By Paolo Bertolin
CANNES, France - The gala opening of the 57th edition of the Cannes Film Festival, which took place on Wednesday, put the spotlight for the first time on a Spanish film, Pedro Almodą³var's already controversial "La Mala Educacią³n (Bad Education)", a semi-autobiographical tale of two boys discovering love, cinema and fear in a Catholic institution at the beginning of the 1960s.
The 2004 festival is certain to bring much attention to an increased variety of national cinemas in a choice of renewal that quietly but effectively aims at the tracking down of real paths of innovation in worldwide moviemaking, and Korean cinema is on the frontline of this upgrading process. This year's official competition, which features a decidedly selective choice of only 18 titles, includes in fact two Korean films, Park Chan-wook
's "Old Boy"
and Hong Sang-soo
's "Yoja-nun Namja-ui Miraeda (Woman is the Future of Man
It is a circumstance worth noticing especially if you consider that the first Korean film ever invited to Cannes' competition was Im Kwon-taek
, and that happened no sooner than in the year 2000. There is undoubtedly a lot of hype around the possibility of Korean cinema winning its first Palme d'Or this year, as both films are viewed as strong contenders, though playing in two unquestionably different leagues.
Park's disturbing but utterly compelling masterwork was embargoed by festival programmers since last fall, and its evident propensity towards jury president Quentin Tarantino has been a recurring talk of the town among insiders since the announcing of the competition line-up's sole possible drawback is the obvious controversial nature of the film.
On the other side, Hong Sang-soo
's quietly seductive film magic is certain to cast a diverse kind of spell on audiences. His previous films have already built him a solid reputation on the international festival circuit, and French critics have already crowned him as the legitimate prince of the Korean new wave. In the special Cannes' supplement of Le Monde, distributed to all accredited press at the festival, an entire page is devoted to Hong as a "Newcomer in the Court", a honor he shares only with Argentina's Lucrecia Martel.
Park's film will officially screen on the Saturday evening, while Hong's is scheduled on Monday. Other Korean presences in Cannes include Kim Eui-suk
's "Chongpung Myongwol (Sword in the Moon
)", which will be screened in the Un Certain Regard sidebar, and two shorts, Seo Hae-young's "Nalgae (The Wings)", competing in the Cinefondation selection, and Kim Youn-sung's "Ussum-ul Chajumyo (Fill in the Blanks)", to be screened as part of the Quinzaine des Realisateurs.
Park and Hong aside, this year's eclectic choice of competition entries displays a significantly Eastward-bound inclination, as no less than six titles are from Asian countries: two from Japan, Kore-eda Hirokazu's "Nobody Knows" and Oshii Mamoru's "Innocence"; one from Hong Kong, Wong Kar Wai's long-in-the-works "2046" and _ in a first for a major European festival's competition _ one from Thailand, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's intriguing "Tropical Malady". Notable peculiarities are also the selection of two animated features ("Innocence" and "Shrek 2") and one documentary (Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 911"). Among top directors competing for the Palme d'Or worth mentioning are the Coen Brothers, Emir Kusturica and Brazil's Walter Salles. Closing night and the awards ceremony are to be held on May 22.
** Paolo Bertolin is a writer specializing in Asian films for Cineforum, an Italian film magazine.