Films Big And Small Win Hearts At Cannes

The 64th Cannes Film Festival wraps up Sunday after another day of screenings and award ceremonies. American screenwriter-directors Woody Allen and Terence Malick premiered big films with heartfelt narratives. Away from the buzz and flashbulbs surrounding their A-list casts, smaller films were winning over audiences. Host Liane Hansen speaks with Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday about this year's festival.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

The 64th Cannes Film Festival wraps up tonight after another day of screenings and award ceremonies. American screenwriter-directors Woody Allen and Terence Malick premiered big films with heartfelt narratives. Away from the buzz and flashbulbs surrounding their A-list casts, smaller films were winning over audiences.

Ann Hornaday is a film critic for the Washington Post, just back from Cannes this week, and she's in our studio. Welcome to the program.

Ms. ANN HORNADAY (Film Critic, Washington Post): It's great to be here.

HANSEN: This year, there was a record number of female directors with films in the festival - four, if I'm not mistaken - which is not really a big number, but were the films a big deal?

Ms. HORNADAY: Exactly. Well, it was stunning in that last year, there were no female directors. So the films were actually really interesting, just in terms of how diverse they were. The festival got off to sort of the most divisive film - a movie called "Sleeping Beauty," by the Australian director Julia Lee, starring Emily Browning. A beautifully, elegantly composed movie about a young college student who enters into some very strongly fetishized sex trade work at the hands of a very elegant madam.

There was a very interesting police thriller, called "Police," by the French actress Maiwenn, about a unit in the Paris police department who deal with child exploitation - and dealing with some of the most horrific subject matter you could imagine, but injecting it with so much improbable humor and humanity. And you really get to know all of these police officers, and grow to love them. And I really hope it manages to find a home here 'cause I think people would really get a lot out of it.

HANSEN: And there was also the Tilda Swinton movie "We Need to Talk about Kevin."

Ms. HORNADAY: Exactly. And this is the one that I was looking the most forward to because I was a huge fan of the novel by Lionel Shriver. And the fans of that book were quite trepidatious about any kind of film adaptation. And the book is really an epistolary novel. Very much...

HANSEN: Letters in...

Ms. HORNADAY: Letters back to the woman writing - played by Tilda Swinton -writing back to her husband. And I think a lot of people's biggest fear would be that it would be narrated. And instead, the Scottish director Lynne Ramsay has just really invented a visual language to tell this very horrific story about a woman and her failure to attach with her infant son, and then the ramifications of that.

HANSEN: Well, we've heard a lot about Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," which opened the festival, and "The Tree of Life" from Terrence Malick, which is about nature and religion, and a lot of other big ideas. But there's another attention-getter - and it's almost a throwback - called "The Artist."

Ms. HORNADAY: Yes. And this is a winner. And it was picked up very early in the festival, so it will be coming our way. And it is a crowd-pleaser. It is black and white, almost entirely silent, about a silent film star facing the onslaught of sound. So it will remind a lot of musical fans of "Singing in the Rain" because it's very much of that era.

But also "A Star is Born," because while this sort of fading silent star is seeing his livelihood fade way, he falls in love with a very up-and-coming, young voice star. It is the most beautifully filmed and beautifully acted movie - and like the Malick, really ambitious, you know, in its artistic desires but with this very sincere, very humanistic heart at its center. And that was the theme that really carried through the whole festival.

HANSEN: When you're at a festival like Cannes, which is so huge, do the industry insiders talk a lot about where film is going?

Ms. HORNADAY: Do you know - that's an interesting question. I will say, we cineastes are going to the festival up in the beautiful auditoriums. Below us is the film market, where all of these movies that probably wouldn't be showing at the festival are being bought and sold - down in the basement of the palais. And that area of the festival was very busy this year.

So there's this sort of sense that even though the economy has very much affected film acquisition and film production, there was a lot of activity. You know, even if it's on their iPhone or on their iPad or in their home entertainment system, they want these narratives.

HANSEN: Ann Hornaday is the film critic of the Washington Post, speaking to us about the Cannes Film Festival, which ends today. Thanks for coming in, Ann.

Ms. HORNADAY: A pleasure. Thank you, Liane.

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