Friends: Today I sacrificed my personal market indulgences to making a considerable dent in the Competition slate, knocking off four of its films, leaving me with eleven more to see. I had to forgo a Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage film starring Martin Sheen, a documentary on a European who was a star of Brazilian soccer, a documentary on the last German playboy, a film called "Finding Gandhi," and a couple of others that had piqued my interest..
I was wishing I had opted for the market as I sat through "Hanezu" by Japanese Competition regular Naomi Kawase and "Pater" one of the four French films in Competition, the usual quota. "Pater" by Alain Cavalier was just filling out that quota. It was more of an exercise than anything with the director and actor Vincent Lindon inhabiting a real and fictional world pontificating on politics, economics and shoes. "Hanezu" too was of the exercise and experiment category rather than an actual film following three withdrawn characters living out their lives in rural Japan preparing meals, eating and bicycling through the picturesque countryside. Both these films will disappear into obscurity.
But not the day's opening Palais feature, the latest from Finnish master Aki Kaurasmaki, the major-domo of droll, another director with a style unlike any other. "Le Havre" will rank among the best of his films. It is set in the French city of the same name. Hearing French coming out of the mouths of his usual cast of characters made this an especially charming curiosity. Generally when French speakers start talking there is no shutting them up. Kaurasmaki does not depart from his trademark style of single short sentences with long pregnant pauses separating them.
An elderly shoe shine man comes to the rescue of a young African boy who is an illegal immigrant the police are trying to track down. He enlists the help of his neighbors. Meanwhile his wife is in the hospital being treated for cancer. An inspector is hot on his tail. My friend Ralph had never seen a Kaurasmaki film and wasn't sure what to make of it. As I was explaining Kuaurasmaki to him after the film Julie came bounding up to us beaming. "Wasn't that great," she gushed.
The uninitiated often respond to his films as those unfamiliar with Van Gogh react to seeing a painting of his for the first time. They think they are amateurish, if not childish, and anyone could do that. Though the film didn't quite win Ralph over, it swept the Screen panel with no one giving it less than three stars. Two of the ten critics granted it four stars, elevating its average to 3.2, the highest of the festival so far. That doesn't mean it will win the Palm d'Or, but the jury ought to recognize it with something. The Hollywood Reporter review began with the observation that it is rare to have a film in Competition that is a sheer pleasure. This is the second this year after "The Artist."
My fourth Competition film of the day, "Michael," premiered several days ago. I was among the last to gain entrance to this auxiliary screening in a 63-seat theater thanks to my baseball cap, a Telluride Film Festival staff hat. The person representing the film first went through the line giving buyers priority. Then it was press. Next were representatives of film festivals. As one of the highest regarded film festivals in the world, Telluride worked like a charm.
Michael is a 35-year old working for a large insurance company. He is holding a ten-year old boy hostage in his house for sex. He is locked in his basement behind two barricaded doors. We are spared any of their sexual shenanigans except in a most understated way in this generally understated Austrian feature that managed to be quite engrossing and compelling. Michael is a nice guy who doesn't seem particularly repellent. He takes his hostage on outings and lets him come out of the basement for meals. The tension doesn't necessarily build, just the curiosity of how this will end.
A nearly five minute standing ovation for Jean-Paul Belmondo preceding the documentary "Belmondo, Itinerire..." and the introduction of a couple dozen of his fellow actors delayed the start of the movie for 45 minutes. It took a couple of minutes for the white-haired Belmondo to hobble on stage with a cane in one hand and a very tanned buxomest companion holding his other arm. But his smile was as radiant as ever.
The documentary was a high-pitched tribute to his career starting with "Breathless" in 1959. He was renowned for doing his own stunt work. There were quite a few scenes of his daring escapades often drawing applause from the audience as he dangled from a helicopter and clung to the top of speeding trains and airplanes. The film was laced with glowing comments from many of the actors who had joined him on stage before the screening. One said that Belmondo loved talking about boxing, diving and biking. If the movie had only included him talking about his love for The Tour de France and the titans of the peloton he knew this could have been the best film of the festival. As it was, there was little commentary from him. Instead there are occasional cuts to he and his graying son laying prone on a couch listening to replays of the interviews, an odd choice.
The delayed start set back the final screening of the night in the Debussy by over half an hour. On stage was anther 75-year old legend, Japanese manga pioneer Yoshihiro Tatsumi. This animated feature "Tatsumi" was a tribute to him directed by Eric Khoo of Singapore. It covered his entire career and was a superb representation of his art.
It was the sixth film of the day for Ralph too, his first six-film day, and the deepest immersion he's ever had into the world of cinema, his only other previous festival experience being at the four-day Telluride festival the past five years. He's growing stronger as the fest crosses its half-way point and is already talking about returning next year, unlike my friend Julie who accompanied me last year and reached her saturation point early on and made an early departure.