Friends: I took a risk ending the day with a 138-minute non-Bollywood Indian film, but it had been a long time since an Indian film had been invited to the festival, so it was sleep be damned and hopefully no nodding off in the theater. A 78-minute American film from the Director's Fortnight that had some rafting in it was playing at the same time was very very tempting, but if it was good, it would turn up stateside.
"Udaan" did have a couple of rousing musical interludes, songs with a montage, and also several running scenes that amped up the voltage, so there was little danger of this strong story of a demonic, extremely-demanding, single father abusing his two sons, a seventeen-year old just expelled from his boarding school and a six-year old, of putting me to sleep.
The father owns a small factory and wants his son to become an engineer. The son has aspirations of becoming a writer. When the seventeen-year old returns home, the father puts him to work in his factory during the mornings and makes him take science classes in the afternoon. He tells him, "If you let me down again, I'll slit your throat." He wakes him early every morning to go for a timed run with him concluding in a sprint. He can't keep up. His father calls his efforts disgraceful.
My day began with my only other non-documentary of the day, "Poetry," a Competition contender from South Korea. It will be a strong contender for one of the seven awards the jury doles out, including best actress for the stunningly heartfelt performance of Jung-Hee Yoon as a 65-year old grandmother with creeping Alzheimer's Disease who looks after her grandson and attends poetry classes.
The movie opens with the corpse of a young girl floating down the river. Director Chongdong Lee doesn't rush the story along. Its a while before it is revealed that the corpse is a fellow student of her grandson. She jumped off a bridge and left a suicide note saying she had been repeatedly raped by six boys at her school. One of those boys is the grandson. The school wishes to hush up the story. The fathers of the six boys get together along with the grandmother and decide to offer the mother of the girl some money, more than the grandmother can come up with, not to press charges or to go to the press with the story. "Poetry" weaves and maintains interest in several stories with the adeptness that Inarritu so severely lacked in "Biutiful."
Two of my day's films were variations on the documentary. "Howl" was a recreation of the 1955 obscenity trial seeking to ban Allen Ginsberg's poetry-book "Howl" published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Ferlinghetti is the one on trial for publishing it. Ginsberg did not attend the trial, but he is the central figure of the movie shown reciting the poem in fragments in a night club and also talking into a tape recorder recounting his life. The film includes photos of the era of Ginsberg and his fellow Beats Kerouac, Corso, Cassady, and more.
The Italian "Foccaccia Blues" was more documentary than feature, though it did have some superfluous acted out scenes trying to pad the length of this movie about the true story of a McDonald's in Altamura, Italy that went out of business due to a lack of interest. The movie tries to be an indictment of fast food, even accusing McDonald's of being an imperialist plot to spread American culture. The director goes to the corporate headquarters in Chicago, for no apparent reason other than to get a trip to America.
Unlike Michael Moore he isn't successful in finding anyone to harangue, or coming up with anyone who can indict McDonald's for being an evil plot. He can do no better than one young girl who worked at the McDonald's who complains she was told she had to smile all the time, even when sweeping. A handful of locals complain about how tasteless the food at McDonald's was. He does allow one woman screen time whose sons love McDonald's. They had their birthday parties there and whenever they go to Rome, McDonald's is the first place they want to visit. This was extremely half-baked, not even saying how long the McDonald's lasted or how many are in Italy or if any others had closed.
While Ginsberg and Kerouac were establishing a Beat generation in America, the French New Wave generation of film-makers was galvanizing on the other side of the Atlantic. A superb French documentary, "Two in the Wave," traces its origins through the friendship of its two prime proponents, Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut. The New Wave was launched with Truffaut's "400 Blows" at the 1959 Cannes film festival and cemented a year later with Godard's "Breathless," based on a Truffaut script. This film was thick with sensational interviews from the time when Godard was talking to the press.
The film concludes with the end of their friendship twenty years after it began as ardent young cinephiles in 1949, who regarded cinema not simply as a passion, but as a religion. The film excellently captures their fervor, making me want to watch movies all day, just as they did. I saw this film partially because I was unable to see Godard's latest provocation, "Socialism," playing in Un Certain Regard. Truffaut wouldn't have seen it either. He ended their friendship with a twenty-page letter in which he referred to Godard as "a piece of shit."
One of the traditions of Cannes is a "Dog d'Or" for the best portrayal of a canine in the festival. If there were an award for the best bicycling scene in a movie it would go to this documentary for the extended clip from the 1957 Truffaut short "The Brats" following a young woman on a lengthy bike ride through the countryside. When she leaves her bike, a pack of young boys cluster around its seat giving it a sniff.
"Black Diamond," a documentary about African soccer players, was my fourth visit to Africa during the festival. It argues that grooming Africans to play soccer in Europe has become a modern day form of slavery. The film focuses on camps for boys to hone their soccer skills and hopefully be discovered. It costs quite a bit of money for a boy to attend such a camp. And with there being little chance of one being good enough to go on to Europe, as is the dream, it is a monumental waste of money. The film goes to the Ivory Coast where a tour guide describes the slave trade of centuries past telling how Africans would be kidnapped and sold into slavery. This fell short of effectively arguing its case.
Next year's festival has already gotten a boost with news that fest favorite Lars Van Trier is set to start filming an end of the world film called "Melancholia" that will no doubt be the talk of Cannes 2011. The cast includes John Hurt, Kirsten Dunst, Kiefer Sutherland and Charlotte Rampling. Roger Ebert is also in the news. He's offering a reward for the return of his computer, left behind in a taxi. Its the computer he uses to speak with. Also lost was a black sweater.