Cannes Diary: Whizz for Atom Egoyan

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The Independent Culture
Despite the annual wailing and gnashing of teeth at the lack of outstanding new films, Cannes has yielded a decent harvest: no grands crus, perhaps, but an array of perfectly palatable offerings. So far, the critical favourites for the Golden Palm are Atom Egoyan's Felicia's Journey and Pedro Almodovar's All About My Mother. The latter is a sharp- toothed comedy-melodrama about a mother recovering from the accidental death of her teenage son. As it's the director's first film to be invited to the festival, it's virtually assured of jury recognition.

Based on the novel by William Trevor, Felicia's Journey is a more measured piece, a study of the charged encounter between a painfully naive teenage girl and a psychopath who pretends to take her under his wing. This chilly drama boasts two excellent performances, by a creepily magnetic Bob Hoskins and the radiant Irish newcomer Elaine Cassidy. With Egoyan's fellow-Canadian David Cronenberg presiding over the jury, its chances also look strong.

Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog, a coolly ironic jeu d'esprit about a hit-man who lives by the ancient code of Japanese samurai, is inventive and highly entertaining, but as insubstantial as its wraith-like protagonist. By contrast, general enthusiasm has greeted Tim Robbins's Cradle Will Rock, a vibrant evocation of a defining moment in US history, the cultural revolution launched by Roosevelt's New Deal in the mid-1930s.

The centrepiece of this multi-character drama - in which Diego Riviera and William Randolph Hearst play supporting roles - is the 21-year-old Orson Welles's agit-prop musical The Cradle Will Rock; a recreation of its tumultuous premiere forms the movie's barnstorming climax. With films from David Lynch and John Sayles yet to come, US independents have been a sturdy presence on the Croisette, for all the absence of Hollywood glitterati.

Out of competition, Steven Soderbergh continues the revival of his career with The Limey, a kaleidoscopic revenge drama about an English ex-con (Terence Stamp) who travels to Los Angeles to avenge the death of his daughter after her involvement with a venal record producer (Peter Fonda). Resonant with echoes of classic Sixties and early Seventies films from Get Carter to Poor Cow (clips of which are used to evoke, eerily, Stamp as a young man), it's a stunningly crafted B-movie lifted by a witty script and Stamp's restrained but effective central performance.

If the American cinema palls, try this for exoticism: a comedy about football-mad Tibetan monks directed by an eminent Buddhist lama. The Cup sounds no more than a quaint curiosity, but this warm, delightful and quietly profound piece has been one of the hits of the Directors' Fortnight. Indeed, under the aegis of its new head, Marie-Pierre Macia, the main sidebar event has assembled one of its most enjoyable line-ups in years.

Also of note are three very different movies set in the 1970s: East is East, a crowd-pleasing British comedy about a boisterous Anglo-Asian family living in Salford; Spike Lee's incendiary Summer of Sam, about the infamous serial killer who stalked New York during the long, hot summer of 1977; and Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides. The promising debut film from Francis Ford's daughter is based on the darkly comic novel by Jeffrey Eugenides about fear and sexual anxiety in the leafy suburbs of Middle America.

SHEILA JOHNSTON

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