Saturday, May 19, 2018

Cannes Day Twelve—The Awards

Every year day by day the suspense builds to the awards ceremony as everyone speculates what films the jury will reward.  The day arrives almost with relief signaling the end of this movie orgy and days of limited sleep.  It is a joy to sit in the plush Debussy Theater one last time and watch the proceedings on the large screen taking place in the Palais next door.  Except this year they decided to restrict the Debussy to the press, even though they didn’t even fill a quarter of the seats.  Ralph and I waited at the entry to the theater along with a couple dozens others hoping they’d let us with Market badges in knowing there were plenty of available seats as they have in the past.  At 7:15 when the ceremony began and we still hadn’t been let in we were apologetically told the “big boss,” whoever that might be, said “no” this year.  

So we had to go over to the Palais complex and stand for an hour with a cluster of others in front of one of the several small televisions scattered around the sprawling complex. The volume wasn’t very loud and whenever someone spoke in English it was drowned out by the simultaneous French translation.  We couldn’t fully appreciate the eloquence of jury president Cate Blanchett’s opening remarks nor the speeches of the award winners nor the special harangue by Italian actress Asia Argento that Harvey Weinstein had raped her at Cannes in 1997 when she was 21.  She said it was nice to know that he would never be back.  She should have added he ought to be behind bars. 

Spike Lee was in the audience, indicating that he had been brought back to Cannes for one of the seven awards the jury hands out.  When it came down to the last two and he hadn’t been called to the stage, it looked as if he might have won the Palm d’Or he thought he deserved for “Do the Right Thing” in 1989 but was beaten out by “Sex, Lies and Videotape.”  Once again he was awarded the Grand Prix, but he made no fess about it, just yet.  He had to be thrilled to be given any award for this very average film that just happened to be politically relevant.  In the press conference for the jury afterwards French actress Lea Seydoux said, “fundamentally we knew we had to give it an award,” despite Blanchette emphasizing that at the very outset the jury had agreed not to let politics influence their decisions, just the quality of the films.  It didn’t hurt Lee either that Director Ava Duverney was on the jury as she said that she had always been a strong admirer of Lee and he had been a great influence on her.

Every jury has at least one highly queationable choice.  Other than that, this jury made easily defensible selections, other than not awarding Nuri Bilge Ceylon’s highly ambitious film any award. Some might question it for not giving “Burning,” the Korean film that received the highest score ever from Screen magazine’s panel of critics, any award, but not Ralph or I.  We both cheered that.  Hirokazu Kare-eda’s “Shoplifters” about a Japanese family struggling to get by was a most deserving Palm d’Or winner.  Nadine Labaki’s “Capernaum” about a Lebanese 12-year surviving in Beirut was a perfect Jury winner, though some thought it deserved the Grand Prix that Lee was given or even the Palm d’Or.  That would have been extraordinary if it had, but not without justification.

Pawel Pawlikowski merited best director for “Cold War” following a love affair in and out of Poland for several decades during the Cold War.  Little argument could be made about the best actor and actress awards either—Marcello Fonte as a twerpy kennel operator in the Italian gangster movie “Dogman” and Samal Yesyamova in the Russian film “My Little One” as an illegal immigrant in snowy Moscow frantically trying to find work.  I had seen the film earlier in the day, the only Competition film I had missed.  It was obvious this film would receive some award, especially with a Russian on the jury.     The film is shot in a non-stop snowstorm with snow plows a featured element.  It was an even more harrowing tale of survivsl with everything stacked against one than the Lebanese film.  Yesyamova has just given birth and escapes the hospital without her baby since she knows she can’t care for it and has to work even though she is hemorrhaging.  She meets a couple of decent souls in her struggle, but most of those she deals with are predators of some sort.  Not only the character she plays but the role itself had demands beyond comprehension.

The Italian film “Happy as Lazarro” and “Three Faces” from Iran shared the best screenplay, allowing the jury to dispense one more than the usual seven awards, and then they went one further by giving Godard a special Palm d’Or aa his film defied all norms.  Blanchett said the jury couldn’t stop talking about it, but because it was so unique and unclasifiable, they had to put it in a category of its own.  Blanchett was the star of the press conference, highly articulate and cogent.  Towards the end Duvernay complimented her for “exquisite” handling of the jury, drawing out and  paying attention to all eight under her command.  Canadian director Denis Villenenve sat beside her, clearly serving as her chief assistant.  The two of them did the bulk of the talking.  Kristen Stewart didn’t utter a peep nor did several other of the jurors.  It will be available on YouTube, and will be well worth viewing.

