Thursday, May 21, 2015

Cannes Day Eight

Thank you Paolo.  You still have much to say and can express it in inventive ways. You haven't succombed to the ennui and melancholy of the octogenarians Michael Caine, playing a composer, and Harvey Keitl, a movie director, in your latest contribution to cinema.   Though "Youth" doesn't have your trademark Sorrentino exuberance and playfulness of your Oscar winning "Great Beauty," it does have its depth and humanity.  It may not register as high on the "Wow" index, but it is still a wow, and not because you twice use the "riding a bike" metaphor to good effect. 

Caine refusing a knight-hood from an emissary of the Queen at the outset while he is hanging out at a health spa in the Swiss Alps with Keitel and others of great means made for a fine opening.  Then his initial refusal to tell his daughter why her husband, son of Keitel, was leaving her for a ditzy singer also added spice to the story and so it continued as your films always do.  At last a film came along that I didn't want to end and was looking forward to seeing again on Repeat Sunday before the awards ceremony.  This probably isn't Palm d'Or material, but it could be without anything off the charts just yet.

This fine day of cinema continued with the second Competiton film of the day "Mountains May Depart."  This Chinese film, told in three parts, also had an emotional depth beyond most of the rest of the fare.  Part one takes place in 1999.  A young woman dumps her working class boy friend, who she has a genuine rapport with, to marry a crass, wealthy upstart.  In part two fifteen years later their marriage is over and the one she truly loved has come down with cancer and can't afford medical attention.  His wife seeks out his former girl friend.  And then the film jumps ahead to 2025 in Australia where the rich guy has gone, taking his son with him, who he had named "Dollar," as bizarre of a name as "Sinbad," as Vincent Cassel named his son in the earlier Competiton film "Mon Roi."  Throughout these are genuine, well-defined characters.  A thank you goes out to Jia Zhangke as well for his directing.

The two Un Certain Regard films of the day maintained this sidebar's theme of giving a fine portrayal of another land.  "Lamb" was the first film from Ethiopia to play in this category.  In some instances that would give extra impetus for programming a film that might not necessarily be up to par,  but this film had the quality to be from anywhere and accepted.  Like many of the festival films, it was a story of coping with hardship.  Drought is making it difficult to scratch out an existence for a farming family.  A young boy who has come to live with them is continually trying to find a place for a lamb to graze and incurs the wrath of many.  The spectacular mountain scenery adds great luster to this sensitive, heartfelt story.

The illicit side of dog selling in France provided the backdrop for "I Am a Soldier," the story of a thirty year old woman who has been looking for work for eight months and is reduced to moving in with her mother.  She begins working for her uncle who sells dog.  She quickly learns not all is on the up and up, but is a good soldier and goes along with it and even starts some illicit side operations of her own.  This wasn't an in your face portrayal of the harsh economic times, but more powerful than some of those that are.  This was a wonderful, insightful discovery.

The day was also highlighted with a documentary on Orson Welles, "This is Orson Welles," followed by a screening of "Citizen Kane."  Watching this masterpiece with French subtitles was an ultimate expierce.  As with the Ingrid Bergman documentary, this one featured the commentary of a daughter. And like Bergman's children's, she had nothing but nice things to say about her dad.  Scorcese and Bogdonavich and Henry Jaglom were among the talking heads.  Though it didn't cover anything new, it was still well worth seeing. 

With the festival winding down, there were just a handful of Market screenings.  I was happy to be able to fit "Dream Driven" into my schedule, a Finnish documentary about three young men who drove a van from Finland to Nepal to help build a school and to bring attention to the evils of the caste system. It would have been much more noteworthy if they had made a bike trip of it, and they were a bit naive in their idealism, but the opening of a school and two more that they raised funds for brought the young men to tears. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Cannes Day Seven

My day was bookended by violent-laced crime thrillers--one an American production about Mexican drug cartels and the other of office politics from South Korea.  One featured inventive plot twists and the other didn't much care about the credibility of its twists. No surprise which was which.

The American production, "Sicario" by Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, put its budget into its cast (Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro) and aerial shots and car chases rather than its script.  Its was slick enough to be shown in Competition, while the Korean film, "Office," was given an Out of Competition  slot.  

