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Review: In 'The Green Knight,' an enchanting Arthurian dream

Review: In 'The Green Knight,' an enchanting Arthurian dream

David Lowery’s adaptation of the 14th century chivalric romance, “The Green Knight,” was shot on misty Irish plains and dank forests, is earthy, with dirt under its nails, and blanketed in wintery fogBy JAKE COYLE AP Film WriterJuly 28, 2021, 9:57 PM• 5 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleWhy, for starters, is the Green Knight green?It’s a question that’s long vexed scholars of the 14th century chivalric romance “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” The movie, like the epic poem, is full of mysteries, most of them unspoken. But the knight’s unlikely color — Why isn’t he a more typical knightly blue? — is a question voiced by the characters of David Lowery’s adaptation, “The Green Knight.” He’s green, answers Dev Patel’s Sir Gawain, because it’s the shade of rot.The Green Knight, as seen in Lowery’s enchanting Arthurian dream, is an imposing tree of a man, with a wispy beard of twigs and a wooden mane whose movements rustle with the sound of bended, creaking branches. (He’s played by a much-costumed Ralph Ineson.) Early in “The Green Knight,” he rides on Christmas Day into King Arthur’s court, cloaked in shadow, and offers a game. Strike him wherever you want, and he will repay the same stroke a year hence at his Green Chapel.Gawain, freshly inspired by King Arthur to be ambitious after spending his days drinking and carousing, takes up the challenge and boldly chops off the knight’s head. The thrall of victory quickly turns ominous when the Green Knight stands, picks up his head and — with more menace than even an unwanted houseguest promising to return for the holidays — says he’ll see the young man next Christmas.The Green Knight is the color of nature and of death, which here are the same things. Lowery’s film, shot on misty Irish plains and dank forests, is earthy, with dirt under its nails, and blanketed in wintery fog. It’s both of the land and the ether, poised in a dreamy, mythical long ago. Gawain’s quest to visit the Green Knight a year later is a haunting journey into an inescapable abyss, a meditation on life and death made with the Green Knight’s axe looming.Lowery, the Texas filmmaker, has a propensity for lyrical legends ( “The Old Man and the Gun,” with Robert Redford ) and existential rumination ( “A Ghost Story” ). The latter is a kind of companion piece to “The Green Knight,” and both, I think, sometimes use obliqueness to mask an inner vagueness. But few American filmmakers of his generation have been quite as keen to pursue difficult philosophical questions or to stretch cinema in new, quixotic directions.Just making a movie out of this anonymous, alliterative poem is a wild kind of feat. A tale of chivalry and honor, it belongs to another, medieval world. Its lessons and meanings are somewhat inscrutable and much contested. Only twice before has it been turned into a movie (both by British filmmaker Stephen Weeks, once with Sean Connery as the Green Knight, neither to any acclaim). In King Arthur’s Round Table, Gawain is quite notable but he’s no Lancelot.But in Patel’s brooding, uncontrived performance, Gawain is remarkably alive as a man — like Patel’s David Copperfield — figuring himself out. Lowery opens “The Green Knight” (which a24 opens in theaters Friday) with ornate titles crediting the tale’s historic origins — this is a story about stories — but immediately situates “The Green Knight” into a more natural realm and the intimate orbit of Patel’s Gawain.Gawain has none of the experience of Camelot’s more famous knights but that’s not causing him to loose any sleep. He and Essel (a marvelous, pixie-cut Alicia Vikander) are inseparable, in bed and at Mass. Living with his mother, Morgana (Sarita Choudhury), Gawain is a little like a boy prince who doesn’t want to grow up.But after King Arthur (Sean Harris) summons him to sit alongside his throne, Gawain haphazardly throws himself into the pursuit of honor, joining the Green Knight’s game. Is he finally reaching maturity? Or is it a fool’s gambit to risk everything for Round Table infamy? “This is how silly men perish,” says Essel.But Gawain, grimacing at the first sight of snowfall, sets out just the same to make his Christmas appointment with the Green Knight. He traverses a deathly landscape in an episodic journey of symbolic encounters — a thief on a battlefield (Barry Keoghan); an apparition in a deserted house (Erin Kellyman); a kindly fox; a comforting castle with a lord and a mystical companion (Joel Edgerton, Vikander again).The chapters don’t cohere in a sustained rhythm, but in richly evocative imagery, “The Green Knight” makes its own vivid film language and pacing. Sometimes, Lowery’s camera turns round like a clock, advancing and reversing time. Gawain’s quest turns abstract, awakening him to his life even as he marches to his own death.“The Green Knight,” an a24 release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for violence, some sexuality and graphic nudity. Running time: 125 minutes. Three stars out of four.———MPAA definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. ———Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

