Friends: Ralph, Julie and I were one two and three in line well over an hour before the screening for "Tree of Life." We had to sweat it out as press turned away from the Palais screening flocked past us, all doing that double time Cannes shuffle to make sure they got in, but we were let in a good fifteen minutes before this much anticipated film was released to the world. Then we had to sweat it out that the film would live up to its monumental expectations. That would almost be impossible.
From the very start this meditation on the meaning of life and who knows what else could be accused of straining to be the greatest film of all time with a Biblical quote and then a hushed whispered voice over and film images of great majesty. I reminded myself to relax and let it develop, though knowing that it would be easy for critics with a negative bent to savage this as pretentious, pompous phooey, especially when Malick ventures off with a prolonged collage of shots of the universe and spewing lava and rushing water and dinosaurs on the loose reminiscent of the heroin collage in Gaspar Noe's much maligned "Enter the Void," a film too straining for greatness.
As the film gradually swept over me and settled into a semblance of a narrative largely dwelling on a family of three young boys growing up in the '50s and brief glimpses of what became of one of them, Sean Penn, in his glitzy Houston high-rise office, Malick won me over. This was High Art, a film that lovers of cinema will be happy to see again and again, not only to fully fathom it, but to appreciate it more and more.
Penn has just a bit part. Brad Pitt is the dominant figure of the film, a demanding father with another of the defiant, rebellious teens that have become a theme of this festival. His son hates him so much, wishing him dead at one point, that he has to resist the urge of knocking the jack out from a car that Pitt is under working on. The film ponders a wide range of issues, from a mother handling the death of a son to a father irked by the injustices of the world. The commentary ranges from the profound to the cynical. Pitt tells his son, "The world has gone to the dogs. Everyone is getting greedy and and its getting worse." Later he comments, "The world lives by trickery. One can't be too good to succeed in this world."
This film immediately becomes the front runner for the Palm d'Or, though the film does have its detractors. It only polled an average of 2.8 from the "Screen" panel, though four of its ten critics gave it four stars, better than any other film. I will be eager to see it again Sunday.
Bruno Dumont is another veteran award-winning film-maker along with Bela Tarr and the Dardennes and Malick and Ki-Duk and a few others with films at Cannes this year branded by a distinctive style that doesn't agree with everyone but has attracted an impassioned corps of devotees. And like the others, he has delivered another film that will make them happy, though not necessarily those beyond with "Hors Satan." It is another of his rural Flanders films with a grizzled male who is either saintly or sinister, coming to the aid of the wayward, raising the dead and having sex at the invitation of a young backpacker in a field who thinks he is cute. I have friends who think Dumont is repugnant and others who think he can do no wrong. This film will not change the regard of any of them.
With at least a dozen films in the market with a soccer theme to them, I had to see at least one. I had an opportunity finally today with "Lessons of a Dream," a commercial German film. It is the true story of the introduction of soccer to Germany in the 1870s by an English teacher at a private school. The teacher, played by German star Daniel Bruhl, is having difficulty getting the attention of his students. They're not all that happy about having to learn English, as they have no respect for the country. Germany has just conquered France and England is next. So Bruhl gets them out of the class room and introduces them to the team sport of soccer, quite a contrast to the individualism of the prime German sport at the time gymnastics. The authorities do not appreciate Bruhl's methods. And the boys resist at first, but they can't help but to be won over.
After the lack of history in yesterday's documentary on Bollywood, I was hoping "Sound of Heaven: The Story of Bal Gandharva," an Indian bio pic about the actor-singer-female impersonator from the early days of Indian cinema would give me the history I wanted. It did not. A distracting SCREENING COPY at the top of the frame for the entire movie helped make this a less than desirable film.
"The Look," a documentary on Charlotte Rampling took an artful approach to telling her story. Rather than plopping her down on a chair and interrogating, the young Italian woman director posed her in a variety of settings, from sitting in a stairwell to laying in bed with a couple of women friends pontificating more on her world view than on her career. There are a few clips from her films thrown in, but not in any particular order. None of the people she has conversations with are identified. It was a worthy attempt at transcending the typical documentary on someone's career, but not fully satisfying.
A group of Arabic and Christian women in a small village in an unnamed Arabic country are trying to save the village and its men from a distant war in "Where Do We Go Now?," a film that was actually a highly energetic and entertaining comedy complete with a fabulous song and dance number celebrating hashish as the women cook up a batch to sedate their men folk. A troupe of five blond Russian cabaret singers enliven things.