"Sicario" began with great promise as Emily Blount leads an FBI raid on a drug house in Phoenix.  Her assured demeanor along with the first-rate action directing remain a strong current through the film.  She is enlisted by higher operatives led by Josh Broslin to cross the border into Mexico and snatch a drug lord.  It is more bravado film-making, though the credibility of the script begins to ebb. It doesn't become as outlandish as Villeneuve's "Prisoners," and can be somewhat overlooked since the premise of a Colombian drug prosecutor, played with matching vigor as the other leads by Del Toro, who turns into a superhero out for the revenge for the death of his wife and daughter by drug lords adds a jolt to the script that is more for the popcorn crowd than the cineste, and a far cry from Villeneuve's masterpieces "Incendies" and "Polytchnique."

"Office" couldn't match the polish and pizzazz of "Sicario," but it was equally gripping, delving into the psyche of the detective trying to track down the employee of a company who inexplicably murdered his wife and son and disappeared.  A surveillance camera shows him returning to the skyscraper where he worked, but not leaving.  The drama bridges upon horror, but more psychological than physical.

I found myself in a minor horror movie of my own when I arrived back at the apartment after midnight and discovered  my email account had been taken hostage and a message sent out to everone in my address book saying I was in Istanbul and had lost my wallet and needed money.  The worst of it was that I could no longer receive emails, as messages replying to the plea would be intercepted by the perpetrator.  At least I can send out emails from the account,  I changed my password, but so far that hasn't helped.  So I have not received any emails in the past 24-hours allowing me to concentrate further in the film festival.

The day wasn't without good fortune as after the 8:30 am screening of "Sicario" a woman walk up to Ralph and I and offered us invitations to the next Competiton screening in the Lumiere at 11:30.  Ralph already had one.  It was the first I had come by this year.  I rushed directly to the Lumiere, but still  ended up in the nose bleed seat in the last row in the balcony. Its a vantage I know well from years past and don't mind at all looking over a sea of heads at the distant screen far below.

I won't have memories of this film though, "Marguerite and Julien," a true story of incest in France in 1600.  Valerie Donzelli returns to those times but tries to jazz up the story with Rock music and odd insertions of twentieth century  technology, including the flash of a helicopter.  Unfortunately it doesn't work.  A straightforward telling of this story that ends in tragedy could have made for a fine movie.  No one much liked it, with a rare below one star overall rating from "Screen's" panel of ten critics, though still better than Van Sant's .6 disaster. 

Today's  Un Certain Regard film, "Trap," took me back to the Philippines through the same post-typoon disaster scene I had bicycled through a year ago.  It captured all the images I know well--UN tents for the survivors, battered  palm trees, religious services, bicycles with side cars, small road side cafes and the great resilience of the Filipinos.  Despite the sure hand of acclaimed director Brillante Mendoza, he accompanied his fine images with just a perfunctory story of recovery.

I filled the rest of the day with three documentaries.  One of them would have been Kent Jones's on the legendary conversations between Hitchcock and Truffaut that resulted in a book, but I was among a hundred or more who were turned away from the Bunuel where special events are held.  One floor below was a Market screening of the Directors Fortnight entry "Beyond My Grandfather Allende" filmed by one of his granddaughters. She wss too young to remember him when his life came to an end in Chile's 1973 coup and this is an attempt to come to know him through her family members.His elderly wife is a most unwillingly subject.  She continually cuts off interviews with her granddaughter laying beside her in bed.  The director's other family members are also very reticent to talk about their memories that they have all suppressed. The best thing about the doc was remembering the exceptional doc by Sarah Polley uncovering her big family secret.

A Swedish documentary, "Ingrid Bergman--In Her Own Words," on the actress who overlooks the entries to the Palais and Debussy as the subject of this year's poster, was given the star treatment with Isabella Rosselini on hand to introduce it in the Soixante.  She was one Bergman's four children by two husbands.  The children are all extensively interviewed in this artful rendition of her life receiving more screen time than movie clips.  Three of the children were fathered by the Italian director, and the first by her Swedish husband, who became a doctor in the US during the early years of their marriage after Bergman had come to Hollywood.  When she left her husband and eight year old daughter for Rosselini, it was an international scandal, even denounced on the Senate floor. She didn't return to the US for eight years, not even for the Oscars when she won her second, accepted by Cary Grant in a year when the Oscars were held in New York. When she finally did return to the US Ed Sullivan took a poll whether he should have her on his show.