Review: In 'The Suicide Squad,' an anti-Captain America romp

Review: In 'The Suicide Squad,' an anti-Captain America romp

One little article separates James Gunn’s “The Suicide Squad” from David Ayer’s “Suicide Squad.” But, oh, what a difference a word makes.Just five years after the trainwreck that prompted Warner Bros. to retool its DC Comics universe, James Gunn’s nearly wholesale re-do exists in an entirely different movie galaxy. “The Suicide Squad” may go down as one of the greatest, and quickest, do-overs in blockbusterdom.Like Gunn’s two “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies, “The Suicide Squad” is a chaotic, freewheeling inversion of much of what’s expected in a comic book movie. Here, heroes die (a lot of them). Most aren’t really heroes, either. Some aren’t even human. But they’ve been sprung from prison for a kamikaze mission on behalf of the U.S. government. In this motliest of crews, no one has anything like a sleek shield or a clean caped suit.Gunn came to “The Suicide Squad” (which opens Aug. 5 in theaters and on HBO Max) in a brief window opened by social-media scandal. Disney fired him from Marvel for some old, dug-up tweets, only to, after the protests of his “Guardians” cast, be rehired to direct “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 ”. But in the interim, Warner and D.C. poached the writer-director, one of the few filmmakers in the genre with the nerve and talent to not exactly buck the system but deconstruct it, and turn superhero myth into slapstick farce.Gunn has said he was initially offered the chance to direct a Superman movie, but it’s telling that he turned down the crown jewel of DC for the likes of Polka-Dot Man, Ratcatcher 2 (who communicates with rodents) and Nanaue, a cartoonish walking shark in jams.But if most mainline superhero movies ultimately exalt American ideals like justice, individualism and might, Gunn goes exactly the other way. “The Suicide Squad” is the anti-Superman, a madcap rejoinder to Captain America. In Gunn’s hands, the America superhero is grotesque, brutal and ridiculous. Like Gunn’s previous movies, “The Suicide Squad” boasts wall-to-wall needle drops (the Pixies’ “Hey,” Louis Armstrong’s “I Ain’t Got Nobody”), yet leaves out maybe the most fitting song, Childish Gambino’s “This Is America.”Early on in “The Suicide Squad” we get a sense that the mission is dubious. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) summons a bunch of prisoners for Task Force X program. Exactly who are to be our main characters and who’s head is about to sliced like a melon takes some sorting out. But in a clown-car of a superhero movie the most central protagonist is Idris Elba’s Bloodsport, a mercenary only coaxed into joining the team when Waller threatens prison time or worse for his teenage daughter (Storm Reid, very good).With him are Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior, a standout), a laconic, warm-hearted Millennial with a very polite pet rat named Sebastian on her shoulder. The skills of Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) are initially hard to decipher, but the shy, stunted Abner proves surprisingly capable, even if he, himself, sheepishly apologizes for having such a “flamboyant” power.There is also John Cena’s Peacemaker, easily the most jingoist of the bunch, a kind of Captain America knockoff. Just what each squad member feels about their home country and its role in international backwaters is prominently in play in “The Suicide Squad.” The gang is sent to a dictator-controlled South American island in the midst of a populist uprising to keep safe a secret, locked-away alien species housed in a concrete tower. This is the sinister unseen side to American glory; a monstrous extraterrestrial starfish picked up on a seemingly triumphant space mission. Unclear is whether the task force is there to prevent an apocalyptic threat or shroud a dubious offshore U.S. experiment.But there are others, too. Nanaue (voiced with monosyllabic perfection by Sylvester Stallone) is a worthy heir to Groot from “Guardians of the Galaxy” and a man-eating reminder to how very close to cartoon Gunn’s movie is. The group’s more serious, highly trained field leader, Joel Kinnaman as Rick Flag, is a kind of straight man to the antic gang in the same way that dramatic, ballad-singing actors starred alongside the Marx brothers.Also in the mix is Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. It’s her third film in that character but the best yet in capturing Quinn’s chipper mania. A brief romantic interest tells her he adores her for symbolizing anti-American fervor. Within minutes, he’s lying dead on the floor.Does “The Suicide Squad” overdo it? Of course. It’s a little absurd to even ask that about a movie with a talking shark that rips bodies in half and interstitial debates about, for instance, whether the phrase “tighty whities” is racist. Gunn throws so much into his superhero collider that he sometimes sacrifices depth (backstories are poignant but thin) for wit and idiosyncrasy.But as over-the-top and thoroughly R-rated as “The Suicide Squad” is, it’s not nihilistic. That’s maybe a questionable argument to make for a film that includes an inside-the-body close-up of a dagger piercing a beating heart. But as much as Gunn steers his movies into chaos, they have a surprising amount of heart and thoughtfulness to them.Within “The Suicide Squad” is not only a negotiation with American power, and its depiction in comic-book movies, but a heartfelt if extreme gallery of damaged souls. It’s a kind of genuinely tender freak show. The upside of selecting DC characters from the Z-list is that Gunn has free reign in molding and shaping them as he likes. And, as in “Guardians,” his heroes all derive their strange powers from emotional trauma. They are outcasts, weirdos, laughing stocks and whatever you call Nanaue. That makes “The Suicide Squad” — as ridiculous as it is to say about a movie that renders a bloody rampage with gushes of animated daisies and birdies — kind of beautiful. Plus, the shark in jams is funny.“Suicide Squad,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for strong violence and gore, language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and brief graphic nudity. Running time: 132 minutes. Three stars out of four.———MPAA definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. ———Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

