The View From Here

Clint Eastwood's Changeling -- Cannes Film Festival 2008

Michael Bonner

Welcome to our first report from this year's Cannes Film Festival, featuring Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen and Roman Polanski...

Cannes, this year as ever, is about reputations. Some live up, others don't, but in 2008 the big directors are hanging onto their mantle while the arthouse darlings are slipping. Towering over the festival this year, Clint Eastwood is easily in the former camp, bringing a fantastic new film, Changeling (or is it The Exchange? The title keeps, ahem, changing), that proves that, at 78, Eastwood is effortlessly maintaining the rich twilight of an already magnificent career.

Starring Angelina Jolie, it's a period drama set in LA, 1928, with Jolie as a telephone exchange manager bringing up her son alone. After unexpectedly called into the office, she leaves her son at home, returning later to find him gone. Five months later, the boy is traced by the police and the two are reunited, but the mother isn't so sure they're got the right kid. Nonsense, say the LAPD, and if that sentence makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, you're in for a treat.

Riffing on issues of corruption and heavy-handed police procedures that have informed Chinatown and LA Confidential, Changeling is a modern Hollywood masterpiece, a stupendous compendium weaving all the classic genres – crime thriller, neo-noir, courtroom drama – that US cinema serves best, boasting an amazing lead performance by Jolie. John Malkovich is solid, too, as the anti-LAPD preacher who supports her one-woman crusade. But the best thing about Eastwood's latest is its constant ability to surprise. Oscars surely beckon, and it deserves them. After all, No Country For Old Men was here in competition last year and look what happened there.

Another director getting his umpteenth wind is Woody Allen, who shocked the Croisette by following the dreadful Cassandra's Dream with the wonderful Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Scarlett Johannson and Rebecca Hall play two Americans on vacation in Spain, but their thunder is quickly stolen by Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz as a bohemian painter and his crazy ex-wife. It's not trad Woody, in terms of wit and irony, but it is wistful, heartfelt and dizzyingly sexy, culminating in a coy lesbian scene between Scarlett and Cruz that has already appeared in grainy frame-grabs in shady newspapers all over the world.

But this festival hasn't simply been about the defending of good reps. Tyson, a wonderful doc by James Toback, shows the demonised boxer defending his media image as a vicious thug, rapist and jailbird. While these things are, to varying degrees, true, the former world heavyweight champion emerges as a sympathetic if not entirely likeable figure, plagued by demons and cursed with a frustrated intellect that punches way below the weight of his poetic soul.

Another bad guy given the spotlight treatment is Roman Polanski in Wanted And Desired, a sometimes brilliant but, like its subject, sometimes maddeningly contradictory study of the diminutive Polish film maker. Using fabulous archive footage, it goes a little soft on Polanski's unrepentant attitude, but nevertheless reveals some startling truths about the legal madness that inspired him to skip town before sentencing after pleading guilty to statutory rape of a thirteen year old girl. Needless to say, Polanski isn't in the film or in town for its screening, but it's a measure of this fine, if low-key festival, that his presence isn't missed.

We'll be back for a final report when the festival closes.


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