Friday, May 27, 2016

Across Provence

Vineyards and roundabout art are just one of the many allures of Provence.  The terrain is also rugged and semi-mountainous, especially up from the Mediterranean.  It affords cozy and picturesque locations for small villages up the sides and atop the more spacious high points, some of which are among "Les Plus Beaux Villages de France."

There are 155 of them, mostly in the southern part of the country.  They are not annually selected by a highly secretive process as with Michelin-starred restaurants, but rather villages apply for the designation to a privately-run outfit.  Not only is there an application fee, but also an annual payment of three euros per resident of the village.  Not any village though qualifies. It must meet several criteria besides being willing to pay.  It must have less than 2,000 residents, be of a rural character and have some significant attraction.   My research didn't reveal if many villages are rejected or how many decide to withdraw after a period of time.  It may be a slightly contrived effort to attract tourists and give residents of a village a little extra air of pride, but I have yet to encounter a Plus Belle Village that wasn't, but I have also encountered many a village that was most beautiful that didn't have a sign proclaiming it.  The great charm of France is that most villages are attractive and alluring.

My first destination after two weeks at Cannes overdosing on five or six or seven movies a day was Seillans, one of those "Les Plus Beaux Villages de France" built on a steep ridge just thirty miles from Cannes.  It would have looked out over the Mediterranean in the distance if it weren't blocked by another ridge just up from the coast.  I had passed through Seillans on previous occasions, but only recently learned it had been the adopted home of Fred De Brugne, a Belgium cyclist who accomplished the rare feat of winning the Tour de Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in the same year--1957.  He was also a three-time winner of Liege-Bastogne-Liege, one of the other of cycling's Five Monuments.  His palmares also included six stages of The Tour de France.  In retirement he became a popular race announcer.  Seillans honored him by naming a small plaza after him.  No one could tell me though if it happened before his death in 1994 or after.

The plaza was now largely a parking lot, though at one time it was a hive of activity as it adjoined the troughs fed by spring water where locals came to do their wash, as most small towns had.

Dadaist Max Ernst also made Seillans his home in the late '60s and early '70s.  A street named after him led to Place Fred De Brugne.  Ernest wasn't a full-time resident though and elected to be buried in Paris, while De Brugne chose a modest, shared burial site in the town cemetery for his ashes.

My route through Provence also took me through the small village of Lacoste.  Upon its summit sits a chateau where the Marquis de Sade lived in the 1770s until he was forced to flee to Italy to avoid arrest when a number of his young female servants accused him of sexual improprieties.  He spent 31 years of his life incarcerated, including the final thirteen until his death in 1814 in an asylum for the insane.  The cheateau may have grand views, with Mont Ventoux, the Giant of Provence, in the distance, but it looked more like a bunker that Hitler might have designed than anything of magnificence.  What went on in there one can only imagine, as Pier Paolo Pasolini tried to do in his 1970 movie "Saló, or the 120 Days of Sodom."

It's interior no doubt must be plush, as it is presently owned by fashion designer Pierre Cardin. Among the sculptures in front of the chateau was one he designed called "Welcome."  Ventoux is under the right arm.  It will be the finish line for the Bastille Day Stage of this year's Tour.

Lacoste hadn't joined the alliance of Les Beaux Villages de France, though it certainly qualified with its labyrinth of narrow, steep, cobbled streets and remarkable setting.  Craftsmen were at work upgrading and renovating many of the buildings, implying this was similar to many small towns that are full of second residences of Parisians and others.

Just beyond Lacoste is Ménerbes, home of Peter Mayle, whose series of books on Provence earned him a Legion of Honor award from the French.  It is a Belle Village and has one of those oddball museums that turn up all over France.  It is devoted to corkscrews.  Bonnieux, just before Lacoste, had a Bakery museum.  The rare museum in rural America is usually nothing more than something devoted to local history, often in a former Carnegie Library. 

I was also able to pass through Pernes-Les-Fontaines, as I always happy to do, as it is the birthplace of Paul de Vive (Velocio), an early proponent of bicycle touring.  There is a plaque on his childhood home.

