Friends: Today was a day of unfulfilled promises, but still a couple of finds. I had to wait a week for a second attempt on the lone bicycling film of the festival--"The Field of Stars." The cyclist, a 17-year old aspiring racer, is the last of the handful of characters and story lines to be established in this Spanish feature that takes place in a small coastal town. He appears twice early on, almost as an apparition, riding hard on his bicycle rising up out of a mountainous mist and one other time sitting in his bedroom with a signed rainbow-striped World Championship jersey of his hero Oscar Freire on his wall.
His riding turns the head of an older man who eventually becomes his mentor. Its not until his sister, who is a social worker at the local home for the elderly and who has a couple of suitors, greets him before he sets off on a prolonged training ride that the movie takes up its bicycle theme. We suddenly have an upbeat music sound track to go with close-ups and aerials of him riding a narrow road through the mountains--just what I was hoping for. After he starts training in earnest under the tutelage of a former racer he wins the local junior championship. But the cycling is just frosting on a movie with too many inconsequential subplots--the love story, the fight over an inheritance, evil developers. It was nice to see some genuine cycling, including video highlights of some of Freire's sprint victories, but this was mediocre fare that will never be heard of.
From the moment this year's slate of films was announced, the foremost question was could the Dardenne brothers deliver another of their powerful stories of every day characters under duress that have twice claimed the top prize here. From the start it appears that they have once again with "The Silence of Lorina." The drama is immediately compelling as an Albanian woman, who has paid a Belgian to be her husband so she can gain citizenship, is plotting with her handler to kill him so she can marry a Russian and collect 10,000 euros for a second marriage of convenience. Her husband is a junkie. It will be easy to give him an overdose. But he's trying to kick the habit and she suddenly feels some compassion for him and prefers to simply accuse him of beating her and divorcing him. Her handler does not approve. But she is a woman with her own mind and is determined to save him. After leaving rehab, her husband decides to buy a bicycle to help him stay off the heroin. "I'll ride all day," he says. "It'll give me something to do." I was thrilled to have a surprise bicycle movie on my hands. But we only see him ride off and never again on his bicycle. And then the movie fizzles out. It had a great set-up, but then dramatically falters. Not likely to be any awards for this effort, nor many Top Ten lists.
"24 City," a Chinese documentary about a huge factory that is being demolished to be replaced by an apartment complex, likely receive any awards from the jury. The eight talking heads of the film, five real and three fictional, are all former workers or people who had lived in the vicinity. This was a stretch to have been included in the Competition category. There are a few striking images, including workers streaming into the factory complex on their bicycles, but the interview subjects, other than the fictional ones, aren't very interesting.
The day's two Un Certain Regard films were both extreme doses of unrestrained, ultra-realistic violence and brutality and terror. The young protagonist of "The Bastards" from Mexico is so sinister looking that when he arrived earlier in the day at the Nice airport 30 miles away the customs officials refused to believe his story that he was an actor attending the festival. He was given three body searches and then a police escort to the festival to confirm that he was who he claimed to be. He is one of a group of Mexican immigrants (most likely illegal) hanging out across the street from a Home Depot in southern California waiting to be picked up for work. He is among six selected for a construction job digging a foundation for a house, and then later that evening he and a friend are off on another most unlikely job, though what it exactly is and who employed them is never revealed. It involves breaking into a woman's home. Michael Hanake would have approved.
The violence and mayhem is so realistic in "Johnny Mad Dog" of juvenile soldiers in Liberia running amok that a representative of Liberia assured the audience before the screening that it was save to visit his country. One wouldn't think so after seeing this. These boy soldiers are so crazed they terrorize one and all, even UN soldiers, and don't hesitate to kill, rape and plunder. This was remarkably well done.
"Grown Ups" would make a nice antidote to "The Bastards" and "Johnny Mad Dog." This pleasant, gentle French comedy of a divorced father and his 17-year old daughter vacationing in Sweden was nice, harmless entertainment. The father, a librarian, brought along his metal detector. He is so proud of it he wants to demonstrate its powers to the two women whose house they are staying at. He asks for one's earring and then tosses it in the weeds, and then can't find it. He's not too happy when he notices another vacationer with a metal detector identical to his own. The girl has a flirtation with a Swedish boy and the father too becomes enamored with the women they are staying with.
It was another seven film day though I certainly could have done without "The Listening Project," a documentary by some young American who travels the world asking people what they think about America. It was sheer drivel.