Picks and Pans Review: Report from Cannes

updated 06/09/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/09/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The sun shone brightly on the French Riviera, and the beach, mere feet away, beckoned temptingly. But its lure was lost on the crowds shouting and shoving, to see movies like Dogville, in which Nicole Kidman's character is berated and mistreated on a setless soundstage for three hours. And that was one of the better, or at least more provocative, films among a notably dull lot at last month's Cannes Film Festival.

The annual 10-day fest showcases world cinema, leaning to fare that's decidedly meditative—movie critic speak for "sloooow." After opening with a fluffy French swashbuckler, Fanfan La Tulipe, the festival moved on to such seat-numbing entries as Distant (two Turkish men suffer from ennui but—in what passes for suspense—hope to trap a mouse that's scampering through their flat), Bright Future (an alienated bloke in Tokyo commits suicide, first bequeathing his pet jellyfish to his roommate) and, worst of all, The Brown Bunny, a vacuous, sexually explicit road movie written and directed by and starring Vincent Gallo (Buffalo 66), which deservedly drew derisive hoots at press screenings.

Even the festival's top prize winner, Elephant, director Gus Van Sant's film about a high school incident similar to Columbine's, is so free of a point of view one wonders why Van Sant bothered.

So what was worth seeing and will be opening in the U.S.? Dogville, from Danish director Lars von Trier (Dancer in the Dark), is Our Town if written in acid by Bertolt Brecht. It features a virtuoso performance by Kidman as a woman seeking refuge in a Rocky Mountain town in the 1930s. Though verbose and belabored, Dogville stays with you. Swimming Pool is an elegant mindbender about an English mystery novelist (Charlotte Rampling) in Provence. And The Fog of War, a documentary by director Errol Morris, is a fascinating reexamination of the legacy of former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara and the Vietnam War.

Though all in all? The beach was Cannes' best bet.

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