Several times in the past couple of days I have come upon gas stations with a long line of cars extending all the way to the road partially blocking one lane of traffic.  I hadn't been keeping up with the news so thought that the station must have had some ridiculously low price that brought people flocking.  It wasn't until Janina, who watches a French news channel, emailed asking if the striking petrol workers had effected me, that I learned of widespread strikes all over the country by workers protesting the government's proposed laws to limit their rights.  Over one-third of the country's 11,500 gas stations have run out of gas.  That's not something I'm going to be too upset about.  I asked a woman in a tourist office if she might go on strike.  She said she had a responsibility to tourists and would never do such a thing.  

I've been limiting myself to not much more than fifty miles a day as I recover from my sleep deprivation and lack of exercise at Cannes, rarely getting six hoursof sleep a night and now,ore tha a mile or two of biking.  It was a quick mile ride down from the apartment Ralph and I shared to the Palais for the morning's first screening at 8:30, which I needed to get to by eight to insure getting in.  I could have strained my legs a bit on the mile climb back at the end of the day, often not until one a.m., but I was usually accompanied by Ralph, who didn't have a bike, so I made a walk of it.  I have been through this recovery process before and know my legs will come round by the time The Tour starts in five weeks.  

Now it's on to Bourg-Saint-Andéol, along the Rhone,  start of the time trial stage after the Ventoux finish.  I will then scout out The Tour route into the Alps during its final week.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Day Twelve--The Awards

As the minutes passed and the jury had yet to arrive for its post-Awards Ceremony press conference speculation ran rampant that they'd been abdicted by Germans upset with their total disregard of "Toni Erdmann" or had fled town to avoid having to explain their shocking choices. The press corps was so bored awaiting the arrival of the jury they turned their cameras on Ralph and me asking our opinion of the awards.  

Arguments raged over which was the most bewildering of their choices.  Was it Dolan's film receiving the Grand Prix or Erdmann receiving nothing or the Iranian film receiving two awards or Assayas being given the best director award or the choice of the Palm d'Or or the choice of the best actress or Jarmusch being ignored.  The jury had made such a mess of the awards it was being compared to the Sean Penn catastrophe.  Had Cannes fallen into a black hole or Lars Von Trier inflicted it with a curse that had sent it spiraling totally out of its orbit as the most respected film festival on the planet?

When the jury finally strolled in to the press room nearly half an hour late it was all smiles as if unaware of the maelstrom they had generated.  They all gushed at what a fantastic experience it had been being on the jury.  President George Miller called it one of the best experiences one could have.  Donald Sutherland said when he got on the plane tomorrow he'd miss it.  As for their choices, they said they had all been vigorously and rigorously arrived at and felt proud of them all.  "Nothing was left unsaid," Miller said.  

But what about Erdmann someone asked.  Miller pled confidentiality.  He didn't wish to get into specifics on why any film didn't win an award, saying there are twenty-one films in Competiton all of which thought they deserved recognition with an award of some sort and they were only seven on offer .   That didn't explain why they gave "The Salesman" two awards, other than there was an Iranian on the jury who must have been a force to be reckoned with similar to Salma Hayek on the jury that gave Tommie Lee Jones' "Three Burials" two awards.  Shahab Hosseini was certainly worthy of the best actor award, but the screenplay could have gone to any number of the overlooked films. It seemed to have been given more on reputation than merit to the film's director Ashgar Farhadi.

I watched the film a second time today after the awards ceremony as I had been perplexed by some inexplicable elements in the story.  They seemed even more blatantly false on a second viewing.  The husband's rage at a feeble, old man who inadvertently startled his wife seems even more misplaced.  It was inexplicable that he never used a police contact to trace the license plate of the man he was seeking, instead just hoping he'd return for his truck, though he didn't even have a continual watch on it, so when it does disappear he only finds the owner by a miraculous stroke of luck.  It was inexplicable too that the old man would have left his keys and phone in their apartment and didn't immediately return for his truck with another set of keys, especially since his future son-in-law needed the truck for his job delivering bread.  And there is a lot more.

The two awards to "The Salesman" didn't irk people though as much as Xavier Dolan winning the Grand Prix for "Its Only the End of the World."   Manohla Dargis had written in the New York Times earlier in the day that it was among three films she deemed so bad they didn't deserve to be in Competiton.  They others were Sean Penn's "The Last Face" and "The Neon Demon."  I had an opportunity to see Dolan's film a second time before the Awards Ceremony and enjoyed it much more than I had the first time, though I wouldn't necessarily go as far as to say it deserved an award over quite a few other films.  I had stood in line two hours to see it the first time at the end of the day and was too fatigued to fully focus on its barrage of dialogue.  I could much more appreciate Dolan's camera work and what was being said this time.  Jury member László Nemes, who won the Grand Prix last year for "Son of Saul," said he could feel the distinctive voice of Dolan from the very start of the film.  