Cannes to award Palme d'Or as selected by Spike Lee jury

Cannes to award Palme d'Or as selected by Spike Lee jury

The 74th Cannes Film Festival on Saturday will hand out its top honor, the Palme d’Or, as selected by a jury headed by Spike LeeBy JAKE COYLE AP Film WriterJuly 17, 2021, 4:12 AM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleThe 74th Cannes Film Festival will on Saturday award its top honor, the Palme d’Or, as selected by a jury headed by Spike Lee.Cannes’ closing ceremony caps 12 days of red-carpet premieres, regular COVID-19 testing for many attendees and the first major film festival to be held since the pandemic began in almost its usual form. With smaller crowds and mandated mask-wearing in theaters, Cannes pushed forward with an ambitious slate of global cinema. Last year’s Cannes was completely canceled by the pandemic.Twenty-four movies are in contention for the Palme. The jury’s deliberations are private and unknown, but that never stops a wide spectrum of predictions, guesses and betting odds. This year featured a strong slate of many top international filmmakers, but no movie was viewed as the clear favorite.Among the best-received films at the festival were: Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s portrait of honor and social media “A Hero”; Chadian filmmaker Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s abortion drama “Lingui”; Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s meditative, Tilda Swinton-led “Memoria”; French director Julia Ducournau’s wild, high-octane serial-killer odyssey “Titane”; Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project” follow-up, “Red Rocket”; Japan’s Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Haruki Murakami adaptation, “Drive My Car”; and Russian director Kirill Serebennikov’s influenza tale “Petrov’s Flu.”In 2019, the Palme went to Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite,” which later took best picture at the Academy Awards, too. Only one female filmmaker has ever won Cannes top award (Jane Campion for “The Piano”), so a win for Ducournau or Mia Hansen-Løve (“Berman Island”) would be history making. If Haroun were victorious, it would be the second time a film from Africa won.Lee is the first Black jury president at Cannes. His fellow jury members are: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Song Kang-ho, Tahar Rahim, Mati Diop, Jessica Hausner, Kleber Mendonça Filho and Mylène Farmer.——— Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

