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Love takes center stage at Cannes, but it's not all happy

Charles Ealy
Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman star in Wes Anderson's 'Moonrise Kingdom,' which follows two disillusioned children on an island who run away from home.

CANNES, France The traditionally dark fare of the Cannes Film Festival gave way this year to a series of movies exploring various aspects of love. But even with such a switch, the directors in Cannes weren't unanimously upbeat.

Michael Haneke's "Amour," which won the Palme d'Or, deals with love's tragedies by focusing on a Parisian couple in their 80s after the wife has a debilitating stroke. The movie opens with French police breaking down the door of an upscale apartment only to find a woman's body lying on a bed, surrounded by flowers.

In his typically spartan direction, Haneke goes on to provide the story behind the woman's death. And it's a heartbreaking tale as the husband, Jean-Louis Trintignant, watches the slow deterioration of his wife, played by Emmanuelle Riva.

When Haneke accepted the award Sunday, he brought out the frail stars of his movie, and the moment was magical — a tribute to two of Europe's leading actors. Trintignant, who's 81, has starred in such classics as "A Man and a Woman," "Z" and "My Night at Maud's. Riva, who's 85, is best known for starring in Alain Resnais' "Hiroshima Mon Amour."

Love was also at the center of Austin director Jeff Nichols' "Mud," set on an island in the Mississippi River. As the title character, Matthew McConaughey represents a man in stasis — someone who has never gotten over his first love, which in this case turns out to be Juniper (Reese Witherspoon).

A young boy named Ellis (Tye Sheridan) discovers the fugitive Mud on the island and begins to see him as representing the possibilities of love, especially since his parents are going through a divorce and his sweetheart has just dumped him.

Houston native Wes Anderson also explores young love in "Moonrise Kingdom," where two 12-year-olds run away together on an island and cause all sorts of trouble in the small community. The girl is disillusioned with love because she knows that her mother is having an affair, and the boy hasn't even known love. His parents are dead, and his foster parents are kicking him out of the house.

Anderson says he was trying to capture the memories "of falling in love as a kid," which he compared to feeling "like you're under water."

In "On the Road," love revolves around the character of Dean Moriarty, played by Garrett Hedlund in a breakout role. Nearly everyone, both male and female, wants to go to bed with him, and most succeed. But their success is short-lived. He marries one of his lovers (Kirsten Dunst), but he cheats on her with another woman (Kristen Stewart). He also goes to bed with a young poet (Tom Sturridge) and a sleazy guy he meets on the road (Steve Buscemi).

Austrian director Ulrich Seidl takes sleazy to a new level in "Paradise: Love." The movie focuses on middle-aged European women who go to a beach in Africa and pay young men for sex. They're delusional because they think the sex might evolve into love. But when they discover that they're not only exploiting someone but simultaneously being exploited, the emotions get ugly.

Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami also explores the uneven relationships of paid sex with "Like Someone in Love." An elderly Japanese man brings a young prostitute to his apartment, but his life is turned upside down when the woman turns out to be emotionally needy — and when the woman's crazy lover discovers that she's a prostitute.

Of all the movies in the Cannes competition, "The Paperboy" probably features the wildest incarnations of love.

Zac Efron plays Jack, a onetime swimming star who falls for Charlotte (Nicole Kidman), who in turn has fallen in love after exchanging lots of letters with a convict (John Cusack). She's convinced that Cusack's character, Hillary van Wetter, has been wrongly incarcerated and hires an investigative reporter (Matthew McConaughey) to prove his innocence.

Efron's Jack is like a puppy dog around Charlotte. And his naive views of love form the heart of the film. But Kidman's Charlotte turns out to be just as misguided. She thinks she knows Cusack's Hillary, and has no idea about his real character. And then there's McConaughey's reporter, Ward, who's hiding a few sexual secrets of his own.

In Cannes this year, various directors showed that there's no easy way to sum up the vagaries of love. But the most mature vision — that in "Amour" — won the Palme d'Or. And the more hopeful and humorous visions of love — those exemplified by "Mud" and "Moonrise Kingdom" — probably will have the biggest box-office appeal when they open in the U.S.

Contact Charles Ealy at 445-3931