Much as I needed to, I didn’t sleep in as the film I most wanted to see again, “Summer,” about rock-and-rollers in early 1980 Leningrad was playing at 8:30 on repeat Saturday of all the Competition films. I joined the long line at eight and was lucky to get in to the 500 seat Soixante, the second largest of the five theaters hosting the repeat screenings.  The Debussy, the largest with 2000 seats, was playing “Cold War,” “Blackkklansmam” and “Shoplifters,” the festival guessing those were the three films people would most want to see.  It was as if they had a foreboding of the jury’s choices.  It was no surprise they programmed “Burning” in one of the smallest theaters.  

I was bowled over once again by the “Pscho Killer” scene in “Summer” and a second show-stopping fantasy scene of a concert when the band on stage and the audience let loose, sending the crew of men in suits monitoring the concert into a frenzy trying to get everyone to contain themselves and threatening them with jail.  Preceding the homage to the Talking Heads, who the band members refer to as “the heads that talk,” the rock and rollers are berated for being a disgrace to the motherland and for singing songs of the enemy.  They reply that the Sex Pistols are working boys and aren’t the enemy as the same for the Beatles.  The film didn’t have a strong enough thread to earn it any awards,  but it remains one of my favorite films of many from this year’s smorgasbord.  I was turned away from both “Shoplifters” and the Godard film later in the day, and was only able to get into to the lesser Japanese film “Asako” before “My Little One.” It was a fantastic time once again, but I am more than ready to return to the bike and exalt myself in a physical manner.

Cannes Day Eleven

Before the Un Certain Regard jury tendered their awards this afternoon in the Debussy theater I was finally able to have a word with juror Julie, director of the Telluride Film Festival, in the lobby preceding her taking the stage with her fellow jurors Benicio Del Toro, Virginia Ledoyen, Annemarie Jacir and Kantemir Balagov.   Usually I share a few screenings with her during the festival, but her jury duties had kept her so busy this was the first we had crossed paths.  We was full of glee over her experience and also over their choices.  I asked if they had had to deliberate very long.  She said it went fast as they had been talking about the films they had seen all along and knew one another’s feelings.  She agreed with Ralph and I that Un Certain Regard had an exceptional batch of films this year, the strongest since she has been attending the festival.

Ralph and I were thrilled with their choices, as it means there is a strong likelihood Julie will program several of them for Telluride and we’ll get to see them again.  Their top prize went to the Swedish film “Border” about a border security guard with a gift for spotting smugglers and her friendship with a guy with similar mysterious qualities.  It was easily the boldest, most imaginative film of the festival.  The teenaged boy undergoing a sex change in the Belgian film “Girl” was awarded best actor for his agonizing, sensational performance. “Sofia” won best script.  This story of a young unmarried Moroccan woman who shocks her family and faces prison time when she turns up pregnant may have been the most gripping film of the festival.   Best director went to the Ukrainian film “Donbass” that was the Opening Night film for this category.  I had missed it, but Ralph really liked this film or warfare. They also gave a Special Jury prize to the Brazilian film “The Dead and the Others” for capturing the life of an indigenous people.

Julie asked what I thought would win the Palm d’Or.  She was hearing that “Cold War,” the Polish film by the director of “Ida,” a Telluride discovery, had a good chance.  I had just seen “ Capharnaüm,” a Lebanese film with the absolutely amazing performance of a twelve-year boy who is fed up with his abusive, indigent parents living on the margins of society and moves into the hovel of an African refugee and her infant son.  His gut-wrenching struggles to survive and care for the infant in a most unfavorable environment were remarkably well-portrayed.  This smaller film could win the favor of the jury simply for its subject matter.  Julie agreed that was a possibility, but she hates it when a jury allows that to dictate their thinking.  

Neither of us had seen the final film due to be screened in a couple of hours, the Turkish film “The Wild Pear Tree” by former Palm d’Or winner Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and knew that was a strong possibility.  Ralph and I feared we wouldn’t be able to see it until after the awards ceremony, as it’s lone screening the next day was at 7:45, just as the awards ceremony would be concluding.  But we lucked out and were allowed into the press screening today when there were plenty of empty seats in the Bazin for this three-hour movie.  We were concerned that we may have been too sleep deprived to do it justice, and that it might have been better to hold off on it until the next day, but it was so well done that it was the only film today that I didn’t nod off in.  If nothing else, it ought to win the award for best script. 

It is a series of long conversations, some going on for ten or fifteen minutes, between a young man just out of college trying to get his novel published while hoping to get a job as a teacher, with a series of people over a few days until a jump ahead of several months to conclude the film.  He still lives at home.  His father teaches grade school and has a gambling addiction. He has no money, even trying to cadge money from his penniless son.  The son hates the town he lives in.  He has a perpetual scowl on his face. His conversations generally begin with an air of amiability, but degenerate into diatribes of bitterness, even with a local novelist he goes to for advice.  This didn’t have the profundity of Ceylan’s Palm d’Or winner “Winter Sleep,” but was still an exceptional film of considerable depth.  It is not a sure winner, but with no clear standouts this year, it will be under consideration.

