Monday, May 23, 2011

Day Twelve/The Awards

Friends: Seeing "Tree of Life" a second time in less than a week, just hours before the awards ceremony, allowed me to truly recognize its towering magnitude. As much as I liked it the first time I saw it, it was impossible to fully appreciate it. A film like this comes along just once in a decade, or once in a generation. Only a supremely gifted film-maker could have made it. Being able to see its world premier here at Cannes will be one of my great film memories of all time. This is a movie that books will be written about, explaining its many, many nuances

It would have been a grave, grave injustice if the jury had failed to give it the Palm d'Or. It would have gone down in infamy for such an oversight. And yet, after Kaurasmaki's "Le Havre" debuted the day after "Tree of Life" everyone raced to embrace it and declare it as the favorite to win the Palm d'Or. It was certainly good, but not a film to compare in its ambitions and grandeur. Nor was any other film here even close, despite many, many worthy films. There were easily ten films this year that would have won the Palm d'Or if they had played last year. Yes, it was that great of a year. Truly sensational.

But it was no sure thing to win the Palm d'Or, as juries frequently have personal agendas to make a political statement of some sort or award a film by a little known director or cast that needs the attention of an award, rather than being true to the art of film. When Ralph and I entered the Debussy to watch the broadcast of the awards ceremony from the neighboring Palais, I noticed Pierre Rissient sitting in his customary back row seat.

Usually he's joined by Todd McCarthy and one or two others. But he was by himself, so we stopped by to say hello. He is an advisor to the Telluride festival and also the power behind the throne at Cannes, known as "Man of Cinema," the title of McCarthy's documentary on him several years ago. He has such respect that Telluride named one of their theaters after him--The Pierre. He suffered a severe ankle injury three years ago and is still hobbled by it and hasn't been to Telluride since. I told him we'd missed him at Telluride these past few years and hoped he'd make it to this year's festival in just a little more than three months. He said he doubted he would as he was still struggling.

I congratulated him on this years fine festival. He said he had nothing to do with it, that it was the directors who'd made all the fine films that deserved the thanks. "Any prediction on what's going to win the Palm d'Or?" I asked.

"I know of two possible scenarios, but I'll keep you in suspense," he said. So not even this premier voice of cinema could not flatly say that "Tree of Life" would or even should win. One never knows about juries.

Fortunately this year's jury was relatively free of personal prejudices other than giving the French film "Poliss" the jury award for the third best film, though it slotted down to fourth with two films, "The Kid With A Bike" and "Once Upon A Time in Anatolia," sharing the Grand Prix award for the second best film, a quite original way to give out an extra award with so many films deserving one this year. The jury could have been truly brazen and given five or six films the Grand Prix. Two films have shared the Jury Prize in years past, but I don't know of any films sharing the second place award. Doing so showed great respect to both the Dardenne brothers and Ceylon for their magnificent films and their stature as filmmakers.

French director Olivier Assasays on the jury was no doubt responsible for the "Poliss" award. He began as a film critic and is a quite articulate and passionate devotee of film and thoroughly connected to those working in French cinema. He certainly has many friends and collaborators involved with "Poliss." Getting to know him a bit at Telluride last year I would guess that he was the dominant voice on the jury being able to convince it to give "Poliss" an award.

It was one of two Competition films I did not see, but all reports were that as good as the film was, it was very uneven. It fell into that category of a small film that needed an award to bring it recognition, much more so than Kaurasmaki's film or Ramsey's or Sorrentino's or Miike's. If there were any doubters on the jury as to the greatness of Malick's film, as there were among Screen magazine's panel of critic's who only gave it a 2.8 average out of four and other critics, Assassayas would have been able to persuade them. It was great that the jury gave the best director to Nicolas Winding Refn for "Drive" too, a film that some might have thought was trivial despite its exceptional style and power.

Having seen Kirsten Dunst in the audience and not Tilda Swinton, the other favorite for the best actress award, I was greatly looking forward to her acceptance speech and what she would have to say about all the brouhaha over Von Trier's anti-Semitic remarks. I knew though that she didn't express herself too well. At the press conference following the screening of "Melancholia" she said she wanted to work with Von Trier because he is the only director who writes roles for women. He certainly writes exceptional roles for women, but he is hardly the only director who writes roles for women. So she wasn't capable of giving an impassioned defense of Von Trier for his off-handed Hitler and Israel comments. She only said she was glad Cannes didn't kick the film out of Competition after disinviting him to attend the awards ceremony.

Two of the past three years a Von Trier actress has won the best actress award as have others over the years. This jury did not wish to go against that trend or hold Von Trier's comments against Dunst. Swinton would have been a worthy winner, but she didn't offer up the nudity that Dunst did, and it seems that many women were revolted by her character's behaviour as a mother and that her performance of extreme non-stop anguish was just one note. I don't agree at all. I liked "We Need to Talk about Kevin" enough to watch it a second time on repeat Sunday, and it was just as gripping and powerful as that first viewing. But I have encountered women here who truly hate the movie. Many men like it though, including Ralph. It was one of both of our favorites.

