Friends: The Austrian master Michael Haneke never fails to spice his movies with confrontational moments that have his audiences gripping their armrests in terror of what might happen next. He stays true to from in, "Hidden," his Competition entry about an upscale French family terrorized by someone who has them under surveillance.
One of those classic Haneke moments in this one is an altercation between a bicyclist and the lead character, Daniel Auteuil, the host of a TV talk show on books, who blindly steps out into the street between cars, nearly knocking over the bicyclist. Like the typical pedestrian, he starts haranguing the bicyclist, calling him a "dickhead", rather than apologizing for his negligence. This cyclist, a husky, young black man, rather than ignoring him and continuing on his way, harangues back. It is, after all, a Haneke movie. When Auteuil declines to back down, the cyclist steps chest to chest with him and, towering over him, asks him if he'd like to yell some more.
The scene has nothing to do with the plot other than to show how quick-tempered Auteuil can be and also to keep the audience on edge, Haneke's trademark. Unlike Egoyan's contrived thriller of yesterday, this is tight and gripping and not "just a movie" nor without comment on our times.
The second superb movie of the day was "Down in the Valley," the third feature by the American, David Jacobsen, whose last movie was "Dahmer." Edward Norton, brilliant as always, plays a down-on-his-luck cowboy from South Dakota working at a gas station in San Fernando Valley. He doesn't even own a car, and knows enough to tell motorists stuck in gridlock, "You don't belong in there, you belong out here," just one of his many homespun asides in the well-written script. Early on, as he is putting gas into the car of several teens heading to the beach, he is invited to join them by 18-year old Evan Rachel Wood. He is naive enough to ask his boss if he can have the rest of the day off. He can, but not if he wants to keep his job. He elects to go off with Wood, the first time he's ever been to the beach. Thus begins a romance her father, a law enforcement officer of some sort, is not happy about at all. This is not a movie that will flood the
multiplexes. With luck it will be a fall release, meaning it could get its North American premiere at Telluride. Norton would be a most worthy tributee. I'm already salivating over the clips that would accompany his tribute from his many outstanding performances, especially "The 25th Hour" and "American History X."
Between these two enervating cinematic experiences, I had a long day at the Critic's Weekly
theater. The three movies I saw there all had merit, but with the air conditioning malfunctioning in this, the least comfortable of the 50 or so festival venues, I was second-guessing myself on my choice of being there. "Vento di Terra" was the first film by a young Italian about a young man going nowhere in his life. After he starts getting involved in a life of crime, he rights himself by entering the army. He gets sent to Kosovo and comes down with a mystery disease that may be related to toxic wastes there. It was a well-intentioned film, but its cast of non-professionals weren't really up to the task.
I was only going to watch the first hour of the Japanese "A Stranger of Mine," and then hop over to the Director's Fortnight for a film on Charles Bukowski, but it showed enough potential to make me delay Bukowski for a day. I didn't realize it was a three part film, and that the first part was by far the best. A droll, nerdy, young businessman, who could have been a Jarmusch creation, is seated with an equally misfit young woman by chance at a restaurant. He ends up taking her home on his bike. They are nearly run down by a van who doesn't see them in the dark. If the film had stuck to their misadventures, I might be able to rave about it.
And then there was "Drum," a South African film about a magazine from the '50s that shed light on the inequities of the apartheid world. There was nothing startling or new on offer here.
I also saw the Hong Kong gangster film "Election" hoping that since it was deemed worthy of Competition that it might win me, though I'm not very partial to Asian gangster films. There was a little less blood and brutality than usual, but not enough reality or pizazz to make me glad I had seen it.
I was surprised to so easily come by an "Invitation" to Lars Van Trier's film "Manderlay"
playing Monday. I'm told it was a real challenge to get into "Dogville" when it played here a couple of years ago. The hardest ticket to come by this year is for "Battle in Heaven" by the Mexican director of "Japon." It beings with fellatio and is being called the Mexican "Brown Bunny." It plays tomorrow and I haven't been able to come by an "Invitation" yet.