Nemes too might have been a strong supporter of the Philippine film "Ma' Rosa" that I saw for the first time today, the only Competition film that I had missed.  I was so awed by the cinema verité by the veteran Brillante Mendoza of this story of a husband and wife who run a small store in the ghettos of Manils selling drugs on the side that it could win the Palm d'Or or at least best director award.  It was a more powerful and heartrending tale of institutional corruption than the Romanian "Graduation" that had been my favorite for the top prize.  The performances of the entire cast were breathtakingly exceptional.  None stood out above another, so it was a shock that it was given the best actress award.  The actress herself was utterly stunned.  Her acceptance speech was a continual refrain of "I can't believe this," and a string of thank yous, interrupted by another "I can't believe this."  It was one of the all-time great acceptance speeches comparable to the best at the Oscars.

Ken Loach gave a heartfelt speech as well, half in French and half in English, lamenting these times of forced austerity that are bringing the world to near catastrophe after accepting his second Palm d'Or for "I, Daniel Blske." He castigated the "tiny few with grotesque wealth" and the right taking advantage of hard times to inflict even more pain on the have-nots.  I stood in line today with a young man who saw his movie earlier in the day.  He said it was the first film he had seen in the festival that touched him and brought him to tears.  It was a sentiment shared by many.

Cristian Mungiu didn't seem happy at all with his best director award for "Graduation" having hopes of becoming a rare two-time Palm d'Or winner.  He has served on the Cannes jury.  He turned to them during his speech and said, "I know it's difficult to make a fair decision, so I thank you for doing your best."  He shared the award with Olivier Assayas, whose supernatural thriller "Personnel Shopper" turned off many, especially among the panel of fifteen French critics who rate the films.  Eight of them gave it zero stars, the most of any film other than Penn's, a near unanimous zero star movie.

I've mentioned all the awards except the Jury Prize, won by Andrea Arnold for the third time for "American Honey." I was hoping she might be acknowledged with a Best Director award for her extraordinary handling of a cast of non- actors galvanating about the American west selling magazine subscriptions, but it was a delight that she received anything as opinion was divided on this movie as well.  I could take small satisfaction too that the jury agreed with my view of "Toni Erdmann" and Jarmsuch's "Patterson" that they were not fully realized films and more audience pleasers than substantial fare.  They had been the two highest rated films by the Screen panel, but as is frequently the case, did not stand up to the scrutiny of the jury.

Now I will begin movie-withdrawal as I return to the bike as I begin training for The Tour de France five weeks away.  I won't see another movie for two months, but the sixty-six movies I've seen in the past twelve days will be rattling around in my thought for days to come.  

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Day Eleven

This was a day of sports films (rugby, swimming and boxing) that all won awards. "The Happiest Day in the Life of Ollie Maki," the true story of a Finnish boxer who fought the American Davey Moore for the world featherweight championship in 1962 in Finiand, was named the best picture in the Un Certain Regard category.  Second was the Japanese thriller "Harmonium," which the jury politely referried to as a family drama, that would have been the choice of Ralph and I.  Three others films were recognized with awards--"Captain Fantastic" with Viggo Mortenson,  which Ralph liked a lot and said I ought to make every effort to see, but couldn't, "The Stopover," a French film about soldiers returning from Afghanistan that I recommended to Ralph, and "Red Turtle," an animated feature with no dialogue that Ralph was able to see and liked.

When director Juho Kuosmanen accepted the award he thanked Thiery Fremaux for liking weird films, even though his film was anything but weird.  It was a very understated, almost drab, portrait of the boxer.  It must have won favor from the five-person jury, which did not include Fremaux, for having been shot in black-and-white.  The boxing and training are very limited.  A large part of the training consists of trying to make weight by sitting in a sauna and vomiting.  It did include the best bicycling scene of the festival, Maki riding through the countryside with his girl friend on his handlebars and also a scene of his girl friend on her bike as he trains running behind her.

