Monday, May 29, 2006

Day 12

Friends: Unlike the Oscar award ceremony where all the nominees are present, sweating it out, only the winners are called back to Cannes for its awards ceremony, so when Penelope Cruz and Pedro Almodovar came prancing up the red carpet for one last offering to the hoard of photographers and public gawkers, we knew who'd won the best actress award and perhaps best picture. If the fest organizers wanted to, they could sequester all the winners back stage and maintain the suspense, but this festival is as much about glitter and pageantry as anything, so with stars on hand, they had to be on prominent display.

My eye wasn't sharp enough to notice the other directors who were called back, as the cameras broadcasting the ceremony to those of us in the DeBussy Theater adjoining the Palias couldn't keep their lenses off Cruz and Almodovar, so we were able to enjoy some suspense.

I was relieved that Almodovar's picture didn't win anything more than best screenplay and that Cruz had to share her best acting award with the five other women actresses in "Volver," so more significant films could be awarded. The jury seemed intent on recognizing films dealing with relevant issues. Ken Loach's "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" took top honors, surprising just about everyone. Jury president Wong Kar Wei said it was a unanimous decision. Loach's film on the Irish battling their English occupiers in 1920 was the first film in Competition screened nearly two weeks ago and largely overlooked in awards speculation. It is a worthwhile film by a most noteworthy director, but it lacked the emotional impact of some of his other films dealing with equally important subjects. Still, Loach and his films deserve whatever recognition they receive.

The second place film, "Flanders" by Bruno Dumont, also has much contemporary significance, telling the story of French farm boys of present time being sent to an Arabic country as soldiers and what the experience does to them. I actually had the chance on this repeat Sunday, when all twenty Competition films are rescreened, to see this film a second time before the awards ceremony. It was a film I enjoyed, but not as much as I was hoping, so I wanted to see if perhaps a second viewing would increase my enjoyment. One of the first images of "Flanders," which did not register with me on my first viewing, was of a farm boy gazing long at a bruise on his forearm. Little does he, or we, know that it is a mere pin-prick of an injury compared to what awaits him when he goes off to war. That is but one of many incidental details that made my second viewing much richer than the first, though not necessarily more enjoyable.

This second look allowed me to more fully understand why I wasn't as awed or moved by this film as by his first two films. This lacks their coherence and seamless progression from incident to incident. Dumont knows where he wants to go, but he gets there haltingly. Time after time he abruptly puts his characters in situations that beg plausibility. There are several escapes that defy reality, only serving his story. We are suddenly thrust into a rape scene that is crucial to the film's story, but he doesn't lead us there convincingly. There is still much to like about "Flanders," but it does not measure up to his first two much-acclaimed films. Still I am happy it won an award.

I was happiest though with the best director award won by "Babel's" Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, something I surmised could happen back when I reported on it five day's ago. I would have been happier with a Palm d'Or, but this is equivalent to that. Hanake won best director rather than the Palm d'Or last year for "Cache," even though many called it not only last year's best film but the best film of the new century. Inarritu gave a very articulate and moving acceptance speech. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see him back as jury president in the near future. Babel is accessible and powerful enough and with a cast of stars that it could easily win the Oscar, and not for best foreign picture, but for the whole kit and caboodle.

The jury also acknowledged the French film "Days of Glory" about Algerian soldiers serving in the French army in WWII with a best actor award for its five lead Algerians. The five had a boisterous time accepting the award, one winner even rushing over to give juror Samuel L. Jackson a high-five in appreciation and joy. They ended their acceptance speech with a rousing song.

The Scottish film "Red Road" by first time director Andrea Arnold won the Prix du Jury award, for the third best film. My only disappointment was that its star did not receive best actress award. Arnold thanked her, "Wherever you are," as she did not accompany her back for the ceremony. Arnold said she wasn't sure where she was, as just five hours ago she herself was in London when she was called back for this ceremony.

The awards ceremony was followed by one last film, "Transylvania," by the French-Algerian director Tony Gatlin. With loads of gypsy song and dance this was a good concluding film. Its not all good times however, as the lead character, a wild young woman traveler who has come to Transylvania to track down her lover, a singer, is forthrightly rejected by him. She takes up with an older guy who lives out of his car as he travels around buying musical instruments.

They both have mysterious pasts. He asks her after they've been together several days, "Who are you?" "Imagine anything you'd like. I've done it all," she replies. She is prone to acts of spontaneity. As they pass an old man pushing his bike up a hill, she demands they stop and help him. When they can't fit his bike in their car, she rides it while he sits in the car. She dresses as a gypsy. The man comments, "I'm 75 and I never saw a gypsy on a bicycle."

The only other film I saw today that I hadn't previously viewed was Richard Linklater's " Fast Food Nation." Whatever impact this movie might have on its expose of the meat and fast food industry is undermined by its appalling naivete and simple-mindedness. Grey Kinnear plays a marketing executive for a fast food chain who is sent to investigate its packing plant, as there are reports that excrement is turning up in the meat paddies. After his tour of the plant he is impressed by its cleanliness. When he tells this to Kris Kristofferson, who plays a rancher who knows more, Kristofferson asks him if he saw the kill floor. Kinnear is so naive he doesn't even know what the kill floor is, and, of course, hadn't seen it. Kinnear is also told that the executive of his company has been cooking the books and padding his expense account and is sleeping with his secretary. Kinnear is most dismayed about his boss's infidelity, saying "Have you ever met Louise," as if he could less expect it of her than her boss.

Idealist college students are equally numbskulled, debating what they can do about the stockyards. They decide to liberate the cattle in a nearby stockyard awaiting slaughter. When they cut the fence and the cattle don't flee, Amber pleads with a cow, "Don't you want to be free?" Amber at least quits her job working at the local fast food hamburger chain, inspired by her uncle. When she tells her boss she is quitting she says, "I can't work her any more. Its just feels wrong."

I snuck in a second viewing of "The Family Friend" from Italy as well, again failing to wow me as I had been hoping. It suffered from the same malady as "Flanders." Sorrentino does not meticulously construct his story wringing its interest tighter and tighter frame by frame as he did in his previous film, the brilliant "Consequences of Love." There are too many stray unessential details and asides that distract from the heart of the story. I still very much like it, but it won't have me do cartwheels as I had hoped it would.

So my totals for the 12 days were 70 films. "Babel" was far and away my favorite, and the only sure film to make my top ten list for the year. Last year I left with seven such films. There are a handful that could possibly make it however--Red Road, Luxury Car, URO, Ten Canoes, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, The Violin, Flanders, The Family Friend, Days of Glory, The Boy on a Galloping Horse, The Bridge, Unknown.

Now its back to the bike and on to Italy and Croatia and then back for the Tour July 1.

Later, George

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