The star wattage turned up suddenly in Cannes yesterday and the mood got some Vegas swing as George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle and Ellen Barkin arrived at the Palais for the world premiere of the new caper flick Ocean's Thirteen. Joining them were Elliott Gould, Scott Caan, producer Jerry Weintraub and director Steven Soderbergh, whose Palme d'Or win for his 1989 film, sex lies and videotape, was a milestone for American independent cinema.
This third hip, flip and quip-filled caper flick (inspired by the 1960 Rat Pack movie Ocean's 11) brings the gang back to Vegas. Danny Ocean (Clooney) and Rusty (Pitt) execute an elaborate revenge against a villainous casino owner (Al Pacino), who cheated their friend (Gould) in business. Once again, the gang sets out to defeat a supposedly foolproof security system, using everything from game rigging, seduction and a fake earthquake. The idea is to get the series back on track after the disappointing Ocean's 12. Soderbergh and Clooney have referred in interviews to Ocean's Thirteen as "the movie the last one should have been."
"Basically, it's a cry for peace," said Clooney about the movie's throwaway plot.
One of the running jokes involves Rusty and Danny's fascination with The Oprah Winfrey Show, on which Andy Garcia's character eventually makes an appearance. "I had to sleep with Oprah to get on the show," Garcia quipped at one point, causing a round of warning "uh-ohs" from his cast-members. "There's your headline," said Damon. "Andy Garcia - Opening in a Dinner Theatre Near You."
Only Soderbergh offered a mildly defensive claim for the film, saying it was an "opportunity for him to work with editing and colour" in a way that more serious fare didn't allow. "Just because you're making an entertaining film doesn't mean you're any less passionate about it," he said. "For me, these films are more challenging in many ways."
Pacino was unable to attend the press conference. Weintraub said the star was initially nervous about joining an existing ensemble, wondering what others in the cast would think of him. Answered Weintraub: "'You know the way you felt when you worked with Marlon Brando in The Godfather? That's how they think of you.'"
"His presence raised our respectability and brought his down," confirmed Clooney.
The only negative came from a Chinese journalist who suggested the gang's Asian sidekick, the acrobatic Yen (Qin Shaobo), was a clownish role that demeaned Asians. Clooney suggested the reporter ask the actor what he thought. After a lengthy exchange in Chinese, Qin's translator replied: "It's just entertainment."
The consensus seemed to be that the Ocean series has now reached its end ("I think we've tapped out this tree," said Clooney), though Damon says he would enjoy doing another round.
As the film festival heads into its last two days, the Palme-reading has begun in earnest. If the French and English critics' polls are any indication, the Coen brothers' No Country for Old Men is the clear favourite. The drama about an old sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) facing a new kind of serial killer (Javier Bardem) is tense, moral and stylish, and is considered the leader by both high-brow and popular publications.
There's also strong support for the Romanian entry, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, about two women students trying to secure an illegal abortion during the last days of Communism.
The French are particularly keen to see a best-actor award go to Mathieu Amalric in The Diving Be ll and the Butterfly, a biographical movie about the fashion-magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, who wrote about the experience of paralysis by blinking out the letters to his best-selling book shortly before his death. The performance, which is immobile in the present-day scenes, gains a great deal from the inventiveness of American director Julian Schnabel.
The bearish Schnabel, dressed in purple pyjamas and smoking a borrowed cigarette from a reporter, sat poolside and described how, to simulate Bauby's experience of having one eye sewed shut, he wrapped the camera lens in a latex "eye-lid" and had it sewn by an actual surgeon.
He insisted the movie had to be in French, even if his original leading man, Johnny Depp, were available. When he saw a couple of films by Amalric, he recommended him for the part. Producer Kathleen Marshall balked, saying said she had never heard of him. Then she saw Steven Spielberg's Munich and said to Schnabel: "I saw this amazing French actor.
"What's his name?"
"Yeah, he's good," said Schnabel. "Why don't we go with him?"
In the best-actress category, there's been nothing close to the central performance by Jeon Do-yeon in Lee Chang-dong's Secret Sunshine, in which she plays a young widow who moves from Seoul to a small town with her young son. The only possible competition so far might come from Galina Vishnevskaya as the title character in Alexandra, the new film by Aleksandr Sokurov ( Russian Ark). Set against the backdrop of the Chechnya conflict, the film follows an indomitable grandmother as she travels to visit her grandson, a captain in the Russian army, where she wins friends among young soldiers and old Muslim women alike with her humanity and good sense.