Friends: A mundane tussle between the village school teacher and the local midwife over a bicycle is one of the more dramatic scenes in Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon." The 31-year old school teacher has borrowed the bike to go visit his teen-aged fiancé in a nearby village and the midwife desperately needs it to go to the nearest police station, as she thinks she has discovered the mystery of who has been terrorizing the village. The tussle doesn't really amount too much, as can be said for the film itself.
The incidental acts of terrorism that have the villagers on edge are quite tepid compared to what one would expect from Haneke in this black and white period piece taking place just before WWI. Though evil lurks in many guises in this isolated village, there isn't the deeply ominous tone of doom that Haneke ordinarily inflicts upon his audience. The more disturbing scenes are men in authority (the local doctor and the local pastor) telling off women and children and a couple of brooding, semi-delinquent boys. Maybe having to wait an hour-and-a-half in line, an hour less than its running time, diminished my ability to fully appreciate it. I actually found myself nodding off from time-to-time, unheard of for a Haneke film.
I had the time to get in line early for Haneke as there weren't even half a dozen market screenings to choose from today to fill in the gaps between the major films. I slipped into "Someday Love Will Find You" in the market not realizing it was a compilation of shorts. After half an hour I abandoned, heading over to the 60th Anniversary Theater to make sure I got in to the Haneke film. Turns out I needn't have. Patrick McGavin said he showed up 15 minutes before the film was to start and got in.
But I had an "International Herald Tribune" to read for the first time. I made the great discovery that one of the hotels that puts out all the daily trade magazines each morning in its lobby also gives away free copies of the "Herald Tribune" and the "Financial Times." I will certainly take advantage of that in the years to come, though there is ordinarily so much to read about the festival I don't have time for news of the world. But now that the festival is winding down, "Variety" and "Screen" and "Hollywood Reporter" have stopped publishing. It was good to see that the swine flu is no longer front page news and there is no epidemic consuming the world.
The "Herald Tribune" had a story on Cannes focusing on Palestinian films, though it didn't mention "Amreeka." Elis Suleiman's Palestinian film played in Competition today that I will see tomorrow. But I did see the Palestinian "Ajami" this morning, the closing night film in Director's Fortnight. It was told in five chapters interweaving several stories of despair and hopelessness. Violence and intimidation rule in this world. Women are mercilessly ordered about. Struggling young men with little future resort to selling drugs. This was an unsettling, true-to-life portrayal of life in Palestine and Israel.
I'd purposely seen only one film in the Critic's Weekly sidebar during the festival, maximizing my chances that I wouldn't have seen tonight's screening of its winning film. But with only six in its competition it was still a risk. There were only two other screenings in its 10:30 pm time slot, a Sam Raimi horror film and a Mexican film with French subtitles at the Arcades Theater. Two of my previous five Cannes, I had already seen the Critic's Weekly award winner earlier in the week, but not this year. It was a French comedy, "Farewell Gary," with a meandering plot about a guy who has recently been released from prison. Not even a chuckle from me. The Chilean film in this category would have been a much more worthy choice.
Nor did I appreciate the French "Ashes and Blood" by French actress Fanny Ardent. This too had its criminal element. Two rival clans settle their differences with violence in this film largely shot on a country estate. Ardent was more interested in the composition of her shots and lingering on facial expressions than dialogue or plot. I made the wrong choice in seeing this special Out of Competition screening. I should have gone over to the Arcades for "Bad Boys Cell 425" a French/Polish documentary about prison life. The director actually gained permission to stay in the prison for 10 days with the inmates. With the glut of prison and ex-con movies at the festival, it would have been a fitting choice, but since the Arcades does not offer digital subtitles I could have been lost in this film. Plus the Arcades frequently doesn't start on time. It would have jeopardized my Critic's Weekly screening.
With huge gaps between films today for the first time in the festival, I was able to watch some of Gaspar Noe's press conference on the festival cable network after the screening of his film. The questioning was surprisingly restrained, nor was the press conference well-attended, indicating his film might be a dud. I hope to find out tomorrow. The questioning centered mostly on the spirituality of the film. Noe said he was an ardent atheist and that he didn't consider his film to be spiritual. He said he considered "2001," his favorite film, to be a truly spiritual film.
Sunday's schedule of films was released today and it was great news for me. There is no conflict between the films I'd like to see. The 20 Competition films will be scattered throughout five theaters. The Debussy with 1,000 seats, more than twice as large as any of the others, is the largest of the five theaters where the screenings will be held. What is programmed there is an indication of what is most in demand to be seen. Its three screenings are "Inglorious Basterds," "A Prophet" and "Fish Tank". The Awards Ceremony, taking place in the Palais, will be shown on its screen. I will be there rooting for "A Prophet."