My third documentary was one of those few films of personal interest I was most eager to see when I had spotted it in the program on my first perusal--"The Fabulous Story of Mr Riquet."  He engineered the Canal du Midi linking the Atlantic with the Mediterranean under Louis XIV in the 1700s.  It is one of the world's first engineering great feats.  It has a beautiful plane-tree lined bike path along it.  It was exciting to see its beauty captured on the big screen, but unfortunately it didn't have a big enough budget to have added English subtitles, the first such film I've come across in the Market.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Cannes Day Six

Today is the half-way point of the festival.  I've seen 39 films so far and have yet to see a great one.  I'm not worried though, as I've only seen five of the ten Competiton films that have screened and two of those that I have missed have been the best-reviewed--"Son of Saul" (an Auschwitz film by a first time Hungarian director that Sony just picked up for US distribution) and "Carol" (a lesbian period piece by veteran American Todd Haynes).  Plus three of the potentially best films have yet to play--those by Sorrentino, Audiard and Hsiao-Hsien Hou.  A festival rarely offers more than two or three greats, so that is still possible.  Last year was a good year with "Winter Sleep," "Foxcatcher," "Wild Tales," and "Force Majuere."  None of my 39 have provided such a jolt or uplift.

I made an attempt on "Son of Saul" this morning.  I was the eighth person in line an hour ahead of the noon screening, but none of us got in as those with priority passes filled the 63-seat theater before any of us with mere Market passes were allowed entry.  That meant I could see a South African version of "Spinal Tap," a mockumentary called "Stone Cold Jane Austen."  It could have been wacky, but was mostly silly and stupid.  The two members of the rock band of the same name as the title of the movie are trying to make a comeback.  No one much cared about them originally, and even less so now.  A cop though who recognizes them when they are out and about was a fan and even has a couple of  their CDs in his car that he asks them to autograph.  They refuse when they discover they are bootleg copies.  That upsets the cop, so he gives them a ticket, about the lone comic scene in the whole movie.

I tried for a second rock band movie, "The Green Room," as it had received rave reviews after its screenings in the Director's Fortnight.  The word was out and I fell five people short of getting in.  Playing right next door was "The Birth of Sake," a documentary on a 140-year old Japanese distillery that still brews the drink in the labor-intensive traditional manner.  Its workers live dormitory-style for six months during the winter months when the distilling takes place. They arise at 4:30 in the morning and every day manually process 2,600 pounds of rice.  One hundred years ago there were 4,600 distilleries in Japan.  There are now just 1,000 as wine and beer have increasingly become the choice of drink in Japan.  I thought I might see Gary Meier, a former director of Telluride, at the screening.  He told Ralph and I yesterday tha t he had left Telluride and would be launching a film festival of his own called Eat, Drink, Film  in the Bay Area.  We were sorry to learn he had ended his time with Telluride.  It will be the first Labor Day in over forty years that he won't be out there.

I didn't spot Gary, but I was joined by Milos of Facets and a member of the Board of Telluride at my next screening, part one of the three-part six-hour Arabian Tales that has been much talked about due to its running time and its subject matter--the economic crisis in Portugal.  Milos said he was leery the film might be a case of the Emperor's New Clothes, as he wasn't confident the movie would be as good as the reviews claim.  The title alone was questionable, as it was a mere attention-grabber since the movie had nothing to do with the Arabian Tales other then their structure.  Milos is someone to listen to.  He has been coming to Cannes for over thirty years and knows the tea leaves.  

He had skipped the morning's Competition film, "The Measure of a Man," as he feared this French film had slipped into the Competition to meet the French quota and also that it would be heavy-handed in its portrayal of a man out of work seeking employment.  He was right on that. I told Milos the movie had some merit, but when I described it to him, the movie met his expectations. The film concludes with the lead working as a security guard in a large supermarket.  His job is to catch shop-lifters.  They all have a sad, justifiable reason for shop-lifting, but he does his job.  He is more troubled though when he is ordered to try to catch check-out women cheating when his boss tells him they have to cut back on staff and need to fire some people.  One woman he catches, who was merely pocketing coupons, commits suicide.  When he catches another who was swiping her bonus card to get bonus points on the purchases of others, he doesn't think he can continue with his job.  The audience, most likely the French faction, cheered at the end of the movie.

