Franco’s love of literature is on display in Cannes

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Franco’s love of literature is on display in Cannes

CANNES, France - James Franco’s filmography is starting to look like a book shelf - and a very respectable one, at that.

The 35-year-old American has already played poets Allen Ginsberg (“Howl”) and Hart Crane (“The Broken Tower”). He recently finished directing an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s “Child of God” (having first flirted with doing McCarthy’s novel “Blood Meridian”), as well as a biopic of the late poet and novelist Charles Bukowski.

But this week at the Cannes Film Festival, he premiered his version of William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying,” a novel of fractured perspectives and enormous cinematic challenges. Having earlier screened at Cannes a short film he made as a student at New York University (“The Clerk’s Tale”), coming to the festival in the Un Certain Regard section - for innovating or daring works by young talent - is something of a graduation for Franco.

“I’m accepted here as a director,” he said in an interview on a dock in Cannes’ harbor on the Mediterranean Sea. “Of course it’s validating, but it’s more than that. I’ve been trying to define it for myself. The validation is coming from the outside, but it’s doing something to me on the inside.”

Franco’s “As I Lay Dying” is a respectable attempt to tackle a difficult American novel, famed for its stream of consciousness and multiple, shifting narrators. It captures Franco - who also stars in the film as the troubled character Darl Bundren - as a maturing filmmaker revealing perhaps his most personal work.

“If somebody asked you if you could do any project, it would actually be this one,” he says - high praise from someone who’s routinely balancing a dozen or more projects.

Much is made of Franco’s industriousness - his juggling of roles including budding filmmaker, comic actor (seen in the upcoming “This Is the End”), lethargic Oscar host, performance artist and eternal student. But it’s becoming increasingly clear how central literary adaptations are to him.

“As an artist, you look for what is your unique position? What is your unique voice?” said Franco. “I have these two worlds now. I was a literature major. I’m working on my doctorate in literature. So I have these two worlds that I feel I can bring together.”

The subject of his planned dissertation at Yale? Fittingly, it’s on the relationship between film and literature.AP
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