Monday, May 21, 2007

Day 5

Friends: By 9:30 this morning, an hour into the compilation film "To Each His Own Cinema," I felt as if I'd had a full day of cinema already, so rich were the three minute shorts by master directors celebrating the 60th Anniversary of this festival. There were 33 segments, each a story unto itself, most taking place in or at a movie theater. There was sex, violence, tears, laughs, purse-snatching, singing and more than a few bicycles.

Chen Kaige's piece featured a quartet of Chinese boys astride bicycles powering a projector in the plaza of a small town showing a Chaplin film. The faster they pedaled the faster Chaplin shuffled about. A Japanese movie-goer suffers the worst fate one can experience at the cinema in Takesi Kitano's contribution. When he leaves the theater his bicycle has been stolen. And while in the theater twice the projector breaks down, once in the middle of a scene with a young man on a bicycle. Aki Kuaurasmaki's segment included the Lumiere brother's first film with people pouring out of a factory, some of them on bicycles. Hou Hsia-hsen included a few bicycles
parked outside a theater as well as a bicycle rickshaw going by. Walter Salles' show-stopper of two men singing a duet of what they imagine Cannes must be like was bookended by passing bicyclists. Wim Wenders included a passing bicycle wheel in close, close foreground at the start of his segment, which took place in Africa.

Lars Van Trier characteristically had the most shocking segment, Roman Polanski's was prurient, Loach's rife with social commentary and the Coen brothers was hilarious as a cowboy tries to decide whether to see "Climates" or "The Rules of the Game," two consummate art films that he couldn't hope to tolerate. It was a great start to the day. The only question was why weren't Tarantino or Jarmusch included, two Cannes regulars and favorites. And another question is, when will someone commission the world's great directors to do a similar project with the bicycle as its theme.

My other exhilarating movie for the day was "Brando," a two hour and 45 minute documentary that played on cable earlier this month. It was a privilege to see this on the big screen. An honor
role of actors and directors and producers spoke in awe of his incredible talent, going back to his
theatrical breakthrough on Broadway in the play "Truckline Cafe," a couple years before he truly
exploded on the scene with his stage performance in "A Steetcar Named Desire," overwhelming one and all. Old-timers, including Karl Malden and Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman, who knew him back then, spoke how in "Truckline" he absolutely stunned audiences as well as its cast with his performance, leaving them wounded and empty. Film historian David Thompson says no one in the history of cinema has had a string of such over-powering performances starting with "Streetcar" and including "On the Waterfront" and "The Wild One." The doc was liberally sprinkled with clips from his movies.

Also on the schedule here is the 14 hour Ken Burns documentary on WWII that isn't scheduled to play on PBS until September. I'll wait until Telluride to see some of that. The same with a documentary on Pierre Rissient by Todd McCarthy called "Man of Cinema: Pierre Rissient." Rissient is one of the linch pins of Telluride and had a theater named after him there last year.

Two of my day's feature films were from China--"Blind Mountain" and "You and Me." "Blind
" could have been as devastatingly unsettling as the Romanian abortion film, still standing head and shoulders above anything else that has played here."Blond Mountain" is the story of a recent college graduate who is kidnapped and sold as a wife off in isolated rural China. It was lushly photographed, but barely scratched the surface of the woman's horror, which included being raped by her husband as his parents hold her down. She tries to escape several times, but without much forethought or credibility. She continually gives letters to the postman to send to her parents without trying to be secretive about it at all. Whoever wrote this script didn't give it much thought. Every letter is, of course, intercepted by her husband. Finally she does get a letter out.

"You and Me," about the friendship between a woman college student and her 80-year old landlady, also had an short-sighted script and was a missed opportunity for something of significance. The two women spend more time yelling and screaming at each other than truly bonding and getting to know one another and sharing their pasts. This film has deservedly won awards for their performances.

"Psalms" was also burdened by a script that left much to be desired. A father disappears in Jerusalem leaving behind a wife and two sons, one a teen and another a pre-teen. It seems as if it is of his own devising when he drives his two sons to school and goes by the school, not dropping them off, then goes the wrong way down a one-way street and crashes. He sends his older son off to get help. When he returns, the father is gone. Later the younger son finds a cookie container full of cash in the kitchen cupboard, which they suspect he has withdrawn from the bank so his wife can collect money from the state.

"My Brother Is An Only Child" from Italy was also saddled with a half-baked script about two brothers of opposite political beliefs in a small town in the '60s and '70s. One is an aspiring fascist and the other a communist. It tries to be light-hearted and serious. When their sister is upset with a boyfriend, she asks her fascist brother to beat him up saying, "A fascist in the family is always handy, like a doctor."

Later, George

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