Pete Hammond

It’s all over but the verdict. Sunday night will bring the Cannes Film Festival to a close with the announcement of winners for the various awards given for the Official Competition of this 64th Cannes affair. And it looks like a wide-open race for the coveted Palme d’Or. No one film seems to have jumped clearly ahead as there is still lots of speculation about whether it could be the Malick (cineaests here refer to the movies by their directors’ last names, not the film title), the Dardennes for the third time, the Kaurismaki, the Winding Refn, the Hazanavicius, the Almodovar or, heaven forbid(!), the von Trier. Or maybe, as so often happens, it will go to the unexpected or something no one is really buzzing about on the Croisette.

Saturday night brought the final two films in the competition. Radu Mihaileanu’s French entry La Source Des Femmes (The Source) was rapturously received at its 7 PM Lumiere premiere with a prolonged standing ovation and much applause even during the film itself. The story, or fable, of a group of women in a small village (somewhere between North Africa and the Middle East) who decide to wage a controversial sex strike unless their men help them fetch the water is entertaining and enlightening and could figure as a last-minute contender (as well as a strong possibility to be France’s entry for the Oscars). I doubt that will be the case for the final film, which premiered at 10:30 PM: Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s two-hour-and-37-minute Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, which I think may still be going on. The longest in 20-film group of contenders feels twice that length, a contemplative minimalist art film with no music and no real plot beyond anything a typical episode of CSI covers in its first five minutes. It is one of those movies fest directors love where people stare a lot, ponder a lot and talk about being bored. At least it provided some much-needed nap time; maybe the jury will give Ceylan a prize for letting them catch up on their sleep. He won an award here in 2008 for the overrated Three Monkeys, so you never know, but Robert De Niro’s jury has a lot better choices than this. Can you tell I am not a fan?

One movie that kept me at an 8:30 AM press screening Thursday, and that night’s premiere crowd, totally wide-eyed and immersed was the latest from iconic Spanish cinema giant Pedro Almodovar. The Skin I Live In reunites him with Antonio Banderas for the first time since 1990′s Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down. For the director, this one is a departure firmly landing him in the thriller mode and on the cusp even of horror in the story of a plastic surgeon who uses a new procedure for creating skin to exact revenge for some tragic events in his life. It really is a modern-day Frankenstein story in some ways, but to say too much more about it would be to take away the fun of discovery. He based his script on the late French writer Thierry Jonquet’s novel Mygale but says other than one situation in the book, he has basically started from scratch. Definitely what is on the screen is vintage Almodovar dealing with his oft-used themes of identity, desire and other passions that always seem to fuel his screen work.

Almodovar granted a rare online interview to Deadline and told me he is happy to be back in Cannes for the fourth time. He was here two years ago with Broken Embraces; in 2006 with Volver, for which he won a screenplay prize; and in 1999 took Best Director for All About My Mother. He has yet to win the Palme d’Or, and many hope this world-class director will finally take one home. Pedro isn’t focusing on the prize. “If they give it to me that would be fantastic. But even in the very hypothetical case that I would get it it wouldn’t change my life, my career, my way of working,” he says, adding that he already has two Oscars (for writing Talk To Her and for Foreign Language Film on All About My Mother), and that hasn’t changed his ways including avoiding any overtures to work on Hollywood films. “Recognition would be wonderful, but it’s not the only reason to come to Cannes. I am happy to be here. I am not thinking about awards. I just locked the print. I’m discovering the movie here. It’s very interesting to be in Cannes. It’s the only place in the world that celebrates the art of movies. Now it happens with sports, with football, with soccer and not with cinema. Cannes at this moment is an exciting place to be,” he said.

Indeed, Almodovar just finished the film a week ago, and this is the first time any of his Cannes entries had not previously opened in Spain. The Lumiere audience on Thursday was the first anywhere in the world to see the film, which premieres in Spain in September because — unlike America’s prime summer season from April through the hot weather months — he says no one goes to movies, they stay outdoors.

It was an easy decision since Almodovar knew he would be premiering the film cold. “I thought it could be more risky than before because it is completely new and people have no reference for it,” he says, adding that it’s been an education for him as a director to see how the movie plays, particularly since he is dabbling in a new genre, although Almodovar says he doesn’t like that word as it means the same thing as “gender” in Spanish. He was very pleased to notice how pin-drop quiet the audience was as the movie unfolded. “I wish all audiences react like that. The silence was incredible. It was very important,”  he says of the film he doesn’t see as horrifying but more as haunting, a story that “stays in your mind and haunts your dreams,” he hopes.

Almodovar believes his new leading lady Elena Anaya has the potential to become a major international star much like one of his other muses, Penelope Cruz. And as for reuniting with Banderas, he says the timing was finally right for both and Banderas was once again ready to do another Spanish movie. “It was really a fantastic encounter between the two of us. I suppose we’ve both changed, but it was really like taking up exactly where we left off,” the director says.

As for the future, Almodovar says he is always working on new ideas but hopes The Skin I Live In (Spanish title: La Piel Que Habito) is not the last time he sets foot in the world of thrillers. ”It is nice to know I can surprise after 30 years, that I am changing with the times. I work on three scripts at the same time, I am always working. I hope they will all be different. I like to renew myself,” he says.

In Cannes this week he has done just that. Sony Pictures Classics plans to open The Skin I Live In in November.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.

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