The Italian film “Happy as Lazarro” might also have some supporters.  Ralph and I finally caught up with  it today after missing it earlier in the festival.  A perpetual smile of benevolence graces the face of Lazarro, a guileless young man who lives in the country and ventures off to the big city.  His purity generally wins him favor from those he encounters.  The film adeptly bridges on the surreal in its commentary on a world of craven selfishness.  

I managed a fourth Competition film today, leaving me with just one more to see tomorrow.  Vanessa Paradis gives a swashbuckling performance as the producer of third-rate gay porn in “Knife and Heart.”  Á knife-wielding killer is murdering people she has worked with eventually derailing her productions.  The police aren’t all that motivated to track the killer down so she follows up on the mysterious clue of a feather left at the murder sites.  This wacky film isn’t meant to be taken too seriously, nor will the jury.  The film begins with a gruesome murder and is the fourth film in Competition to end with a murder.  All this brutality is making the Japanese film “Shoplifters” of an offbeat family that has heart and consideration more and more palatable as the Palm d’Or.  If it wins, Ralph says it will be the first time in his seven years of attending the festival, going back to the “Tree of Life” year, that his choice will have won.  In the “Tree of Life” year he was rooting for Ceylan’s film “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.”

I inserted one of the Director’s Fortnight winners into my day—the best European film (though Gaspar Noé’s French film “climax” won the best overall award, the Italian film “Lucia’s Grace” about a surveyor who becomes haunted by the Virgin Mary trying to make her resist abiding by the wishes of a corrupt developer.  The developer argues that if he did things properly he’d be locked up for being corrupt, so he had no choice in this world of ours.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Cannes Day Ten

Sixty-one films in ten days so far for me and only one “Wow” moment—the three minutes of “Psycho Killer”in the Russian rock-and-roll film “Summer” from Day Three.  There have been better films but none that gave that rare off-the-charts jolt of exhilaratin that a superior film such as last year’s Palm d’Or “The Square” delivered.  There’s still a chance it could come tomorrow with the final film playing in Competition, “The Wild Pear Tree,” by Miri Bilge Ceylon, whose last film won the Palm d’Or.  For the first time in my years of coming to Cannes I don’t have a strong favorite at this point for the top award.

Both of today’s offerings had the possibility of being that masterpiece we’ve all been awaiting by a Cannes regular who has won awards before, though never the top prize.  The first was “Dogman” by Matteo Garrone.  He returns to a territory he knows wells—Italian mobsters.  The dog man of the film is a twerpy guy who runs a small  kennel in a rundown building on the outskirts of a city.  He provides coke and minor services for some small time thugs who don’t much respect him.  They somewhat belligerently toss him a couple of bracelets as his cut for being their driver for a heist.  He is upset that they brag they iced a dog in the house they just robbed, putting it in the freezer.  He returns to the house and lovelingly revives the dog.  One of the mobsters who forces him to do things he doesn’t want to do is fully out of control.  Some of his cohorts think he needs to be eliminated.  The movie has the ring of truth unfolding as a true tale, but lacks the punch of a transcendent film. 

Screen’s board of critics gave “Burning” by Lee Chang-Dong a 3.8, the highest rating of a film ever, exceeding  “Toni Erdmann” from two years ago.  But rarely does the highest rated film win the Palm d’Or.  Erdmann was actually totally ignored by George Miller’s jury.  “Burning’s” score came as a great surprise, as this vanillaish story of another guy searching for a woman he had just developed a crush on, as in yesterday’s “Under the Silver Lake,” failed to connect with either Ralph or I.  We expected three-stars, not fours, across the board.  It had no buzz from those who had seen its early screenings, as the final one of the day at ten pm wasn’t even a third full.  Usually one has to be in line almost an hour early to be sure of getting in.  

The woman who disappears is most charismatic and has two suitors.  One is a dopey guy she knew growing up in their small rural community and meets up again in the big city at her part-time job trying to entice customers into shops with special promotions dancing out front and giving away stuff.   The other guy is a very smooth rich guy with a Porsche who she met on a recent trip to Africa.  The dopey guy, who claims to be a writer, works on his father’s small farm outside the city, is truly in love with her.  The other guy may be just toying with her.  Much is left unstated in the minimalist script that is padded into 148 minutes. I could have left after an hour.  None of the characters are developed enough to care about.  A few clues are given as to their motives, but not with much certainty.  It leaves one with plenty to question, if any of it mattered.

