Friends: For the second day in a row there was a film in Competition centered on abortion. This one was Russian, "The Banishment," the second film by Andrey Zvagintisay, whose previous film, "The Return," won top honors at Venice a couple years ago. When a woman tells her husband she's pregnant and not with his child, one expects the issue of abortion to be raised.
It doesn't happen for a couple of days, not until the husband and wife resume speaking to one another. The husband is involved with the mafia and doesn't consider his wife much more than chattel. He doesn't know what to do. He doesn't even care enough to ask his wife who the father is. If he had, he would have received an unexpected answer.
Rather than discussing the matter with his wife, he asks his brother, also involved with the mafia, what he ought to do. He says he has two options, kill her or forgive her, and he tells him there's a gun in an upstairs drawer. A couple days later his brother brings an abortionist to their house off in the isolation of the country. This is a film of prolonged silences and studied profiles and sweeping landscapes clocking in at two-and-a-half hours, all symptoms of Art House Pretension.
Abortion was also raised in "Magnus," the first film from Estonia invited to Cannes. A father tells his 18-year old son, who he is trying to convince to keep on living, that he and his mother initially considered abortion when she was pregnant with him. They were unmarried teens themselves and not ready for parenthood. They decided to marry, which lasted only a couple of years. The father tries to bond with his son after his latest suicide attempt by doing cocaine with him and taking him to a whorehouse. This not very necessary movie was said to be based on a true story and closes with a monologue from the father's character explaining his behavior.
"In Your Wake" from France was also about a father and son involved in activities outside the law. This father too is trying to reconnect with his son, this one a few years older than the one in "Magnus". They are both struggling to get by, the son as a dish-washer, as he trains to be a boxer, and the father as an owner of a small bar. The father has a plot to rob the safe of an associate who owes him money and runs an illegal business on the side. He enlists his son to case out the joint and to be the driver and lookout for the operation. The third member of the venture is somewhat the brains behind it, but he's not much brighter than they are. They
are, of course, doomed to failure in some manner or another. The cast all give adequate performances, but this wasn't a film that needed to be made either.
Continuing the theme for the day, the same can be said of "Love Songs," a French entry in the
Competition field by the director of "Dans Paris" that played at the New French Film Festival at Facets last December after debuting here a year ago. This had a wacky air to it with the characters breaking into song from time to time. The trivial plot was that of a love threesome (a straight guy, a straight woman, and a lesbian, all 20 somethings). The straight girl dies of a heart attack and the guy takes up with a guy in his despair.
There is no shortage of interest in horror films. The market screening for "Black Sheep" from New Zealand was packed. Its single line blurb in the program stated--"There are 40 million sheep in New Zealand...and they're pissed off." This was campy and goofy and has some beautiful scenery. The sheep go berserk, attacking any human in the vicinity. A pair of animal rightists, one of whom goes by the name Experience, have come to the farm to protest the genetic engineering being performed there. They are a hoot with their blabberings, some that even make sense. Further comic relief is provided by one of the two sons who grew up
on the farm. He happens to have returned the day the animal rightists make their invasion. He's been away for ten years, as he developed a phobia to the sheep. His worst fears are coming to fruition. When the sheep turn surly his older brother sneers at him, "That will give you something to talk to your therapist about." This actually has distribution and could be coming to the U.S.
I had one deadly serious film for the day--the 135-minute documentary "Terror's Advocate" by Barbet Schroeder on the French lawyer Jacques Verges, who has made a career of defending terrorists and the seemingly indefensible since the '60s starting with Algerian bombers. He's now about 80, but as lucid and egomaniacal as ever. Among his clients have been African despots, Serbian warlords, the terrorist Carlos and Barbie of the SS. It was he versus 39 French lawyers in the 1986 grand showcase trial of Barbie. He says that meant each of them was only worth one-fortieth of him. When Schroeder asked him if he would have defended Hitler his response was, "I'd even defend Bush."