken Hollywood 63 years to catch up.
Then there was Amy, and it stunned Cannes in its premiere today. Asif Kapadia, director of 2010’s auto-racing legend biopic Senna has brought the short, tragic, remarkable story of troubled singing superstar Amy Winehouse to amazing life on the screen. It’s riveting, a classic Hollywood story we’ve seen told in various forms since the early days of What Price Hollywood? which was the forerunner of A Star Is Born and its many continuing iterations. Ultimately this shooting star’s tale is unrelentingly sad — a once-in-a-generation talent unprepared for a life of no escape from prying cameras. It is that footage left behind, the footage that virtually destroyed her life along with many addictions and a disastrous relationship, that Kapadia has so masterfully assembled. This life is captured on film, almost like no other until her untimely death at the age of 27. It is all mixed with interviews and that extraordinary music she made. What a loss, but what a find is this movie which A24 is releasing in New York and L.A. on July 3rd, same day as in her native Britain. To say I was blown away by this movie is an understatement. An early frontrunner for the 2015 Best Documentary Oscar? There can be do doubt.