Friends: The last two of the 22 films in Competition were screened today. Of the 19 I've seen, not a one was a dud. I'll get to see the three I missed tomorrow on repeat Sunday. Not all were universally embraced, but even those that were reviled by some had others calling them masterpieces, as with the Bela Tarr, Ulrich Seidl and Quentino Tarantino films. Half the films in Competition were by veteran, established directors, none of whom stumbled, each delivering another work in their distinctive styles that will at least please their devotees.
So it was with today's first Palais presentation, "Promise Me This," by Serbian Emir Kusturica, two-time Palm d'Or winner and former jury president. This rollicking, frenzied, sometimes farcical story of a teen-aged peasant who is sent to the city to find a wife for himself by his grandfather will delight all of Kusturika's fans and others as well. Kusturika's exuberant imagination shows no signs of diminishing. Guys are clobbered left and right by falling and flying and flung objects. A guy fired from a cannon is glimpsed throughout the duration of the movie above the mayhem below. When he lands he wants to know what's happened in the Italian soccer league. A variety of objects are hoisted and dropped by intricate sets of pulleys, including the peasant boy trying to impress the woman of his affections. Going to the city is a big deal for the boy. His grandfather warns him to be on guard as "towns are designed to lure people to buy things they don't need." That's about the extent of social commentary in this otherwise escapist entertainment fare. This was a good movie for the sleep-deprived to wake up to.
"The Mourning Forest" from Japan put us back on the "film as art" track. Panoramic and aerial shots of lush green forests and precisely trimmed rows of hedges that made for good hiding complemented the story of an elderly Japanese man approaching death and his relationship with a young woman. They go off into the forest for a couple day trek that has moments sweet and poignant. A second Japanese film "Dai Nipponjin" was less serious with godzilla-sized characters intermittently battling it out, toppling buildings and grabbing planes in flight, when the story line takes a break from following and interviewing in documentary style a long-haired guy who leads a fairly dull life.
The final screening in the Uncertain Regard category was the Romanian film "California Dreaming" that later that evening was named the best picture in this category of 23 films. If "Four Weeks, Three Months and Two Days" wins tomorrow night in the Competition category, it will make it a clean sweep for Romania. A platoon of ten or so U.S. Marines is stranded in a small Romanian town when the railroad station master won't let their train proceed without the proper papers. They are transporting communications equipment for NATO operation in Serbia. The film takes place when Bill Clinton is still in office. The hard-nosed station master says even if Bill Clinton himself showed up at the station he wouldn't release the train without the papers.
All sorts of pressure is brought upon him, but he stands fast. He harbors a grudge against Americans for their failure to come to the town's rescue at the end of WWII. He's been waiting for their arrival ever since. He's one of the few townspeople who speaks English and is well-versed in world affairs. He asks the marine in charge, "What's with Bill Clinton letting Monica suck his dick in the White House." Meanwhile, all the young women in the town are throwing themselves at the marines. The young men of the town don't appreciate the shenanigans at all. The town mayor throws a party in honor of the marines with an Elvis impersonator. The women seem even hornier than the marines. The Marines are commanded by a block-headed brutish sort who is inclined to intimidation to get his way. One of his young subordinates regularly has to intercede, insisting he be more diplomatic in his approach. The young director of the film, Christian Nemescu, died in a car accident shortly after the completion of the film, cutting short a most promising career.
There was a great mob outside the Arcades Theater an hour before the final screening of the festival before Repeat Sunday to see Greg Araki's "Smiley Face." The buzz on this Director's Fortnight film wasn't the reason for the crowd, just that it was the last and only film playing at the end of the day. This over-the-top portrayal of a pothead was quite a contrast to Araki's last film "Mysterous Skin." Anna Faris is stuck on a Ferris wheel at the start of the movie. She begins a monologue that flashes back to the start of her day. She has an audition to get to and also has to pay her electrical bill or else her electricity will be cut off.
She begins her day stoned and only gets worse. She is so pathetically self-destructive it is almost painful to watch. Her agent calls her several times to remind her to get to her audition. She is so desperate for money after burning up an ounce of pot she had purchased that morning from her dealer while trying to make some cupcakes, she tries to sell a spare packet of dope to the 50-year old woman hosting the audition. The woman is so appalled she immediately calls the police and then her agent. Her desperation to come up with some money to at least pay off her electrical bill and to give something to her drug dealer, she is willing to go out with a nerdy friend of her roommate so she can ask him for money. More crazy antics follow including coming into possession of an original copy of The Communist Manifesto. There was hardly a laugh from the audience, though the program called it an uproariously funny comedy.