And Milos was right about "Arabian Nights."  Its subject matter and its ambition, not its execution, was what had won the favor of the critics.  Its series of short tales commenting on the economic woes of the Portuguese was lifeless and plodding, and at a certain point an ordeal to sit through.  Milos was among the trickle of people who started walking out after an hour.  I stuck it out and even gave part sat through part two since I had no viable alternative.  Part one was enough for Ralph.  The film could have been effective if it had had a dollop of Romanian realism or Iranian humanity or Japanese sensitivity.

Natalie Portman's Out of Competiton directorial debut, "A Tale of Love and Darkneas," also was missing that elixir making a movie something more than simply images on a screen going through the motions.  She even failed to elicit more than a flat performance out of herself playing a young wife and mother suffering a breakdown during the early years of Israel after WW II.  

By the time I dashed a few blocks to the Arcades for its 10:30 screening of a Belgian black comedy with Catherime Deneuve about God luring based in Brussels the theater was "complet."  I had five minutes to bike a mile up Antibes to the Miramar for the Critics Week screening of "Land of Shade" from Colombia.  I made it just as the lights were dimming.  Though it had been another long day with some nodding off, this minimalist film, as the Critics Week specializes in, had me fully riveted. The story set in rural Colombia was as sad as any of those of "Arabian Nights"--a young woman working in the cane fields while her husband lay at home seriously ill.  The workers aren't getting paid and no one will help her husband.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Cannes Day Five

Invited films are often distinguished from those in the Market by a strong charismatic performance by a star.  They can  lend credence to a script that may not be entirely credible engaging an audience enough with their artistry to make their movie seem worthwhile.  The Market is full of very marginal movies with a star hoping their performance can save the day. I could spend the entire festival indulging in such fare. Mickey Rourke can be seen in three Market movies, Nicholas Cage is in two.  Joe Pesci, James Can, Joe Mantegna, Eric Roberts, Richard Jenkins, Michael Madsen, Danny Glover and Oscar Isaac are among a host of actors who can carry a movie who have non red-carpet roles.  I'd be curious to see each of their performances on the Big Screen, but won't be able to work many them into my schedule.

This day was highlighted by a couple of riveting performances in movies of questionable validity that a lesser performance would otherwise have left audiences with a sour taste.  Vincent Cassel dazzled the screen as an ├╝ber-suave restauranteur in the day's opening Competition film, "Mon Roii." He sweeps Emmanuelle Bercot (director of the opening night film "Standing Tall"), playing a lawyer, off her feet.  He's too perfect to be true and she asks him after their first bout of conjugal bliss if he's for real, or like all men a jerk.  With his non-stop repartee he tells her he's the King of Jerks, not a jerk himself but all other men are his subjects.  He of course turns into the ultimate jerk, and would be further fodder for Janina's gender study class. Initially he fully caters to the object of his desires, but then becomes the ultimate control freak, even insisting they name their baby "Sinbad," rather than Elliot, as she would prefer.  This was  directed by Maiwenn, whose previous film "Polisse" won the Jury Prize, a much more realistic film.

Matthias Schoenaerts, another Gallic actor who can ignite the screen, somewhat redeems the Un Certain Regard "Disorder," playing a part-time security guard while he awaits word on whether he can return to duty in Afghanstan as he deeply wishes despite being shell shocked.  He is guarding the wife and son of a wealthy Lebanese businessman who hobnobs with government ministers.  The businessman is engaged in questionable practices that have him in trouble with the press as well as people he does business with.  His wife becomes a target.  Schoenaerts is a hunk.  The script can't help but lapse into matters of the libido. 

Collin Ferrell is also known for his sexual dynamism.  But they are entirely wasted in "The Lobster," a Competition film I caught up with today.  He plays a nebbish with a paunch and glasses, a role better suited for a Greg Kinear or John C. Reilly.  Reilly does turn up in this movie playing his usual bumbling self, and just like the other Competition film he had a similar role in "Tale of Tales," it was an exercise in inconsequential absurdism.  Reilly and Ferrell are an a holding center for singles in a futuristic world.  They have 45 days to find a mate or they will be forced to be turned into an animal of their choosing.  Ferrell would like to become a lobster. 

