Sunday, May 22, 2005

Day 11

Friends: As I sat in the Debussy Theater waiting for the awards ceremony to begin this Saturday night the person sitting next to me spoke to me in English, one of the rare times that has happened during the festival. He wanted to know who I thought might win the Palm d'Or. I was hoping for "Hidden" but knowing how much juries like Hou Hsiao-Hsien, I feared it could be his "Three Times." My seatmate, a long-haired, 50-year old producer from London practically spat out, "I saw that film last night, it was terrible. I know all the critics loved it, but I haven't talked to anyone who liked it."

And the nine-person jury, headed by Serbian director Emir Kusturica, two-time winner of the Palm d'Or, wasn't under the spell of Hou Hsiao-Hsien either, siding with the masses. They totally ignored "Three Times," which easily could have won any of the seven awards they handed out for best actor, best actress, best director, best screenplay and for their three favorite films.

The Palm d'Or for best film went to Belgium's Dardennes brothers for "The Child" and second best to Jim Jarmush's "Broken Flowers", which I saw back-to-back one memorable morning. The Jury Price for the third best film went to the Chinese "Shanghai Dreams." Rather than winning best picture, Michael Haneke had to settle for best director for "Hidden," which won best picture from several other organizations giving out awards here.

As big a surprise as "Three Times" being shut out was Tommie Lee Jones film, "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," winning two awards for best screen play and best actor, violating the festival's unwritten policy of spreading the awards out among as many films as possible and not giving more than one to any film. Juror Salma Hayek was a big supporter of the film and evidently was a dominant force on the jury. Hanno Laso from the Isareli "Free
Zone" won best actress, a bit of a surprise as well. This portly actress, who bore a resemblance to juror French director Agnes Varda, was one of a trio of actresses, including Natalie Portman, featured in this film. Some on the jury wished to give the award to all three of them. Curiously, Laslo did not acknowledge the other two actresses in her acceptance speech. Jarmush acknowledged by name almost all twenty other directors in the competition category in his
acceptance speech and paid special reverence to Hou Hsiao-Hsien by calling "Mr."

Before the evening awards ceremony I played catch-up with the Un Certain Regard category, seeing four of its films I had missed during the festival. The first was "Marock" from Morroco. This film about the hedonist bourgeoisie youth of Morocco could just have easily taken place in Beverly Hills. It was quite a contrast to a powerful Moroccan film that played in the Critic's Week section last year about the hardships of the working class in Morocco barely able to eke out an existence. "Marock" was another that fit into the predominant theme this year of highly-
desirable, sex-charged teen-aged girls pursued by slightly older and more mature young men who do not meet the approval of their fathers. Last year I saw film after film about tormented, alienated young women, films that were much more real and relevant.

"The Death of Mister Lazaresqu" from Romania oozed realism. I had shied away from this film based on its running time, 2 hours and 34 minutes, about the longest of the festival, but after it won best picture from the Un Certain Regard jury, headed by "Sideways" director Alexander Payne, it became a must-see. The film covers the last six hours of Lazaresqu's life from the time he calls for an ambulance in his cramped, cluttered apartment to his death in the fourth of four hospitals he's shunted around to. Sixty-two year old Lazaresqu has been alone for eight years since his wife died and has turned into an a bit of an alcoholic. Everyone he encounters, his neighbors who come to his assistance, the ambulance staff, the nurses and doctors, all comment on the alcohol on his breath, taking him for a drunk and advising him to quit drinking. One doctor asks him, "Do you smoke too?" When he says, "Yes," the doctor snaps back, "Good,
keep it up." Such is the caustic tone that prevails throughout this exceptionally well done chronicle of the perils of health care in Romania, and probably just about anywhere.

"Get Up and Walk" from Africa won the prize for the best film by a young director from Payne's jury. Like "Moolade" last year, it adeptly portrays life in a small African village that is dominated by the male elders. A woman is accused of being a witch and the cause of death and troubles in the village and is exiled. Her daughter comes to her rescue and stands up to the superstitious tribal ways.

"Eli, Eli" from Japan has the potential of becoming a Midnight Movie with a cult following. It takes place in the year 2015 in a remote rural part of Japan. An epidemic, known as the Lemming Syndrom, is sweeping the world and has already killed millions. Someone in this town has accidentally discovered the virus can be halted by various screeching sounds. Like a sounds effect expert, he is recording and experimenting with all sorts of sounds. Some are a great test of the patience of those in the movie theater. Some were so irritating that it had people literally running out of the theater, a site I've never seen before. I've seen people in a rush to get out and refusing to look at the screen when perhaps the sex or violence got too much for them, but with such sounds as a bow across wire or a resounding guitar, people fled as if they were being chased by killer bees.

"Chromophobia" was the closing night film after the awards ceremony. It was an English production by Martha Fiennes starring brother Ralph and Penelope Cruz and Kristen Scott Thomas. There were more story lines in this two hour plus long tale of life in London than stripes on a zebra, and miraculously they don't totally strangle it. There is a wife who wants to augment her breasts, a stripper with cancer who a social worker is trying to help, an investment councilor handling the blind trust of a government minister who doesn't like it being blind, a journalist who betrays a friend for a story, a judge with an illegitimate child, a gay art collector who may be a pedophile and that's not even the half of it.

One day to go. Tomorrow I get to see the five Competition films I missed. Then it will be back to the bike.

Later, George

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