The Un Certain Regard field has several strong contenders for its top prize—“Sofia,” “The Harvesters,” “Border” and “Girl”—so much so that it was almost a relief that today’s two films didn’t further muddle the field.  The German film “In My Room” turned into a post-apocalypse movie when with no explanation everyone has disappeared from the world save one guy.  He’s visiting his dying mother out in the countryside when he awakes one morning and cars are abandoned on the road and stores are empty.  It is as strange and inexplicable to those watching it as it is to him.  He contentedly goes  about living and becoming self-sufficient on a small farm.  He is eventually discovered by a good-looking woman who speaks English and they continue to exist without questioning anything or feeling as if they are under any threat.  This was a genuine ho-hum of a movie that the critics could embrace if they wanted for being so understated.

“The Gentle Indifference of the World” takes its title from Camus.  The two protagonists of this movie from Kazakhstan are both reading Camus.  One is a young woman of intelligence whose father has recently died and is put in the position of having to marry an ogre to pay off his debts.  The other is an unrefined admirer who is a genuinely good guy.  As a stand-alone this might have had some interest, but it doesn’t distinguish itself in any way amongst the many films it is up against.

My other two films for the day were both awardwinners from the Critics Week.  The films in this sidebar generally lack the polish of other invited films, but can shine with their heart and grittiness.  That was true of both “Woman at War” from Iceland and “Sir” from India.  Both center around a woman.  The woman in Iceland is an idealistic middle-aged music teacher who gets around on a bicycle with a large wicker basket on her handlebars.  She has large portraits of Gandhi and Mandela in her apartment.  She is an ardent environmentalist who is knocking down electrical towers to discourage a Chinese company that wishes to further develop power in Iceland with “suicidal” fossil fuels rather than with the more environmentally friendly geothermal power that has been the hallmark of Iceland.  The country is in a state of terror wondering who the sabateur could be.  A Latino touring cyclist equipped with Ortliev panniers and wearing a Che t-shirt is apprehended several times as a suspect.  The plot has other delightful wrinkles but not much supporting rhetoric in her quest to “stop the war against the earth.”

In “Sir” a young ambitious maid from rural India has just started working for a young man in Mumbai who has just called off his marriage because he is too devoted to his job in his family’s construction business to text his fiancé five times a day as he thinks she desires.  The maid is very sweet and obsequious. The guy recognizes her genuineness compared to the rest around him and takes an affection to her. When the woman who directed this first film introduced it, she said, “It is extremely important that this film be seen and talked about.”  That may be overstating it, but it does deserve to be seen.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Cannes Day Nine

I had the rare opportunity this morning to bequeath an Invitation I wasn’t going to use on someonet for the 8:30 screening of  “Under the Silver Lake.”  Instead, I was going to take an opportunity to see a screening of a “At War,” a Competition film I’d missed, and try for Silver Lake at a later screening in the day.  If one doesn’t use an Invitation he is given a demerit and faces the threat of no further Invitations.  Ralph neglected to use one several days ago when he showed up at the Debussy and discovered he’d left his pass back at our apartment a mile away.  He was so frustrated by his much dreaded oversight, he didn’t think to give his Invitation away, and received a reprimand for it not being scanned.  

There is always a gauntlet of irritating people in front of the Debussy and Palais holding up signs asking for Invitations.  I preferred to give mine to someone in the orderly ticketless line. There were at least fifty already by eight am.  I tried to give it to the person first in line but he was blocked by barriers and the security guard couldn’t understand what I was trying to do.  Others in line did, so I gave it to one of them to try to pass it up to the person who had been waiting the longest.  I know it got used, as I didn’t receive an alert that it hadn’t.

There were less than thirty people gathered to see “At War” at the smaller 500-seat Soixante theater when I arrived an hour early for its nine am screening.  This French film could have been called “On Strike,” but it was much more than another movie about factory workers going on strike over the threat of their plant that employed 1,100 workers being shut down.  Their protests escalate to genuine battle even overturning the car of the CEO of the company with him and his two security guards confined to  it.  The well-orchestrated dialogue of the very angry workers in virtual screaming matches with each other and management couldn’t have been more realistic.  It comes as fast and furious as it did in “Sextape.” This very French film raised pertinent present-day concerns.  The highly unexpected end gave it all the more power.  

