In Cannes today (left to right): Macy Gray, Matthew McConaughey, Lee Daniels, Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron. Photo by Eugene Hernandez

Despite the divided opinions among moviegoers here in Cannes, the filmmakers themselves seem quite happy. Since day one, directors have consistently spoken of their freedom. It's hard to get movies funded, their producers have said, but the filmmakers say they've been able to work without restraint. The results are apparent on screen and have made for 10 days of divisive discussion at the festival this year. Three more to go!

Take for example The Paperboy and Post Tenebras Lux, two films that have had the festival buzzing today.

The Paperboy, Lee Daniels' new film, is everything I'd hoped it would be. Watching the film this morning here in Cannes, I had a blast. I tweeted the same thoughts moments after the screening and a film critic asked me a few minutes later, “Do you like it because it's good or do you like it because it's bad?”

“I like it because I like it,” I retorted. It's a good movie. But, like Holy Motors earlier this week, it's out there.

Also witness the recent conversations surrounding new films by Léos Carax (Holy Motors), Xavier Dolan (Laurence Anyways), Michel Gondry (The We & The I) and others. These are some of the movies I've been moved by personally and in each case the director has defended the independence of his vision.

There's a lot of crazy on the screen in Cannes this year. The only movie that it seems easy to agree on in so far is Michael Haneke's Amour.

Imagine a festival where a film by Haneke is the crowd pleaser!

Nicole Kidman in The Paperboy

Lee Daniels: Don't Fence Me In
Sitting alongside the cast of The Paperboy this morning, Lee Daniels was praised for his fearlessness as a filmmaker. He's not afraid to go to crazy places, the actors gushed. Those extremes elicit laughs throughout the film. “Did he intend for the movie to be funny?” another critic asked me this morning. “He made a movie where superstar Nicole Kidman urinates on teen heartthrob Zac Efron,” I quipped. He had to know people would laugh. And, it's worth noting that the scene in question became an immediate part of Cannes lore when it was swiftly detailed via Twitter moments after a morning screening that drew cheers and catcalls alike.

“Lee's funny,” endorsed Macy Gray, who plays a late 1960s maid in the pulpy Florida-set film. “He's got a great sense of humor. For me, I just go with the flow. You try things and you play.”

Originally developed by Pedro Almodóvar, Daniels took over the project and found funding from Millennium Films, a company known for backing action movies starring Jean-Claure Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren and even Steven Seagall in the 80s and 90s. Daniels said it was hard to get the money to make this movie, but he found internationally bankable actors who were willing to push themselves. Today he said he embraced the humor inherent in the story.

“There's humor in everything. We find the humor in the darkest of moments. To tell a story you've got to find the humor otherwise its not true. Laughter is what keeps us alive.”

The humor in The Paperboy comes from the many extreme moments. Lee Daniels was allowed to go places in this film that directors rarely attempt in more mainstream movies. Watching those creative decisions expressed on screen can be exciting for some and frustrating for others.

“I don't want to ever be pigeonholed,” Lee Daniels said at one point during the press conference. “I am willing to fail because of that. I want to be given the chance to try.”

Carlos Reygadas in Cannes today. Photo by Eugene Hernandez

Carlos Reygadas: Let There Be “Light”
After Daniels and cast exited the press conference room inside the Palais des Festivals here in Cannes, Mexican auteur Carlos Reygadas settled in to talk about his latest, Post Tenebras Lux. Screened for the first time last night, the film has had attendees puzzling over it for nearly 24 hours.

The tendency would be to describe the film here to set the stage. However, that's not so easy to do.

Shot in a beautiful 4×3 color format, Post Tenebras Lux observes an upscale family living on the fringes as the natural world seems to be coming apart around them. The striking exterior images are shot as though they are seen through an old-fashioned window, the edges of the frame creating a double image. In the words of a sparse promotional booklet for for the movie, “Juan and his urban family live in the Mexican countryside, where they enjoy and suffer a word apart. And nobody knows if these two worlds are complementary or if they strive to eliminate one another.”

A journalist, who said she really liked the movie, tried to pin down Carlos Reygadas for a clearer description of his movie this afternoon and he expectedly resisted. Just as someone had asked Léos Carax at the Holy Motors press conference, this writer asked Reygaas to succinctly summarize his new movie.

“I hope that the film is powerful,” Carlos Reygadas began, “Because you can't just sum it up. If you can sum it up easily it means perhaps its better just to read the synopsis. You saw what you saw. You saw something you liked. If you retain something from the film then that's fine. If the film said something to you, that's what really counts and that's the greatest compliment I've every received for the film.”

Nathalia Acevedo in Post Tenebras Lux

Making a movie that's hard to describe, even for those who have seen it and like it, means it may face even more scrutiny outside the festival environment. Reygadas is okay with that.

“I think the public is grown up and intelligent,” he said. “That's why I like people to not like the film, because that means other people like the film. Its great that we all move around as we feel in the film.”

Later, another journalist tried to press Reygadas in the same way a writer had questioned Lee Daniels earlier. As a filmmaker with a specific vision, the journalist probed, how do you know when you've gone to far. Again a producer said that its hard to find the funding for such work, but the director valued his independence.

“I don't encounter limits apart from my own limits,” Carlos Reygadas explained. “I do have limits but I feel totally free.”

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.

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