Thursday, May 19, 2005

Day 8

Friends: Each day as I make a quick read of the scanty synopses provided by the trade papers of each of the day's 250 or so offerings in the market and the four competition sections, I see at least one movie on soccer and another on boxing, and others about serial killers, prostitutes, drug dealers, con men, dancers, a heist, but two-thirds of the way through the festival there has been just one lone mention of the bicycle in all those blurbs, and still not a single film with at least a bit part for a bicycle messenger.

The festival missed the opportunity to play a classic documentary on the Tour de France when it honored Louis Malle, acclaimed French director who gave us "My Dinner With Andre" with this being the tenth anniversary of his death. Instead of playing his Tour documentary they selected "Le Fue Follet" from 1963. But the Fest did acknowledge the Tour in one of the clips from the work of Jean Renoir it has been playing before some of the films in the Palais. A couple of soldiers mention the Tour de France in "The Grand Illusion" from 1937, considered to be one of the greatest films of all time.

I, at least, got a healthy dose of bicycles in the Chinese film "Grain in Ear." It takes place in a small Chinese city where about the only automotive traffic is police and guys looking for prostitutes. The lead character, a Korean-Chinese woman, is a food vendor who pedals most laboriously a tricycle with her wares on the back. Most of her clients stop by on bicycles. The story moves along about as slowly as she pedals her bike, but with enough insight into her pathos as a single mother and being an ethnic minority to make it a worthwhile portrait.

That was the first of four films this day I saw about young women and their struggles. The second was "One Night" by an Iranian actress directing for the first time. It follows the nocturnal wanderings of a young woman through one night. She is given car rides by three different men, each of whom give a lengthy commentary on the place of women in Iranian society. The technique was straight out of Kiarostami (former Palm d'Or winner), and so was the depth and sensitivity of the subject matter.

"Johanna" from Hungary, also by a first time director, and produced by master Bela Tarr, who was on stage before the screening, was a wildly original film. It was easily the wackiest, most outrageous film so far, an opera, that many will find offensive, of a young blond wisp of a woman who nearly dies in the hospital and is transformed into a miracle healer mounting various comatose men and healing them, eventually antagonizing the doctors and others. The final song blasphemes one and all with the lyrics "Infinite goodness was her
failure...better to be a murderer than a saint..."

My fourth woman character of the day was Odette, a long-legged, roller-skating, price-checker in a hypermarket in Portugal. The movie takes its title from her--"Odette." As long as she was roller-skating this movie was just fine, but that doesn't last too long. She so desperately wants to have a baby she hugs the baby clothes to her face when she makes price checks on them and asks to feel the bellies of pregnant women. Her desperation is so strong she develops a case of hysterical pregnancy, imagining that her boy friend, who dies soon after the movie starts, left her pregnant. Maybe if this had been operatic it could have been salvaged, as the story is almost as far out there as was Johanna's.

The competition film "Paint or Make Love" by the French Larrieu brothers and starring Daniel Auteuil from Palm d'Or front-runner "Hidden" and Sabino Azeman and Sergi Lopez also had a plot that had many wondering. The story moves gracefully forward developing a strong and genuine friendship between an older and a younger couple in rural France. The younger husband is blind and the mayor of the town. For better than half of the film it is a pleasure getting to know them and also gaining a genuine glimpse into the world of blindness, when suddenly the movie takes a dramatic turn that was as upsetting to the audience as the turn that "Lemming" took.

I also managed to squeeze in a couple of market documentaries. The first was the exalting French production of "Earth from Above," duplicating the stunning aerial photographs of natural and man-made wonders from the acclaimed photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand. I was sorry the shots of craters and forests and thousands of flamingos and marching camels and mosques and even a sprawling garbage dump went on for only 67 minutes.

Having seen two soccer movies so far, I finally gave in to one of the many boxing movies--the four-hour documentary "The Glory and the Passion, My Homage to the Boxing World," by an Italian woman who looked like she had never had a camera in her hand until this experience. The promotional material she handed out before the screening was almost as badly in need of editing as the film. I sat through an hour of interviews that went on and on. Someone with some editing experience might salvage it, as she herself had a refreshing spunk and unpretentiousness about her. Her interview with Budd Schulberg, Oscar-winning script writer for "On the Waterfront," who penned those immortal words, "I coulda been a contendah," was a nice touch.

Back to the movies, George

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