[This is the first in a daily series of posts, wherein I size up the 19 films--pending further additions--in the Competition at next month's Cannes Film Festival. We're running through them alphabetically, by director, so it just happens that we start with a biggie: the length of the entries will vary according to the availability of information.]
The director: Pedro Almodóvar
The talent: The star, as you surely know by now, is Antonio Banderas, a one-time Almodóvar regular who hasn’t collaborated with the director in 21 years. When Penelope Cruz proved unavailable, Spanish star Elena Anaya (who previously appeared in “Talk to Her”) stepped into the female lead. Meanwhile, the names of cinematographer José Luis Alcaine, composer Alberto Iglesias and actress Marisa Paredes will all be familiar to the Almodóvar faithful.
The pitch: The revered Spanish auteur’s first adaptation since 1997′s “Live Flesh” is reportedly, like that film, a foray into genre territory. Loosely based on Thierry Jonquet’s novel “Tarantula,” a property initially eyed by the great Nicolas Roeg, the film stars Antonio Banderas as a plastic surgeon who, following the death of his wife in a car crash, develops a dangerous obsession with the creation of new skin. Other sources describe the film additionally as a revenge thriller, with Banderas out for revenge on his daughter’s rapists; the director is typically guarded with plot details, but describes the film as “a horror story without screams or shocks.”
The pedigree: The Almodóvar brand precedes itself, but this is his fourth time in the Cannes competition. Thus far, the Palme d’Or has eluded him, but he took Best Director in 1999 for “All About My Mother” and Best Screenplay in 2006 for “Volver.” (“Broken Embraces” left empty-handed two years ago, while “Bad Education” opened the fest out of competition in 2004.) On a side note, Almodóvar happens to be the only Oscar winner among this year’s competing directors.
The buzz: While Almodóvar’s last three features premiered in Spain months before their Cannes debut, allowing advance critical word to determine expectations, his latest will arrive on the Croisette with its wrapping wholly intact. Anticipation is always sky-high for an Almodóvar, though this one is perhaps under more pressure than most: “Broken Embraces,” while by no means poorly received, was viewed by many critics (including this one) as a water-treading exercise. The hope, then, is that the Cronenbergian-sounding genre shift (and the long-awaited Banderas reunion) will reinvigorate the director’s artistry, not to mention the leading man’s fading star. Sony Pictures Classics, which releases the film Stateside in November, will certainly be hoping for critical approval, though the film sounds less audience- and awards-friendly than the director’s usual output.
The odds: The bookies, invariably suckers for the big names, like the film’s Palme chances more than I do: though Almodóvar has yet to win the prize (and recent winners like Michael Haneke and Apichatpong Weerasethakul have been rewarded for their patience), the film will need to blow the Croisette crowd away if it’s to overcome the sense that the director’s vast crossover success is its own reward. (His slightly sulky reactions to losing in the past haven’t won him that many fans, either.) If Banderas impresses in his against-type return, expect Best Actor buzz, though after Javier Bardem’s victory last year, one wonders if the jury will want to reward a Spanish superstar for the second year running.
[Photos: Sony Pictures Classics]