The Directors Fortnight gave "Mercenary" one of its six awards--the Europa Award for the best film from Europe.  There is more sports action in this rugby film about a young man who is recruited from his small South Pacific island that is a French territory by a fellow islander who doesn't have his best interests at heart.  He is given a salary of just 400 euros a month to play for a small-town club team that is comprised mostly of local French players but supplemented by other mercenaries such as himself from other countries.  He isn't totally welcomed by his teammates even though he developers into a dominant player. This well-crafted, finely-acted film gave a fine insight into the island culture he comes from and the trials he has adjusting to his new culture.

Directors Fortnight gave its award for the best French film to a romantic comedy featuring swimming, though not of a competitive nature.  A young man takes a liking to a swimming instructor and pretends he doesn't know how to swim so he can take lessons from her. As they are making out for the first time high up on the diving platform at the pool when it is supposed closed, three other people appear at the pool.  One falls in fully clothed and appears to be struggling.  The man who supposedly doesn't know how to swim dives in and saves her.  Rather than being a hero to the instructor, she is incensed at his duplicity and refuses to have anything to do with him.  He is so smitten by her he pursues her to Iceland where she is attending a conference on swimming.  The dramatic Icelandic geography and its host of wacky characters bring the comedy to a boil.  This at first seemed little better than Market fodder, but it developed into genuine entertainment. 

The day was rounded out by the final two Competition films to be screened.  Sometimes the best is saved for the last and sometimes the worst is slipped in at the end to spare it the savagery of the critics, as was the case yesterday with Sean Penn's unfortunate film.  Today's films greatly exceeded that.  Paul Verhoeven's "Elle" could have earned Isabelle Huppert a best actress award if there weren't so many other fine female performances and that juries tend to give the award to unknowns rather than icons.  She heads a large company that makes violent and sexually-charged video games.  Her life mirrors her profession.  

The film opens with her being violently raped by a masked intruder into her home.  She doesn't notify the police as she wants no media attention as her father was a notorious serial-killer and is seeking parole after over thirty years in prison.   She was involved as a ten-year old in destroying the evidence of his crimes and still suffers recriminations from the public for it.  Someone sends out a mass email to everyone in her company of an animated video of her being raped by a large serpent.  She's not sure if that is connected to her own rape.  The plot thickens as she is having an affair with her best friend's boy friend and her mother hints of marriage to her boy toy and her son is about to move in with his girl friend who has him completely under her thumb, glaring at Huppert when she goes him a kiss letting her know he is now hers while demanding a large screen tv rather than a microwave as a gift for their apartment that Huppert will be paying for. She is a no-holds barred bitch.  Feminists will flip out over the rampant misogyny, but those who go for sexist-thrillers will be delighted by this feast of intrigue.

The wife of a school teacher and actor is startled while showering by someone who comes into her apartment in Tehran under mistaken pretenses in "The Salesman."  She falls and injures herself and is greatly traumatized by the event. They have just moved into the apartment and learn the former tenant was a prostitute.  They want out, but it is not easy to find s place to live in Tehran.  The intruder left his pickup truck. The husband tries to track him down.  The plot doesn't thicken to the degree of  Ashgar Farhardi's two previous award-winning Cannes entries, but it is a good companion piece to his work examining the mores of Iranian society and the strictures placed upon women.

One day to go.  The just released schedule of repeat Sunday will allow be two see both Romanian films again along with the lone film I have yet to see, "Ma' Rosa," but not "Toni Erdman."   I could also see "The Salesman" again to try to tie up some loose ends.  Neither Ralph or I could understand why blood on a guy's sock was such significant clue.  The films are rescreened in four theaters ranging in size from the Debussy with 1,068 seats to the Bazin with 280 seats.  The three films scheduled for the Debussy, giving them top seeding, are "Patterson," "Toni Erdman" and "I, Daniel Blake."  There are only three time slots there as the award ceremony and then Palm d'Or winner will be shown on its screen.  Last year for the first time a ticket and formal attire was required at the Debussy.  In the past it was for the press and those with Market badges.  If that is not the case again this year, we'll have to watch the proceedings on a television in the Palais complex.  Either way, it will be reviting and a fine conclusion to another two weeks of the best cinema to be found.

Day Ten

This had to be a day Sean Penn was dreading.  He had to face the music for his absolutely dreadful "The Last Face".  He could have hardly expected mercy from the vulturous Cannes press corps for the sappy, simple-minded dialogue that he oversaw as director despite the noble subject matter of relief-aid doctors working in war-torn African played by Charlize Thoren and Javiar Bardem and their love affair. The audience was in titters through the entire movie.  One had to pitty Thoren and Bardem for the lines they were forced to speak and some of the antics asked of them, the most egregrious a toothbrush ballet before they have sex for the first time.  Penn had to have had an iron fist on the set for no one to stand up to what lines they were forced to utter.  This film will go down in history as one of the most embarrassing to have played in Competition.

