Joo Pedro Rodrigues, To Die like a Man, 2009, still from a color film in 35 mm, 133 minutes.


MANY THEMES HAVE EMERGED at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival—bad parents, worse children, buckets of blood, the love that dare not speak its name, rutting in the woods, genital torture—but three films seen in succession today constitute their own genre: how legends live on. Terry Gilliam’s out-of-competition title The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, the final project of Heath Ledger, who died before shooting was finished, gets around the untimely demise of the actor through a conceit plausible within the film’s fantasy premise: Ledger’s character changes appearance when he goes through a magic mirror, becoming, at first, Johnny Depp, then Jude Law, and finally Colin Farrell, whose contributions enabled Gilliam’s film to be completed.

Perhaps the legions of French stars who appear in Tsai Ming-liang’s competition entry Visage were led to believe they’d be serving a noble cause, too. The attendees at the press screening in the Salle Bazin, however, quickly grew impatient: The first walkout occurred fifteen minutes into the self-referential film, about a Taiwanese director making a movie of the legend of Salom in the Louvre; when the final credits rolled, about a third of the 350-seat theater—completely full at the beginning—was empty. In one of Visage’s many longueurs, a triad of Gallic grandes dames—Fanny Ardant (who is also at the festival with Ashes and Blood, her debut as a director), Jeanne Moreau, and Nathalie Baye—gather at a dinner table. “If we talk, time will go by,” Ardant says to her dining companions. Yet not even the estimable Fanny could make the minutes pass fast enough.

Of all today’s luminaries, none shined as brightly as Tonia (Fernando Santos), a legendary trannie from Lisbon, in Joo Pedro Rodrigues’s rich Un Certain Regard entry To Die like a Man. “Without you, drag will disappear,” a club owner tells Tonia on her deathbed, her body ravaged by illness and silicone poisoning from her breast implants. With a junkie boyfriend, a homicidal son, and fierce competition from statuesque rival Jenny, twenty-year gender-illusionist vet Tonia is a wealth of aphoristic pronouncements: “There are no secrets. Only shame.” Which may be the most concise way to describe all the on-screen agony at this year’s Cannes.

Melissa Anderson