Few cracks in language barriers

The most arresting image so far in Cannes may be the one we can just imagine rather than see: George Lucas impatiently pacing the deck of the Queen Mary II this morning as he gears himself up for the crowd coming on board to see him receive the so-called Cannes Prize.

That he’ll be on the biggest boat in the harbor is altogether fitting, I suppose. After all, he is the force behind the biggest movie franchise of all time. So why should he have to mingle with the hoi polloi?

“Star Wars: Episode III — Return of the Sith” screens out of competition tonight — and arguably will gross more money than all the Cannes competish contenders combined.

Not that all Palme d’Or winners do paltry box office.

Last year’s unlikely winner, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” did unprecedented biz, especially for a docu. It even sparked a mini-boomlet in nonfiction theatricals.

These two ends of the filmmaking spectrum, “Star Wars” and “9/11,” have, however, contributed to problems for lots of other folks, mainly of the fest persuasion.

Blockbusters like Lucas’ opus now take up so, so many screens at the local multiplex that much else is squeezed out.

What screens are left are taken up by the burgeoning indie fare being generated by the burgeoning units of the same Hollywood congloms that produce the tentpoles like “Star Wars”: Think Universal’s Focus, Fox’s Searchlight, Time Warner’s new unit Picturehouse, et al.

Finally, there’s the odd sleeper like “9/11” or “The Passion” to take up what remaining slack or unwanted release dates might be left.

All this means there’s very little room left in commercial or arthouse theaters in the U.S. for foreign fare, especially if it’s not in the English language. (OK, there’s always a “House of Flying Daggers” exception.)

Still, a pity, this.

And an irony, too.

Take the Asian titles here in Cannes.

Judging from the sheer abundance of such pics peppered through the official program — I counted 20 of them — there’s a veritable flowering of cinematic talent from that part of the world.

And yet, unless one or another of these — maybe the Hou Hsiao Hsien or the Wang Xiaoshuai — manages to stand out at a festival like Cannes as truly exceptional, few if any of these will, at least in America, ever see the light of day.

As I said, a pity.

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