Peter Bart: Cannes Festgoers Dote On Parties & Applause While ‘Bleak Week’ Fans Plunge Into Grateful Despair

As the Cannes Film Festival celebrates its parties and standing ovations, audiences in Hollywood and New York prepare to wallow in despair. And they’ll enjoy it (almost).

The festival called Bleak Week this week will deliver 43 films to an expected audience of 10,000 at theaters including the restored Egyptian in Hollywood, the Aero in Santa Monica and the Paris in New York.

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Created by the American Cinematheque, Bleak Week will feature celebrities and Q&A sessions explaining why their projects deal with existential dread, nihilism and “uncomfortable truths,” as Bleak Week creative director Grant Moninger puts it.

Not surprisingly, there surely also will be post-screening alcoholic consumption for filmgoers seeking to ease the pain.

As the Cinematheque details it, Bleak Week was not prompted by Gaza, student protests, geomagnetic storms or the possible loss of yet another studio (Paramount).

Rather, its announced purpose is to honor an important if long-ignored sector of American cinema – the dark stuff. OK, the downers.

And the theaters (and bars) will be packed.

Although it largely has gone unpublicized, Bleak Week is an initiative of an increasingly ambitious nonprofit (the Cinematheque) triggering its 40th anniversary. Its aim is to expand its program of restoration and education – and stimulate cinema appreciation and attendance worldwide.

“The films are dark but they’re art, and not linked to the horror genre,” says Moninger, who runs a staff of six programmers. Next weekend the extravagantly renovated Egyptian Theater will feature the 1995 David Fincher movie titled Seven (promoted as Se7en), starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman as detectives hunting a serial killer. Critics called it “brilliant but relentlessly merciless.”

Other titles to follow include Natural Enemies, Menace II Society, Manchester by the Sea, Panic in Needle Park, Scarecrow and I’m Thinking of Ending Things.

Among Q&A guests will be Al Pacino, Jerry Schatzberg, Lynne Ramsey, Kenneth Lonergan and Elliott Gould.

Festival organizers agree that the definition of “bleak” varies with taste. Some fans of the genre rally behind favored titles like I Killed The Family and Went to the Movies and It’s Hard to Be God.

My personal nominee would be Day of the Locust, about to celebrate its 50th anniversary. I fostered the John Schlesinger movie at Paramount, having admired the filmmaker’s work on Midnight Cowboy. Locust shot side by side at the studio with Chinatown, also a classic period piece.

But while Chinatown sparked an audience, Locust “bleaked” it out. I dined with Schlesinger post-premiere, who had been studying his somber audience. “How have I managed to depress everyone?” the filmmaker asked.

“It’s the power of your picture,” I replied lamely.

The movie was applauded by critics and cineastes. It may make next year’s Bleak Week.

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