I had the worst luck possible with the schedule of the repeat screenings of the twenty Competition films. There were three I had not seen. The films were repeated in sets of four with batches being shown at roughly 9 a.m, 11:30, 2, 5:30 and 8:00. The three films I hadn't seen, "Melancholia", "Poliss" and "Sleeping Beauty" all were shown at nine, an astronomically high coincidence. It was no difficulty choosing which one to see. Not being able to see the other two opened up the possibility of seeing others of my favorites though. Ralph and I showed up at 7:30 to be sure to get into "Melancholia." Curiously the 400 seat Soixante theater did not fill, though it did for the following screening of "Tree of Life."

Dunst in a wedding gown and her groom are stuck in the back seat of a limo struggling to negotiate a narrow road at the start of "Melancholia." They seem in bliss, but its not long before its revealed she is deeply troubled, possibly mentally ill. They are two hours late for the reception and are greeted with great anger by her sister, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, who won the best actress award for "The Antichrist" two years ago.

Before they enter her stately chateau she gazes up at the sky and is troubled at the site of an object in the heavens. "What's going on?" she asks her sister's husband, adding ,"You're an expert on the stars." "I wouldn't say that," he replies. "Oh yes you would," Gainsbourg venomously snarls at him. This scene sets the nasty tone of the movie and also that there is something in the heavens to be concerned about. It is a minor planet that is floating through the cosmos headed for the earth. It may or may not crash into it. After the disaster of the wedding reception with Dunst's mother, played by Charlotte Rampling sneering in front of all the gathered guests that she wouldn't wish marriage on anyone, and especially those close to her, and that Dunst ought to enjoy it while it lasts, the movie shifts into the impending disaster of a possible apocalypse.

Von Trier did not disappoint and Dunst did go though a range of enough torments to be a worthy award winner. Jean Dujardin's performance in "The Artist" had some torment but also great delight, justifiably earning him the best actor award. He was radiant on stage accepting the award, giving a quick little dance as he does in the movie. Malick unsurprisingly was not there to accept his award. The two people connected with the film blamed it on his notorious shyness. Nor was Joseph Cedar able to be on hand to accept his award for the best screenplay for "Footnote" that he directed. Both Ralph and I were happy to see this Israeli film recognized. We will be rooting for it to make it to Telluride. It is going to be very tough for the Telluride directors to decide what it would like to select from this abundant Cannes crop this year, since it tries to limit them to just a handful.

DiNero made a game effort to speak French commenting on his Cannes experience and announcing the awards, but stumbled horribly, mispronouncing the word for his companions on the jury, referring to them as mushrooms. But he smiled throughout. Ceylan stuck to English in accepting his award for "Once Upon A Time In Anatolia." "I didn't really expect this," he sincerely said. "I thought it would be too long for you," referring to the film's two-and-a-half hour running time, the longest of any of the Competition films and without all that much happening.

The quality of the films was reflected in the awards from some of the other organizations. The film critics FRIBESCI organization gave "Le Havre" by Kaurasmaki its top prize and the Ecumenical Council gave Sorrentiono's "This Must Be the Place" its top prize. Neither of these films received any awards from the Cannes jury, though they easily could have. But it would be impossible to argue with any of their picks, other that "Poliss."

I had plenty to reflect on after seeing seventy films these past twelve days while watching the closing night film "Sur La Plance" immediately following the awards ceremony. I could treat this frolic of a movie with Catherine Deneuve by Christophe Honore as if it were playing on a television set in my living room and I had a book on my lap that I could give equal attention to without losing track of the story of a mother and daughter over fifty years interspersed with periodic musical numbers. I had loads of memories to page through. This was standard French fare complete with a good-hearted prostitute and a menage a trois with two gay guys and a woman.

And now I'll go a couple of months without seeing a movie as I train for The Tour de France and then follow The Race, until I meet up in Paris with Ralph after The Tour. Ralph splits his time between Telluride and Paris. Getting to fully know Ralph has been one of the highlights of the festival. We had amazingly similar tastes in cinema and similar stamina in seeing as many as we could. Plus I learned that his accent isn't English, but rather Scottish. When I get to Paris I'll have several days before I fly back to Chicago. Paris is the ultimate city of cinema, so we'll be able to put together a grand private film festival of our choosing from its many small art houses.

Later, George


Matt said...

Thanks George. Great coverage. Amazing that you saw 70 movies and Tree of Life twice.

A press conference with the Cannes jury can be found at this link

Stuart said...

Thanks for all the reviews! I will try to catch a few of those in the cinemas.