At a rumoured cost of more than $100 million US, Terrence Malick’s drama The Tree of Life may be the most expensive film to ever win the Palme D’or at Cannes, making the question of whether the award will enhance its box-office potential all the more urgent.
The film, which has been compared in its cosmic scale and vast leaps through time to 2001: A Space Odyssey, was supposed to premiere at the prestigious French film festival in 2010, but a complicated series of events involving editing delays and nervy distributors held up plans for the premiere.
For art-house and foreign-language films, a Cannes premiere is like the Fourth of July weekend slot for a Will Smith franchise flick: it’s a time when tastemaking critics and ambitious distributors try to put art before commerce. It’s also seen as the first stop on the annual film-festival circuit — a launching pad for films that will end up showing around the world.
Whatever its actual commercial potential, Tree of Life will open in June in an attempt to capitalize on its much-publicized Palme, but other Cannes buzz items will only show up in Canada during September’s Toronto International Film Festival.
It’s likely that one of these will be perennial provocateur Lars Von Trier’s new apocalyptic melodrama Melancholia, which saw its director banned from a festival he’s dominated for the past decade.
Not because of anything onscreen, but because of his remarks at a press conference claiming (in a badly conceived joke) that he felt some sympathy for Adolf Hitler.
Von Trier has been contrite, but he must know that on some level, any publicity is good publicity, and the combination of controversy and a starry cast — including Kirsten Dunst, who may have resurrected her professional reputation by taking home a Best Actress prize from the official jury — may give Melancholia the biggest “Cannes bump” of all.