Quentin speaks

Jury prexy Tarantino waxes enthusiastically on the 'film first' aesthetic

Quentin Tarantino has just eyeballed the Cannes lineup for the first time and he’s amped. “The fact an anime is playing in Cannes is fantastic,” he says. “And it’s about time Park Chan-wook (‘Old Boy’) is at Cannes. He’s one of the most exciting action cinema directors out there!

“There’s a nice mix of fest favorites and not just every director that has won a Palme d’Or at Cannes,” he continues. “There are familiar faces and brand new faces. And there seems to be a movie emphasis.”

As in popcorn movies?

“No, not just commercial stuff. Not popcorn,” Tarantino explains. ” ‘Old Boy’ is a pretty tough movie, from what I hear. I know about nine people who have seen it…” He gets carried away again, expounding on the fabulousness of South Korean action cinema.

What he means is movies for movie lovers. That’s a good thing, because this year the Cannes Film Festival has entrusted the feature film jury presidency to a bona fide, passionate cinephile.

“It’s going to be a good time,” Tarantino says, thinking ahead to his nearly two-week-long tour of movie-watching duty.

With several features in the lineup that seem hand-picked for the helmer (whose most recent two-part pic, “Kill Bill,” is a love letter to a vast range of genres and films, particularly Asian ones), there was some speculation that Tarantino might have snuck the fest programmers a little wishlist.

“I didn’t have a say in any of this,” insists the Cannes jury topper.

He’d spoken to fest director Thierry Fremaux some weeks ago when he visited Los Angeles. “We just had a talk — a big gigantic philosophical talk,” Tarantino says. But their tete-a-tete was more what is expected of the head juror.

Fremaux explained that there were two extremes: The authoritarian jury president who calls for daily 7 a.m. meetings to discuss the films and, at the other end, the slacker head who expects his jury to just see the movies and show up at the end for a meeting to decide what wins.

“He said, ‘There’s a place in the middle. It would be nice if you weren’t an authoritarian but actually did lead people.'”

Tarantino is down with that and already has something of a game plan.

“More or less the head of the jury dictates the aesthetic,” he says. “One president will have a more political aesthetic, another president a more grandiose aesthetic; some are minimalistic, some are nationalistic… My aesthetic is a ‘cinema first’ aesthetic. It’s not what the movie’s about, or what it cost, or what country it came from, or whether it’s animated, or a doc or not, or made under a political regime under which the director went to jail for 92 years… It doesn’t matter — may the best movie win!”

As for the logistics: “I want to have a big meeting in the beginning to explain where I’m coming from and to go over the guidelines and then start watching the flicks. Then maybe another meeting to see where we are.”

He adds: “I don’t want a snooty jury. I want people to be passionate about the films. If you see a movie and like it, the director is expecting you to champion them. So sell that movie (to the rest of the jury) and tell us what you liked about and it.”

Tarantino certainly knows the value in being championed by a jury. His “Pulp Fiction” won Cannes’ top prize in 1994. (His first pic to play in Cannes, “Reservoir Dogs,” showed out of competition in 1992). “I’ve always considered Cannes my festival. They discovered me,” he says. “They accepted ‘Reservoir Dogs’ before I even had a distributor. One of my proudest achievements has been winning the Palme d’Or. If my house caught on fire, I’d save the Palme.”