Friends: Today began with another Competition film that has been surrounded by controversy, though not as intense or as genuine as that around yesterday's Algerian film. The controversy over "Exodus: Burnt By the Sun 2," its running time and cost and faithfulness to history, seemed largely contrived by its distributors to bring it more attention than it would otherwise receive or deserve. The makers of this film have a huge investment, $55 million worth. It is the most expensive Russian film ever made. It has already opened in Russia and hasn't been particularly well-received.
This World War Two film has one extravagant battle scene after another--bridges and ships and buildings blown up and huge squadrons of tanks and squadrons of planes engaged in battle--but its portrayal of the horrors of war is largely cartoonish and idiotic. Part of the ploy to bring attention to the film was that in whittling it down from three hours, a topless scene had been cut. The distributors loudly refuted that claim emphasizing that the film did indeed have a topless scene.
It is actually the climatic scene of the movie. It could not possibly have been cut. A dying soldier in the battlefield demands of a nurse, "Show me your tits, I've never seen any." Though she is bundled up with snow and carnage all about, she strips to the waist as the camera slowly pans back to show acres and acres of rubble. It might have been a jaw-droppingly powerful scene had it ended a more meaningful film.
"The Frankenstein Project" by the Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo, who dazzled the festival a few years ago with "Joanna," easily the most audacious film of that year, retreats to the mundane material of a director making a film. He adds the possibly intriguing twist of the director casting his 17-year old son, who doesn't know the director is his father, and has no acting experience. When he auditions him with a woman who also has no acting experience and asks the woman to try to seduce him, he reacts with anger. After trying the scene a couple more times in a more subtle manner he accidentally kills her and then is on the run. This had potential, but falls flat.
The Thai Competition film "Uncle Boonmie Who Can Recall His Past Lives" gave me a great opportunity to reflect back on all the films I've seen as I zoned in and out of this venture into the otherworldly. A dying man is visited by a pair of relatives who have already gone to the other side. They know he is in distress. One tells him, "Heaven is over-rated. Nothing is there." Interspersed throughout the film are jaunts into the jungle, the exploration of a sparkling cave, swimming in a lagoon, all with minimal dialogue.
This film is one of those puzzles full of symbolism and lack of clarity designed as a challenge for audiences to figure out. The director of an English film festival took a seat in front of me and told the friend he sat down beside, "I'm seeing this for a second time, hoping I can understand it more than the first time."
With this trio of Competition films, I have now seen 17 of the 19 entries. I'll see the final two tomorrow on repeat Sunday. Unlike past years there is no clear favorite for the Palm d'Or. It could be anything. No one has a handle on this year's jury.
The spritely, husky-voiced French director Claire Dennis headed the four person Un Certain Regard jury. They were on stage in the Dubussy to announce their winner--"Hahaha" from South Korea. I had nearly seen it last night, but opted instead for the Uruguayan film, so I wasn't among the several hundred who walked out of the theater after the announcement, followed by the screening of the film. Thierry Fremaux actually took a vote from the 1036 people in the theater asking us if we wanted to see it or the second place film. Way more people hadn't seen it than had seen it.
Having been fresh in the jury's mind must have clinched its victory, as nothing genuinely stood out in the Un Certain Regard field of twenty plus films either. There was speculation that either of the Romanian films could win, especially "Aurora" by Crisit Puiu, who won Un Certain Regard several years ago with the highly acclaimed "Death of Mr. Lazarescu," but also speculation that since he and Romanian films had been winning so many awards, the jury would award something else. I was hoping for "Aurora" to win, as it had slipped past me earlier in the festival.
It had to have been more interesting than "Hahaha," a dialogue between two young goofy, slightly simple-minded and socially inept guys who frequently end their sentences with a nervous "hahaha." The film is largely flashbacks to the visit each had to the same city and affairs they had there. Nothing unique or exceptional about this film at all.
I also saw one of the Director Fortnight's award winners, "Lily Sometimes." Lily is an uninhibited, free-spirited young woman who "isn't all there," as her lawyer broth-in-law terms her schizophrenia. The mother she's been living with in a nice home in the country has just died. Her older sister hires a woman to look after her. That doesn't work out, so the older sister comes to live with her. She is very prim and proper. Her younger sister tries to loosen her up. Her husband grows impatient. At least this film had some energy and a few surprises.
My final film of the festival was "The Tiger Factory" from Malaysia, a Director's Fortnight entry receiving a second showing over at the Arcades. This final time slot has occasionally presented a surprisingly exceptional film. It was there that I saw "I Killed My Mother" last year, which I just learned from Patrick McGavin has finally gotten distribution and could be showing up in Chicago this summer.
"The Tiger Factory" was an eminently forgettable low-budget film shot in documentary style of a morose young woman working on a pig farm and then in a small restaurant. There was much genuine telling detail about life in both of those realms, but not material enough to merit a movie.