Monday, May 24, 2010

Cannes, Day Twelve, The Awards

Friends: This year's Palm d'Or winner will no doubt set a record for the fewest number of people to see it once its released to the public. Only the most daring and least bottom-line caring of art houses will find the courage to program "Uncle Roonmie Who Can Recall His Past Lives," by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, a largely incoherent Thai film with a few striking images, but nothing otherwise that would appeal to anyone but the most cerebral of film-goers.

I won't criticize Tim Burton and his jury for making this their choice. I'll only say that like horror films, this is not a type of film that I care to watch. I appreciate subtlety in cinema, but not obfuscation. I would not recommend this film to anyone other than the most devoted of cinephiles, as I'd risk the friendship of anyone else I might encourage to see it.

This was by far the most challenging and original and incomprehensible of the 19 films in Competition. With not a stand-out among them, it was an easy choice for the jury to make. But what it lacks in clarity it makes up for in sincerity. There is no art-house pretension as so often permeates such exercises.

Among those the very reserved and humble young director thanked in his nervously read acceptance speech were "all the spirits and ghosts in Thailand who made it possible for me to here." He said he'd like to kiss everyone on the jury. Then the bald-headed young man added, "Mr. Burton, I really like your hairstyle."

Burton had to be continually prodded during the awards ceremony by an increasingly impatient and exasperated Kristin Scott Thomas, the mistress of the ceremony, that it was time for him to announce the next award. He seemed as frazzled as his hair.

When it came to the best actor and actress awards Burton and his eight fellow jurors violated the unwritten rule of giving awards to unknowns who the award would mean much more to than big-named stars who have a closet full of awards and hardly need another. In that they genuinely awarded the best performances--Juliette Binoche and Javier Bardem along with Elio Germano, the token outsider.

Binoche began her acceptance speech for her role in "Certified Copy" in English saying, "What a joy, what a joy, what a joy to work with you Abbas," looking out at Kiarostami, who she had been sitting beside. Then she lapsed into French. Someone sitting beside Kiarostami whispered a translation into his ear during her uncharacteristically long speech that included a mention of the jailed Iranian director Jafar Panahi.

Bardem shared the best actor award for his sterling performance in "Biutiful" with the less well known Italian Germano for his frenzied performance in "Our Life." Bardem was quite sincere in thanking quite a few, concluding with "mon amour" Penelope Cruz who was there with him. Germano was the only one of the award winners not to speak in either French or English.

The second and third place films were the French "Of Gods and Men" and the African film "A Screaming Man" from Chad, also commendable choices. So was the best screenplay going to "Poetry," a film that could have easily won best actress or best film or best director.

There always seems to be one controversial choice. This year it was the best director honors going to Mathieu Amalic for the French film "On Tour," a film universally pooh-poohed for being mundane and unfocused, perhaps the least-well directed film of the lot. Even Amalic seemed stunned to have received the award. After making his remarks in French he muttered, almost under his breath, "I didn't think I could direct."

Overlooked was Mike Leigh's crowd-pleasing "Another Year," the highest rated of the films by Screen magazine's panel of critics. So too were the other two English speaking entries, Ken Loach's "Route Irish" and Doug Limon's "Fair Game." Binoche's movie was largely in English though interspersed with a fair amount of French and Italian.

Before the awards ceremony I squeezed in four more movies, the two Competition entries I hadn't seen and two others that I liked so much I was happy to see a second time. I could have done without seeing "Outrage," Takeshi Kitano's latest Japanese gangster film for those who like violence and torture. Besides the usual cutting off of fingers there was a dental drilling scene and a decapitation and plenty of knifing and pummeling of bodies. This was a lesser effort of his, that not even his devotees much cared for, and received the lowest score by far from Screen's panel.

Unfortunately Ken Loach's "Route Irish" conflicted with the awards ceremony, so I only had time to see its first half, just as the tension was ratcheting up in this film about the death of an Irish contractor in Iraq. It looked like another solid effort from the former Palm d'Or winner.

I joined Patrick McGavin and a critic for "Variety" to enjoy Binoche's performance for a second time. The "Variety" critic had seen it before and wasn't impressed. He wanted to give it a second chance. Patrick was seeing it for the first time. Patrick was won over, but not the "Variety" critic.

I was able to appreciate aspects of the movie I had missed on my first viewing, including audience reactions. The Americans in the audience all laughed at the sneering comment of Binoche's English companion, "How could I forget, the French know everything about wine and restaurants." But the French got their revenge laugh when Binoche says a wine they are drinking is not as revolting as the English guy thinks, saying, "Its not as good as ours, but better than yours."

I also gained a heightened appreciation for "Of Men and Gods" upon my second viewing and noticed a few things that hadn't caught my attention earlier. One of those was a world map on the wall in a room the monks use to discuss whether to stay or leave Algeria. I had been so caught up in the movie the first time, I had overlooked a feature that I always enjoy feasting my eyes upon.

Maps on walls are not uncommon in movies. There was one in Loach's film and in a handful of others during the festival. Two different Manhattan apartments in "Happythankyoumoreplease" had maps that I was always straining to see, hoping the camera might focus on. Maps can distract me from the dialgoue, but can also lead to a pleasant revery if I need one.

The awards ceremony was followed by the Closing Night Film "The Tree" from Australian starring last year's best actress Charlotte Gainsbourg. This was the third film I had seen in the past two days of someone grieving over the loss of a loved one. Gainsbourg has just lost her husband. She is barely capable of looking after her four young children. A monstrous tree on their property begins overwhelming the house. She and her children and the house and a relationship she has just started are all falling apart. This was almost worthy of having been included in Competition.

I now have a load of movies to revel over in the days to come as I resume my bicycle travels. Despite what the critics said, there were plenty of fine films on offer. I saw eight films that I was very very happy to have seen, about the usual number--180 Degrees South, Chongqing Blues, Beyond the Summits, Another Year, Of Men and Gods, Certified Copy, Poetry and Fair Game. There were another ten that I was very glad to have seen--Big Fan, Tuesday After Christmas, Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel, Mao's Last Dinner, Bear Nation, A Screaming Man, How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster, Going Vertical, Two in the Wave, and The Robber. There were only a handful of the 74 I saw that were a waste of time.

Now its off to the Alps to scout out a few of this year's Tour climbs and Ville Etapes. There are eleven new stage cities in this year's Tour, more than usual. Then it will be on to Germany to visit the bicycle museum of the Tour de France Devil and also a bicycling museum outside of Amsterdam before the Tour starts in Rotterdam forty days from today. That will give me plenty of time to get my legs in shape.

Later, George


Matt said...

Thanks for all the reviews George!

I think Weerasethakul's films are an acquired taste but it seems Uncle Boonmee has received universal praise from the critics. That is saying something. I'm a fan of his work and can't wait to see it. More importantly Cannes [headed by Tim Burton no less] acknowledged the kind of film [in my opinion] that should win festivals. Nothing mainstream about it.

Variety writes: critics, cinephiles and programmers will be enraptured, as will viewers adventurous enough to surrender to the film's Buddhist rhythms, mythical underpinnings and mesmeric images.

I think it will get a distributor since his last three films did. But, yeah, they don't make a profit.

Stan said...

Thanks for the reports from Cannes. I live here in Japan and have always wondered why Takeshi Kitano is so popular in Europe. The few movies of his I have seen were terrible. He is considered a comedian in Japan, more slapstick than the cerebral kind. He is a regular on every Japanese variety show where he appears in costumes and hits people with a plastic hammer. I don't think they should let him off the plane in Europe.

Oh, I have two maps on my office walls!