Friends: By now anyone following the reviews of Cannes Competition fare or anyone who is aware of the book it was based on knows "We Need To Talk About Kevin" is the story of a mother dealing with a son who becomes a high school mass murderer and their extremely combative relationship, but going into the film I had no clue as to its subject matter. From the moment the film began it was clear this was a film of note that would earn Lynn Ramsey invitations to film festivals all over the world and year end award programs as well, and if not for her as director, most certainly for her star Tilda Swinton for her devastating performance of a mother coping with a son who has a deep-seated antagonism towards her from his earliest years, even before he can speak, or chooses to finally start speaking.
As a former photographer, Ramsey has a keen eye for stirring images. An early astonishing scene with Swinton doused by tomato sauce in a mob of people at a tomato festival in Spain promises that this is going to be a great film experience. Swinton too delivers a breathtakingly magnificent portrayal of a woman dealing with a great traumatic event. John C. Reilly as her husband is perfectly cast and contributes to the magnitude of this film, as do the three young actors who play the son over a period of twenty years. The film is told in flashback, slowly unraveling its mystery, though the mystery will be known to those who read the reviews. Knowing little about a film is one of the innumerable joys of attending a film festival. This is a film that justifies those who like to limit their daily intake of films to three or four at the most per day, to fully absorb and recover from each. If I were of such a mind, I might have taken the rest of the day off, though this is a film that might take an entire festival to recover from.
Despite its great impact, I didn't hesitate in the least to plunge into the next, "Project Nim," a documentary by a director who promised another fine film, James Marsh, who directed "Man On Wire," my favorite film at Cannes a few years ago and my favorite film for that year and maybe the decade. Nim is a chimp who was part of a Columbia University study in the l970s to determine if chimps could be taught sign language or speech. Nim was placed with a hippie family of seven children two weeks after he was born and was treated fully as a member of the family, the mother even breast feeding him.
After two years the chimp is placed in a more structured environment in his own private chateau with students who have daily one-on-one sessions with him trying to educate him. He learns some, but it only goes so far. As he matures he becomes more rambunctious. When he bites a young woman clear through her cheek, it is time to return him to the chimp center he came from in Oklahoma, where he is placed in a cage and used as a subject to test medicine. He is five years old at the time. The film is rich with archival footage of him and his caretakers and interviews with many of them. He is eventually rescued from the inhumane testing center. As with "Man On Wire," Marsh has discovered an extremely interesting topic and makes it into a highly entertaining film.
Werner Herzog's 3D documentary "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" had a lone screening in the market today. Since I left Chicago just before it opened, I knew this was a rare opportunity to see it in a theater and in 3D. There was a mob outside the 63-seat Lerins screening room when I arrived several minutes early. Luckily I was told my pass had precedence over many of those waiting and got one of the last seats in the theater.
This too was a masterful documentary by one of the best in the business complete with Herzog's trademark commentary. I nearly stopped by for the filming of this documentary last year as the cave wasn't too far out of my way on my ride to the festival, and was aware that Herzog was there, but I was delayed by nasty weather. The cave contains art going back over 30,000 years, twice as old as any other known cave art. It was discovered in 1994 and is limited largely just to researchers to protect it from deteriorating from the exhaled breath of too many people. Herzog was very fortunate to be given access to it.
I was equally looking forward to my next movie, an Israeli basketball movie, "Playoff," a true story about a legendary Israeli basketball coach who led Israel to the European championships in the late '70s and then became a national traitor by becoming the German national coach. Unfortunately, the distributor at the last second decided to restrict the screening to buyer's only, even though there were loads of seats available. There were only a couple of us non-buyers wanting to see the movie, but there was no relenting. The program always lists films that are for buyers only or that no press is allowed in or films my invitation only. There aren't too many of those, but I am careful to avoid them. It was doubly aggravating since this was playing at the distant Star Theater on Antibes, so it was a bit of a hike to get to another theater.
My backup was "33 Days," one of quite a few Iranian films in the market. It looked as if Iranian cinema might be making a comeback, but if this film was any reflection, it is in dire straits from all the government restrictions on filmmakers, and I can gladly x out any other Iranian film I might be tempted to see. This one-sided, heavy-handed portrayal of an Israeli-Lebanon skirmish was an absolute joke with no value whatsoever. The Israeli officers were utter buffoons. The Israeli major in charge had a gruesome scar on his face. He's been having an affair with a junior woman officer. He wants to end their relations, but she doesn't. She's angry enough with him to start siding with the Lebanese, saying how she respects their idealism and loyalty to one another. It was ironic I was forced to see it because of some autocratic Israeli.
When I joined the line for the opening night film in Un Certain Regard, "Restless" by Gus Van Sant, it was longer than any Debussy Theater line I had seen. It was 45 minutes until show time and I had the three dailies to read, Variety, Hollywood Reporter and Screen. They are bulging with studio advertising once again this year after being fairly thin the last couple of years, though I learned from Milos earlier in the day that they have cut the pay of their free lance reviewers to fifty pounds per review. The crowds too are much thicker than the last couple of years. I was turned away from the Palais this morning and had to see the Ramsey film in the back-up theater, something I've never had to do this early in the festival.
I didn't get to within a couple of hundred people of gaining entrance into the one thousand seat Debussy. According to the Todd McCarthy review, covering the festival for the Hollywood Reporter this year rather than Variety has he has done for years, I was lucky. He called this latest of Van Sant's study of troubled kids "banal, indulgent, agonizingly treacly and annoying." That was no great surprise. If the film had much merit it most certainly would have been in the Competition field what with Van Sant a former Palm d'Or winner with "Elephant" and other of his films having played in Competition.
Being turned away from "Restless" allowed me to see a Peruvian drug prison movie I was hoping to work into my schedule, "The City of Gardens," a true story about a young American surfer who is teaching English in Lima in 1980. He is picked up for overstaying his visa and then has a couple of kilos of cocaine planted on him. The prison authorities hope he'll give them ten thousand dollars to be let go. He refuses to even let his parents know about his arrest. He suffers considerable torture, and gets little assistance from the US embassy, but holds firm.
It was no challenge getting into the Debussy at 10:30 for the final screening of the night. So few people were interested in this Un Certain Regard entry, "Hard Labor" from Brazil, there was no need to open the balcony. This feature about the economic struggles of a young middle class husband and wife was certainly better than the Van Sant film that everyone was desperate to see; The husband has recently lost his job and goes months without being able to find another. His wife has just opened up a small grocery store and has one problem after another. The film concludes with a brilliant howling scene at a job seminar for male executives that could be one of the seminal moments of the festival.