Hard times for the economy. Hard times for the Cannes Film Festival, at least in terms of splashy Hollywood films for which the world's most prestigious cinema showcase is known.
Cannes opens Wednesday with Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett and Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood," one of the few A-list premieres at this year's festival, whose lineup has an undercurrent of economic themes.
The timing of Cannes could not be better for "Robin Hood." The movie opens theatrically Wednesday in France and elsewhere over the next two days, including the U.S. debut Friday. The media frenzy as Crowe and Blanchett strut the Cannes red carpet is great publicity as it tries to compete with current blockbuster "Iron Man 2."
"It's an honor, but it's also bloody useful. Everything today is marketing. You've got to get positioned really fast. You better establish yourself in that opening week," said director Scott, who was not attending Cannes because of recent knee surgery. "We're very happy to be opening Cannes, because it's such an enormous venue and helps get your film out there."
Along with "Robin Hood," starring Crowe as the roguish archer battling medieval robber barons, Cannes offers a first look at financial wolves of our own times with Michael Douglas in Oliver Stone's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," the follow-up to their 1987 hit "Wall Street."
The 12-day festival also features director Charles Ferguson's "Inside Job," a documentary narrated by Matt Damon that examines the causes of the economic meltdown. The Directors' Fortnight, a lineup of films outside the festival's main program, also features Jean-Stephane Bron's "Cleveland vs. Wall Street," about a lawsuit against mortgage bankers the city blames for devastating real-estate foreclosures.
Stone's "Wall Street" follow-up brings back Douglas' corporate raider Gordon Gekko. After getting caught in the first film, Gekko did eight years in prison, wrote a memoir and now is itching to get back into the trading game from which he is barred.
Set amid the financial chaos of 2008, the new movie is not simply the further adventures of Gekko but a story about the runaway train Wall Street has become since the first film, Stone said.
"Our movie goes beyond. We're not really chasing the movie, because it's 22 years later," Stone said. "We're trying to bookend it and say this is a new 'Wall Street,' this is 'Wall Street 2.' This is another time and place. Things have changed, and millions of dollars have now become billions of dollars."
The new "Wall Street" co-stars Shia LaBeouf, Carey Mulligan, Josh Brolin and Frank Langella, and it features a brief appearance from Charlie Sheen, reprising his role from the original.
"Inside Job" is a nonfiction counterpart, chronicling the long prelude of greed and excess before the economy went bust.
"A gigantic crisis was a quasi-inevitable result of the emergence over the last 30 years of investment banking as an unregulated, out-of-control, criminal industry," director Ferguson said. "As the industry grew and became wealthier, became more powerful, it progressively disabled all the alarm systems and corrupted all the people and institutions that should have restrained it and did restrain it prior to the 1980s."
Brolin also co-stars with Naomi Watts, Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins and Freida Pinto in Woody Allen's ensemble romance, "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger," which premieres at Cannes. Watts has another Cannes entry, co-starring with Sean Penn in Doug Liman's "Fair Game," in which she plays CIA covert operative Valerie Plame, whose identity was leaked by officials in the Bush administration.
"Fair Game" is the only film by an American director among the 19 competing for the Palme d'Or, the festival's top prize. As many as five American films have competed in past years, and festival director Thierry Fremaux said he hopes the scant American presence will be temporary.
"The Cannes Film Festival must show more American films," he said. "That's part of our tradition and part of what we want for the future."
Most of the big-name films at Cannes, including Stone, Allen and Scott's movies, are screening out of competition. Others playing out of competition include Stephen Frears' comedy "Tamara Drewe," starring Gemma Arterton; Diego Luna's child drama "Abel"; and Olivier Assayas' five-hour-plus terrorism epic "Carlos," with Edgar Ramirez.
The competition includes three films directed by past Palme d'Or winners: Mike Leigh's "Another Year," starring Jim Broadbent; Ken Loach's "Route Irish"; and Abbas Kiarostami's "Certified Copy." Also in the running are two films from past winners of the festival's directing prize: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Biutiful," with Javier Bardem, and Bernard Tavernier's "The Princess of Montpensier."
The fact that only 19 films are in the festival's main competition indicates that organizers had fewer to choose from this time. The competition typically includes 20 to 22 films.
"Last year, numerous important directors were at Cannes. This year, most of these important filmmakers are writing or filming - working, in any case," Fremaux said. "The selection process was, therefore, a delicate matter, given the absence of all these filmmakers. The selection is a nice one, one which forced us to use our imagination."
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