Perhaps Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows should have been a trilogy. Splitting the sprawling finale to author J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard saga into three parts — as opposed to its chosen two-part incarnation — might have come across as shameless profiteering (admittedly a not-uncommon practice in this town) but it wouldn’t have been without merit. At 759 pages Rowling’s source novel is said to be a rather dense work plot-wise; surely it could have easily warranted another installment?
I only say this because Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 though certainly a decent film clearly strains from the effort required to fit the book’s proceedings into a two-act structure. While Part 2 slated to open approximately six months from now is alotted the story's meaty parts — namely the spectacular Battle of Hogwarts and its emotional denouement — Part 1 must bear the burden of setting the stage for the grand confrontation between the forces of Light and Dark magic and framing the predicament of its three protagonists teen wizards Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) in suitably dire terms. And it's quite a heavy burden indeed.
As the film opens the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) having assumed control over Hogwarts since the events of the preceding film Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has wasted no time in initiating his reign of terror. As far as historical evil-dictator analogues are concerned Voldemort appears partial to the blueprint laid by Stalin as opposed to that of his genocidal pact-pal Hitler. Enemies of the Dark Lord's regime are prosecuted in dramatic show trials presided over by the Grand Inquisitor Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) while muggles (non-magic folk) and half-bloods are denounced as "undesirables" and “mudbloods” in Soviet-style propaganda posters and forced to register with the authorities.
As the only viable threat to Voldemort’s dominion Harry and his allies are hunted vigorously by Bellatrix LeStrange (Helena Bonham Carter) and her goon squad of Death Eaters. The Boy Who Lived now fully grown and in more or less complete command of his powers is still no match England's nasally scourge. Labeled "Undesirable No. 1" by the Gestapo-like Ministry of Magic he's is forced to go on the lam where he labors along with Ron and Hermione to solve the riddle of Voldemort’s immortality.
For those not well-versed in Rowling’s source material the film’s opening act is a frustrating blur: After an all-too-brisk update on the bleak state of affairs in Hogwarts we are hastily introduced (or re-introduced) to a dozen or so characters the majority of whom are never seen again. A few even perish off-screen. Had we gotten a chance to get to know them we might be able to mourn them as our heroes do; instead we’re left racking our brains trying to recall who they were and how they figured in the plot.
Rowling's flaws as a storyteller — the over-reliance on deus ex machina devices (in this case we get both a doe ex machina and a Dobby ex machina) the ponderous downloads of information (not unlike those of that other uber-anticipated and somewhat overrated 2010 tentpole Inception) the annoying ability of characters to simply teleport (or "disapparate") away from danger etc. — are more evident in this film than in previous chapters. And rather than obscure these flaws director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves both franchise veterans arguably amplify them.
What saves the film are Rowling's three greatest achievements: Harry Ron and Hermione who along with the actors who play them have evolved beyond the material. The film's narrative gains its emotional footing during the heroic threesome's exile ostensibly a series of camping trips — with tents and everything — during which they reflect on their journey together the challenge that awaits them and the sacrifices it will require. Though they occasionally verge on tedious these excursions into Gethsemane allow us precious quality time with these characters that we've grown to adore over the course of seven films even if the plaintive air is spoiled a bit by some rather puzzling attempts at product placement. In their rush to flee the Dementors and Death Eaters it seems that they at least took care to pack the latest in fall fashion:
As devout readers of Rowling's novels know all too well the only foolproof shield against Voldemort's minions is the Bananicus Republicum charm.
The weekend flew by with no signs of slowing down, starting with Saturday night's cocktail party at the Carlton Terrace, where wine started flowing early for everyone celebrating Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant's new film, Two Weeks Notice.
Also on Saturday, Antonio Banderas and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos hosted their après-midnight exclusive screening of Brian de Palma's Femme Fatale. Melanie Griffith, wearing a red-carpet shade of lipstick, accompanied her husband up the Palais steps.
Finally, Sunday: awards night! A full moon graced the Riviera, bathing the winners in a light the paparazzi couldn't rival.
A screening of Jeremy Irons's movie And Now… Ladies and Gentlemen coincides with the closing ceremony. In it, he plays an English gangster who meets a burnt-out jazz singer (played by real-life French pop star Patricia Kass) in Morocco.
David Lynch has quite a decorated history here in Cannes. In 1990 he won the coveted Palme d'Or for Wild at Heart, last year he won Best Director for Mulholland Drive, and last week he was awarded the French Legion of Honor while he was the head of the jury. On Sunday, everybody was waiting to find out from him who'd won what!
