Saturday, May 21, 2005

Day 10

Friends: The audiences this year have been significantly subdued, or better behaved, compared to last year. It wasn't uncommon last year to hear an outburst of applause indicating someone's approval of a political comment in a movie or a sudden boo from someone who was offended by an act or remark. It was a quaint little gesture, that I miss, showing how much people cared. Maybe it was the Michael Moore virus of boorish behavior that infected last year's fest, or, maybe, it's just because the films this year are essentially apolitical.

That good behavior came to an end, however, today in the final two competition screenings that started my day. The opening credits to the much-anticipated Taiwanese "Three Times" were entirely in Chinese. After several names individually filling the screen had been flashed, someone let loose a burst of applause, a little joke that brought laughter, as audiences are prone to applaud a name when that person has been introduced before the screening and is in attendance, though not this time. And then others got into the act, applauding the next few names that came up. This had to be an act tantamount to sacrilege in the eyes of those who consider the film's director, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, a virtual deity and whose films are defined by their subtlety and solemnity. This was a most inappropriate tone to set for this film. I was surprised the film's producers didn't demand the offenders immediately ejected and the screening to be recommenced.

"Three Times" is three separate stories of love featuring the same actor and actress taking place in 1911, 1966 and 2005. The story lines of each are straight forward enough that this is less tedious fare than Hou Hsiao-Hsien is known for, but there was more of the Cannes head bob going on around me, some of it with snoring, than any other film of the festival. His films are always the most walked out upon when they play at Chicago's Festival, as all too many people, not knowing better, pay attention to the critics, who consider whatever he does a masterpiece. His first segment, the one which takes place in 1966, had the most sensuous moment of this festival, a simple close-up of two hands slowly intertwining at the film's conclusion.

The start of Tommie Lee Jones directorial debut, "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," was likewise marred by several audience members flashing their cameras at the Cannes insignia that precedes each film. They were in extreme violation of Festival regulations, as all bags are searched before each screening looking for explosive devices and cameras. Someone got a big laugh from the audience when, between the opening promo and the start of the film, he shot a picture of the empty screen.

This commotion almost helped enhance the tone for this tale of Tommie Lee Jones taking the murdered body of a Mexican friend of his back to Mexico to be buried by horseback along with the border patrol official who murdered him with the the authorities in pursuit. When the competition schedule was announced there was considerable doubt expressed whether this was worthy of a competition slot and not just a cheap concession to get an American star to the festival as when Johnny Depp's sole directorial effort played in competition seven or eight years ago and has never been seen since. Jones proved himself to be worthy. It may even have
commercial possibilities despite the occasional subtitles.

With the festival winding down and just a minimum of choices I was forced into seeing the market screening of the mockumentary "All That I Need." This was a micro-budget American production about a pyramid scam. The cast includes a crazed used-car salesman, a judge, a priest, a former IRS agent who insists that paying taxes is voluntary, an investment banker, a cancer patient and a stripper. There might have even been a serial killer among them. This attempt at a movie was a very unsubtle study of greed and lust.

My much anticipated "Habana Blues," the first film by the Spaniard Benito Zembrano since his sensational debut "Solas" in 1999, was honored with the closing night slot for the "Un Certain Regard" category. It will also be the final film played in the outdoors theater on the beach tomorrow night at 9:30, implying that it is an audience-pleaser.

The film is about the struggles of young Cuban musicians and is full of adrenalin-rich musical numbers. The story has been told countless times of musicians everywhere. This has the wrinkle of the Cubans being virtual prisoners on their island. The two 28-year old leads are very charismatic and so is their music. Bicycles are ubiquitous in Cuba and in this movie as well.

With fewer choices of films I only managed five films this day, the first time in a week I've seen less than six movies. I saw a few frames of Scorcese's "The Last Waltz" at the outdoor theater on my way up to "Me and You and Everyone We Know," which had just been named the best film of the Critic's Week sidebar. This was no surprise, as this film had a buzz before it even got here, having played at Sundance. This debut feature by American Miranda July has been compared to "Slackers" with its meandering portrayal of a small cast of likeable and mostly wholesome characters who keep crossing paths with one another in a small town. Most of the interchanges are fairly sweet, but some would not have been out of place in Harmoni Korrine's "Gummo." Young filmmakers will be inspired by this low-budget production whose cast could all well have been friends of the director just helping her out in the effort to make a movie. This was a rare success story of such an effort.

Two days to go, but they will be a good two days, as all the films in Competition and in Un Certain Regard will be replayed, not all of which I have seen. I am most anxious to catch up with Cronenberg's "A History of Violence" and the Mexican "Battle in Heaven." I just have to hope neither of them wins the Palm d'Or, as then their screening will require formal attire, which I do not have, a fate that prevented me from seeing "Fahrenheit 911" last year when I delayed seeing it until the final Sunday. Haneke's "Hidden" still appears to be the front-runner, but Hou
Hsia-Hsien is always a threat, darling as he is of critics and film snobs and their brethren.

Later, George

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