This was a rare day with a Market film on a subject matter of personal interest--a documentary on a trek of the US from Mexico to Canada by four recent graduates of Texas A&M on horseback.  The film takes its title "Unbranded" from the wild mustangs they enlist for the ride.  The subject of the west being overrun by wild horses is a recurring theme of the movie.  Their numbers are increasing at 20 per cent a year.  Over 50,000 are being held in corrals awaiting adoption.  It takes three months to train one for domesticity.  The scenery is spectacular as their route includes the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Glacier National Park.  They guys don't entirely get along, distracting from the glory of their experience.

My day included two other documentaries with lengthy, self-explanatory titles--"David Lynch: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" and "Can't Stand Losing You: Surviivng the Police."  Lynch narrates in a droning tone his life-story up until his first movie "Eraserhead."  He is rarely glimpsed though, as his commentary is accompanied by drawings and paintings and sometimes photographs of what he is describing, making this transcend the usual bio-pic. A recurring phrase from his mother as he was growing up was that he was disappointing him. His first ambition was to be a painter.  He rented a studio while he was still in school.  When he upset his father with his benign defiance,  he told him he was no longer a member of the family.  He regained his good graces, but when he went to visit him a few years later where he was living in Philadelphia his father was so unsettled by his work that he advised him that he shouldn't have children.  Little did Lynch know at the time that his girl friend was pregnant.  They married shortly thereafter.  Lynch says his life was saved a few years later when he won a $5,000 grant from the American Film Institute to make a short.  He later earned a scholarship to move to LA from the AFI which led to "Eraserhead."   

The documentary on the Police was based on the memoirs of guitarist Andy Summers, one of the three members of the band.  The group's singer and song writer Sting wasn't invoked at all in the making of the movie, as Summers said all along he only cared about himself.  The film has plenty of archival interviews and concert and rehearsal footage to draw from as well as some recent reunion concerts.  

The day concluded with "Journey to the Shore," another Un Certain Regard film that leant an insightful view into the culture of another country, this time Japan.m Ralph and I could fully connect with this movie, as Ralph spent a good part of his working life there and I two months bicycling it.  A young woman's husband returns three years after he was thought to have been lost at sea.  He says he had been depressed and needed to regain his health.  He has spent the time traveling about Japan working an assortment of jobs.  It was just what he needed. His face is continually wreathed in a beatific smile.  He takes his wife on a trip to meet many of the wonderful people he came to know during his time away.  They are all very happy to see him again.  

Cannes Day Four

It was a day of socially relevant cinema with docs on food, jihadists in Pakistan and Mexican drug cartels to go along with features on women's rights in Iran, interacting with the indigenous and another featuring striking workers and a dying woman.

Nanni Moretti's Competition entry "Mia Madre" may not fully fall under the umbrella of social relevancy as the movie was split between a movie director on the set dealing with a difficult actor and in the hospital room of her dying mother.  John Tuturro flies in from America to star in an Italian movie as a factory owner dealing with his striking workers.  He is a nightmare to work with as he can't get his lines right.  What is meant as a comedy quickly grows tiresome.  The hospital scenes, which include Moretti as the director's brother, are serious but all too typical.  This movie was akin to a Hollywood sequel, with Moretti sticking to safe, recycled material that didn't go beyond the ordinary, only meriting inclusion in the Compeittion category because of his reputation and connection to the festival as a former award winner and jury president.

The Iranian "Nahid" in Un Certain Regard was one of full slate of films on the second-rare status of women in the Islamic world. There are others from Turkey, Palastine, India and elsewhere.  Janina could see several films a day that would make good material for the gender studies class she teaches, including a feature about young girls who are transformed into boys and how they much prefer being girls.  Nahid is a thirty-year old mother of a son who is separated from her drug addict husband.  She'd like to remarry as she is destitute and on the verge of being evicted.  A wealthy man, whose wife has died, has proposed.  She likes him but fears she'd lose custody of her son if she does.  He assures her he has a good lawyer to achieve that.  She agrees to a series of trial thirty-day marriages.  She is frazzled and doesn't really know what is best as she fights battles on several fronts.

