Sean Penn looked like he just rolled out of bed at the 11 AM press conference following the media screening of his second competition film of the week, This Must Be The Place, the first English-language film from Italian director Paolo Sorrentino ( Il Divo). He probably did, considering I spotted him having a great time in the wee hours at the Eden Roc afterparty following the big Cinema Against AIDS event at Hotel Du Cap Thursday night. These Cannes hours can be rough. He did well enough, though, trying to explain what drew him to Sorrentino’s entertaining if quirky but oddly touching story of a washed-up-at-age-50 rock star from the 1980s named Cheyenne who suffers from depression and malaise until he gets a chance at renewal upholding his late father’s honor. Early reviews I’ve read on the film range from “transformative” to “embarrassing” — in other words, mixed — with general consensus that David Byrne’s songs are keepers. Also, Penn’s go-for-broke performance, a risky and engaging and right-on-the-nose turn, is one for the ages even if you don’t personally think this movie must be the place to be.
Cannes has never been a place to shy away from politics. It’s not enough that official competition entry Melancholia’s director Lars von Trier stirred things up Wednesday by singling out Hitler and Nazis for his admiration, forcing the festival to ask for an apology. The last couple of days have also seen presidential politics creep into the fest lineup in a very prominent way with eyebrow-raising equal-opportunity disses thrown at President Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in two very different films screening in the official selection.
Before the Festival began May 11, we reported rampant rumors that Sarkozy might be attending the Cannes kickoff since his wife, Carla Bruni, was appearing in the opening-night film, Midnight In Paris. As it turned out, neither showed on the red carpet, but Wednesday Sarkozy finally made his debut in Cannes — sort of. The night’s main event, an out-of-competition premiere showing of The Conquest, launched the nationwide start of what can only be described as a French Primary Colors (a veiled story of Bill Clinton). Unlike that movie, this one, about Sarkozy’s rise to power, was not even thinly disguised, using real names and actors who look exactly like the real-life players. Sarkozy cannot be very happy with this portrait, which paints him as a master manipulator who was dumped by his wife of 20 years and then participates in a charade to convince voters he is still happily married in order to get elected – even though the “future” First Lady has shacked up with another guy. It may be tres scandalous but it is also very entertaining, surprisingly one of the best times I have had in the Palais the entire festival.