Cannes so far….

'Apocalypse' towers, but others have created buzz

After the first five days of the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, there is little question that the best picture to have graced the Croisette thus far was made 22 years ago. But “Apocalypse Now Redux” aside, several of the official selection titles have sparked considerable positive response, or have at least been substantial enough to stimulate legitimate debate.

The expansion of Francis Coppola’s 1979 Palme d’Or winner quickly took over from the opening nighter, “Moulin Rouge,” as the main talking point of the fest, prompting all but unanimous agreement that it would be difficult for this or any other festival to come up with a contempo film of equal weight or cinematic style. By contrast, Baz Luhrmann’s frenetic evocation of turn-of-the-century Paris, which the director himself admitted is indebted most of all to India’s Bollywood musicals, triggered opinions that were all over the map, with many enjoying its style-over-substance energy but others entirely put off by its busy artificiality.

Industryites who questioned DreamWorks’ decision to submit its revisionist fairy tale “Shrek” in competition to the Cannes highbrows had their fears allayed, as the animated pic went over like gangbusters with critics and audiences alike. Few now doubt that the film has an enormous future ahead of it in all territories and with all demographics.

On the more serious side of the competition, the best received film thus far is undoubtedly Danis Tanovic’s bitterly comic look at the Bosnian-Serbian conflict, “No Man’s Land,” an absurdist-flavored first film entered under the Bosnian flag. Pic has energy and impudent humor to burn, and takes a stance that feels just right in its view of the warring sides as well as the activities of the United Nations and the media.

Another film involving borders, Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s “Kandahar” from Iran, divided festgoers, as some were very taken with its startling visions of ghastly and surreal scenes in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, while others were put off by the odd dominance of English dialogue and certain unanswered narrative questions. Also splitting critics was the Coen brothers’ latest, the ’40s-set film noir “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” which some felt was a minor effort from the estimable team and quite a few placed among their best films.

Nonagenarian Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira delivered a little bauble, “I’m Going Home,” which was at least short and unpretentious, and even lightly amusing at times. But three other films aren’t reckoned to figure much come awards time — Marc Recha’s “Pau and His Brother” from Spain, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s listless, disappointing “Distance” from Japan and Catherine Corsini’s sometimes intriguing but not terribly edifying study of a long-term female friendship, “Replay” from France.

Out of competition, Roman Coppola’s look at ’60s filmmaking in Paris, “CQ,” proved a wash, and Claire Denis’ “shocking” study of sexual hunger, “Trouble Every Day,” was mostly dismissed as an arty grotesquerie, although the director’s faithful may gather around it to an extent.

Un Certain Regard sidebar has produced a few films garnering more favorable notices than not, including Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s fun Japanese genre exercise “Kairo,” Yves Caumon’s “Boyhood Loves” from France, Todd Solondz’s darkly comic two-parter “Storytelling,” Abel Ferrara’s partial return to form, the family-centered drug meller ” ‘R Xmas” and, to a more divided degree, French helmer Jacques Doillon’s youthpic “Totally Flaky.”

By contrast, the Directors Fortnight, other its respectable showings by its French opener “Martha … Martha” from Sandrine Veysset and by Arliss Howard’s Yank indie “Big Bad Love,” has been pretty quiet thus far.