Days 5 and 6: Dark Days at Cannes | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian

Days 5 and 6: Dark Days at Cannes

The buzz surrounding a new film leaves Cannes-goers anxious, but Michael Parfit finds reasons for hope

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"You are delusional," he says. "You are completely delusional." He's not joking. He's a movie sales agent we have known for about a year. He's talking about our hope that maybe we'll be able to organize a limited theatrical release for "Saving Luna" in the United States this fall.

We did the same sort of thing for the film in Canada, and we had an enthusiastic response from audiences. But now he's telling me here in Cannes that the traditional model for distributing non-studio films is ruined, and if we try to do the same thing in the U.S., we will fail. I listen to his advice, but we make no decisions.

The Cannes Film Festival moves into its final days with a bitter taste in its mouth. The glitz goes on, but in the basement below it, where a lot of the film market is, many people seem as on edge and discouraged as I am.

Partly this is just burnout. But there's another reason for it: the festival has just been jolted by what the critic Roger Ebert calls "the most despairing film" he's ever seen. "It says we harbor an undreamed-of capacity for evil," Ebert writes of director Lars von Trier's Antichrist.

Now the whole place seems tense; though most, like me, have not seen the film, all have read the reviews, and just the words are sour enough to curdle hope. To me what I have read of this film haunts the days.

In contrast, our little film about a whale sits quietly boxed up in a back room. It will not be shown here again. Though it has its own hard truths, its quietest but strongest message is a different one.

When we met the little orca that is the protagonist of our film, he had become separated from his family and was trying to make social contact with humans—not for food but apparently for companionship.

His need, often described as loneliness, seemed a lot like what humans experience in our need for others. A few years ago such a statement would have been uniformly attacked by biologists as anthropomorphic, but things have changed. Today a growing body of research indicates that many of the things we think of as our best human qualities, things like cooperation, affection, altruism, even friendship—all the things we could sum up in the broad category of love for others—may exist among many other species too.

This has a bearing on films like Antichrist. For centuries, many artists and philosophers have assumed a dominance of evil in human nature. I'm from a generation that learned its first darkness from William Golding's Lord of the Flies and Holocaust stories. Scratch us deep enough, that darkness says, and we are all just animals.

But maybe being animals is not so bad. When Suzanne and I met the little whale we called Luna, he showed us that the good stuff within us, the qualities we sometimes think are fragile superstructures jury-rigged over our baser natures by the efforts of parents and society, may instead be as deeply rooted as the bad parts. Our little movie carries, in the simplest terms, the deepest of hopes: that while death is inevitable, evil is not.

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