Mature Films Win Praise at Cannes
Movies refreshingly free of sensationalism and violence generate enthusiasm at festival
VANESSA REDGRAVE readily agreed when I suggested to her that in the age of "Basic Instinct," which had opened the Cannes International Film Festival a few days earlier, civilized movies like her intelligent "Howards End" are needed by the world more than ever. "That's precisely it!" she said, twice over, with a vigorous nod.Skip to next paragraph
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A few hours after my brief conversation with Ms. Redgrave, the legendary cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond told me that he has made his first film as a director - a drama called "The Long Shadow" with Liv Ullman and Michael York - as a direct effort to counter the crass, dehumanizing values so prevalent on the movie scene. "I don't like violence," he said. "I don't like to photograph it, and I don't like to watch it. We may be born with violence in our hearts, but we don't have to encourage this. Violence in movies and TV must have an influence, and I won't participate in it."
Comments like these, along with some of the movies I've seen at the just-concluded Cannes festival, give me the hopeful impression that a growing number of people are recognizing how essential it is for motion pictures to shed their most dubious habits if they are to keep the respect and interest of mature audiences who want more than cheap thrills from the entertainment they consume.
Another piece of evidence came from director Sidney Lumet, who keeps the mayhem fairly subdued in his new picture, "A Stranger Among Us," even though it's a thriller with some pretty nasty characters.
"You choose the particular palette you'll use in each movie," he told me, "and there's no need for a lot of blood in this story. It's about families and a community, and that's what I wanted to stress."
None of this means violence was absent from Cannes after "Basic Instinct" made its European debut. Far from it. The screen practically exploded with mayhem - sometimes motivated, more often gratuitous or downright exploitative - for many long hours, not least when David Lynch launched the silly spectacle of his "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" prequel.
Still, audiences are perfectly receptive to gentle, thoughtful filmmaking when it is presented well enough to carry its own excitement. Some of the most rapturous applause I heard at Cannes went to such movies, and the enthusiasm generated here should bring them to international theaters in the near future.
One of them is "The Long Day Closes," directed by Terence Davies, a gifted British filmmaker. As in his last movie, "Distant Voices/Still Lives," there is hardly a shred of conventional storytelling in this delicate vision of a boy's family, church, and school life in Liverpool during the 1950s. What the film does offer is a series of dreamlike sequences that blend poetic images, scraps of evocative music, and deftly sketched character portraits into a seamless flow of wonderfully pure cinema.
This conjures up a bygone time and place in terms that are at once unabashedly sentimental and heartily intelligent. The result is a triumph for Mr. Davies, for the unique style he has cultivated, and for the British film industry that has given him the opportunity to refine his talents.