Is fest’s best yet to come?

'Distant,' 'Swimming' create mild buzz in competition

As the Cannes Film Festival lolled through its first weekend, festgoers were wondering when it was going to throw off the ropes, hoist its sails and find a propulsive burst of wind.

After four days of full programming, films in all sections of the festival had mostly failed to stir the crowds in any significant way. With the dismal opener, “Fanfan La Tulipe” and the “Matrix Reloaded” onslaught out of the way, viewers looking for some fresh stimulation found bits of it here and there, but are still waiting for something genuinely exciting.

In the competition, the high art favorite is Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Distant,” a rarified look at male ennui told in a beautifully composed, minimalist style. A more general crowd-pleaser, to a great extent for the pleasures of the flesh offered by starlet Ludivine Sagnier, was Francois Ozon’s pulpy meller “Swimming Pool,” which should have a decent future on the international specialized circuit.

Beginning what is inevitably going to be a controversial life, Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant,” a largely improvised study of a high school shooting altogether too much like Columbine, provoked the expected split reaction, but with many on the downbeat side.

Otherwise, little will likely be heard in the future of the other titles unspooled thus far. Raoul Ruiz’s “That Day” only partially pleased his fans and aggravated others; Andre Techine’s “Strayed,” about the dynamics of a family and a stranger occupying a rural French house during the early days of WWII, seemed a minor work from the director; Samira Makhmalbaf’s “At Five in the Afternoon” offered some striking images of post-Taliban Afghanistan but also had much that was arch and didactic, and Pupi Avati’s “The Heart Lies Elsewhere” was well-upholstered sentimental claptrap.

Out of competition, the late Joao Cesar Monteiro’s “Coming and Going” had viewers going in droves, while newcomer Gilles Marchand’s French suspenser “Who Killed Bambi?” was DOA.

Highlight of the Official Selection’s special screenings was Wim Wenders’ wonderful entry in the forthcoming TV series on the blues, “The Soul of a Man,” which imaginatively evokes the lives and work of three legendary singer-songwriters.

Aside from Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s Sundance winner “American Splendor,” the notable title in an otherwise bereft Un Certain Regard program has been Scottish director David Mackenzie’s “Young Adam,” a finely wrought study of an amoral womanizer, well played by Ewan McGregor, in early ’50s Scotland.

The Directors Fortnight, in its first year under director Francois da Silva, has been nearly equally barren thus far. Roger Michell’s “The Mother,” from a Hanif Kureishi script about an older woman who becomes involved with her daughter’s boyfriend, attracted some attention but didn’t convince, while Norwegian helmer Bent Hamer’s “Kitchen Stories” was regarded as well made but not up to his previous “Eggs.” Entries in the Critics’ Week have been mediocre across the boards.

The hope at the moment is that all sections of the fest have deliberately saved their goodies for later on.

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