By Mike Collett-White
CANNES, France (Reuters) - In a bumper year for U.S. productions in Cannes, director John Hillcoat, presenting prohibition-era drama "Lawless" at the film festival on Saturday, said the state of smaller-budget American movies was "distressing".
Lawless is in fact an international production - Hillcoat and two of his leading cast are Australian, as is scriptwriter and musician Nick Cave.
But the 1930s tale of three bootlegging brothers in Virginia also features leading U.S. actors Jessica Chastain and Shia LaBeouf and is backed by the Weinstein Company.
It is one of five U.S. productions in Cannes' main competition of 22 films, an unusually high number, leading some executives on the French Riviera to speak of a boom in medium-budget pictures costing a few tens of millions of dollars.
But Hillcoat, who collaborated with Cave on the acclaimed 2005 Western "The Proposition", was less sanguine.
"The state of things is pretty tough as everyone here knows, particularly in my world which is the kind of medium-budgets," he told reporters after a press screening of Lawless, where there were boos as well as cheers at the closing credits.
"They are films that have character and drama and those are words that you cannot use in the United States at this time. So that I find quite distressing."
He said television had become increasingly important, with U.S. channels like HBO leading the way in developing intelligent, probing dramas.
VIOLENCE AND VELVET UNDERGROUND
Lawless is an ultra-violent adaptation of author Matt Bondurant's fictionalized account of his family called "The Wettest County in the World".
British actor Tom Hardy plays Forrest, who with his brothers Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (LaBeouf) run a successful but illegal moonshine business that local police officers are happy to allow in return for backhanders.
Trouble arrives in the idyllic Virginian hills in the form of special agent Charlie Rakes, a creepy, effete officer from Chicago determined to break the Bondurant brothers and put an end to locals' belief that they are indestructible.
Hillcoat was attracted to the film, in which Western meets gangster movie, partly because he believed it reflected contemporary concerns.
"There's a lot of parallels to today with the economic crisis, the political crisis, the war on drugs," he said.
Cave also saw links, and tried to reflect them in the score, which he wrote.
"This is actually a modern film in its way, because ... prohibition, it still exists today, it still fails epically with the so-called war on drugs," he said.
"So there was a kind of gleeful idea of fusing modern day concerns such as a Velvet Underground song about taking speed and amphetamines, like 'White Heat', and doing it in a kind of bluegrass, authentic American style that seemed to pull the present back to the past in some kind of pleasing way."
Regarding the portrayal of violence - shootings and beatings abound - he added: "It's very brutal, very quick, it's all over very fast and it leaves a huge mess behind and that was what really excites me about the way John deals with violence."
One reporter asked him to comment on remarks he once made about enjoying getting older. Cave could not recall them, but went on to say: "My memory's gone and I have to use the thesaurus a lot, dictionaries a lot, enlarge the type, all that sort of shit. It's awful and I don't recommend it to anyone."
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White Editing by Maria Golovnina)