2008 Cannes Film Festival

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cannes-2008.jpgThe Cannes Film Festival is a big deal; probably the biggest deal for avid, true-blue cineastes the world over, definitely bigger than the celebrity skifest that is the Sundance Film Festival.  No Country for Old Men‘s Oscar campaign started in Cannes last May, where it actually received lukewarm reviews and was overshadowed by the acclaim for the Romanian masterpiece 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days and Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (which ran away with the Palme D’Or, or Best Film prize, and Best Director honors, respectively), two of the best-reviewed films of 2007.  The 2008 Main Competition slate was unveiled last Thursday for the Festival that will run from May 14-25, and amongst the high-profile films competing for the Palme D’Or, such as Clint Eastwood’s period piece, Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie; Steven Soderbergh’s four hour opus about Che Guevarra, Che, with Benicio del Toro in the title role; Charlie Kaufman’s sure-to-be-eccentric-but-cool debut movie, Synecdoche, New York; former Cannes winners’ the Dardennes brothers’ La Silence de Lorna, and Wim Wender’s multi-lingual The Palermo Shooting, which sounds really perplexing (I mean with the lead singer of the German punk band Die Toten Hosen and Milla Jovovich as headliners, you gotta wonder what kind of medication Wenders is now on), is….Serbis, directed by Brilliante Mendoza of the Philippines!  Yes, after more than a quarter of a century, the much maligned Philippine film industry, which continues to demonstrate more lives than three dead cats, is going to be represented in the Main Competition of the most prestigious film event in the world.  Yay! 

I will be continuing my happy dance and breathlessly anticipating what the world’s film critics and journalists think of Mendoza’s film, which is about an impoverished family living in a run-down movie theater and using it as the base for a male prostitution ring! I’m sure Eastwood and Soderbergh are quaking in their designer boots and kicking themselves for not thinking of that outre premise first (ha!)…based on the plot summary alone, Serbis has the potential to be the knock-out conversation piece of this year’s festival.  Mendoza is only the second Filipino director ever to have a film in the Main Competition (the renowned Lino Brocka competed twice in the 1980s with Jaguar and Kapit sa Patalim, two movies that I maintain can stand up to any movie from anywhere done during that decade); I saw his first movie Masahista (The Masseur)at the Chicago International Film Festival in 2005.  In that movie, I thought he demonstrated a really interesting visual style and very good sense for setting and milieu; however, I felt the portrayal of poverty and homosexuality in the Philippines bordered on the exploitative and hysterical.  If there is one thing I’m apprehensive about, having read only about Serbis, and not having seen it yet, is that this movie will continue to promote the portrayal by current Filipino cinema of the Philippines and Filipino culture as one long, kinky wet dream of urban slums, poor nubile, mostly undressed young men, and the corrupt, predatory gay men who love them.  Unlike Brocka’s films, I didn’t think Masahista had a distinct point of view on the socio-economic-cultural context and impact on its characters’ motivations; hopefully, Serbis will address this more fully.  I’m crossing my fingers for Team Philippines’s chances for the Palme D’Or!

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