Eight days and fifty-six films and I have yet to discover that jaw-droppingly great movie that awes and astonishes me and affirms the greatness of cinema as an art form. I know it awaits me. Cannes never fails to deliver at least one of those "WOW" experiences. Sometimes it comes on the last day as with "The Class." Sometimes I find it in the Market as with "Man On Wire." Sometimes it turns up in Un Certain Regard" as with "The Death of Mr. Lazarusco," o r the Director's Fortnight as with "Tarnation."
But usually it is a Competition film such as "A Prophet" or "Tree of Life" or "We Need to Talk About Kevin" or "Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days." There is no denying when it happens. It leaves me overwhelmed for days and stays with me to the present. I had a few hints of the sensation this year with "The Past," so far the most powerful film I've seen so far, but it couldn't sustain it. I am lagging behind with the Competition films having seen only eight of the fourteen that have played with six more to be unveiled in the next three days. They are all being repeated three of the next four days, so I will see them all before the festival concludes.
I was hoping for a "wow" experience today with Nicolas Winding Refn's "Only God Forgives" as I had two years ago with his "Drive," both starring Ryan Gosling. But this Bangkok crime-thriller had none of the adrenalin rush of his previous film that won him best director honors. He seemed to be self-consciously trying to live up to that best director award going overboard with stylish effect not unlike Gaspar Noe with "Enter the Void." Gosling is more of a presence than an actor this time. Kristin Scott Thomas somewhat steals the movie with her commanding performance as his blond-haired monstrous mother.
It is immediately obvious that she is someone not to be trifled with when she is incensed that her room at a Bangkok hotel is not ready for her. She has just flown in to retrieve the body of her oldest son, who was murdered. She's not happy at all that Gosling has yet to revenge the murder, scoffing at his assertion that he may have deserved it for killing and raping a young prostitute. She tells him that he gave signs even when he was in her womb that he would be difficult and that maybe she should have had him aborted.
This was one of my two movies today that served up excessive violence and had a boxing connection. The other was "Diablo," a black-comedy from Argentina. Gosling manages a kick-boxing gym in Bangkok that serves as a cover for the family drug business. Diablo is a former champion boxer who has retired after killing someone in the ring played by Jorge D'Elia with a tour de force performance. He is hiding out at a friend's house. Two thugs manage to tie him up and use him as a punching bag. He manages to extricate himself and then beats them to death. He tortures a couple of guys trying to find out who sent those guys. His torture rivals that of "Heli," with its dousing of someone's testicles with lighter fluid and then setting them on fire. He forces ice into his victim's mouths, then sticks a funnel in and pours boiling water from a tea kettle down their throats. The violence of this movie was much more gruesome than that of "Only God Forgives" and had people fleeing the small market screening room.
There was excessive violence and brutality as well in "My Sweet Pepper Land" that takes place in the gorgeous mountain scenery of Kurdish Turkey. I can certainly testify that the region is synonymous with violence. It is the cliched story of the local resistance to a young woman who has come to teach in a small isolated village. Not only is she unwelcome as a teacher but as a single woman. Her family sides with the locals not thinking it is appropriate behavior for a woman who ought to be married. Her five brothers come to take her away. The local chieftain spreads rumors that she is having an affair with the new police chief, who he is also trying to intimidate. The plot does not rise above cliche. The only reason it was selected to play in Un Certain Regard is because it looked so good and was very well cast.
"Soldier Jane" and "End of Time" were also unrealized, lesser efforts in the Market. Both featured women alone in the forest for at least a spell. "End of Time" takes place after a comet has hit the earth and wiped out much of the population. A young woman foraging for food stumbles upon a house with some canned goods. A young guy discovers her. They first attack each other but then team up. There was very little credibility to what follows.
"Soldier Jane" from Austria was an absurdist story of a 40-year old woman who is evicted from her luxury apartment after not paying rent for three years. She withdraws all her money then burns the wads of 500 and 100 euro notes in the forest. It was just one of a series of senseless acts that might have had some meaning if this script had had some sort of cohesion.
Two guys pedaling a swan-boat for 160 miles through the narrow waterways of England after an initial foray in the English Channel made for a pleasantly wacky documentary aptly titled "Swandown." Their destination was London and the Olympics. Along the way they are joined by various writers and artists who shared their non-conformist philosophical bent. This was a fun little diversion of a movie.
Ken Loach offered up a deeply serious documentary endorsing socialism as the answer to society's woes. "The Spirit of '45" raises the point that there was full employment during WWII, so there is no reason other the corporate meddling that there isn't full employment now. The film is rich with post WWII celebratory footage and then the struggles of England to recover from the war. He interviews an array of people with personal post-war experience as well as present day authorities on how socialism is the humane approach.