Friday, May 19, 2006

Day 2

Friends: It was a pleasure to begin the day with works from two accomplished directors after yesterday's batch from lesser talents. Walking up the aisle in the balcony I could see Charles, Facets programmer, with a coveted aisle seat (for quick get-aways) and an unoccupied seat beside him. It was a little after eight a.m., less than half an hour to screening time and the 2,245 seat Palais was quickly filling. Charles was complaining about having been kept at a party until three this morning, but he'd had 11 hours of sleep the night before after his long flight over, so he hoped to make it through a full day of films without too much nodding off.

It would have been hard to slip into the land of nod in Ken Loach's "The Wind That Shakes the Barley." From the very start of his latest offering of social realism, Loach maintains a boiling tension and does not relent, as he recounts the brutality the Irish and the English inflicted upon one another in the 1920s. Loach could not be more forthright in portraying the horror of the hostilities, as the Irish battled to rid themselves of their English oppressors. About two-thirds of the way into the film, an Irish leader tells his troops after they have ambushed and massacred a truck full of English soldiers, "If they bring their savagery over here we will meet it with a savagery of our own." The film is a non-stop series of vengeful acts. Loach offers little hope for the future of the human race. The film isn't fully satisfying, but Loach always merits viewing and commendation for the subjects he chooses.

Next up in the Palais was "Summer Palace" by China's Lou Ye, a film that had yet to be approved by China's censors. I was on nudge-alert for Charles, as word was already out that this two hour and twenty minute epic following several Chinese students from their college days in 1980 to 2000 ought be drastically cut. But we were both riveted. The allusions to Tiananmen Square shouldn't upset the Chinese censors too much, but the abundance of sex probably will. The Chinese students were no different than their western counterparts giving in to their lusts and being less than monogamous about it. Of the many sexual congresses, all were conventionally missionary until the students left school. Only early on do we see any real happiness and delight in their lives, once reflected as a pair of recent lovers joyfully ride their bikes alongside each other for a prolonged spell. But jealousy and general moroseness takes over their lives. One woman jumps off a building, another is hit head-on by a truck in the rain at night on her bicycle.

I was turned away from the Debussy, the second largest theater seating 1,066, for the minimalist Paraguayan film that Charles liked a lot, "Hamaca Paraguaya." I biked half a mile to the Star Theater for the French documentary "No Body Is Perfect," a market screening that was not admitting press. The title and write-up implied this would be about people who weren't satisfied with their bodies, and the extremes they went to improve them. There was a little of that, though not of a cosmetic surgery nature. The body alterations involved tattoos and piercings and mutilations, including one guy who had his member sliced open and another who had nipped the ends off several of his fingers and was willing to do another finger for the camera. "Come back tomorrow after six," he invited. "I go into shock when I do it. This ought to be filmed." We had to brace ourselves for the next day, but the filmmakers declined to go that far. The bulk of the film, though, was showing the goings-on at sex and swing clubs. The film was seven years in the making, ranging from Rio to Japan. I would have thought they could have found more interesting characters in their search.

The lone self-professed mockumentary in the schedule is the Australian "The Magician," about a hit man. This had even less luster than "No Body Is Perfect." The script was severely wanting. The director seemed to be winging it from start to finish with just a rough out line of a script.

"Zidane's Dream Team" was one of two documentaries in the Critic's Weekly on the great French soccer player, who led France to the World Cup championship eight years ago. This one focused on his short spell with his first professional team as a 15-year old--AS Cannes--and his ten teammates. The movie reunites him with his teammates, most of whom he hasn't seen in years. There was an awful lot of kissing on the cheeks between them, but no hugging. I doubt this would have played at the festival if it didn't have the Cannes connection. Still, it was nice to learn more about one of the all-time soccer greats and hear him reflect back on those years, including wishing he'd been a more conscientious student.

I ended my day with "Poison Friends" a French feature about students working on their theses in literature. All are quite serious and studious except the smartest of them all, one who is too smart for his own good, who regularly quotes Karl Kraus's, "People write because they're too weak not to write.". This film also played in the Critic's Weekly, which restricts itself to films by first or second time directors. This was a very fine effort, and surprisingly short on sexual content.

Later, George

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