Nicolas Winding Rehn's "The Neon Demon," a commentary on the beauty of young actresses and their rivalry in Hollywood, will have harsh critics as well, but it will at least have some defenders who will applaud its innovative slick style. Dozens of scantily clad young actresses with the "look" parade through this movie competing to be discovered.  One newly-arrived, fresh-faced hopeful has that inexplicable special appeal that separates her from the rest, but is she strong enough to survive? The sinister, dark overtones of the movie forbade the worst.

Critics Week was the first competitive category to announce its winners and screen them this evening. I was able to dash up to its distant theater to see the winner "Mimosas" when I was turned away from Jim Jarmush's documentary on Iggy Pop.  I had been particularly curious to see the two of them introduce the film at this special screening, but Ralph said neither were in attendance.  He reported it was a simple, straightforward documentary with no hint of Jarmsuch trying to do anything out of the ordinary.

The harsh Atlas Moutains in Morocco are the star of "Mimosas" the tale of a caravan transporting the dying body of a sheik to be buried.  It was a surprising choice from the jury, as the winner of this category is more often psychological studies of someone in torment.  The scenery and the rugged authentic characters with all manner of beards won out over the films that focused on human nature. 

The Israeli "One Week and a Day," another Critics Week winner, was wholely occupied with the unraveling of a couple over the death of their twenty-two year old son.  They have just finished their week of mourning with neighbors and friends coming by their home with food.  A neighbor they have a feud with arrives after the visitation has ended. They throw them out of their home, the first glimpse at how volatile they are.  The husband steals a bag of medicinal marijuana from a friend in hospice, leading to a succession of wacky and off-the-wall behavior that would have fit in with "Toni Erdman."  It alternates between comedy and deep pathos.

"Divines" from Director's Fortnight offered up more anger and  desperation, this time from two young women, one Arabic and the other African, in a Parisian ghetto rife with violence and drugs. The print had no subtitles, except some occssional French when the characters spoke in their native tongues, but the action was self-explanatory enough that my limited French was enough to follow the story.  Andrea Arnold might have cast these women had she been making a French version of "American Honey."  They bounded with energy fully capturing their characters.  They are untamed and uninhibited.  One becomes infatuated with a dancer and watches him rehearse from high in the rafters of theater adding an extra element of intrigue to the movie.

As the festival winds down speculation on the award winners heightens.  I'll be rooting for the two Romanian films, "Graduation" for the Palm d'Or and "Sieranevada" for the Grand Prix, despite the tendency of juries to distribute awards among different nationalities.  Those are the two films I'm most interested in watching again on Sunday when all the Competition films are rescreened and there is nothing else to watch.  Andrea Arnold would be a bold choice for best director for her handling of her cast of mostly non-actors traveling around the western US selling magazine subscriptions.  "Toni Erdman" will no doubt win something.  Arguments can be made for most of the films to be acknowledged in some manner.  There is always a surprise, depending on who has a strong voice on the nine-person jury, so there is no predicting.  Maybe the final film, by the director of the award-winning "Separation," will be the heads-above-all-others masterpiece that we have been awaiting.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Day Nine

Today was the first of two days of repeat screenings of the Competition films that had played so far.  I was having a good year and was only two behind, the Philippine film "Ma Rosa" from two days ago and "Toni Erdman," the German film that was an early sensation of the festival and highest rated film in the history of "Screen's" panel of critics exceeding the record of Mike Leigh's "Mr. Turner."  I had a chance to see "Erdman" today along with the day's two latest Compeition films that both had the promise of being sensations as well--Xavier Dolan's much anticipated film and  a Romanian film by a former Palm d'Or winner.  This could be a memorable Great Day of Cinema that might leave me so charged with pleasure that I won't be able to sleep for the rest of the festival.

