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The Reeler Blog

NYC in the Cannes (Again)

Eleanore Hendricks in The Pleasure of Being Robbed, one of the better-received NYC films at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival (Photo: Visit Films)

By S.T. VanAirsdale

The recently ended Cannes Film Festival wasn't quite the gathering of New York minds that we witnessed a year ago, but there was still a contingent worth watching, debating and -- obviously -- speculating over when it was all said and done. As The Reeler was chained in its New York salt mines, however, it became necessary to parse Synecdoche, New York, Two Lovers and other local-titles-in-limbo from this side of the Atlantic. And while the final landing place of many of these films has yet to be determined (count on at least two or three of them to screen at the New York Film Festival along with Palme D'Or winner The Class and other award-grabbers by Nuri Bilge Ceylan and the Dardennes), we still had plenty to go on while diagnosing how NYC fared on the Croisette.


Yes, it's a French/Spanish production by a director from Louisiana. But Steven Soderbergh's controversial four-hour-plus Che Guevara biopic actually shot its first scenes in New York in 2006. ("The sequence we're shooting now is when he came to New York and spoke at the U.N. in December of '64," he told Coming Soon at the time. "I guess the U.N. is going to be refurbished, and we've gotta get in there before they do.") The film was probably the most talked-about at the festival, particularly for its post-production status: Is it finished? Unfinished? One epic or two parts? GreenCine Daily (naturally) has the most comprehensive round-up of the discussion, itself seemingly as protean as the film it attempts to dissect. DISTRIBUTION STATUS: Murky. Domestic buyers have balked at the Spanish-language epic's reported $10 million price tag; its festival future is also complicated by its running time and structure, which even its strongest supporters assume will change in the months ahead.

Chelsea on the Rocks

Abel Ferrara's first documentary feature chronicles the cultural history of the Chelsea Hotel as well as the challenges facing the bohemian monolith in the 21st century. Annaliese Griffin followed Ferrara through his preparations last year for The Reeler, and the loose, personal feel captured then apparently comes through loud and clear in Ferrara's film. For what that's worth, because... DISTRIBUTION STATUS: None. As reported in Dennis Lim's profile in Sunday's LA Times, Chelsea may likely continue Ferrara's dubious 12-year run of fest-bouncing, distributor-allergic work. It seems like a no-brainer for a small New York run this fall, but we'd be happy with a Moving Image one-off in the re-done Clearview Chelsea West it's planning with the School of Visual Arts.

The Pleasure of Being Robbed

Josh Safdie's microbudget comedy about a New York kleptomaniac was one of the finds of this year's South by Southwest (check David Lowery's rave) and a surprise pick for the closing-night slot of the 40th Directors Fortnight. DISTRIBUTION STATUS: IFC closed a deal just before Cannes, adding Robbed to its now-annual Croisette buying binge that also included acclaimed premieres by Arnaud Desplechin (A Christmas Tale) and Steve McQueen (Hunger). Added bonus: Safdie talked about the film with IFC's Matt Singer here.

Synecdoche, New York

Charlie Kaufman confused and bemused the Cannnes crowd in equal measure with his directorial debut, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman as a playwright consumed by his neverending work; some bristled at its unchecked ambition while others surrendered to its impenetrability. In any case, the ensemble mindfuck it went home empty-handed after being among the most anticipated titles in competition. DISTRIBUTION STATUS: Imminent, but not ideal. Anne Thompson fired the first shot at Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, the Synecdoche backer she accused of panicking with an early buyers screening -- thus preempting the natural buzz preceding its late-fest screening. We'll never know the real impact of SKE's move, but it hardly seems like it matters now that the film's non-commerciality is among its thorniest public attributes.

Two Lovers

After taking his crime thriller We Own the Night to last year's fest, Cannes regular James Gray returned a year later with the Manhattan love-triangle melodrama starring Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw. Reviews, again, were mixed, and unlike 2007 -- when Night sold for nearly $11 million out of the gate -- Gray and Co. left Cannes without a deal. DISTRIBUTION STATUS: Also imminent -- though, as Tony Scott notes in one of his best Cannes entries, the festival has always been among Gray's more hospitable climates: "French critics championed directors like Nicholas Ray and [Clint] Eastwood long before their American counterparts did, and have frequently helped teach us to appreciate our native talents. In the case of Mr. Gray, the lesson may take a while, at least judging from the groans and sneers I heard from some colleagues after the Monday-night screening." My money's on Fox Searchlight to grab it by the end of June.


Buzz on James Toback's candid portrait of the former heavyweight champ/ex-con/raconteur terrible was deafening from the start. "'Documentary' is a misnomer," wrote Boston Globe critic Ty Burr. "[T]he movie’s more a pained confession that resolves nothing, a penetration of mystery that merely reveals further mysteries. ... The tragedy is that, by the end, Tyson, an old man at age 40, seems to have acquired self-knowledge but not genuine wisdom; he has renounced the animal within but seems uncertain with what to replace it. You come out of the movie hoping for the best and fearing for the worst, which already is a more nuanced position than you probably went in with." DISTRIBUTION STATUS: Acquired by Sony Pictures Classics for release in 2009.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

With most of its early momentum coming from the disputed quality of Scarlet Johansson and Penelope Cruz's lesbian liplock, Woody Allen wound up returning to New York with some of his most consistent accolades in years. We're so proud! DISTRIBUTION STATUS: The Weinstein Company is opening Aug. 29 in wide release.

Wendy and Lucy

Cannes welcomed the latest feature from Kelly Reichardt, whose wildly overpraised Old Joy went seismic at Sundance two years ago. Her latest features Michelle Williams as a young woman stranded in the Pacific Northwest with (and then without) her dog en route to seeking a factory job in Alaska. Karina Longworth called it good if "one-note"; Alison Wilmore was much fonder, particularly of the "frighteningly vulnerable" Williams, "an indie urchin stuck in circumstances both dire and mundane, her open face registering every frustration, triumph and terror despite her efforts otherwise." DISTRIBUTION STATUS: None, but noted indie oddsmaker Manohla Dargis is calling her shot: "Though distributors were circling the room, this pitch-perfect triumph had yet to attract an American buyer. It will." Now that they can put that pullquote on the poster, sure.

Posted at May 26, 2008 1:12 PM

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