As international actors and directors don their Hollywood sunglasses and strut the red carpet at the 65th Cannes Film Festival this month (May 16 to 27), stories about love and crime are dominating the lineup inside theaters.
For those who prefer the future Mr. Jolie playing ruthless, rather than lovable, Brad Pitt stars in Killing Them Softly as a mob enforcer trying to carry out an increasingly messy and complicated job. Michael Haneke, best know for chillingly violent (yet bloodless) psychological thrillers like Funny Games, got audience raves with a tender love story about an aging couple facing mortality (Amour). In The Paperboy, Lee Daniels, director of the domestic drama Precious, turns his attention to death row, telling the story of a reporter who believes a man convicted of murder may be innocent. And in The Central Park Five, normally folksy documentary filmmaker Ken Burns goes crime reporter, examining the case of the Central Park jogger, which polarized New York City in 1989.
If you're not en route to the south of France and can't wait for the films to be released in theaters, check out these books for a taste of the festival.
"Wiseguy" by Nicholas Pileggi
Brad Pitt slicks back his hair and picks up a gun to play a Mafia hit man in Killing Them Softly, which also stars Ray Liotta. Fans of mob movies will remember Liotta as the star of one of the best Mafia movies of all time, GoodFellas, in which his character was based on mob informer Henry Hill. In "Wiseguy,” Pileggi traces Hill’s career from teenage mob errandboy to Luchese family insider to Federal Witness Protection Program informant. Along the way, Hill was involved in a point-shaving scandal at Boston College, a $6 million airline robbery, and countless other scams, smuggles, and crimes big and small. Hill, who went on to capitalize on his fame with such oddities as “The Wiseguy Cookbook,” is unabashed about his childhood ambition to be a gangster, and gives Pileggi ample details about the inner workings of street-level Mafioso and their associates.
"Elegy for Iris" by John Bayley
In Michael Haneke’s Amour (Love), an elderly couple’s world is thrown into disarray when the wife suffers a stroke and must rely on her husband to take care of her. Literary critic John Bayley’s memoir of taking care of his wife, the writer Iris Murdoch, as she descended into Alzheimer’s, touches on similar themes, as Bayley describes the couple’s simple but cherished routines being challenged by Murdoch’s frightening new debilitation. Married for forty-two years, Bayley and Murdoch shared a companionable life of mutual respect and devotion, until Murdoch’s disease rearranged their relationship into one of bereaved parent and bewildered child.
"Life After Death" by Damien Echols
The Paperboy, director Lee Daniels’ follow-up to Precious, is based on a novel by Peter Dexter, but the events it chronicles -- a murder, a death penalty conviction, and a reporter convinced the wrong man is about to die -- could well be fact. In the forthcoming Life After Death, former death row inmate Damien Echols writes about his experiences on death row, and the filmmakers who fought for his innocence, as well as the woman he met and fell in love with while in prison. Echols, part of the group known as the West Memphis Three, was convicted of murdering three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1993 and sent to death row to await execution. But over the years, as filmmakers and later celebrities became interested in Echols’ story, the case was reopened, and in 2011 Echols and his codefendants were released from prison.
"I Am the Central Park Jogger" by Trisha Meili
One spring evening in 1989, Trisha Meili went for a jog in Central Park. What happened next is the subject of the Ken Burns documentary The Central Park Five, in which he reexamines a crime that has transfixed New York for years. Mieli, a white, middle-class woman who worked on Wall Street was attacked, raped, and left for dead during her run. She arrived at the hospital with a crushed skull and severe blood loss. Five black and Latino teenagers were soon arrested and quickly convicted. Local papers ran headlines about savage packs of teens roaming the park for prey as the case's class and race implications roiled the city. Years later, a serial rapist confessed to the crime, and the convictions were overturned. But who was the Central Park jogger? In this memoir, Meili reveals her identity for the first time, and describes her life before, and after, the attack, when she had to relearn how to walk and talk, as well as deal with the implications of all that her ordeal had come to symbolize.