Culture

La Creme de la Creme: Our Literary Round-Up from the 2011 Cannes Film Festival

The programmers of this year's Cannes Film Festival were clearly a bookish bunch. Though the annual cinematic confab on the French Riviera only officially kicked off today, an early snapshot of the festival's breakout successes is already taking shape. Of particular interest to us: Many of the films currently cresting in the Cannes zeitgeist also happen to be literary adaptations. Here's a selection of some of the most noteworthy early Cannes standouts to have originally sprung from the mind of an author, not auteur.

"We Need to Talk About Kevin"

People are talking about "We Need to Talk About Kevin," the long-awaited third feature from Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay ("Ratcatcher," "Morvern Callar"). Though each of Ramsay's first two films was celebrated for its rough-edged verite storytelling and astringent but deeply resonant portrayals of its characters' inner lives, she may best be known as the director who was originally slated to adapt The Lovely Bones before Peter Jackson pulled rank and tragically elected to adapt Alice Sebold's bestseller himself, to ruinous results.

Ramsay took her time to recover from that disappointment and ultimately found an equally compelling and devastating book with which to rebound in Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin. The story revolves around two parents (played by Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly) trying to cope with the nuances of their culpability in raising a son who recently embarked on a violent high school killing spree. Family dramas don't get much darker than this one. This is the kind of film that should come with a skull and crossbones warning to new moms: Watch at your own peril. But judging by the above clip, anyone with the emotional stamina to endure the unendurable will be richly rewarded with stellar performances and an expertly crafted narrative.

"The Killer Elite"

Shifting gears into the realm of plot-driven high-octane testosterized filmmaking, "The Killer Elite" has been grabbing headlines declaring it the big commercial breakout of the festival after it was picked up for U.S. distribution today by Open Road Releasing. It's not hard to see the appeal: The film features a trifecta of tough guy thespians in a spy caper about a special forces agent (Jason Statham) who recruits his former mentor (Robert DeNiro) to help him hunt down a rogue group of British covert operatives and their corrupt onomatopoetically named leader, Spike (Clive Owen). If that weren't enough intrigue, the crime bestseller upon which the film is based -- The Feather Men by Sir Ranulph Fiennes -- has already spawned its own drama surrounding the author's disputed claims that the story was based on true events. Either way, we'll line up early and often to see Owen in anything, not to mention a juicy villain role like this one.

"The Skin I Live In"

Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar is a living legend who happens to have one of the most amazing heads of hair in show business. As such, he has made a habit of wowing audiences at the Cannes Film Festival with each successive masterpiece. This year Almodovar will take to the Croisette's with "The Skin I Live In," his adaptation of Thierry Jonquet's harrowing novel, Tarantula, about a cosmetic surgeon (Antonio Banderas) determined to avenge his daughter's rape.

We're particularly eager to see Banderas return to his roots in Spanish cinema, playing a psychologically complex character in a film by a world-class director. Before he became known for bringing a little Spanish salsa to bland mass-produced entertainment, as Puss in Boots in "Shrek" or as the hapless paterfamilias in the "Spy Kids" movies, Banderas spent the first decade of his career as Almodovar's go-to leading man in classics like "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" and "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!" But once Madonna caught sight of him and introduced him to mainstream audiences via her "Truth or Dare" documentary, Banderas became part of the Hollywood machinery. So after two decades churning cheese, we're eager to see Banderas speak his native tongue in a role worthy of his talents.

"Drive"

Full disclosure: This film stars Ryan Gosling and we'd be constitutionally inclined to endorse a corporate instructional video if he were doing the narrating. Fortunately, "Drive" comes fully loaded with a top-tier director in Nicolas Winding Refn ("Bronson") and a taut and twisty narrative about a movie stunt driver who earns extra cash driving getaway cars for criminals. Based on the James Sallis book, the film features Gosling front and center as the film's taciturn protagonist being eaten alive on the inside from his own compulsion to court danger. If this clip is any indication, "Drive" has makings for a minimalist modern day Steve McQueen movie.

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