It must be depressing to go to a movie in Europe. To judge from last week's Cannes Film Festival, movies made for the European crowd are mind-numbingly nihilistic. This is the kind of material that would make Barney want to fling himself from a 12-story building onto a bed of nails.
The festival's top award, the Palme d'Or, went to the U.S. film "Elephant." The plot involves a Columbine-like incident in which two gay teenagers decide to "have fun" by shooting up their school. The film makes no moral judgments about the boys and is widely perceived as an anti-U.S. screed.
"At Five in the Afternoon," an Iranian-French film, won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury. The movie revolves around an Afghani girl who has few prospects but wants to be president one day. Her dream is shattered by the state of post-Taliban Afghanistan. The director's comment: "If the most famous president in the world is George W. Bush, I wouldn't want to be a president."
The Canadian film "The Barbarian Invasions" is the story of a 50ish professor dying of cancer whose estranged son returns home from London for a reconciliation. Marie-Josee Croze, who won the festival's Best Actress award, plays the heroin addict who supplies heroin to the suffering professor. One scene shows the characters watching tape of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and remarking that the United States should expect this kind of violence since American power is waning. "Barbarian" director and screenwriter Denys Arcand won the Best Screenplay prize.
The favorite coming into Cannes was the Nicole Kidman vehicle "Dogville." "Dogville," perceived by most critics as anti-American, tells the story of Grace (Kidman), a fugitive from gangsters, who seeks refuge in the Rocky Mountain town of Dogville. Grace is subjected to the brutality of the Dogville citizens, up to and including gang rape.
These films are big news in Europe. Back in the states, the No. 1 film at the box office is Jim Carrey's "Bruce Almighty." The movie revolves around Bruce Nolan (Carrey), a TV news reporter who is frustrated with his life and questions God's justice. God (Morgan Freeman, in a nice turn) decides to bestow Nolan with all his godly powers and see how well he does. Nolan uses his power to part a bowl of tomato soup, manufacture incredible news events to which only he has access, enhance the figure of his girlfriend (Jennifer Aniston) and answer every prayer "yes." The consequences are disastrous. By the end of the story, Nolan has learned his lesson and submits to God's justice.
"Bruce Almighty" is not sophisticated. It isn't artsy. It's simply a feel-good movie with a moral message and enough laughs to keep it moving. Over the weekend, it made $86.4 million in the United States.
The contrast between Cannes and Carrey is telling. While American films are popular in Europe, Europe also loves amoral and anti-American movies. America, on the other hand, likes movies with morals and scorns movies touting the meaninglessness of life. All this makes me think that the divide between American and European views of the world will not be bridged any time soon.
Europe is loaded with cynicism. Europe is a continent ravaged by two world wars, plagued by appeasers and dictators, and immersed in socialism. Europeans lost the will to live the moral life long ago, and it shows in their foreign policy as much as it does in their movies.
France and Germany have yielded to the cancer of nihilism gutting them from within. They do not have the strength to stand on principle anymore. They are a Cannes Festival society.
But America has been renewed. We were tired after the Clinton administration. Indifference had crippled us; scandal had jaded us. But Sept. 11 revitalized us by showing us the face of evil. We were revolted, and we vowed never again to slide into the morass of moral lassitude. If audiences keep flocking to unchic, cheesy, moralistic Jim Carrey flicks, we're on the right track