Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Day 7

Friends: When "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" opened with the blurred vision seen through the eyes of someone waking from a 20-day coma, totally paralyzed including the ability to speak, only able to blink, and begins an inner narrative peering out at the doctors and nurses trying to communicate with him, I kept a sharp lookout on the audience in the packed 2,400 seat Palais
theater anticipating the most walked out upon movie of the festival.

But this French feature quickly becomes stunningly captivating, keeping everyone glued to their seats. Mathieu Amalric's performance as the 43-year old stroke victim could easily win him the best actor award here, even though the bulk of his performance is spent laying in bed with the single facial expression of a lop-sided, contorted lip, peering about and blinking his lone healthy eye. The film is interspersed with flashbacks of his life as the editor of "Elle" magazine and father of two with a mistress. His therapist is exceptional too, teaching him to express himself by blinking when she speaks the letter of the word he wishes to express.

One of the first sentences he contrives is, "I want death," enraging his therapist. Though he never regains the ability to speak, he does regain the desire to live and eventually begins the arduous and remarkable effort of writing a book about his experience, blinking out each letter. The movie is based on the book of this true story.

A Mennonite father of six in northern Mexico having an affair is the unlikely subject of Carlos Reygadas "Silent Light." Reygades proves he can make a remarkable film even without graphic sex, as riled audiences and marked his two previous films "Japan" and "Battle in Heaven." Like those, this is another understated portrayal of a character with painful inner turmoil. The father treats his attraction to another woman like a disease and asks others, including his father, what he should do about it. Everyone remains even-tempered and sympathetic. When his father calls his affair "the work of the enemy," his son replies, "Talk to me like a father, not a preacher." He tells his father he has told his wife about it all from the very beginning. His mistress is equally as rational as one can be about such things. The film is also highlighted with a ravishing sun rise
opening and sunset close and vistas of the countryside.

Charles, Facets programmer, who has been my seatmate two or three times a day as we alternately save an aisle seat for each other for the all-important quick-getaway at a film's conclusion, warned me that he saw the largest mob of the festival before the two o'clock screening of Harmony Korine's much anticipated "Mr. Lonely." We were both planning on
attending the 10:30 pm screening, when Korine and the cast would be present. I left "Riding With the King" early to get in line by nine. I was among the first 15, but there were soon mobs gathered.

It was almost a relief to escape "Riding With the King," a most amateurish minimal-budget production, based on the true story of Elvis's step-brother as his bodyguard. He joined Elvis on tour as a 16-year and eventually learned karate and became one of his bodyguards. He was quite shocked when he boarded Elvis' private jet for the first time to see his personal doctor aboard. He was told not to question, when he asked what he was doing there. The movie doesn't shy at all from his drug use. Early on Elvis asks him to give him an injection before he's about to go on stage.

A Scottish castle inhabited by celebrity impersonators, including the Three Stooges, Charlie
, Marilyn Monroe, the Pope, Madonna, Sammie Davis Jr. and Michael Jackson, along with nuns jumping out of airplanes prodded by Werner Herzog over the jungles of Panama, promised great hilarity that could rival Korine's masterpiece "Gummo" from ten years ago.
The movie's opening number of a helmeted character in a bird suit on a mini-bike to the tune of Mr. Lonely brought resounding applause from the audience, as did two more early-on outrageous sequences that only Korine could have devised.

Danger signs appear, however, when the Michael Jackson character, while doing a routine in a Paris park with a cup for money in front of him, keeps repeating himself and doesn't approach the shocking weirdness that Korine is known for. Same with the next scene when he talks with his agent and then when he goes to perform at an old people's home.

When he meets a Marilyn Monroe impersonator who invites him to the Scottish enclave of impersonators, I expected all hell to break loose. That too was shockingly dull. Only a profane Abe Lincoln could enliven things at all. Otherwise the others were lackluster pale imitations of their characters. The enclave desperately need a Groucho Marx prancing about, wise-cracking with brothers Harpo, Zippo and Gummo, certainly GUMMO, in tow. Or a Hamony Korine
impersonator of the enfant terrible of ten years ago. Korine admits to having been in rehab and holed up in a Paris apartment, as well as wandering around the Amazon, these past years when he has been notably absent. Could he possibly have suffered a lobotomy somewhere along the way.

Although "Mr. Lonely" painfully fails to come close to "Gummo's" freshness and spontaneity, and can be considered a flop to a degree, it certainly isn't of the proportions of last year's "Southland Tales," the "Donnie Darko" follow-up. This doesn't need to be salvaged. It can be released as is and will find some support. People weren't exiting the theater in droves as they did for "Southland Tales." Most everyone stayed to the end and gave him a fairly prolonged applause. The film does have its moments, but its mostly a huge missed opportunity. The
producers have to be nervous about recouping their 8.2 million dollar investment.

I was able to squeeze in three other films for my first seven film day on the seventh day of this year's festival after being held to six the first six days. Eight could be possible on day eight if I didn't have to take time to send out these missives.

There are a dozen or more films on soccer here. I saw my first today, "The Power of the Game" by Michael Apted of "7 Up," "14 Up," "21 Up" fame. He used the excuse of wanting to make a documentary to gain entrance to last year's World Cup. He also ranges to Argentina and Senegal and South Africa, pursing soccer stories there. An Iranian woman journalist covering the World Cup is another of his subjects. This will please those craving anything soccer, but he doesn't
offer anything fresh or new.

If "Outlaw," about vigilantes seeking justice in London, ever gets released, the media will have a
heyday condemning its portrayal of men seeking justice through violence, when the legal system has failed them. With Bob Hoskins in the cast it might have a chance despite its senseless plot.

"Silent Light" ran 20 minutes longer than the 122 minute running time listed in the program, so I missed the first half hour of Canadian Guy Maddin's "Brand on the Brain," but that didn't much matter, as experiencing a Maddin film is more important than whatever plot it might have. As expected, this was an assault of images unlike any other on offer here--a black and white recreation of a silent era style film in twelve chapters with no dialog from the characters, just short, clipped subtitles. It is accompanied by fast-paced, foreboding music with Isabella Rossalni as an Interlocutor. It was relaxing to sit back and simply enjoy.

Later, George

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