The day’s other Competition film “Under the Silver Lake” by David Robert Mitchell dealt with a young man in Los Anglees who faces eviction from his apartment.   He doesn’t seem to be concerned as he pursues a woman from his apartment complex who unexpectedly moves out during the night just hours after he’s initiated what he expects to be a mating of some sort.  The film falls into a Lynchian noir universe of semi-absurdity that made it as irrelevant as “At War” was relevant.  Women continually tell him he smells.  He explains that their our skunks in his neighborhood. Regular flashes of the Hollywood sign on the hill, once in the distance beyond a bust of James Dean, imply this movie was supposed to be some moral tale about Tinsel Town.  This interminable 139 minuet film didn’t seem like it would ever end.

A most gripping movie about an unwed woman having a child in Morocco could not have been more realistic or powerful.  The young woman managed to keep her pregnancy a secret from her well-to-do family and even herself as she was in extreme “pregnancy denial,” as she knew if she were pregnant it would destroy her world.  This movie had all the intrigue and twists of an early Farhardi movie.  “Sofia” will be a strong candidate for “Un Certain Regard’s” best picture.  This movie puts another dent into the patriarchy.

The day’s other Un Certain Regard film, the Portuguese “The Dead and the Others,” dives into the culture of an isolated Brazilian tribe.  Rather than having much of a plot, it is an anthropological rendering of their ways with long scenes of older topless women singing and going about other activities.  It was hard to lose oneself in their world compared to the two other truly powerful films of the day.

I had hoped to see “Under the Silver Lake” immediately after “At War” in the Soixante, but I fell over 200 people short of getting in, as with the festival winding down there are few Market screenings to diverse the crowd.  Also, all the young staffers who had been working in Market booths can now go see movies as their duties wind down.  I talked to several who had seen fewer movies than I’ve seen in any one day.  Denied  the movie I planned to see, I got to see “Big Bang,” a consummate French film of affairs and seductions and sesssions with shrinks as three adult children cope with their aging grandmaother and 60-year father who’s still sleeping with secretaries and is about to become a father again.  The plot had strands galore, but it was a most credible effort, and a pleaaant diversion among the day’s heavier fare.  It included a suicide attempt by a wealthy entrepreneur who has everything except a satisfying relationship, just as did the Italian commercial film yesterday.

My day ended with a French lesson, relying on the French subtitles for an Argentinian film, “The Snatch Thief.”  The film opens with two guys on a motorcycle grabbing the purse of an elderly woman just after she makes an ATM withdrawal.  The woman clutches her purse and is dragged along for a block by the thieves.  She is hospitalized.  One of the thieves goes to the hospital to see how badly she was injured.  She has lost her memory.  He returns to where he had thrown away the contents of her purse to retrieve her keys and check out her apartment.  He decides to move in and pretend to be a friend of the old woman, turning into her caretaker when she is released from the hospital.  This original premise may not have been fully credible, but it made for a nice finish to the day and an affirmation that my French vocabulary is more extensive than I realized.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Cannes Day Eight

One can always see a strong representation of a film’s nationality at the screenings here.  Italian films draw Italians, Spanish films draw Spaniards and so on.  As I stood waiting in line for Spike Lee’s “Blackkklansman” and after I sat down in the theater I heard more English all about me than I’ve heard since leaving home.  It was at once comforting and annoying.  Hearing French and German and Chinese adds to the aura of being at Cannes, an extra aroma to savor, so all the English, particularly loud, self-serving American English, had a disconnect effect.  

Still, it was interesting to hear the younger folk thrilled to be at Cannes and older professionals talking the biz.  It was another layer to authenticating the Cannes experience.  All are lamenting the lack of stars this year.  A young woman, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan said she felt sorry for all the attention lavished stars.  She said Madonna's daughter Lola  was a class mate of hers at Ann Arbor and she left after two years never really fitting in.

Seeing an American film at Cannes, especially those with a Hollywood lineage, amongst all the other nationalities exposes their lack of subtlety (one could almost say intelligence) and heavy-handedmess, though that may be partially because their milieu is all too familiar.  As engrossing and entertaining as Lee’s film was, its manipulative ways undermines the  power it might have otherwise had. Lee adeptly tells the story of the first black officer in the Colorado Springs police force in 1979 bored by his rookie desk duty who manages to persuade the chief to let him work undercover.  He responds to a Ku Klux Klan recruitment ad, convincingly posing as a white supremicist when he calls the phone number.  When he is invited to come to a meeting he sends a white officer working on his detail, who happens to be Jewish, or so the movie portrays him.  

One fears many elements of the story have been embellished or altered to make it an even better yarn than it actually was, maintaing a high degree of tension.  There is much comedy to the story, especially with David Duke being a prominent character and being duped by the black officer.  But Lee resents the movie being called a comedy, saying he doesn’t do comedy.  Unlike many of the movies here that require a high degree of concentration, one could simply sit back and let Lee take one along with a fair amount of lecture points along the way.