Two young girls are given away in marriage against their wills in the Pakistani documentary "Among Believers."  They are just an incidental, but telling moment, in this movie that concentrates on jihadists, while giving attention to other aspects of Pakistani society.  Young boys are recruited to Islamic schools with the promise that if they become jihadists they will wear a crown in heaven and so will their parents who give them up to the schools.  This well-balanced film also interviews more rational clerics and gives a well-informed view into today's Pakistan.

"Cartel Land" was even richer with remarkable, unguarded footage of how it is deep in Mexico in Michoacan where the drug cartels have terrorized the local populations and also on the border of the US where vigilante groups patrol.  Michoacan gave birth to its own local vigilantes as well, led by a local doctor, frustrated by the corrupt government failing to control the drug lords.  The doctor is initially a great hero, recruitng dozens of armed locals to take the law into their own hands, but then feels the wrath of the government and the all-powerful cartels.  The movie almost plays as a feature with a rich cast of fascinating characters and dramatic action during shoot outs and interrogating suspects.

Less dramatic, but equally well shot, "Ten Billion--What's On Your Plate," a German documentary on how the world will feed itself when its population doubles to ten billion in the next few decades, deals with another pertinent subject.  The director travels the world examine the present state of food production to what needs to be done to save the planet.  He cites concerns, including India transforming itself from a country of vegetarians to one of carnivores and a visit to Chicago's Board of Trade (the largest in the world) where he interviews one of its biggest traders upsetting the prices of grains.   He sees hope in the high productivity of small, organic farms.  

Ralph and I were fortunate to see "Embrace of the Serpent," a luscious Colombian film on two early nineteenth century explorers canoeing the Amazon on separate missions, thanks to falling thirty people short of the night's final Un Certain Regard film.  We had to wait an hour for this Director's Fortnight film at he Arcades, where films are occasionally shown without English subtitles, as was the case here.  We thought we would give it a look, but lasted the entire two hours, easily managing the French subtitles, keeping us out until after one, as we were fully consumed by this exceptional film shot in black and white.  This is what the Amazonian explorer film, "Pure Life," from Day Two aspired to be, but failed.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Cannes Day Three

None of us in the Last Minute Line this morning gained entry to the morning's Competition entry "Lobster."  I had several worthy options--"Survivalist," (an English film that had been well-reviewed)? "I Am Michael," (a true story about a gay-rights advocate who had renounced his homosexuality, one of several films starring James Franco),  or "Arteholic," (a German documentary about the German actor Udo Kier who loved art).  

I chose the documentary as it had a running time and location that would give me a chance to see "Rams," an Icelandic film in Uncertain Regard at eleven.  I was also tricked into seeing it as Lars Von Trier was listed in the cast.  Kier had appeared in "Breaking the Waves" and was a friend of his, but his appearance in the movie was simply a joke.  Kier does visit him during the shooting of the documentary, but the two of them simply sit and read for a minute or so.  Not a word comes out of Von Trier's mouth, not even a greeting.  The whole movie was less than honest.  Kier does like art and was a friend of Warhol and Mapplethorpe and others, but he's hardly an "arteholic" and has very little to say about the art that is shown in the movie.  He does like to be on camera though, and somehow managed to get a totally unnecessary documentary, a most indulgent, giant-selfie, made about himself. Usually one can find some redeeming value in any documentary.  I did learn in this one that the signature chapter scenes in "Breaking the Waves" were designed by an artist friend of his and not by Von Trier.

The documentary at least did allow me to see "Rams," a classic Icelandic story of sheep farmers who have to destroy their flocks because a disease has been discovered in them.  This is the nightmare of every Icelandic farmer, and in particular two brothers who live side by side but haven't spoken in forty years.  The scenery was magnificent as were the abundance of lush beards.  This was a full cultural immersion, the next best thing to bicycling around the island as I did the summer before I began coming to France for Cannes and The Tour de France.