Christian Mungui, whose first film "Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days" made him one of the youngest winners of the Palm d'Or, led off the day at 8:30 a.m. with "Graduation."  It was a grand-slam without even anyone on base.  This highly-detailed, brilliant-conceived, sweeping indictment of the moral decay of Romania firmly places him as an auteur of the highest rank.  A physician known for his honesty, a rare breed who doesn't need incentive (bribes) to do good by his patients, is driven into the moral abyss to insure that his daughter gets a good grade on her final exams so she can earn a scholarship to a university in England.  He becomes entangled in a vast web of corruption that involves a liver transplant.  The fully credible, deeply nuanced plot reveals how horribly corrupt Romania has become with things accomplished only through favors circumventing the law.  That is why the doctor is so determined to free his daughter of Romania.  

It was three hours until the screening of "Toni Erdman."  I'd met two guys who had twice been turned away from seeing it despite waiting two hours in line.  Today all passes were treated equally, so if one was in line early enough there was no concern of a rush of priority passholders keeping one out. I was among the first in line two-and-half hours ahead of time, allowing me to catch up on the trade papers.  Only two women, who said they were financiers for the film, slipped in ahead of us.  Erdman is the alter-ego of a mostly retired music teacher whose daughter is a corporate shark.  He doesn't see much of her so he decides to surprise her where she is on assignment in Bucherest.  

They couldn't be more different.  He is a fun-loving prankster and she is coldly calculating and driven. He is so frustrated by her he asks, "Are you human?"  Later she responds to his crazed antics asking, "Are you insane?"  Thus are the lines drawn in this offbeat comedy with skyrockets of great originality.  It's the third film by Maren Ade.  If she were a more accomplished director she would have considerably tightened up its three hour running time and made it a much more powerful film.  It lacked the full impact of a Palm d'Or winner.  Either of the leads could win a best actor award, especially the daughter for an outrageous and totally unexpected prolonged scene of nudity.  The film received all the accolades it did because it was such a surprise, not so much for being truly exceptional.  It was hardly a disappointment, but certainly failed to live up to being the best film screened at Cannes in the past twenty years.

A true disappointment was Dolan's "It's Only the End of the World."  Not even its stellar cast of Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassell and Gaspar Ulliel among the five players in this play turned into a movie could save it.  A writer returns to his family after a twelve year absence to tell them he's dying.  Everyone's so wrapped up in their own petty grievances with one another and the world he never gets around to why he returned.  The dialogue is so fast and disjointed it's almost impossible to follow.  Cotillard, who is totally wasted in her mousey role, said she never had so much difficulty in learning her lines because they were so obtuse.  Dolan is an inventive as ever with his camera work, but his choice of making it ninety per cent close ups of heads doesn't make it particularly watchable.  No awards for this film, though Dolan was hoping for the first Palm d'Or for his generation, possibly making him the youngest winner.  Ralph and I stood in line for two hours to make sure we saw it. It put Ralph to sleep.

The pair of two-hour waits for films today limited me to just four for the day.  My only non-Competiton film was "The Transfiguration," a small but very worthwhile film that smoothly unfolds in housing project in Queens.  Like many of those selected to play in Un Certain Regard rather Competition it had an uncomplicated plot without any grand ambitions, making it less liable to stumble.  A bright fourteen-year old boy who lives with his ex-military brother, as both their parents are deceased, has an obsession with vampires.  He is picked on by the older gang members who are impossible to avoid.  He is a good-hearted kid who develops a caring friendship with a white girl a little older than him who lives in his building with an abusive grandfather.  There is no sugar-coating or mincing with the difficulties of their predicament, though the film maintains an air optimism.  This was a most satisfying film that justifies this twelve-day submergence into the world of cinema.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Day Eight

There may be a dearth of films directed by women with only three of the twenty-one films in Competition, but there is no shortage of films that are stories of women.  If this continues it will be the men protesting.

"The Unknown Girl" by the Dardenne brothers is the compelling story of a young woman physician searching for the identity of a young African woman who died after she refused to open her clinic door to her when she came knocking after closing time.  She seems burdened by the demands of her profession to begin with, having no life outside her work, but even more so with her issues of guilt.  Only once is her perpetual frown broken by a smile, when she receives a phone regarding another matter. She is in a continual state of anguish, but totally committed to being a responsible doctor.  She lives and works in Seraing, a run-down industrial city outside of Liege that has been a Ville Étape twice in my years of following The Tour de France.  Social issues aren't as dominant of a focus as the Dardennes usually make them, but they aren't much below the surface.  The plot has its facile contrivances, but it serves it's purpose.