Lars Von Trier was no less subtle than Lee in “The House That Jack Built” starring Matt Dillon as a serial killer.  This two-and-a-half hour movie is told in five parts—each involving a murder.  This venture into the morbid and macabre is nowhere as gruesome as it could have been.  Von Trier gives the audience plenty of laughs as Dillon recounts his career to an unseen Bruno Ganz character until the end.  Dillon plays a smooth talking architect/engineer who is most adept at banter before he surprises his victims with their death.  He likes to get himself into hairy situations, even with the police, and work his way out of them.  His first victim is Uma Thurmon, who flags him down to help her with a flat tire.  Little does she know when she tells him he look alike a serial killer.  If this had been in Competition, Dillon would have been a strong candidate for best actor.

I couldn’t fully appreciate “Asalo I and II” as I had to watch this Japanese Competition film with French subtitles.  It was a simple enough story of a young woman who falls in love with a guy in her town who disappears and then refalls in love two years later with a guy in Tokyo who is his spitting image, so much so she at first thinks he is playing with her refusing to acknowledge his new identity.  Nothing about this slight film seemed worthy of Compettion. 

We were handed 3D glasses for “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” from China.  This was another lackluster love story though more grandly shot than the Japanese film, looking more like a Competition film than Un Certain Regard.  It hardly needed to be in 3D, but evidently that is popular in China, which in the first quarter of this year passed the United States in ticket revenue, those becoming the best market in the world for cinema.  

The day’s other Un Certain Regard film, “Euforia” from Italy, was standard fare—a guy with a terminal disease being looked after by his wealthy gay brother.  There are very standard subplots that didn’t distinguish this film at all.  

I also ducked into the Brunel to see the first hour of Jacques Rivette’s 1965 masterpieces—“La Religieuse.”  The star, Anna Karinina, was on stage for its introduction.  It is nice to know that whenever one needs a jolt of high cinema there is the daily classic.  Tomorrow it is “The Bicycle Thief.” A couple days ago it was “The Apartment.”  One of those young eager American film students attending the festival standing in line for the Spike Lee movie said he had gotten in line four hours ahead of time to make sure he got into “2001,” probably not a bad expenditure of time.

Cannes Day Seven

For the first time Thierry Fremuax passed on film by the French provocateur Gaspar Noé.  With his “Climax” relegated to Director’s Fortnight and just three screenings, it wasnt going to be easy to get into.  The two showings in the Croisette Theater would be a virtual impossibility without a higher grade pass than mine, leaving the only chance when it came down to the Arcades, where their was some egalitarianism among the passes.  It was just a matter of how early to line up.  Ralph and I wandered by before eight pm, more than two-and-a+half hours before its screening.  There was one lone twenty something wandering around asking where the line for “Climax” was.  “You’re the first,” we told him.  We weren’t desperate enough to lineup just yet.  Ralph wanted to go for dinner and I wanted to see at least the first hour of a Serbian film a block away at the Olympia.  

It was hard to leave “The Load” after an hour of the yet to be completed trucker’s drive on the backroads of  war-torn Serbia to Belgrade during the 1999 NATO bobbing.  Bridges are out so the grizzled guy driving the route for the first time is at the mercy of others telling him the way.  A long-haired young hitchhiker offers to guide him, but he doesn’t want his company.  He doesn’t realize he’s hopped on to the back of the truck until later, so reluctantly invites him into the cab.  When they come to a mystery intersection, he doesn’t know the way.  They guess right for a spell.  They get further directions when they stop at a cafe, but a boy steals the cigarettes they’ve been smoking while they’re stopped.  The realism is deftly portrayed and so engrossing I didn’t realize an hour of it had already passed.  I was glad to see what I had though.

There were only a hundred or so preceding me at the Arcades, but that was gradually inflated during my 90 minute wait by the budgers that no one objected to put me.  If Ralph had been with me we might have been able to gang up on them.  No one else seems to mind.  Only once before did I witness an older lady shame a young woman budger to leave by questioning her morals.  Foruntately I was close enough to the entrance of the 250-seat theater not to be too concerned.  Ralph didn’t join the line until twenty minutes later, well behind me.  He was among the last five to get in.

Whether good or bad, we were glad to have the chance to see one of the most anticipated films of the Featival and what extremes Noé might go to this time.  Had he gone too far for Fremaux this time or just bungled it?  It began with a prolonged dance scene to loud pulsing music of a couple dozen young professionals, mostly non-white, rehearsing an intricate number full of chaotic gyrations.  Noé keeps a head-on static camera for a long spell then begins his signature swooping camera movements.  So far so good.  After more than half an hour the dancers take a break and go off in twosomes for quick exchanges of conversation, mostly about sex.  Then someone starts have hallucinations and realizes the sangria they are drinking has been laced with LSD.  This causes a mini-riot of them wondering who did.  Then genuine chaos breaks out.  It goes on for the rest of the film with the camera turning upside down and every which way.  It is less than mesmerizing.  Fremaux was right.  This was pretty much of a dud, but a dud with some merit showcasing Noé’s sometimes spectacular film sense.

