Euro-Latin faceoff

Crix Week sidebar lines up

PARIS — This year’s Critics Week will be a faceoff between Europe and Latin America, the only two continents with feature films competing in the 45th edition of the Cannes Film Festival sidebar, unveiled Wednesday.

“We saw a lot of American films, but there was nothing that had that wow factor,” said Jean-Christophe Berjot, the sidebar’s artistic director.

Asia — “very disappointing this year,” according to Berjot — is repped only by two short films, one from India and the other from Japan.

In the lack of Asian films and the high number of European films, Critics Week mirrors the trends in the official selection announced last week.

Gaspar Noe, the Gallic helmer of “Irreversible,” is the godfather of this year’s event. He’ll present a screening of “Destricted,” a U.S.-produced collection of pornography-themed short films to which he contributed, along with helmers and artists including Larry Clark and Matthew Barney.

“It’s not being screened at midnight but at 8 p.m.,” said Berjot. “The idea isn’t to get an eyeful. This is a film that will be screening in art galleries and museums afterwards.”

The sidebar kicks off May 18 with France’s “Evil Friendships,” the second film by Emmanuel Bourdieu, scribe-helmer son of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu.

Berjot described pic, set among a group of university friends, as “extremely brilliant but not at all in a showy way.”

Germany, long absent from the sidebar, had five films that could have made the selection this year, Berjot said. Critics Week finally chose “Pingpong,” first-time helmer Matthias Luthardt’s depiction of an extended family behind closed doors.

“There’s something very Austrian about this film, which recalls (Michael) Haneke’s manipulation of his characters, but there’s a real humanity, a sincerity about it,” he said.

Berjot described Norwegian contender “The Bothersome Man” as a “fantastic fable” that has echoes of “The Truman Show.”

“It’s a parable for modern society and the consumerism and obsession with appearance that have replaced sensitivity and human sentiment. The central character’s the only one who finds it all bizarre.”

In another vein, Belgian pic “Komma,” by Martine Doyen, is a very mysterious, dark, tortured tale with an “amazing” perf by Belgian pop singer Arno in the lead role.

“Fresh Air?” is Hungarian helmer Agnes Kocsis’ second pic at Cannes this year; her film school short is in the official selection’s Cinefondation.

“It’s the portrayal of a mother and daughter in Hungary that deals realistically but not overly negatively with the hardships of that society today,” Berjot said. “The mother is a woman who has failed in life, but her daughter still believes in the future.”

In Latin America, Critics Week favored Mexico and Brazil this go-round, selecting Gerardo Naranjo’s “Drama/Mex,” described by Berjot as “a 200-mile-an-hour tale about young people working out what to do with their lives,” and “Ana, Dreams of Fishermen” by Kirill Mikhanovsky, a “sensual, leisurely portrait of a shellfish fisherman. You dip your toes in the water with this film.”

“Critics Week has had a run of discovering talent in Mexico, with (Alejandro Gonzalez) Inarritu and (Guillermo) del Toro, and we’re very happy to have Naranjo’s film.”

In the global search for suitable sidebar fare, Argentina and South Korea — two countries in vogue in recent years — proved disappointing.

“We saw a lot of films from both countries, and most were either very commercial or self-conscious ‘festival’ films that were too disconnected, with no authenticity. Being radical and taking a stance is not an end in itself. Unless a filmmaker has something to say, it makes for films that are boring, empty and vain.”

Closing pic is “Free Jimmy,” a U.K.-Norway co-produced 3-D toon about a circus elephant, helmed by Christopher Nielsen.

“It’s an insolent, trashy film that mocks a bit DreamWorks and Disney’s animated films,” Berjot said.

Critics Week has three other special screenings.

The docu “Kigali, Images Against a Massacre” by reporter-turned-filmmaker Jean-Christophe Klotz, will be accompanied by a debate about current affairs and cinema involving politician and founder of Medecins du Monde Bernard Kouchner.

Humiliation-themed “Soul Kicking,” by Greece’s Yannis Economidis, promises to reproduce the shock effect of last year’s “The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael,” and will receive what Critics Week is billing as a “very special (in the French sense of unusual) screening.”

“They don’t get more somber than this,” said Berjot. “It’s extremely tough … involving the humiliation of an employee by his boss, his colleagues, his wife, everyone.”

“Nocturne,” a feature filmed with a mobile phone by French director Jean Charles Fitoussi, also will receive a special screening.

“It’s a painting in motion,” enthused Berjot. “It is completely captivating.”

2006 Intl. Critics Week

“Ana, Dreams of Fishermen” Kirill Mikhanovsky (Brazil)
“The Bothersome Man” Jens Lien (Norway)
“Drama/Mex” Gerardo Naranjo (Mexico)
“Evil Friendships”* Emmanuel Bourdieu (France)
“Fresh Air” Agnes Kocsis (Hungary)
“Komma” Martine Doyen (Belgium)
“Pingpong” Matthias Luthardt (Germany)

“Destricted” Marina Abramovic/Matthew Barnet/Marco Brambilla/Larry Clark/Sam Taylor-Wood/Gaspar Noe/Richard Price (U.S.)
“Free Jimmy”** Christopher Nielsen (U.K./Norway)
“Kigali, Images Against a Massacre” Jean-Christophe Klotz (France)
“Nocturne” Jean-Charles Fitoussi (France)
“Soul Kicking” Yanni Economidis (Greece)

“Iron” Hiroyuki Nakano (Japan)
“Kristall” Christoph Girardet, Matthias Muller (Germany)
“The Lock” Olivier Ciechelski, Marc Barbe (France)
“News” Ursula Ferrara (Italy)
“Printed Rainbow” Gitangali Rao (India)
“Something Like That” Esmir Filho (Brazil)
“Woman and Gramophone” Johannes Stjarne Nilsson, Ola Simonsson (Sweden)

“Charell” Mikhael Hers (France)
“Marilena de la p7” Cristian Nemescu (Romania)
“The Two Lives of the Snake” Helier Cisterne (France)

*Opening film **Closing film