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What Cannes Needs: More Fireworks!

Regis Duvignau—Reuters Guests walk on the red carpet during a fireworks show as they arrive for the screening of the film Timbuktu in competition at the 67th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes May 15, 2014

It's a fine job, seeing and critiquing the middling films of the world's most renowned directors. But once in a while, a simple burst of pyrotechnics is enough to validate one's faith in movies

The people who run the Cannes Film Festival love stars: your Brad or Angelina casting their glow across the red carpet that leads to the giant auditorium of the Grand Palais. But sometimes the Festival creates a little night magic of its own — because, as the French say, pourquoi pas? Just now a seven-minute effusion of fireworks illuminated the Riviera sky. The rockets’ red, blue and gold glare, with its accompanying thunderous booms, triggered the alarms of a hundred car and motorcycle security devices. When the burst of pyrotechnics ended, dozens of horns from the zillionaires’ yachts in the basin adjoining the Palais honked in appreciation.

Mary Corliss and I observed this spectacle from a front-row vantage point: the terrace of our room at the Hotel Splendid, the gracious family-owned establishment that has been our Cannes home for 41 festival fortnights. Peculiarly, no new films were screening on the second evening of this 67th Cannes, so I was on the terrace writing a review of the day’s one substantial entry, Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, while Mary was inside watching a movie on a French TV channel. The fireworks display lifted and lit up our spirits like no movie we’ve seen so far at the Festival. The night sky was the screen of our dreams.

Critiquing an 11-day festival on Day 2 is as presumptuous as judging a bottle of fine wine by its cork. So I’ll just say that this Cannes has begun slowly. The opening attraction, Grace of Monaco, at least had the scent of scandal trailing it, with Prince Albert denouncing the movie’s portrayal of his parents Rainier III and the former Grace Kelly. Abderrahmane Sissiko’s Timbuktu, the first film in competition for the Palme d’Or, touched many hearts with its lusciously photographed depiction of an Islamic jihadist terror campaign against the people, and especially the young girls, of Mali. Party Girl, today’s French film in the parallel Un Certain Regard section, is a scruffy little number about a 50ish ex-dancer and the lug who falls in love with her. Three films of interest, none of particular stature.

(MORE: Richard Corliss’s fact-check on Grace of Monaco)

Tomorrow we go from too few attractions to too many: a half-dozen beguiling titles, scheduled so it’s impossible to see all six. But a surfeit of expectations, even if they are meant to be dashed, is better than no films at all. And if many works by distinguished directors are fated to disappoint their viewers, there’s always the chance of a magnificent surprise. The movie Mary was reseeing when the fireworks erupted was Michel Hazanavicius’ silent comedy The Artist, which had its world premiere two years ago at Cannes. Originally on nobody’s must-see list, the film earned its rep by rapturous word-of-mouth. It proved one of the Festival’s all-time delights, on its way to winning Academy Awards for Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay and Actor — the incandescent Jean Dujardin.

(MORE: Mary Corliss’s review of The Artist from Cannes 2012)

Hazanavicius is back in Cannes with a much more serious subject, the war in Chechnya, with his remake of the 1948 Montgomery Clift film The Search. That movie, if it’s a success, will merely confirm its director’s stature. But somewhere, among the hundreds of features showing in the next nine days, may be another epiphany like The Artist — a film to validate our faith in movies, and to ignite our wonder, the way a simple display of fireworks did tonight.

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