We had no regrets whatsoever seeing it, even though it came at the expense of seeing the repeat screenings of the day’s second Competition film.  The first, “Shoplifters” by frequent Competition-contributor Hirokazu Kore-eda, was a winner.  Ralph, who worked in Tokyo for fifteen years, was particularly pleased with this culturally sensitive immersion into the life of an unmarried couple who take on an aging pensioner and young kids to help them survive without having to really work.  A young boy is the guy’s shoplifting accomplice.  He isn’t overly pleased when the guy good-heartedly brings home a five-year old girl one night who is cowering in a cubby like a rodent.  The women of the household have some sympathy for her but are concerned about having another mouth to feed.  The girl is clearly traumatized and responds like a withered flower given water to their kindness.  She begins accompany the guys on their outings.  They have to eventually be caught, but even that is portrayed in a gentle, respectful manner.  The police interrogating this ring of ne’er do wells are amazingly kindly.  This unsantized portrayal of people on the margins was more heartwarming than unsettling.  The woman who ends up,doing time for the man, as in the earlier Chinese movie, does not regret their wayward path, saying it was fun.

We fit in another Japanese film in the Market, “The Scythian Lamb,” that also portrayed The Japanese as a people with compassion and scruples.  Six ex-cons, two women and four men, all murderers, are sent to a small port city for their reintegration into society.  They are unknown to one another and also to those who give them jobs.  Only the town’s mayor and two others, one who is assigned to look after them, know their past.  The most conscientious underling who gets about on a bicycle is told to keep them all apart.  That doesn’t work, as they can recognize the tics of those who have done time.  Gradually more and more people learn of their past, some responding sympatheticly and others not so.  This may have been a lesser film, but it was still a  worthy dose of cinema.

We were also transported to South Africa with Un Certain Regards’ “Harvesters.”  This was a most assured and genuine peek into the concerns of a farming family trying to cling to their way of life under the threat of being murdered in the night, the pall that clouds all whites in South Africa.  Their main concern at present is integrating a drug addict sixteen year old boy into their family.  They believe it is their Christisn duty.  The boy thinks they are brainwashed and battles the demanding fathers and kindly older brother.   There is much more underlying this story than at first evident.  

The day was also highlighted by a tribute to Pierre Rissient before the screening of a film he directed in 1982-“Five and the Skin.”  Thierry Fremuax began the proceedings explaining what a titan of cinema he was, even describing the theater named for him at Telluride and acknowledging Tom Luddy, the man responsible,  sitting in the first row. Bertrand Tavernier, his pal of over fifty years, then spoke for several minutes, initially choked up.  Another colleague read a tribute from his seat in the second row.  While he was reading Fremaux gestured to Scott Foundas summoning him to the stage to read an email on his cell phone  from Jane Campion giving Rissient full credit for her career. Fremaux noticed Todd MCarthy, who did the documentary “Man of Cinema” on Rissient, standing off to the side and invited on stage.  Mc Carthy said he didn’t really have anything prepared,  but he still had much to add. He too was semi-choked up saying there was no one in the world with his depth of film knowledge and what a great loss he was.  He missed him greatly.  He said he spoke to him nearly every day in the past several weeks as he was watching a series of films from the ‘30s.  Rissient could remember details from each.  The tribute was reminiscent of the Roger Ebert tribute after his death in the large Chicago Theater on State Street across from the Siskel Center.  McCartthy, Foundas and Luddy flew in to speak.

As Fremaux started to introduce “Five and the Skin,” he was so overcome by his emotions that he couldn’t continue..  Luddy was among those who rose to give him a hug as he left the stage.  Then proceeded a several minute standing ovation. A French writer hanging out in Manila is the subject of Rissient’s film.  It a a poetic meditation on his life and the city and his love interests with an occasional reference to Fritz Lang, one of Rissient’s heroes who made a film in Manila shortly after WWII.  If Luddy puts this on Telluride’s schedule this fall, it will be very tempting to see this rare film once again. 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Cannes Day Six

At the half-way point of the festival it has almost become a tradition that all and sundry bemoan there hasn’t been a great film yet, nor even a film worthy of the Palm d’Or.  That may have been partially been put to  rest with this morning’s Competition film “Three Faces” by Iranian master Jafar Panahi, who is respected for his films and also for riling those in charge of his country and not being allowed out.  