The Italian Matteo Garrone is known for making movies about his culture.  He turned his back on that in his Competition entry "Tale of Tales," which I stood in line for over an hour in its repeat screening today in the Soixante.  Not all in line gained entry, despite the tepid reviews.  The most tepid came from Michel Ciment, the most respected of French reviewers.  He gave it a rare zero stars, meaning it had no redeeming value.  He was absolutely right.  This series of three fairy tales were utterly inconsequential grotesqueries.  Since his last two films in Competition had won awards he was given the best odds by bookmakers to win the Palm d 'Or this year.  This proves how utterly useless such predictions are by those who haven't even seen the movies they are speculating about.

I got right in line afterwards for yesterday's other Compeition film, "Our Little Sister" from Japan that had been better reviewed.  It was the second film of the day I was turned away from.  That allowed me to see a "Sembene!," a documentary on the father of African cinema.  As I was waiting in line, Jason Silverman, a fellow staffer from the Telluride film festival who used to direct the Taos film festival and now programs an art house in New Mexico greeted me.  I was shocked to see him and furthermore that he was wearing a suit.  The biggest shock was that he had co-directed the film.  I had no idea.  And then Mark Steele, a former Telluride staffer, came over.  He had co-produced the film.  They said this wasn't its world premiere, as it had opened at Sundance.

This solid bio-pic was a narrative by the other co-director of the film, Samba Gadigo, a Senglese admirer of Sembene's who now taught in the US.  Sembene died a few years ago, but there was ample interview material of him to make it seem he had been a full collaborator on the film.  There were clips aplenty from his many films.  This wss a most worthwhile contribution to the world of cinema.  The ninety minute documentary was followed by a recently restored "Black Girl" from 1966 about the less than pleasant experiences of young black woman who works as a servant for a young French couple, first in Dakar and then in France.  Seeing both of these was more than worth being shut out of "Our Little Sister," which I'll have a chance to see in the days to come, unlike these films.

I was denied the conclusion of "Black Girl" as I had to meet Ralph at 7:45 in front of the credentials office, as he had just flown in from LA via Zurich and I had to give him keys to our apartment.  He said he had slept well on the eleven hour flight and was eager for a movie or two.  Unfortunately the credentials office had closed at six and he'd have to pick up his credentials at nine the next morning, also preventing him from seeing the 8:30 a.m. Compeition screening.  He was too thrilled to be here for the fourth time and with nine days of cinema had wasn't too chagrined.

After the handing over of the keys I rushed back into the Palais complex of screening rooms for "Shades of Truth," an attempt at a movie about a Jewish journalist who looks like Robet Redford seeking the truth about whether Pope Pius XII was a Nazi sympathizer.  I was drawn to this movie as Pope Pius XII consecrated the Madanna del Ghisallo chapel overlooking Lake Como as a bicyclist's shrine in 1949.  The journalist goes to Rome, Israel, Berlin and Spain meeting with people who convince him that the Pope saved the lifes of hundreds of Jews, including his parents he learns at the end of the movie.  It was a nice little history lesson, but a very feeble movie filled with miscast actors, including the journalist's heavily made up girl friend and boss, who looked as of the director had plucked them off a model's runaway thinking their good looks would look nice on the screen.

Per usual I was able to end the day with an "Un Certain Regard" film, this time from South Korea, that  looked all that more stylish and accomplished compared to what I had just seen.  A young, very determined and idealistic detective in "The Shameless" goes undercover in a brothel seeking a murderer.  This was more like it, and a fine way to end the day.  I was only sorry I wasn't able to discuss it with Ralph on a hike back to our apartment.  Instead, for probably the last time I rode my bike home.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Cannes Day Two

Ordinarily Day Two starts off with the first Competition screening of the festival bright and early at 8:30 a.m. in the 2,300 seat Palais. This year that time slot went to "Mad Max: Fury Road," an out of Competition entry, which would receive its official world premier that evening at 7:30 with the full Red Carpet treatment.  I had no burning desire to see it, knowing I'd have ample opportunity later stateside, but since the first film of the day that I did wish to see didn't start until 9:30 I went down to the Palais just to see if I cod get in and if the procedure for us non-ticket holders was the same as last year. 

