Thoughts on Cannes, Huppert and ‘Up’

Posted by · 2:52 am · March 20th, 2009

Dull but hindering circumstances kept me offline yesterday, so I couldn’t get to the Cannes/”Up” news that Kris recently posted.

By the way, before I get into that, can I just say what a great choice the Cannes organisers have made in selecting Isabelle Huppert as their jury president this year?

It’s been a while (8 years, to be specific) since a woman took on the role, and as one of the most adventurous, intelligent and hard-working actors of her generation, Huppert (a two-times Cannes winner herself) has earned the position. Here’s hoping she brings the same kind of fearless thinking to the panel that she does to her roles.

As for “Up, “Being the first animated title to open the world’s most prestigious film festival is obviously a notable accomplishment — and probably an overdue one, at that.

Chiming in with last year’s tide of critical accolades for “WALL-E” and “Waltz With Bashir” (which, of course, began its buzz at Cannes), it’s clear that the artform is increasingly nearing an equal footing with live-action filmmaking as far as cineastes are concerned — even if some conservative viewers (and of course, AMPAS voters) would like to pretend otherwise.

However, amid the breathless reporting of “first evers,” it seems to me one crucial detail has been somewhat neglected — the film is playing out of competition.

This strikes me as an opportunity missed. I’m guessing it was Pixar’s decision not to submit the film for competition consideration, but one has to wonder what they stood to lose by trying. Given Cannes’ arthouse bent, nobody would have expected the film to win anything anyway, but a Palme d’Or nomination could have lent the film some impressive additional cache.

It’s likely the Cannes selectors would have been game: aside from obvious highbrow inclusions like “Persepolis” and “Bashir,” both “Shrek” and (God help us) its sequel played in competition at the festival.

As it stands, being named the fest’s opener is a nice but ultimately rather meaningless accolade — largely because Cannes seems to change its mind every year about what the opening film should represent. In some years, the slot is used as a bold statement of popular and artistic viability (“Bad Education,” “Moulin Rouge!”), but in others, it’s a crass commercial sell-out. (“The Da Vinci Code,” anyone?)

In recent years, the opening slot has housed more misses than hits — whether they were overreaching artistic failures that had bad buzz already (“My Blueberry Nights,” “The Barber of Siberia”) or sub-par works from hitherto reliable auteurs (“Blindness,” “Lemming”). And even the French public’s unabiding devotion to Woody Allen couldn’t justify the selection of “Hollywood Ending” in 2002.

Obviously, it’s safe to say that “Up” probably doesn’t fall into any of these categories — Cannes clearly felt like opening with a credible hit this year, so they looked to the studio that most reliably churns out such things. But one shouldn’t pretend that opening Cannes is necessarily the greatest of artistic endorsements.

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4 responses so far

  • 1 3-20-2009 at 9:53 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    I’m sure she’s a lovely woman in real life, but ever since I saw The Piano Teacher I get the chills whenever I see Isabelle Huppert.

    As for Up, good for Pixar, I say. They keep getting crapped on by the Academy (and Best Animated Feature Film is an insult) so any recognition is fine by me, no matter how worthless it is upon closer look.

  • 2 3-20-2009 at 10:00 am

    head_wizard said...

    It only works if Up actually is good. But agree about Huppert a great choice.

  • 3 3-21-2009 at 5:52 am

    Marvin said...

    I haven’t seen her in anything outside of I Heart Huckabees but her performance in that movie was pretty dope.

    I’m so excited for Cannes! It’s just around the corner and I can’t wait to see who gets in this year.

    Speaking about Up, have you seen the Upisodes they’ve added to the official site? They are quite funny, this movie looks great.

  • 4 3-21-2009 at 6:41 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Yeah, she’s a riot in “Huckabee’s.” But you need to see her French-language work to understand what Huppert is really all about — obviously see “The Piano Teacher” and “La Ceremonie,” but “The Lacemaker” is her best work to date, I think.

    As for “Up,” I’m not sure … that trailer does nothing for me.