Val Kilmer on a life in illusion and the new doc 'Val'

Val Kilmer on a life in illusion and the new doc 'Val'

CANNES, France — Val Kilmer was in movies he wasn’t in.The new documentary “Val,” bursting with footage Kilmer shot himself over his 61 years, includes home videos and backstage glimpses, as you might expect. But the most remarkable thing is seeing Kilmer’s own audition tapes of himself. It’s not just a few scenes here and there. They capture Kilmer living in parts — including some he never got to (officially) play.There’s footage of him as Henry Hill in “Goodfellas.” Hamlet he privately tackled for years. He was so consumed with being in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” that Kilmer had a friend shoot him, in combat gear, trudging through a California swamp. In another clip, he shoots live rounds in the backyard.“I’m a firm believer in magical realism ON and OFF the screen,” said Kilmer in an interview over email. “The transformation and/or manifestation of each character is really just PRAYER.”“Val,” which a24 will open in theaters July 23 and Amazon Prime will debut Aug. 6, made its recent premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. Here in France to celebrate the occasion were his children, Mercedes and Jack Kilmer, and the directors Ting Poo and Leo Scott. Kilmer, who has difficulty speaking after throat cancer and numerous trachea surgeries, wasn’t able to attend.But exchanging words over email from Los Angeles, Kilmer said he was feeling “blessed and grateful” as “Val” made its anticipated arrival. For years, the hours of tapes had just sat in boxes. But losing his voice has made Kilmer only want to tell his story — a boundless life of full-hearted abandon — all the more.Kilmer, himself, tends to view his life with mystical harmony and a sense of destiny. That the documentary happened — through a confluence of people and events — he says is “once in a lifetime.”“I should KNOW,” said Kilmer. “It’s my L I F E.”And for much of Kilmer’s life, he was self-documenting it. It started with 16mm short films and movie parodies with his brother, Wesley, who died in childhood after an epileptic fit in a Jacuzzi. Forever after, like a habit solidified by grief, Kilmer often had a camera in his hands. In “Val,” we see him shooting fresh-faced Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon backstage on Broadway in “Slab Boys”; in his trailer while shooting “Top Gun”; prodding Marlon Brando and warring with director John Frankenheimer on “The Island of Dr. Moreau.”“My brother Wesley and my mother are both alive in the film,” Kilmer says. “Seeing that footage and the movies and art created by Wesley within the context of the rest of the story is extremely meaningful. I lost my mother during the shoot, so I’m more and more emotional with each viewing. There are laughs. There are tears.”Scenes like the one he made on “The Island of Dr. Moreau” helped give Kilmer a reputation as a “difficult” actor. But in “Val,” we see an actor driven less by ego than extreme, even manic dedication.