Sunday, May 27, 2012

Cannes Day Ten

Today's matching set of films were two films  in Competition that were a series of episodes rather than straight forward narratives--a sublime Mexican film "Post Tennebras Lux" from Carlos Reygadas and the rather ridiculous French entry "Holy Motors" by Leos Carax.

One of the many characters in the Reygadas film asks "Will Mexico ever win the World Cup."  If he had asked the question, "Will a Mexican film ever win the Palm d'Or?," this film could be the answer.  Reygadas came close with his last film "Silent Light," losing out to "Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days."  "Post Tennebras Lux" is easily the most ambitious and original of the Competition films screened so far and will be hard to top.  From the very opening scene with a little girl running through a field of cows, this is a film of wondrous images and poignant slices of life, each segment dealing with a concern that weighs upon someone or is of importance to them. The segments include an AA meeting in a shack, a sex club in a high-tech setting, trees falling, dogs fighting, prep school boys playing rugby.  Its lack of narrative flow drew boos, Ralph said, at the press screening in the Palais, but there were none from my audience.

An aging actor drives around Paris in a stretch white limo putting on various costumes complete with facial masks and then slipping out into public to put on an outrageous performance in "Holy Motors," a hallucination of a movie.   He dresses in a vinyl suit with luminous white bulbs and performs a crazed dance. He joins up with a troop of accordionists in another segment.  In another he runs through a cemetery like a deranged centaur eating flowers and biting off the hand of a woman interrupting a photo-shoot. The photographer likes his beastly look and recruits him for his photo-shoot, but he ruins it by running off with the model.  It was sensely bizarre.

My day also included a matching set of Un Certain Regard films, both most wrenching, anxiety-ridden portrayals of characters in deep shit, not unlike the kindergarten teacher and student yesterday in the  Danish and Mexican films.  After seeing them back-to-back I was almost ready to call it a day.   "Our Children" opens with a woman in a hospital bed asking if the corpses of her four young children can be sent to Morocco.  The conclusion of this film is no secret, a mother so overwhelmed by her life, she kills her four young children.  She is transformed from a young woman very much in love, happy to be given a wedding proposition, to a slave of a wife.    Her husband is Moroccan and she is Belgian.  They live in Belgium.

A car salesman with a conscience is caught up in horrible mess when he flees the scene of a hit-and-run accident that leaves the victim in critical condition in the French film "3 Worlds".  He makes the idiotic decision to visit his victim in the hospital.  He is in a coma.  A woman who witnessed the accident, but didn't get his license number is at the hospital at the same time and finds his visit strange so tails him and guesses who he is.  She confronts him in his office at the car dealership where he has just been promoted to run by his soon-to-be father-in-law.  The plot gets more and more complicated with moral dilemmas left and right, but they all are credibly developed.   This was surprisingly plausible and most gripping.  It was another movie about a character caught in a predicament that one wouldn't wish on anyone except his worst enemy.

Colombian street youths in "La Playa DC"  are also caught up in lives of desperation.  This was a most realistic portrayal of their lives focusing on three brothers.  One has just returned to Colombian after spending some time in Canada as an illegal immigrant.  He says whenever he returns to Colombia he wants to leave almost as soon as he arrives.  His younger brothers would like to accompany him as he does by stowing away on a freighter.  They are trying to save the money by various hustles.  This was another film affirming the great relevance of cinema and its power to  insert others into worlds they know nothing about.

The same could be said for "Aqui Y Alla" a Mexican film that won the award for the best film in Critic's Weekly.  It could be the first of three Mexican films to win their respective categories along with "After Lucia" in Un Certain Regard and the Reygadas film in Competition, and none of them focusing on the drug cartels that dominate the news out of Mexico these days.  This was a very quiet, understated film taking place in a Mexican village with a cast of  non-professionals all playing themselves.  A 40-year old father of two teen-aged girls he hardly knows has just returned from a prolonged spell of working in the US.  He became a musician while there and tries to make a career of it back in his village.  Its not so easy, so he picks up whatever menial work he can find.  In the mean time he and his wife have another child.

Along with all the day's Great Cinema was a sensational "Master Class" on directing conducted by the highly respected French film critic Michel Ciment interviewing Philip Kaufman, attending the festival with his film "Hemingway and Gellhorn;"  Unlike yesterday's Master Class with Norman Lloyd this one played to a full house, with people turned away.  Kidman was among those attending.  When I walked past her sitting in the first row I was immediately stunned by her remarkable aura, unlike any I've experienced.  I've had close contact with quite a few actress at Telluride--Laura Linney, Tilda Swinton, Charlotte Rampling, Penelope Cruz, Catherine Deneuve, Meryl Streep-- but none had such star power.  It was a stark contrast to Kaufman, a most regular guy. Ciment actually commented on what a pleasant fellow he was, in contrast to the stereotypical assertive, forceful director personality.

This two-hour session including clips from many of his films--"The Right Stuff," "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," "Henry and June" and his latest.  It began with a clip from his first film, "Goldstein," which won an award at Cannes in 1964.  The clip showed an older Jewish man dancing out on a pier in Chicago.  Kaufman grew up in Chicago and attended the University of Chicago, wishing to be a history professor.  He found that career too stifling so went to Europe to be a novelist.  There he discovered French New Wave cinema and returned to Chicago to make his own version with 40,000 dollars.  Once again I was thrilled to have sacrificed a movie for this extraordinary and enlightening session.

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