Martin Scorsese headed the short film competition with the help of fellow judge Tilda Swinton (Orlando) and others. Co-winners of the Jury Prize were The Stone of Folly, a story about a medieval-era doctor by Canadian director Jesse Rosensweet, and Very, Very Silent Film, by Indian director Manish Jua. Peter Meszaros of Hungary won the Palm d'Or of Short Film for Eso Utan.
The Camera d'Or is a prize that any first-time feature director in any part of the festival is eligible to win. This year two winners were awarded the Camera: French helmer Julie Lopes-Curval for Bord du Mar, about love in a seaside town, and Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas for Japon, a story about redemption. Both films were part of the Directors Fortnight.
Mulholland Drive star Naomi Watts presented Michael Moore with the 55th Anniversary of Cannes Award for the first documentary ever to win, Bowling for Columbine. Michael attempted to make his acceptance speech in very labored French, and it was unclear what the locals thought of his mangled repartee.
Andie MacDowell awarded Elia Suleiman the Prix du Jury (the bronze prize.) His Divine Intervention is the first Palestinian movie in Competition.
Paul Laverty won the Best Screenplay Award for his work on Ken Loach's latest, Sweet Sixteen.
For the second year in a row, two directors shared the Best Director prize. In 2001, David Lynch and Joel Cohen shared it. This year it went to South Korean director Im Kwon-Taek for Chihwaseon, about a painter, and Paul Thomas Anderson for his dark romantic comedy Punch-Drunk Love, starring Adam Sandler.
The Best Actor award went to Belgian director Olivier Gourmet for his role in The Son from Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne. Best Actress went to Finnish performer Kati Outinen in The Man Without a Past. The movie, directed by Aki Kaurismakis, won the Grand Prix. Perhaps the silver medal wasn't good enough for him, because when he fumbled onstage to accept the award, he said, "I thank myself," and returned to his seat!
The big winner? Diminutive Roman Polanski loomed large at the festival this year. He received The Palme d'Or for The Pianist, a movie about the life of the Jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman living in the Warsaw ghetto, starring Adrien Brody.
…and that's a wrap! Catch you next year live from Cannes!
Harrison Lloyd (David Strathairn) is a world-renowned Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist who has it all: a devoted wife two beautiful children and an illustrious career. Although his wife Sarah (Andie MacDowell) is supportive of his career she wishes Harrison would spend more time at home being a husband and father rather than gallivanting around the world taking pictures. Before long Harrison is whisked off overseas to cover bloody ethnic conflicts in Yugoslavia and is presumed dead after the Yugoslav National Army flattens the town he is in. Sarah however is convinced Harrison is still alive because "something would have broken inside if he were dead." She barricades herself into a room with half a dozen televisions determined to uncover something about her husband's whereabouts. Miraculously she sees an image of Harrison in a crowd of civilians being hoarded to the small Croatian town of Vukovar and decides to go there herself and bring him back alive. Despite warnings that war-torn Yugoslavia is not the place for her she manages to dodge bullets and Soviet T-55 tanks while waving around a 5x7 color glossy of Harrison yelling "Have you seen this man?"
As Sarah Harrison's devoted wife Andie MacDowell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) is convincing but irritating. While we feel for her and desperately want her to find her husband alive there is nothing more annoying than watching her traipsing around yelling "Harrison? Harrison!" while the destruction of what was once the breadbasket of the region happens all around her. Adrien Brody (Summer of Sam) plays Kyle Harrison's archnemesis who ends up helping Sarah in her efforts to find Harrison. Brody is probably the most believable and well-developed character in the film despite hokey lines like "We better both pray that some day we find somebody that loves us the way she loves him." No one actually talks like that do they? In the role of Harrison's friend and colleague Yeager is Elias Koteas (The Thin Red Line). His character is supposed to be this famous photographer (we know this because he is credited for that famous photograph of the confrontation between a Chinese student and a T-59 tank during the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstration) but he is completely despicable. He comes off as a pompous know-it-all rather than a good friend to the Lloyds.
Director Elie Chouraqui wants us to believe MacDowell's character is this brave devoted wife but I found it hard to sympathize with her predicament. Sure it's sad that Harrison is missing and all but forgive me if I found myself more troubled by the execution of thousands of innocent men women and children instead. And in Vukovar amidst the dead bodies of Serbs and Croats she still finds time to take pictures and send them back to the press in the United States. The pictures come out crisp and sharp despite the fact that she shoots most of them in the dark--without a flash. Come on! What takes the cake however is the blatant Schindler's List rip-off: We see a little girl in a yellow dress who stops and smiles for a picture only to end up dead later in the film with a photographer exclaiming "It's the girl in the yellow dress!" It is also hard to buy the film's plot when when all we really know about Harrison is that he likes flowers which are the only thing he photographs in color. Overall Sarah's plight to find her husband almost seems petty in lieu of what is going around her.