“I’ve lived in the illusion almost as much as I’ve lived outside of it,” he says in “Val.” “I have behaved poorly. I have behaved bravely. I have behaved bizarrely to some. I deny none of this and have no regrets because I have lost and found parts of myself I never knew existed.”Kilmer, the youngest actor ever accepted to Julliard when he went, experienced the ups and downs of fame more dramatically than most. His break came in 1984’s “Top Secret!” one of relatively few movies that traded on his talent for comedy. (Another, decades later, was “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.”)“He’s the funniest person I know,” says Jack Kilmer, 26, sitting alongside his 29-year-old sister in Cannes. “Everyone who knows him is like: He is so funny. He should do more comedies. All his best friends, the jokes are nonstop. Yet he’s known as a serious, dramatic actor.”“Val” is narrated by Kilmer but voiced, movingly, by Jack. His son looks and sounds like Kilmer, who wrote the narration sporadically, in text messages and scrap books. About halfway through the film, the directors say they forget it isn’t Val. In one scene, the filmmakers capture Jack, in a recording booth, pausing to ask if one of his dad’s stories — a new one to him – is really true.“Our dad has so many stories,” says Jack. “You never know what you’re going to get when you hang out with him. He’ll just drop a story on you. It’s kind of like the experience of watching this movie.”For Jack and Mercedes there were other epiphanies. They had only seen some of the tapes.“I had ever seen footage of my parents’ wedding before Leo showed me,” says Mercedes, who lives next door to her father.“We’ve been sitting on this movie for a long time,” says Jack. “Definitely our whole lifetime.”Kilmer’s biggest breakthrough, of course, was “Top Gun,” a movie he recalls not initially wanting to do. “I thought the script was silly and I disliked the warmongering in the film,” he narrates in the documentary. On Tony Scott’s set, he was more energized by the film. For the rest of his life, he says, “I will be called Iceman by every pilot at every airport I ever go to.”But Kilmer’s resistance to being pigeonholed and typecast lasted forever. “Willow,” “Batman Forever,” “The Doors,” “Tombstone,” “The Saint,” “Heat.” Scott first encountered Kilmer while working with him on Harmony Korine’s short, in which Kilmer played himself, for the 2012 VICE project “The Fourth Dimension.”Scott, captivated by Kilmer’s freewheeling energy to create (he remembers the actor sending in videos of himself from Home Depot), kept on working with him. Together they mounted one of Kilmer’s largest undertakings, the one-man stage show “Citizen Twain,” in which he played Mark Twain.“I wandered my ranch talking to myself for years in advance of workshopping the one-man show,” says Kilmer, who more recently sold his 6,000-acre New Mexico ranch.Kilmer’s outlook is, as ever, enthusiastic. He continues to create in myriad ways — collages, an upcoming book of poetry that a24 will publish. He keeps a studio in Hollywood that he lends space to an inner-city theater program. And Hamlet? “Don’t count me out,” he says. “The best is yet to come.”“I have no regrets,” adds Kilmer. “I’ve witness and experienced miracles.”———Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