More simple than seminal, this is an effortlessly executed film of wide ranging social commentary that might find some support for the Palm d’Or.  A well known Iranian actress and prominent director are driving to a small village in the mountains in search of a teenaged girl who texted the actress a video of her hanging herself in frustration of the repression she is suffering in her village, preventing her from going to college to pursue a career in acting. They’re not sure if the video is a hoax, but are concerned enough for the actress to abandon the film she is working on throwing the director of the film into a panic. 

When they reach the isolated village, the locals are thrilled to meet the famous actress and also hope the distinguished looking man accompanying her is a government official come to improve their lot.  Everyone spontaneously disappears when they learn they’ve come in search of this young girl, as she’s considered a hellion that no one can countenance.  A lone young girl takes them to her home, where her crazed brother throws a tirade over her wanting to leave the village to further her education.  The girl disappeared three days before and no one will admit to knowing her whereabouts.  They go to the cemetery and see a freshly dug grave.  They peer in and see an elderly woman laying there saying she is getting accustomed to her future home.  The film is a succession of such dainty morsels tinged with comedy and poignancy as they pursue their mission.

My day’s other Competition film, “Girls of the Sun,” lacked the depth or legitimacy of Panahi, as it tackled the subject of a band of Kurdish women participating in an offensive to regain their home town.  It may have been artfully shot, but it was a fanciful glorification primarily of the woman in charge of the battalion and a woman reporter courageously going into battle with them.  The director, Eva Husson, is preoccupied with closeups of the grim face of Golshifeh Farahani.  She berates the male commandeers for not being aggressive enough.  

The women of the jury used the Opening Night screening of the film as an opportunity to gather 82 women in the film industry, including Agnes Varda, representing the number of films that have been directed by women that have been selected to play in Competition in the 71-year history of the featival, compared to over 1,600 by men,  to march up the Red Carpet.  They weren’t necessarily calling the festival sexist, just the industry.  Rarely is Thierry Fremaux and his circle of advisers criticized for their selections. They are after the best films available.  Rarely does anything turn up in Director’s Fortnight or elsewhere more worthy  than what they have selected. This film though might have been given a little extra sway overlooking it’s hookey portrayal of its subject.  It was waterdowned  “Rambo.” It was the first of the nine films screened so far to receive zero stars from two of Screen’s panel.   The lone three star review got its aggregate up to a woeful one star.

I managed three Un Certain Regard films, one after another.  I wouldn’t have bothered with the Argentinian film “Murder Me, Monstor,” if I had known it was a horror film.  It looked good, but I had no interest in the search for the creature that was biting the heads off of people in a rural community.  The Indian film “Manto” told the true story of the controversial writer Saadat Hasan Manto during the tumultuous four year period during India’s Independence and partition.  He leaves Bombay for Pakistan where his writing is deemed obscene and is put on trial.  It gave a good history lesson of those times and the Hindu-Muslim conflict.

“Girl” goes all too deep in examining the subject of a Belgian teen-aged boy undergoing the process of a sex change.  It is a queasy experience for the boy and it is a queasy experience watching it.  He wants to become a ballerina.  Those he dances with don’t know his gender, but wonder why he never showers with them.  He tapes up his genitals so they won’t be seen. Those at his high school know, as one of his teachers puts it to a vote whether the girls are okay with him using their bathroom. At a sleepover with all the girls, they demand to see his genitals, one of many, many uncomfortable moments in the film.  The hormones he is taking aren’t giving him the breasts he wants.  He’d like to increase his dosage, but his single father and his doctor are opposed to it.  He has no real friends other than his six-year old sister.  With his long blond hair and continual feminine smile he does look like a girl,  though he is taller than all the girls he dances with.  He is in genuine anguish, as one might expect a person undergoing such a transition to be.  This was quite well done, but not a movie-going experience that many would want to endure.

I was also able to insert a  dopey film on the French Revolution, “A Violent Desire for Joy.”  Revolutionaries take over a rural convent, forcing the monks to exchange their habits for uniforms.  Whatever humor or commentary the makers of this film intended was utterly lost in this infantile exercise.  I regretted I had been turned away from the mid-afternoon Competition film in the Lumiere putting me on track for this rather than Wim Wender’s documentary on Pope Francis receiving its World Premiere before opening in the States later this week.  

The quote of the day from my reading of the trade papers came from Debra Granik, who directed the Oscar best picture nominated “Winter Bone.” She’s in Cannes with  “Leave No Trace” that debuted at Sundance and is playing in Director’s Fortnight: “On a good day directors are visual anthropologists and on a bad day they are voyeurs.”