Cannes Wrap-Up: "Death Proof" Stands On Its Own; "Paranoid Park" Is Powerful

by | May 21, 2007 | Comments

Quentin Tarantino‘s expanded version of "Death Proof" premieres at Cannes; does it top the "Grindhouse" version? Plus, Gus Van Sant‘s powerful "Paranoid Park" and the Guillermo del Toro-produced stunner, "The Orphanage."

For those who’ve seen "Grindhouse" (and, judging by its relatively poor box office, not many of you have), Quentin Tarantino‘s extended version of "Death Proof" will not come as a colossal revelation. Its narrative arc remains the same: Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) uses his souped-up stunt car to terrorize innocent young women before meeting his match. There are two scenes notably included in the longer version (there’s some amusing banter in a convenience store, and yes, we get to see Stuntman Mike get a lapdance). Freed from the conceptual trappings of "Grindhouse," "Death Proof" works better as a stand-alone movie, largely because Tarantino’s slower, talkier film isn’t following the horrifyingly wacky zombie-thon "Planet Terror."

"Death Proof"

Gus Van Sant‘s hypnotic "Paranoid Park" spans several particularly dark days in the life of Alex (Gabe Nevins), a teenage skater dealing with the divorce of his parents and the tenuous nature of his relationship with Jennifer (Taylor Momsen), who’s convinced he loves skating more than her. Alex is intrigued by the crowd down at Paranoid Park, a makeshift skate park where a motley crew of damaged runaways and burnouts practice their craft. He meets an older guy who says he can help Alex jump a train. But when the two actually make it on, they’re discovered by a security guard, with tragic results. Alex sinks into a pit of guilt and confusion, trying to find a way to come clean without getting in trouble. The story is told matter-of-factly; this isn’t one of those what’s-the matter- with-kids-these-days cautionary tales, but a clear-eyed depiction of a decent, relatively bright kid who’s made a very bad mistake. The film has an uncanny ear for the way teenagers really communicate with one another; nothing is done for effect, and there are no big speeches or moments. Rapturously shot by Christopher Doyle (Wong Kar-Wai‘s favorite cinematographer) and utilizing music by Nino Rota and Elliott Smith to evocative effect, "Paranoid Park" is a haunted, sublime tale of teen angst. It got a round of applause at the screening I attended, as well as a thumbs-up from the Hollywood Reporter.

Gus Van Sant’s "Paranoid Park."

One of the left-field surprises of the festival so far is "The Orphanage," a haunted-house tale that’s worlds deeper than your average horror flick (it’s an International Critics’ Week selection here at Cannes). Directed with verve by Juan Antonio Bayona and produced by Guillermo del Toro, "The Orphanage" is a sort of companion piece with "Pan’s Labyrinth"; it’s a magic realist story about the intersection between a child’s imagination and the real world. Laura (Belén Rueda) and Carlos (Fernando Cayo) are the adoptive parents of Simon (Roger Príncep), an orphan suffering from HIV. They live in a house that was once the orphanage where Laura grew up. Simon has a host of imaginary friends, which is only a passing concern to Laura and Carlos — until some of the things he says about his friends start to sound increasingly vivid and sinister. Simon goes missing, and as Laura frantically searches for him, she learns more about the grievous history of the house, which includes the mysterious deaths of five orphans, she becomes convinced the only way to find her son is to tap into the orphanage’s paranormal aura. Oozing atmospheric dread, and featuring achingly real characters, "The Orphanage" is the best kind of psychological horror film — one that doesn’t telegraph its scares but maintains a bewitching mood of tension throughout. This is a movie for which the term "cult favorite" was coined. The film received a five-minute standing ovation, during which del Toro hoisted the diminutive Bayona on his shoulders.

"The Orphanage"

The other notable screening Monday was Michael Winterbottom‘s "A Mighty Heart," starring Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl, the wife of slain Wall Street Journal repoter Daniel Pearl, which got strong notices from the Hollywood Reporter and Variety.

Tomorrow, four films in competition for the Palme d’Or will be screening. Check back for more of RT’s coverage from the Cannes Film Festival.

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