Friday, May 25, 2007

Day 9

Friends: Russian master and 1997 Telluride tributee Alexander Sokurov warned that his Competition entry "Alexandra" was unlike anything he had ever done. Considering the vast majority of his work is unlike anything anyone else has ever done and is often a challenge to comprehend, it was frightening to imagine what he might be offering up this time--something
inside-out or upside down or in swirls or an unintelligible language.

Shockingly, it was a fully comprehensible and accessible film of universal appeal that leaps right
up there with "Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days" as a front-runner for the Palm d'Or. Its lead, opera legend Galina Vishnevskaya, as Alexandra, an elderly woman who goes to visit her officer grandson at his isolated outpost in Chechnya, becomes the favorite to win best actress honors.

The incongruity of a doddering grandmother among a small corps of weary, hardened soldiers at a rustic encampment of tents provides a captivating premise for a commentary on the insanity and inhumanity of armed conflict where "good guys collude with bad guys and saints become devils," as she says. As she looks after her grandson and wanders about the camp she makes simple grandmotherly observations, "It always smells of something here. I'm getting used to it,"
and comments of deep, sagely truth, "I'm sick of this military mentality. You destroy. When will you learn to rebuild?"

Though her grandson is a veteran soldier, who kills matter-of-factly as a job, there isn't a
single shot or act of violence in this film. He shares moments of astounding tenderness with his grandmother, hugging her as if she is the most valuable thing in the world, braiding her hair, speaking from the heart. This is a movie that speaks to our times and all times--a truly remarkable movie-going experience. One poignant scene follows another. It could go down as
one of the most powerful anti-war movies ever.

The day had a second truly momentous cinematic program--a nearly two-hour "Film Masterclass" conducted by Martin Scorcese and noted French film critic Michel Ciment in the thousand-seat Debussy Theater. Even before it started, the highly expectant audience went camera-crazy when Quentin Tarantino joined their ranks wearing a baggy black t-shirt with shorn sleeves. Scorcese was given a standing ovation when he was introduced. Festival director Thiery Fremaux acknowledged Tarantino, allowing the audience to applaud him as well.

Scorcese traced his career from a three-year old asthmatic who couldn't engage in sports or play much, finding fascination in the world of cinema growing up in a rough Italian New York neighborhood where his parents worked in the garment district. He reminisced about seeing "The Big Heat" as an 11-year old and viewing "East of Eden" about the same time multiple times trying to figure out how it succeeded in touching his emotions. His commentary was
interspersed with clips from six of his films--"Mean Streets," "Raging Bull," "After Hours," "Age of Innocence," "Casino" and "Kundan."

He revealed that Norman Mailer was responsible for the fight scenes in "Raging Bull." His original intent had been to make a boxing movie without any boxing. Mailer said he couldn't do that. Later Mailer told him he liked everything in the movie except the boxing scenes. Whoever was translating his remarks for those non-English speakers wearing headphones in the audience had to be very tongue-weary by the end of the session after trying to keep up with the fast-talking Scorcese. Ciment hardly need to ask him a question, as each he asked sent Scorcese off on a torrent of memories.

"You, the Living" by Swedish director Roy Andersson, whose "Songs from the Second Floor" won an award here a few years ago, was a lark of a movie whose host of characters might have been caffeinated escapees from a Kaurasmaki film. Many start out mopish and droll but explode into unexpected acts of zaniness in this series of hardly connected vignettes. A suicidal woman on a park bench suddenly breaks into song, a barber sheers a strip down the middle of the head of a customer who makes a disrespectful comment, a guy is sentenced to the electric chair by a trio of beer-guzzling judges for ruining a two hundred year old tea set when his table cloth pulling stunt fails, a naked guy on his back complains about his investments as his wife in a Viking helmet straddles him with her breasts bouncing about, a grade school teacher walks into class one morning and bursts into tears, stunning her students...

I was turned away from the animated Competition feature "Persepolis" at a market screening that was for buyers only. Both Charles and I passed on it yesterday, but the reviews were so great, we were among a hoard trying to see it today. It's about an Iranian girl who goes between Paris and Iran contrasting the cultures. The Iranian religious leaders are not happy about the film at all. Missing that I slipped into a market screening of the Iranian film "Rami." The Iranian film community has been upset that there hasn't been an Iranian film in Competition in several years. It is no wonder if this film is an indication of the present state of Iranian cinema, which at one point was at the forefront of world cinema.

"Whaledreamers," a very polished home movie documentary by an Englishman who befriends some Australian Aborigines and takes up their cause, was another waste of time. Julien Lennon is a backer of the film and was supposed to introduce it, but the man who explained his absence said he probably lost his pass and couldn't get into the theater.

"Liberation Day" gave a taste of rural Rwandan life. Two young men of the rival Tutsi and Hutu
tribes, that led to the massive genocide there, are traveling buddies. When they return to the home of one of them, the parents can't believe their son has struck up a friendship with someone of the rival tribe. They are having none of if and there is no hope for reconciliation. The film ends with a lengthy rap diatribe pleading for some humanity.

Three days to go, George

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