CANNES 2012 DIARY: Southern Tale Wraps Fest Competition


Reese Witherspoon, Jeff Nichols, Matthew McConaughey and Tye Sheridan in Cannes today. Photo by Eugene Hernandez

A quiet, well-told American story about love—set in the South—closed out the competition section at this year's Cannes Film Festival this morning. Mud, the third feature from Jeff Nichols, was the last of 22 competition entries to screen for the press in Cannes as the festival winds down here in France. The event closes tomorrow with a full day of screenings of the entire competition slate followed by tomorrow night's awards ceremony.

The winners of the 65th Cannes Film Festival will be published here at FilmLinc.com by about 2PM ET tomorrow (Sunday, May 27th).

While this is his first time in competition in Cannes, 33-year-old Nichols is no stranger at the festival. He's now been here twice with films, but there was another trip to the festival when he was much younger.

Jeff Nichols' Take Shelter won the Critics Week sidebar Grand Prize last year, but he told Indiewire that his inaugural visit was actually as a Kodak intern twelve years ago, waiting tables at the American Pavilion. At centerstage in Cannes here this year, Nichols drew immediate praise this morning for a film that has had little buzz. It lacks U.S. distribution, wasn't on Cannes hit lists earlier this year, and the film screened today after a lot of press and industry had already gone home.

Tye Sheridan, last seen as one of the young boys in the Palme d'Or winning Tree of Life here a year ago, is at the center of Mud, a Mississippi River story set in Arkansas. The child of a troubled home finds a reckless role model in a reclusive man with a questionable past (Matthew McConaughey). The teen maintains a brotherly bond with a compatriot his own age even as his interest is piqued by an older girl at school.

"It was really about this boy searching for a version of love that works," filmmaker Jeff Nichols explained at a press conference in Cannes this morning. You get banged up by love, Nichols elaborated. "For some reason we go pull ourselves together and go after it again."

Critics and journalists who watched the film this morning drew immediate comparisons to Rob Reiner's Stand By Me and Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

The American South has been broadly represented here at the 65th Cannes Film Festival, particularly as seen through the eyes of young people. In addition to Mud, Cannes showcased the fantastical survival story in Benh Zeitlin's Beasts of the Southern Wild and the steamy murder mystery in Florida in Lee Daniels' The Paperboy.

"There are very few movies about the American South that are accurate. This is one of them," praised actress Reese Witherspoon, who appears in Mud in a rare supporting role. The Southern actress credited the kids in the film and Nichols' script as her reasons for wanting to make this movie.

Jeff Nichols, who was born in Little Rock, Arkansas and studied film at the public North Carolina School of the Arts, expressed pride in the South at this morning's press conference.

"It's a dying way of life, it's a dying accent," he said, when asked by a journalist to talk about what the South means to him. "I wanted to capture a snapshot of a place that won't be there. The South is a precious place and it's easy for it to get lost. The South is fleeting."

He paused for a moment noting that his comments sound depressing. Putting a positive spin on the remarks he added, "you always seem to find it again."

Eugene Hernandez is the Director of Digital Strategy at the Film Society of Lincoln Center (@filmlinc) and a founder of indieWIRE. Follow him on Twitter at @eug.

Get the latest daily FilmLinc coverage from Cannes in our special section.

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