The first Brazilian film in Compeittion in years, "Aquarius," is the story of a 65-year woman who refuses to move from her large apartment building that is being renovated by a young developer who has just completed business school in the US.  She is the lone resident of the complex that overlooks the vast beaches of the large city of Recife. Her children encourage her to accept the large offer to move, but she refuses.  This film didn't need to be two-and-a-half hours long other than to indulge in directorial art capturing the beauty of Brasil and the vitality of its people.  It lapses into rousing musical interludes, that don't have much to do with the story.  I could hardly object though when the woman pulls out Queen's "Jazz" album and puts it on her turntable.  I was hoping for the "Bicycle Race" cut, but "Fat Bottomed Girls" was fine too.

A woman is also the center of the Iranian film "Inversion."  Tehran is smothered by pollution, an inversion, and an elderly woman is advised by her doctor to leave the city immediately.  Her daughter is being pressured by her older brother and other family members to go with her since she is unmarried and has no children, though she runs a small sewing shop.  She's not so happy about giving up her life in the city and continually ordered about by her brother.  This continues a long line of socially realistic films from Iran and continues the string of fine films in Un Certain Regard.  There hasn't been a fizzle yet.

My day's documentary also featured a woman--"Bernadette Lafont, And God Created the Free Woman."  Commentary from this French New Wave actress, who appeared in more than 120 films and died in 2013, provides a voice-over for this film recounting her legendary career that began with Chabrol and Truffaut.  She took a break when she was still in her prime to have three children, among her many acts of independence that made her career so exemplary.

My lone Market screening was a virtual one-man performance by the prolific Gerard Depardieu.  He ventures off into the forest with his dog and a rifle in "The End."  He loses them both and himself as well.  He becomes frantic trying to find his way out.  He comes upon a barefoot woman who remains mute.  The eventually encounter a pair of hikers who lead them back to his car.  This might have been inspired by Gus Van Sant, but it was no more successful than his effort to plumb the essence of a lost soul.  

The day of cinema was highlighted by the festival's annual "Master Class,"--a nearly two-hour conversation between William Friedkin and Michel Ciment accompanied by clips from Friedkin's oeuvre. After the two were introduced by Festival director Thierry Fremaux, Friedkin said, "Before we start I'd like to say what a great pleasure it is to be here with Michel Ciment, the greatest living film writer and critic."  Friedkin remained garcious and enthusiastic, like a perfect guest.  Ciment didn't have to ask many questions, as Friedkin had much to say. 

As a previous Master Class subject of Ciment, Philip Kaufman, Friedkin came out of Chicago.  His first film was a documentary on someone on death row in Chicago.  Kaufman had gotten his start in television and made this film to try to save his life.  He didn't attend film school, but gained his skills from "Citizen Kane," the French New Wave and Hitchcock. 

The first clip was from "The Birthday Party," a Pinter Play.  The next was from "The Boys in the Band," an early representation of gays in cinema.  It was Friedkin's fourth film and as Ciment pointed out, his fourth commercial failure.  "Why did you bring that up?" Friedkin joked.  "I didn't come here to be insulted."

Ciment brought it up because his next film was the monumental "The French Connection," followed by the equally momentous "The Exorcist."  Until then it took a considerable effort for him to make a film.  Every studio turned town "The French Connection," some twice.  But it was the same with "Forest Gump" and "Star Wars."  After "The French Connection" he said he could have made a movie of his son's bar mitzvah.

Friedkin also set the record straight on Howard Hawks.  Hawks claimed that he urged Friedkin to make "The French Connection."  Hawks daughter, Kitty, was Friedkin's girl friend at the time he made "The Boys in the Band."  Hawks wasn't surprised that the film made no money.  He told Fiendkin that the public wants action movies.  That wasn't what made Friedkin make "The French Connection," though Hawks wanted to think so.  Friedkin's stories on Brando and Hackman and others were so lengthy that Ciment couldn't play all the clips he wanted to, but no one could be disappointed.  When they finally had to end their talk, many in the audience rushed the stage to ask Friedkin questions of their own. Any film festival would be lucky to have him as a guest.  It'd be a great treat to have him at Telluride.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Day Seven

One of the axioms I adhere to as I select my films for the day is, "When in doubt go with a French film," not only out of respect for French cinema but also for the opportunity to gain some insight into the ways of the French.  Thus a couple days ago the lackluster comedy about building an indoor ski slope in French Guiana earned some merit for the commentary that France is run by interns in the summer months when everyone is on vacation.  I wasn't so lucky today, though, in learning anything about the French from two French films in the Market other than that the French can make comedies as lamebrained as Hollywood.

