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Brad Pitt Plays Tough Dad, Pope Goes Mad in Film: Cannes Review

Brad Pitt
Brad Pitt signs autographs at the Cannes Film Festival 2011. The press conference was for ''Tree of Life,'' directed by Terrence Malick. Photographer: Farah Nayeri/Bloomberg

Brad Pitt shows his on-screen sons tough love: He makes them go hungry, bans dinner talk, and demands that his questions be met with a soldierly “Yes, Sir!”

Pitt is the 1950s dad in Terrence Malick’s long-awaited epic, “The Tree of Life.” He advocates a dog-eat-dog approach to existence, as epitomized by nature itself.

His saintly other half (Jessica Chastain) recommends the opposite: grace and selflessness. Between these two parental poles, the boys waver.

At a mobbed Cannes Film Festival news conference (the film is in the competition), Pitt, 47, joked about his own parenting.

“I beat my kids regularly -- it seems to do the trick -- and deprive them of meals,” said the actor, sporting a white summer suit and goatee.

Pitt said he initially balked at the “oppressive father” role. He hoped his children with Angelina Jolie would “just think I’m a pretty damn good actor.”

“Tree of Life” tracks the boys’ childhood mostly through the eyes of the eldest, Jack. Dad is a musician manque. When the kids are around him, they hear classical records and practice their punch. When he’s out, they chase Mom around the house and throw lizards her way.

The story is relived by adult Jack (Sean Penn), an architect reeling from loss and haunted by the mysteries of creation.

“Why should I be good if you aren’t?” he asks God in one of many voiced-over interrogations.

Through him, camera-shy filmmaker Malick (who skipped Cannes) poses the same questions. He does it poetically, with a requiem-packed soundtrack, never-ending nature shots, and a chunky section on the birth of the cosmos featuring dinosaurs (an awkward “Jurassic Park” moment).

Though parts of “Tree of Life” are intoxicatingly slow, it’s one of the more complete movies at Cannes this year, and bound to walk away with some kind of award. The acting, especially Pitt’s, is excellent. Rating: ***1/2.

Pope? Moi?

A Frenchman has just been elected pope, and he doesn’t want the job.

Nanni Moretti’s “Habemus Papam” humorously blends the sacred and the profane in its portrayal of a reluctant pontiff. Played by 85-year-old Michel Piccoli, the pope is so angst-ridden that when his name is about to be read out from the balcony of St. Peter’s, he emits a feral howl. Though white smoke has already signaled the election, the name is kept from the faithful.

A psychiatrist (played by Moretti) is rushed over for sessions in the papal apartments, with the entire college of cardinals sitting in. Questions about sex, childhood and parents are off limits. Later, the pope, dressed in ordinary clothes, is driven to Rome, an occasion for more preposterous scenes.

“Habemus Papam” is a clever concept with dazzling visuals. The sight of crimson-clad cardinals voting in a make-believe Sistine Chapel is an absolute hoot.

The movie (shot in Italian) drifts at the end, as Moretti struggles to find new places to take it. Yet his satirical focus on one of the world’s cagiest institutions offers plenty of thrill.

Rating: ***.

“The Tree of Life” (a River Road production) comes out in France today and in the U.S. on May 27. Information:

“Habemus Papam” (a Sacher Film/Fandango/Le Pacte/France 3 coproduction) comes out in France on Sept. 7. Information:

The 64th Cannes Film Festival runs through May 22. Information:

What the Stars Mean:
****       Excellent
***        Good
**         Average
*          Poor
(No stars) Worthless

(Farah Nayeri writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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