Back in Cannes, Sean Penn directs again, with daughter Dylan

Back in Cannes, Sean Penn directs again, with daughter Dylan

CANNES, France — Sean Penn has been to the Cannes Film Festival about a dozen times — from bumming around with Robert De Niro in 1984 to presiding over the jury.But his last visit was rocky. Penn’s film, 2016’s “The Last Face,” flopped with critics in way that would make some filmmakers gun shy about returning.Penn, though, didn’t hesitate. On Saturday night, he premiered in Cannes his latest film, “Flag Day,” in which he also co-stars.A few hours before walking down the red carpet, Penn sat comfortably in a hotel bar, excited to be back. The festival is the greatest in the world, he said. “Everyone knows it’s the big game.”And it’s a game Penn welcomes. Cannes is worth it, even if he takes a few lumps.“The bad stuff, these days, I’ve been on such extreme ends on that. It’s like: whatever,” says Penn. “The thing is: I am confident that I know as much — more –about acting than almost any of these critics. And I’m very confident in the performance I’m most concerned about.”With that, Penn raises his hand and points toward where his daughter, Dylan Penn, is sitting. Dylan, 30, is the star of “Flag Day.” She has dabbled before in acting but it’s easily her biggest role yet. In the film, adapted from Jennifer Vogel’s 2005 memoir “Flim-Flam Man: The True Story of My Father’s Counterfeit Life,” she plays Jennifer Vogel, the journalist daughter of a swindler and counterfeiter (played by Penn).Her father’s confidence isn’t misplaced. Dylan is natural, poised and captivating. She looks a veteran, already, which might be expected of the child of Penn and Robin Wright. And those critics? Variety said the film “reveals Dylan Penn to be a major actor.”But for a long time, Dylan never wanted the spotlight.“Growing up, being surrounded by actors and being on set, it was really something that didn’t interest me at all,” Dylan says. “I always thought, and still think, my passion lies in working behind the camera. But as soon as I expressed wanting to do that kind of thing, both of my parents said separately: You won’t be a good director if you don’t know what it’s like to be in the actor’s shoes.”Dylan is stepping forward in movies the same time her father is withdrawing. Penn, 60, is in the midst of shooting Sam Esmail’s Watergate series for Starz, with Julia Roberts. But he has recently pulled further away from Hollywood. Penn devotes more time to Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE), the nonprofit he started after the 2010 earthquake to help Haitians. Haiti has this week again plunged into crisis after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, a situation Penn calls heartbreaking.“These people have been working so hard to bring their country up and this kind of horrible violence, cynicism — whatever my suspicions the motivation was,” he says. “I’m glad that our teams are safe for the moment, but it’s horrible.”During the pandemic, CORE has erected testing and vaccination sites, including one at Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium, and dispensed millions of shots. In movies, Penn still has a pair of upcoming roles he says he promised to do years earlier. But beyond that?“Then I just don’t know. I’d be very surprised. I don’t think I would start a movie without knowing if it was going to be a movie. And I don’t think I’d direct something that wasn’t a movie unless it was on the Broadway stage,” he says, and then smiles. “There’s a simpler way of saying that: I’m not interested in directing for the small screen.”Penn is increasingly at odds with Hollywood’s dominant priorities. He’s never made a franchise film. He laments Marvel movies and “how much it’s taken up the space and claimed so much time in the careers of so many talented people.” He misses cinema that isn’t “just razzle-dazzle, Cirque de Soleil movies.”So-called “cancel culture,” he has issues with, too. Arguing that today he wouldn’t be allowed to play gay icon Harvey Milk (2008’s “Milk”), Penn recently said that soon only Danish princes will play Hamlet.But his biggest gripe may be with the onset of direct-to-streaming film releases. “The way I’ve always put it is: It’s not the girl I fell in love with,” Penn says.MGM will release “Flag Day” theatrically Aug. 20; Penn considers himself “lucky to have a movie that’s going to be a movie.” But it took years to reach this stage. Dylan first read the book when her father optioned it when she was 15. Many possible iterations followed — Penn didn’t initially plan to direct — but the prospect of doing the film with Dylan was appealing.“I have always thought if she wanted to do it, I’d encourage it,” Penn says.For Dylan, the father-daughter relationship of “Flag Day” — Jennifer tries to help and stabilize her scamming father but also inherits some of his more destructive, conman habits — is a half-reflection of their own bond together.“She always strived to have this really honest, transparent relationship with her father which she never got it in return,” Dylan Penn says. “I’ve tried to have that with my dad and got it in return.”“It made us a lot closer than we’ve ever been,” she adds. “Of course, there were times when I talked back or had an attitude, but it was like: You can’t. This is your boss. This is work. This is not your dad right now.”Dylan grants the experience was so satisfying that she’d like to continue acting. Her dad, she feels, may be “passing the torch a little bit,” she says. Hopper Jack Penn, her younger brother, also co-stars in the film. The rest of the cast is more veteran, including Josh Brolin and Regina King. Original songs by Cat Power, Eddie Vedder and Glen Hansard contribute to the score.But the most vibrant parts of “Flag Day” are the scenes between Dylan and her dad.“Dylan is — and I can say this in equal parts for my feeling about her as a person and as an actress — as uncontrived as it gets,” Penn says. “That’s a great quality to play off of.”———Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP———This story first published on July 11, 2021 and was updated on July 13, 2021, to correct the release date of “Flag Day”

