Friends: Rather than winding down, the festival continues to gain momentum, shaping up as one of the better in a while. The jury will have no shortage of films to award. The Palm d'Or will not be a consolation prize as last year or the "Fahrenheit 911" year.
Today was another exceptional feast of cinema with three noteworthy Competition films, a shining documentary, a pair of first rate Uncertain Regard offerings from South Korea and Romania and a recently restored classic 1950 Italian film.
The least satisfying of the films of my day, though for many others it would have been their favorite, was Pedro Almodovar's "The Skin I Live In." Almodovar proves himself once again as a plotmeister extraordinaire. Antonio Banderas plays one of the world's foremost plastic surgeons. He has performed two of the planet's face transplants, operations that thrilled him he tells an audience he is lecturing at the start of the film.
He performs another on a man he is holding hostage as an act of revenge for the man's rape his daughter, which led to her suicide. Before the transplant he has replaced his penis with a vagina and spends months transforming him into a woman. The face he elects to give him is that of his wife. He eventually falls in love with this idyllically beautiful new person, an utterly preposterous and outlandish transformation. There is not a shred of psychological legitimacy to this repellent farce. Yet those who love Almodovar have accorded this four star reviews.
Finally on Day Nine for the first time in this year's festival I gained entrance to the Palais, the latest ever in my eight years of attending Cannes, for the 11:30 a.m. screening of Takashi Miike's "Hara-Kirir Death of a Samurai." There was such minimal interest in this film I was even able to sit on the main floor rather than the balcony. I wasn't much interested myself, not being a fan of Miike's martial art films noted mostly for their stylized violence and multiple fight scenes. But he surprises his audience with this film holding off on the action until the very end of this most engaging tale of ritualized suicide among the samurais in the 1600s.
A young man in distress goes to an enclave of samurais and asks for permission to commit hari-kiri in their courtyard. He has heard that the samurais are known to have sympathy for such a person and will refuse his offer but come to his aid. One of the younger samurais is tired of these "suicide bluffs." Wishing to put an end to it he persuades the elder samurai not to have sympathy for this young man and force him to go through with it. The young man was so desperate to aid an ailing wife and baby that he had had to sell his sword and brought a fake bamboo sword within its sheaf never expecting to have to use it. The samurais force himself to disembowel himself with this flimsy wooden sword making it all the more agonizing. His father-in-law learns of this travesty and wishes to avenge it.
Miike's direction is so assured and the story so well told that even the concluding dramatic fight scene of one man against fifty seems convincing. It will be very hard for Robert DiNero not to give this movie of honor and ideals an award.
Ralph and I lucked into the end of the day press screening for the second time. This time it was tomorrow's Competition film "Drive," the only other American film in Competition besides "Tree of Life" by Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn. This was also an immensely pleasing, highly stylized film of honor and quiet strength. Ryan Gosling, oozing boatloads of charisma, brilliantly portrays a Hollywood stunt driver who also works as a mechanic in a garage and moonlights as the getaway driver for criminals. He is a loner and a man of few, few words.
He becomes enraptured with Carey Mulligan and her young son, who live on the same floor of his apartment building. When her boyfriend is released from prison, Gosling has to back off, but then comes to her rescue, assisting her boy friend in a robbery that he needs to pull off to pay off debts from prison. Things go disastrously awry. Gosling leaves a trail of bodies all over LA. This movie had a plot that would have made Quentin Tarantino proud, and Almodovar envious at its plausibility. Albert Brooks adds luster to the movie with his portrayal of a mob boss who wishes to sponsor Gosling as a race driver before all hell breaks loose. This movie is too slick and commercial for it to win an award in this exceptionally strong field this year, but it will be a film that will receive plenty of recognition in the months ahead. If the jury needs a compromise choice in the best actor category, Gosling would be a deserved winner.
The other great movie for the day was a 52-minute French documentary on "Clockwork Orange." Since Stanley Kubrick died in 1999 just after completing "Eyes Wide Shut" the film relied on his wife and his brother-in law and Malcolm MacDowell for much of its commentary. Kubrick gave few interviews, but the film manages to include a few of those. The film is largely on the making of "A Clockwork Orange" and its impact on cinema, but it comments on Kubrick's entire life and his nature. His wife said his two passions aside from making movies were reading and watching tennis on television. He had a projectionist on 24-hour call to play him any movie that might strike his fancy. Kubrick influenced legions of film-makers. The film allowed Gaspar Noe to represent them in heaping praise on Kubrick. Noe said he has a poster of "A Clockwork Orange" in his bedroom.
MacDowell had many telling anecdotes on his year with Kubrick making "Clockwork." They became great friends. He didn't appreciate though having his eyes held open for his brain-washing scene. He protested at first. A doctor was on the scene dropping water into his eyes every 20 seconds during the filming of the scene. He's had enough at one point and flung his arms to break free. He was sedated with pain-killers during the scene so he didn't know he tore his cornea until later that evening when the sedatives wore off. It was the worst pain he has ever felt.
He said singing "Singin' in the Rain" during the rape scene was his idea. The cast and Kubrick were sitting around trying to decide how they would film the scene when Kubrick asked MacDowell if he could dance. He said sure, and then came up with the song. Shortly after the film came out he was at a party in LA with Gene Kelly. When someone introduced them Kelly gave him a dirty look and walked away.
MacDowell will be in conversation tomorrow with the pre-eminent French critic Michel Ciment. If I manage to get in that will be another highlight of the festival. "Clockwork" was screened shortly after the documentary, but I fell forty people short of getting in.
"The Day He Arrives" was the second of two films in Un Certain Regard by South Korean directors stagnating unable to make another movie. The first by Kim Ki-Duk was a torrent of rage and malaise. This by Sangsoo Hong was whimsical neuroses that was almost charming.
"Loverboy" was more on-the-money gritty realism from Romania, this by Datalin Mitulecscu. It is the story of a young punk who seduces young women into a human sex trafficking network. He falls in love with one.
Having been turned away from "A Clockwork Orange" I filled in the time slot with Roberto Rossellini's 1950 masterpiece "La Macchina Ammazzacatuvi." His son and several of those involved with its restoration were on stage to introduce it, all speaking Italian. This was a comedic look at a small Italian coastal town and all the petty rivalries of its citizens. A trio of American tourists are part of the fun.