Cannes Film Festival

Ridley Scott's new version of 'Robin Hood' is a heavy-handed way to open the most important festival in cinema's year

Last week, the outlook seemed grim for Cannes, as freak tidal phenomena battered the Côte d'Azur and wrecked beachside restaurants. Despite that, the festival got going as planned on Wednesday night, but festival-goers are beginning to think that a little more waterfront drama could only liven things up. We'd do anything for a headline that read "New wave shakes up Cannes".

So far, this is shaping up to be the quietest Cannes in some time, after a vintage programme last year. This year's opener was a dour romp through the greenwood as Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe took on Robin Hood. The best that can be said about their effort is that it is nowhere near as silly as the Kevin Costner version, but neither is it, as you might have hoped, Gladiator with crossbows. Allegedly big on historical accuracy – though I've never heard of the Merry Men thwarting a French invasion – the film is essentially a pumped-up superhero-origin story that starts with sullen archer Robin Longstride (Crowe, with grizzled chops and an accent somewhere between Nottingham and Dublin) making his way home from the Crusades, and ends with him taking up residence in Sherwood Forest.

The film has a few things to commend it. There are lively battle scenes shot in the jerky, gritty, post-Private Ryan manner, all boiling oil, flying rocks and squalor. And there are lively turns by the likes of Mark Strong (the current go-to man for shiny-pated malevolence) and Mark Addy as a mead-quaffing, bee-keeping Friar Tuck (tossing a hive at his enemies: "Gentlemen! Enjoy!"). Cate Blanchett, as Marian, is still using her crisp Katharine Hepburn delivery from The Aviator – and going into battle in chainmail and helmet. Crowe, though, is woefully sullen. And it's bizarre to see Cannes kicking off with a film in which the French are depicted as utterly evil – treacherous, untrustworthy, and they speak in yellow subtitles. I suppose it just proves that festival director Thierry Frémaux has a sense of humour – which is more than you can say of Messrs Scott and Crowe.

Meanwhile, there's little to warm the critical cockles. It was heartening, as ever, to see the veteran Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira show up with a new film (and I do mean veteran: he recently turned 101, and apparently his secret is sardines). But his metaphysical romance The Strange Case of Angelica, about a photographer and an amorous ghost, was one of his more rarefied efforts. Nor did Chongqing Blues, by China's Wang Xiaoshuai, live up to its promise. It's the story of a man returning after years away to find out why his son was killed in a supermarket siege. The first hour is terrific – a fabulously shot inquiry into the new China's generational divide. Then in the second it becomes a standard redemption story.

It wouldn't be Cannes without Mathieu Amalric, the hardest-working actor in French art cinema, and recent Bond villain. He has a directing career too, but his competition entry On Tour is unlikely to boost that enormously. Amalric plays a down-at-heel producer acting as Svengali to a group of American burlesque queens touring coastal France. Brassy opening titles and the names of the performers playing themselves – Kitten on the Keys, Dirty Martini, Roky Roulette – promise jollity and raunch, and the occasional number with balloons or Louis Quatorze outfits is certainly eye-opening. But Amalric is less interested in the Felliniesque divas than in his own hapless character, who can barely go to the supermarket without being smacked round the chops. And the seedy moustache he sports is decidedly distracting. No wonder a passing punter was heard to dismiss the film as "all tits and whiskers".

Better value by far was South Korean comp entry The Housemaid, by Im Sang-Soo, a remake of a 1960 cult classic. It's the story of a naive young woman who goes to work in the sumptuous house of a super-rich family, and has an affair with the alpha male of the house, then sees her position become very uncomfortable. Sleekly controlled and very black, it fizzles out in the last stretch, but for sheer entertainment – and for putting the satirical knife into the super-wealthy – it's very good value.

But the competition film that has really made a big impression is Mike Leigh's Cannes comeback Another Year, which features a hard core of long-time Leigh regulars, including Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen. They play happily married London couple Gerri and Tom (get it?) who spend a year coping with the traumas of their friends and family.

Vera Drake lead, Imelda Staunton, returns for a terse cameo, and the film turns out to be one of Leigh's most ambitious – a narratively loose but very cogent ensemble piece about family, ageing, self-deception and the effects of time.

The only legitimate piece of Hollywood glitz on show was Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, in which Oliver Stone revives his 1980s demon banker Gordon Gekko for the age of Lehman Brothers.

All the flashy computer graphics in the world can't make the financial meltdown as visually interesting as Stone would like, and he's not getting any subtler with his visual metaphors (bubbles! dominoes!). The film is outrageously knowing (Michael Douglas smirks, "What – nobody here believes in comebacks?") but makes up in glossy brashness what it lacks in narrative interest. Josh Brolin is formidably nasty as the banker who out-Gekkos Gekko, Douglas is more sleekly lizardy than ever, and ever-gaminish Carey Mulligan contributes a human touch and a more than passable US accent.

Next Week:

Jonathan Romney sees what happens when Werner Herzog and Nicolas Cage make a cop movie – Bad Lieutenant

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there