In "Pattaya" two guys hoodwink a dwarf to get a free trip to Thailand where they hope to let their hormones go amok.  They have responded to a challenge by a fight promoter in Thailand for a dwarf to fight its champion dwarf.  All expenses will be paid.  The two French doofuses who try to pull this off entice an Islamic dwarf they went to school with but had only ridiculed that they have won a trip to Mecca and would like him to accompany them.  They try to ditch him when they get to the airport, but he manages to get on their flight to Bangkok, which he thinks is a connecting flight to Mecca.  The plane is packed with rowdy guys excited about all the sex they're going to have in Bangkok.  This was idiotic enough for Hollywood to steal the idea and do a remake.

"We Can Be Heroes" at least had a pertinent and serious subject matter though it's wasn't necessarily material for a comedy--a single father trying to raise two young daughters.  He is a shumck and is making a mess of it.  He has been reported to the social services for repeatedly being late in picking up one of his daughters from school.  When a woman comes to their home to interview them and size up their situation, the daughters reveal how much they like their Saturday outings to the supermarket when there is free food so they can have a picnic and that the smell of vinegar in the apartment is the ointment their father has been applying to their hair to combat lice and how their father lets them sleep in when they don't want to go to school.  The daughters are clearly cheerful and happy, but that doesn't matter to the woman.  She orders the husband to attend parenting classes.  Those too are a vehicle for shtick making a mockery of these issues.

The deadly serious "The Stopover" came to the rescue for French cinema. A plane load of French soldiers is flown to Cyprus at the conclusion of their tour of duty in Afghanistan for three days of readjustment before returning home.  They have all been shaken by their war experience.  As they drive to their luxury hotel two women express their relief at not having to worry about bombs on the road.  They engage in debriefing sessions trying to ease the pain of their time at war.  There is considerable friction between the three women soldiers and their male cohearts.  One of the women puts a knife to the throat of one of the men harassing them.  This was an authentic portrayal of a relevant subject.

Not so relevant was my forth French film for the day, the Compettiton entry from Olivier Assayas, "Persoanl Shopper" starring Kristen Stewart in a role similar to the personal assistant she served as to Juliette Binoche in 2014's Competition film "The Clouds of Sils Maria," also by Assayas that won her a French Cesar.  She is equally captivatig here though in a comtinual haggard and bedraggled state.  She shops for a wealthy, famous socialite, who we see little of, while trying to cope with the recent death of her twin brother.  They are both psychics.  Her brother vowed to give her a signal that there is an afterlife.  It's been three months and she's still waiting.  At last there are some possible hints--water faucets suddenly spurting water, glasses dropped and mysterious texting on her phone.  A stalking element is drawn into the plot compounding the tension.  

All the mysticism earned this film laughs of ridicule from my audience and two zero star reviews from "Screen's" panel.  There have been thirteen Competition films screened so far and there has only been one zero star review, setting this film well apart from all the others, even though enough critics liked it to spare it of lowest score.  The film is hardly worthless, but the deeper it trespasses upon the supernatural, the less credible it becomes.

Jim Jarmusch's frivolous "Patterson" earned high marks from all of "Screen's" eleven reviewers, down from twelve after Manojla Dargas bowed out, except for the two from France.  As with me, they found this restrained story of a bus driver in Patterson, New Jersey who writes poetry more drab than droll. There is an immediate danger sign that this movie has problems with the brief glimpse of a cute dog sitting on a chair.  He becomes a recurring character--the last refuge of a screenplay desperate for material.  The dialogue was little more than a dashed-off rough draft.   This had none of the zing and quirkiness that mark so many of Jarmsuch's film. The inane conversations of bus passengers and innocuous banter of husband and wife are an embarrassment for the man who gave us "Coffee and Cigarettes."

Pedro Almodovar is equally bereft of having much of a story In "Julieta,"  my third Competition film for the day.  This movie defies the theory that everyone has an interesting story.  What caused the estrangement of a daughter from a mother could certainly make for a good movie, but Almodovar put little effort into elevating this story told in flashback beyond the ordinary.  One can't help but to continue to ask, "Why should I care about this?"