Unable to leave Russia, director attends Cannes virtually

Unable to leave Russia, director attends Cannes virtually

Russian filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov is banned from leaving his home country but phoned into his Cannes Film Festival premiere by FaceTime and spoke to the media by ZoomBy JAKE COYLE AP Film WriterJuly 13, 2021, 6:25 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleCANNES, France — Celebrated Russian filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov is banned from leaving his home country, so he is attending the Cannes Film Festival virtually. Serebrennikov phoned into the red-carpet premiere of his film, “Petrov’s Flu,” by FaceTime and spoke to the media on Tuesday by Zoom.A seat was left open for the 51-year-old director when “Petrov’s Flu” premiered Monday in Cannes. It wasn’t the first time Serebrennikov was forced to miss a Cannes premiere. In 2018, he was under house arrest when his film “Leto” debuted at the festival.Serebrennikov is no longer under house arrest in Russia, but he’s unable to travel outside the country. He was convicted of fraud in 2020 and sentenced to probation and fined for embezzlement.The verdict was seen as a success for artistic freedom in Russia – prosecutors had sought a six-year sentence in a penal colony – and concluded a high-profile, years-long legal battle for Serebrennikov, one of Russia’s most prominent theater and film directors. The case against him was protested widely throughout the Russian artistic community and internationally.On Tuesday, Serebrennikov joined the middle of the news conference for “Petrov’s Flu” remotely while actors and producers appearing in person flanked the monitor. He joked that during the pandemic, everyone has gotten to experience a version of his isolation.“My situation has much improved,” Serebrennikov said. “Last time, three years ago, there was no television. I was not with you, so it’s much better today. Everyone is getting used to this trend. I have become a Zoom personality. You are used to Zoom and I am, too.”Serebrennikov wrote “Petrov’s Flu” while under house arrest, basing it on the 2018 novel by Alexei Salnikov about a flu epidemic in Russia. The film, which is in competition for Cannes’ top honor, the Palme d’Or, received glowing reviews at the festival.On the Cannes red carpet, cast members and producers wore badges with the director’s photo and initials.“Yesterday was a double celebration for us. We had at once the premiere in Cannes with the red carpet,” Serebrennikov said. “But I’m also shooting my next film in the studio. Where we are shooting, we set up a red carpet in order to be able to support the actors and team who are in Cannes.”

