By DEAC ROSSELL  |  November 14, 2006

Dalton Trumbo is another favorite here at Cannes. Before his press conference he was given a lengthy, personal, introduction by a member of the Festival – usually as rigidly neutral as a Swiss diplomat – citing his great scriptwriting, his courage during the Holly wood blacklist, and his friendly personality.  Trumbo himself, looking like an aging musketeer at 65 in his white goatee and moustache, was inclined to be more humorously humble.  “If the film is bad," he said at one point, "then the director ruined a beautiful script. If the film is good, the director had no problems.”

Another triumphal return was made by director Louis Malle, with his film Le Souffle au Coeur.  Two years ago Malle showed his documentary Calcutta here, and Le Souffle au Coeur marks the director’s first fictional film since Le Voleur  in 1966.  The film is the story of Laurent, the youngest of three boys, who is a bit overly attracted to his mother. During the course of a long summer, he finally reaches sexual maturity, first with his mother, then with a contemporary.  The film has created a great scandal in France because of the theme of incest, which is handled with Malle’s impeccable taste and fluid grace.  What is especially striking in this fine picture, as in Zazie dans le Metro, his best known film in the States, is Malle’s feeling for gently evocative detail: the raucous sophistication of Laurent’s two older brothers, an interlude in a boy-scout camp, a dinner at a fancy resort, a tennis match that evokes the sexual awkwardness of the players.  Malle seems to have lost none of his former powers, yet he has retreated from his most recent efforts at problem-solving films. It will be interesting to see what direction he takes at this crossroads. 

Fernando Arrabal’s film Viva la Muerte opened the Critic’s Section of the Festival, a one-week session of films chosen by the Association of French Film Critics that has become perhaps the most significant part of the entire film program here.  At 38, Arrabal is a Spanish playwright making his debut as a filmmaker and drawing his film from his own book,  Baal Babylone.  The devastatingly simple story is of Fando, a six-year-old boy who sees his father arrested by the police and condemned to death on information provided by his mother (at the age of 4, Arrabal saw his own father arrested executed). In a style that recalls nothing so much as the early Luis Bunuel, Arraal plunges into the convulsive psychological currents of the young boy. Using every technical trick, including color solarization, negative/positive interposition, dye transfer printing and color filters, Arrabal also spares no images of cruelty and revulsion: slaughterhouses, obscenities, cruelties and torture are as endemic to this film as bad rock music is to most American pictures. But it works.  As a portrait of a twisted childhood cruel as only childhood cab be, as an indictment of political murder, as a paen to the forces of death, Arrabal’s Breughelesque horrors are brilliant filmmaking. 

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