Spanish film "Biutiful" stands out in Cannes crowd

Mon May 17, 2010 8:23pm EDT
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By Kirk Honeycutt

CANNES (Hollywood Reporter) - Thank goodness for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.

Were it not for the Mexican filmmaker's "Biutiful," a lyrical gem that made a most welcome appearance early Monday at the Cannes Film Festival, this critical assessment of the competition lineup would be filled only with head-scratching.

Because until "Biutiful" showed up, the competition appeared to be a rush to the bottom. That's a little unfair, actually.

Fine work has been on display every day. The performances in Mike Leigh's "Another Year" are ensemble acting at its finest. Many observers are already touting Lesley Manville, who played the film's weepy, bewildered Miss Lonely Hearts, for best actress.

The front-runner before Inarritu's arrival certainly was Bertrand Tavernier. His historical romance "The Princess of Montpensier" has everything going for it -- terrific storytelling, epic battles, palace intrigue, a vibrant cast and superb team work behind the camera. But Cannes juries tend to seek something a little edgier for the coveted Palme d'Or. Tavernier may well get a best director nod, but chairman Tim Burton and his panel undoubtedly are looking for a breakthrough film for its top honor.

Up to this point, every competition film, other than the lamentable gangster film "Outrage" by Takeshi Kitano, has offered pleasures. How great it was to see a film from Chad, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's, "A Screaming Man," make it to the Croisette. While a modest film that in another year and from another country may have played in the Un Certain Regard sidebar, the drama set in a war-torn society still struggling with its colonial past and politically violent present is nevertheless a worthy film.

If there is a continuing theme to this festival, it's that of fathers seeking to understand the nature of parenthood. "A Screaming Man," like "Chongqing Blues" and "Biutiful," captures the conflicts and challenges of what it means to be a father with telling and, finally, chilling insights.

Following up on his "Beijing Bicycle" and "Shanghai Dreams," Chinese director Wang Xiaoshuai reasserts his status as one of his country's leading international filmmakers with "Chongqing Blues." His dramas play well in festival and international settings thanks to their muted narrative rhythms and keen focus on character. He's not a showy director but digs deeper than many of the flashier filmmakers.   Continued...

<p>Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (R) poses with cast member Javier Bardem as they arrive on the red carpet for the screening of his film "Biutiful" in competition at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2010. REUTERS/Yves Herman</p>