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A good movie, even a good mystery, may have more to do with mood and character than with revealing whodunit or what happens next. Hidden is directed with the unblinking, unmoving eye of a surveillance video, and acted with power and subtlety. Violence has the same cinematic confidence in telling stories through images and gestures, the same powerful ambiguity in Mortensen's performance. Both films are among the most powerful and supple works of their esteemed directors. Yet the Jury gave only a thanks-for-coming Best Director prize to Haneke, and snubbed Cronenberg completely.
The King isn't in their class, but it gets star heft from Mexican hottie Gael García Bernal. He plays a quietly intense young man named Elvis who insinuates himself into his long-absent father's devoutly Christian family: righteous wife (Laura Harring), rebellious son (Paul Dano) and a daughter (Pell James) searching for love, divine or carnal. The movie's fuse is far too long, but there is an explosion, when The King rips off its mask of observational drama to reveal itself as a monster movie with gore galore. Only an actor with García Bernal's appealing seriousness could keep the trick of his character hidden so far up his sleeve.
In recent festivals, Cannes has rewarded films critical of American crimes and adventures. Gus Van Sant's Elephant, a reimagining of the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, and Michael Moore's anti-Bush Fahrenheit 9/11 were the past two years' Palme d'Or winners. [an error occurred while processing this directive] This time, the civics lessons were more muted though, sure enough, some viewers of Revenge of the Sith argued that the rise of the sinister Chancellor Palpatine, who gains unlimited power by lying to the Senate about an imminent military threat from a nonbelligerent force, was analogous to the actions of a certain U.S. President. As Lucas noted, though, he wrote the original story 30 years ago, when another American military engagement was in the news, and the leader's name was not Bush, but Nixon.
The only competition film explicitly about U.S. foreign policy, Hiner Saleem's Kilometre Zero, presents Iraq's sorry history from an anti-Saddam, pro-U.S. viewpoint and ends in April 2003 with its Kurdish hero exulting as coalition soldiers march into Baghdad. (One critic called the film "insufficiently anti-American.") There was also a British documentary, Adam Curtis' The Power of Nightmares, which traces the parallel inception and growth of Islamic fundamentalism and American neoconservatism, and diagnoses dire consequences from both. The film played like Fahrenheit 9/11, only cooler and way smarter. But it was shown out of competition, thus ineligible for a palm of any color.
Cool is the temperature of the standard Cannes film. When a movie forthrightly engages the emotions as Marco Tullio Giordana's Once You're Born superbly did in its story of a boy lost at sea with a boatload of illegal immigrants the critical consensus can be loud and derisive. (Literally: the film was booed.) For the fun and frissons that are supposed to be the movies' birthright you had to go back outside, to the lavish parties picturemakers throw for themselves. At one of these was Jackie Chan, who unabashedly loves being Jackie Chan. He was escorting the co-star of his new film The Myth, Bollywood sex goddess Mallika Sherawat, a young woman so gorgeous, curvaceous and genial, and so open in her ambition to be the next big thing, that she surely will be. Striding down the Croisette, making the paparazzi pop their bulbs, Sherawat summoned old-timers' memories of a festival 50 years ago, when the vision of the young Brigitte Bardot on the beach first sold the the world on the notion of this Riviera resort as the home for unbuttoned movie glamour. The movies may have grown more dour, but the stars still make it smile. As Cannes was, so Cannes is.