In 'Stillwater,' Matt Damon bridges Oklahoma and France

In 'Stillwater,' Matt Damon bridges Oklahoma and France

CANNES, France — The set-up of Tom McCarthy’s “Stillwater” sounds very Liam Neeson.Matt Damon stars as a tough, terse Oklahoma father who travels to Marseille, France, to visit his jailed daughter (Abigail Breslin), who has been imprisoned for her role in a scandalous Amanda Knox-styled murder case. Damon, a gruff, working-class roughneck, sticks around to seek justice for his daughter and find a mystery man who may have been the real killer.McCarthy, the director of “Spotlight,” “Win Win” and “The Station Agent,” had long pursued Damon for one of his movies. In “Stillwater,” he knew audiences would come in expecting Damon as a quintessentially American hero.“I have a very specific set of skills,” Damon, doing his most gravelly Neeson, jokes while sitting alongside McCarthy in an interview.“Stillwater,” though, is more than it might appear. The film, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and will open in North American theaters on July 30, is an anomaly — a U.S.-Euro hybrid set just down the coast from Cannes yet one of the biggest American films at this year’s festival. As “Stillwater” progresses, it takes its premise in unpredictable directions, turning the American-abroad thriller on its head.“It’s a movie that owes as much to American storytelling as it does to European storytelling,” says McCarthy.“It’s not the fish-out-of-water story that you’d expect from Hollywood,” says Damon. “He’s like the opposite of Bourne.”Intrigued at making a Mediterranean noir, McCarthy first wrote a simpler version of the movie ten years ago. He returned to the script in the fall of 2016 around the election of Donald Trump. Damon’s character doesn’t definitively say he’s a Trump supporter, but it’s implied. But McCarthy wanted to expand the movie’s horizons; he brought in a pair of French writers — Thomas Bidegain and Noé Debré — to blend the movie more authentically with France.In Marseille, Damon’s character, Bill, befriends a local single mother (played by the French actress Camille Cottin, star of “Call My Agent” and her young daughter Maya played by Lilou Siauvaud) and slowly, reluctantly begins to adapt and, maybe, expand his very ethnocentric perspective. The movie’s subtle question: Can a nationalistic, narrow-minded American change his ways? Oui or non?The production, itself, wasn’t so different. It was largely shot in Marseille with a mostly local crew. Shortly after premiering the film in Cannes, they returned to Marseille to screen it.“Too many times American movies pitch their tent,” says McCarthy. “Thank you, Pedro. Thank you, Francoise. Stay over there.”“Stillwater” could be seen as Hollywood’s version of a Middle America newspaper profile, the kind that gets written a lot during election seasons. But the filmmakers made an effort to get beyond clichés. Before shooting the movie, Damon and McCarthy took a pre-production trip to Oklahoma for, as McCarthy says, “three days in a truck and a lot of barbeque” to get a sense of the region’s character. Both came back with a new understanding.“It was coming at a time where we were super polarized. My French co-writers used to say: You were so angry when we were writing this,” McCarthy says. “Even when I started going (to Oklahoma) thought: ‘What am I going to get?’ And these guys were just great. When I got back, I was so angry at politicians.”“The movie has tremendous empathy for Bill, and so do we,” says Damon. “Anytime you play a role, you have to have a deep understanding of why your character does what they do. I really feel like we got that from our time down there. I looked at it like: This is a beautiful life and culture. They live entirely different from (Damon gestures to himself and McCarthy) guys who live in New York and the way I grew up in Boston.”Damon had his own fish-out-water experience in the early days of the pandemic, when he and his family stayed in a small coastal Irish village. The townspeople became charmingly protective of the star in their midst.“I’m much more taken care of than Bill by any community I parachute into,” says Damon. “People tend to just be really nice and open and helpful.”Marseille, a bustling and multicultural port city, also infatuated Damon. If he were younger and living in France, he’d move there, he says. But is Damon’s French any better than Bill’s? In the movie, Bill rarely gets more than a few French words out. “Hell yeah, ça va,” he says with a strong Oklahoman accent.“It’s maybe worse,” Damon says sheepishly.“Actually much worse,” laughs McCarthy.“Stillwater” debuted to strong reviews at Cannes and early Oscar nominations speculation for Damon’s lead performance. Produced by Participant Media and distributed by Focus Features, it will try to stoke interest as a theatrical release that appeals to both blue states and red, American moviegoers and European ones. It’s an increasingly uncommon kind of movie: a star-fronted drama for adults from an original idea, made for theaters.At the premiere, Damon was moved to tears at simply being back in a full movie theater.“It was completely overwhelming,” Damon says. “It was a really powerful reminder of watching things on the little screen in my house, what the experience is of sitting with a thousand people who are strangers and watching this thing and taking it together — and why we do that. And why it’s so unlike the other thing. You’re looking at the same quote-unquote ‘content,’ but it’s not the same. It’s a form of worship. It’s like church. And I forgot how great that felt.”But getting “Stillwater” made wasn’t easy. When the production budget went higher than expected, McCarthy had to pull back on the crew size during shooting. His department heads asked why their teams were getting smaller.“On one of the calls, someone said, ‘It feels like we’re making an independent movie,’” says McCarthy. “I was like: ‘No, we’re making a European movie.’”———Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

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