The American Pavilion (AmPav, for those in a rush) is marked with Roger Ebert’s name on the conference room wall. His portrait looks over the hundreds that gather daily in that bustling place, a mix of film students, industry professionals and the like finding a cool place to relax in familiar environs.
On the first Tuesday films started in earnest, and I took in three that each serve as a kind of signpost for the diversity of the fest’s selection. The first was Christophe Castagne and Thomas Sametin’s “For the Sake of Peace,” an accessible if slightly straightforward portrait of young peacemakers in South Sudan trying to better their country’s fortunes through acts of empathy and compassion. Executive produced by Forest Whitaker and tied to the humanitarian work he does as part of a U.N. Mission, the film screened as part of the celebration of his cinematic talents that took place during the opening ceremony, one that (like most years) included some truly egregious musical performances.
Just before the ceremony, I watched all 3 hours and 40 minutes of Jean Eustache’s 1973 masterwork “La Maman et la Putain (aka, The Mother and the Whore),” a film that a half century later remains as provocative and influential as when it debuted here in Cannes. The film’s breakthrough star Françoise Lebrun was at this anniversary screening, attending with her director of last year’s “Vortex,” Gaspar Noé. The restoration is remarkable, and while some of its pacing and repetition hasn’t aged as well as it could, it is obvious even on my first viewing about why this is considered by many one of the greatest films to come out of this country.
Then there was “Final Cut,” Michel Hazanavicius redux of Shin’ichirō Ueda’s 2017 zombie meta-film “One Cut of the Dead”. As someone who got a chance to see the original at Montreal’s Fantasia Festival with one of their trademark boisterous crowds, the reaction of those collected at the Dubussy for the French Language version was obviously more muted. Still, I was actually charmed by the remake, and love the idea of a meta film commenting on another meta film, resulting in nestled spheres of reference that work just as well for those that had never seen the original as for those that already know when the jokes are going to land. It’s light stuff, to be sure, but given the often turgid, overwrought nonsense that opens this festival (looking at you, “Grace of Monaco”) I had less to complain about than some that we blasted off with bucket of blood.