'Mia Madre,' 'Sea of Trees' screened at Cannes

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U.S. director Gus Van Sant's Sea of Trees and Italian director Nanni Moretti's Mia Madre (My Mother) were screened Saturday for the official competition of the ongoing 68th Festival de Cannes (Cannes Film Festival).

Although shot in different languages and with different culture backgrounds, both of the movies are about love, loss and struggle in life.

Starring Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey and Naomi Watts, the movie is about the journey of Arthur Brennan of reflection and survival, which affirms Arthur's will to live and reconnects him to his love with his deceased wife.

It's love and loss that lead Arthur Brennan, across the world to Japan's Aokigahara, a mysterious dense forest known as a place where people go to contemplate life and death. Having found the perfect place to die, Arthur encounters Takumi Nakamura, a Japanese man who also appears to have lost his way. The two men then embark on the road to find the way out of "the sea of trees".

"The character was fulfilling a promise to his wife, walking into this place with the idea he's going to commit suicide. It was the pretext really for us to go on this journey with him," said Van Sant, who has been nominated twice for Best Director by the Academy.

The movie is all about how a tragedy happened to Arthur that leads him to rekindle his love for his wife, and how another tragedy leads him to the beginning of a new life.

"How a tragedy can really get two people back consciously into life and back into love, it is miraculous and heartbreaking," said Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey.

For Naomi, who has a great compassion for the character she plays, the power of struggle in the movie is a universal thing that people all run into at some point.

Gus Van Sant won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival for his drama Elephant in 2003, and a special prize for his movie Paranoid Park in 2007 at the 60th Festival de Cannes.

As one of the three Italian movies competing this year for the Palme d'Or, Nannni Moretti's Mia Madre (My Mother) is the story of a renowned female film producer right in the middle of a personal and creative crisis, exhausted by a disastrous shooting and visits to her dying mother's bedside.

Margherita is a director shooting a film with the famous American actor, Barry Huggins, who is quite a headache on set. Away from the shoot, Margherita tries to hold her life together, despite her mother's illness and her daughter's adolescence.

"During the writing and the shooting of the film, we worked a lot to try to intermingle several levels of reality," said Moretti, whose films are always full of pain and joy at the same time.

For the director, times in the film match the times in the mind of Margerita where everything co-exsists, everything is equally urgent, the mother's pain, problems about the daughter, and problems about work.

"All of this is mixed together with the souvenirs, memories and dreams," added director Moretti during the press conference earlier Saturday morning.

This is the seventh time that Moretti comes to Cannes. In 2010, the Italian filmmaker's Habemus Papam (We Have a Pope) was competing in the main competition, and he won Palme d'Or for his movie La Stanza Del Figlio (The Son's Room) in 2011.

As for other sections of the festival, Oscar winner Natalie Portman's first directing movie A Tale of Love and Darkness was also screened in Cannes.

Entirely filmed in Hebrew, the story is set at the end of the 1940s and sweeps us into the memories of the young Amos and his parents, his father Arieh and his mother Fania.

Amos' family left Europe and persecution to find a better life in Palestine, still under British mandate at the time. Fania is an emotionally fragile woman, who has to confront her chaotic married life and adapting to a foreign country. In her depressed state, she tries to escape the real world by introducing Amos to the power of words and literature.

Natalie Portman, who plays the mother Fania, is also a contender for the Camera d'Or (Golden Camera), a prize for the best first feature film presented in one of the Cannes' selections.

The 68th Festival de Cannes runs from May 13 to 24. All winners of the prizes, including the top prize Palme d'Or, will be announced at the closing ceremony on May 24.

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