There were about fifty people in the Last Minute Line when I arrived at 8:15 positioned on the outside of the second row of barriers this year instead of inside them.  And, as last year, we weren't allowed to start filtering in until the very last minute at nearly 8:30.  Surprisingly, there was so little interest among the press for this screening that there was space in the Palais on the first floor rather than in the balcony for all of us.  More often than not we're turned away from the Palais and funneled to the Soixante Theater for a 9:00 a.m. screening of the film.  Getting into the early screening meant I could watch fifty rather than twenty minutes of the action before slipping out.  It was instant crashes and explosions and furious fightering and loud noise.  It wss unrelenting for thirty minutes.  Where there was a brief lull, the audience responded with applause, either in appreciation of all the mayhem or in thanks for relief from it.  

When I switched theaters It was a dramatic shift from the grand Palais to a fifty-seat screening room and an equally dramatic shift from the desert to the jungle and from fantasy to reality for the true story of "Pure Life," recounting the expedition of a young Frenchman in 1949 in the Amazon seeking an isolated tribe.  The director wishfully pitched his movie as a cross between a Herzogian epic and "Into the Wild."  The young Frenchman was ill-equipped for his adventure and lost nearly all his funds playing poker with an ex-con just before he ventures into the jungle.  He had to trade a watch for a canoe at one point. He disappears never to be found, only his journal.  His father spent twelve years futilely searching for him.  The first time director wasn't much better prepared to do justice to the story than the Frenchman was in undertaking his adventure.

"Twice Upon a Time in the West" gave promise of being the wackiest film of the festival--a Bulgarian feature  paying homage to Sergio Leone's masterpiece with Claudia Cardinale playing herself.  Cardinale no longer wishes to live in Paris and decides to retreat from the world and go live in anonymity in Spain where "Once Upon a Time in the West" was filmed.  Not too many others thought this would make for an interesting movie, as there were only three of us attracted to this screening. Not even the star power of Cardinale, who gave a Master Class here a couple years ago and was a recent tributee at Telluride, could fill the thirty-two seat Gray 4.  Cardinale was a delight counting stories from her long career though she talks more about Fellini than Leone.  She felt lucky to have lived 140 lives, one for each movie she appeared in.  This movie may have had a top-notch premise, but unfortunately it didn't have a director who could execute it.

During the three years I have known Janina she has cultivated in me an interest in ballet, one of her passions.  Thanks to her I was drawn to "Ulyana Lopatakine," a French documentary on the renowned Russian ballerina.  It was equal parts rehearsals, performances, interviews with her and interviews with those who know her raving about her brilliance.  She made for an excellent subject and a most captivating documentary.  She was positively radiant and a rare, rare talent.

"Fou d'Amour" was my second French movie of the day that was a true story about a young French man with hubris who dies young.  This one was a philandering priest.  The movie opens with him being led to the guillotine.  His head is lopped off and left in a basket to narrate his story.  It is 1959 and he has been assigned to a small rural church.  He is very charismatic and warm.  All the women, young and old, fall in love with him and offer themselves to him.  He ranges about his parish on a bicycle for his assignations until a wealthy woman buys him a scooter.  That allows him greate freedom.  If he had stuck to the bike, he might not have gotten so deep into trouble.  If Gaspar Noe had made this movie, it might have been worthy of being in one of the Competitive categories, but instead it was in the Market looking for attention.

I ended the day with a pair of "Un Certain Regard" entries by accomplished directors who'd had films invited to the festival over the years and I at last had the pleasure of genuine cinema by masters of the art.  The honor of the opening film for this category went to the Japanese film "An" by Naomi Kawase, a fomer winner in the Competiton field. This story of a gruff man with a past who runs a small food stand and the kindly 75-year old woman who befriends him was just a bit too slight to be worthy of being in Competiton, though it had to be a tough decision for Thierry Fremaux. The film opens during the cherry blossom season, allowing Kawase to include many of her signature nature and cloud shots, and had her usual social sensitivity.

Just as "An" was a characteristic Japanese film, "One Floor Below" by Radu Munteau was a chararacteistic Romanian film of gritty every-day realism.  A murder takes place in a small apartment building.  A tenant who could assist the police chooses to withhold information that could help them solve the case.  As with "An" this film had a simple profundity that displayed the power of cinema to give us insight into the human condition. I had a fine midnight ride back to the apartment on a hill uplifted by two fine films knowing many more awaited me.