I went to great ends to juggle my schedule today to work in the Coen brothers' "Inside Llewyn Davis," as it could be my last chance to see it before Spielberg and his jury give out the awards Sunday night in the Palais. Since its a leading contender for the top prize, it is a film that I needed to see for the awards ceremony to be fully meaningful.
It was being screened at an awkward time slot that made it difficult to fit in other films I wanted to see both before and after it. I also knew I had to get in line for it at least an hour before its screening time. Seeing it came at the price of one-and-a-half films, meaning I only have five-and-a-half films to report on rather than the usual seven.
Two-and-a-half of them were all very worthwhile Un Certain Regard films. The past two years I counted on Ralph to keep me appraised of what to see in that category, as I somewhat neglect it in favor of the Market. It made for a good day of catching up with all the special repeat screenings of the two top categories of invited films. I'm certain Ralph would have been enthusiastically telling me to see "Omar," a most taunt and tension-packed Palestinian film.
One of the Palestinians regularly climbs over the thirty-foot wall separating Jerusalem from Palestine with a rope to work and visit friends, even though it comes with the risk of being shot at. He is a member of a cadre of freedom-fighters who gun down an Israeli soldier. One of their members is arrested by the Israelis and subjected to more of the extreme torture that has been featured in quite a few of this year's films. He's given the heat-to-the-testicles treatment as seen in "Heli," though not so graphically.
The Israelis think they have made a deal with him and release him to help them catch the leader of their group. He wants to be released more to see his young girl friend than for any other reason, though he doesn't know she is pregnant by one of his friends and is hoping to get an abortion before he finds out. This was more than a dashed-off script. There is wit to go along with all the strong performances and story-line, resorting just once to an all too standard cinema cliche--a character explaining his battered face to having fallen off his bicycle, though we never once see him on a bicycle.
As this gave an insightful portrayal of Palestinians living in Israel, "Grand Central" gave a good portrayal of what it's like to work at a French nuclear reactor. Tamar Rahim, from "A Prophet" and also this year's "The Past," has just been hired to work at one of the nineteen nuclear plants in France in a menial position. He's immediately introduced to the gallows humor of his fellow workers when a beautiful young woman gives him a kiss at a bar gathering of the workers. She tells him that the weak-kneed feeling he'd just experienced was howi he'd feel if he learned that he was over-exposed to radiation, a threat that is their lot. What happens I can't say, as I had to leave half-way through to get in line for "Inside Llewyn Davis," but up to that point I was enjoying another fine cinema experience.
"Bastards" from Claire Denis was the other of my day's Un Certain Regard screenings. When the schedule of films was announced over a month ago there was a minor hubbub over why this film from a significant French director wasn't in the Competition category. I was wondering the same as I watched. It had to be a tough decision for the selection committee, but knowing their expertise I knew they had viable reasons. It wasn't a typical talk-talk-talk French film, but let the brooding of a brother and sister dealing with their assorted troubles, responding to the suicide of their businessman father and their financial difficulties, carry the weight of the movie. Denis doesn't show his suicide leap, just thinking about it, then an ambulance in the distance tending to a body. It's not entirely clear at first what has happened, setting the tone for the movie. Likewise she does not show the daughter of the sister being brutally raped. It is just revealed by her doctor at the psychiatric hospital where she is being treated. There may have been too many dark movies in Competition and a quota of French films. Also there might only have been enough room for one movie with a guy helping a kid put a chain back on his bicycle, and the selectors chose "The Past" over this one.
The decision may well have come down to between this film and "A Castle in Italy," another French film by a woman director, the only one in Competition, Valerie Bruni Tedeschi, a very talky and frothy comedy. It stars not only the director but her former partner up to a year ago, French hunk Louis Garrel. Having the two of them walk the red carpet, as they have done many a time, may have won them a Competition slot over Denis. It also helped that their film was lighter fare, which the Competition field is always in need of.
Tedeschi and Garrel play somewhat lonely and semi-neurotic actors in this film. They work together and are friends despite their age and social status difference. Tedeschi convinces Garrel to father a chlld as a sperm donor through a clinic. He'd rather just have some fun sex, but goes along with her desires despite trying to back out at the last moment as they are driving to the clinic. Among Tedeschi's escapades are trying to get the blessing of some nuns for her fetus. They refuse, claiming it is a mortal sin to have a child out of wedlock despite the unusual circumstances. She barges into their sanctum to sit in a sacred chair anyway causing havoc.
I have been avoiding commenting on "Inside Llewyn Davis" as it was a disappointment and left me feeling empty, forlorn and dejected like most of the characters in the movie. Davis is a struggling folk singer in 1960s Greenwich Village. He is not only frustrated but miserable, with a permanent scowl on his face. He is dependent on crashing on the couches of friends, yet he has not a shrewd of decency lashing out at one and all. He insults everyone, even some musicians who have invited him to a studio session where he can earn some much needed cash. He refuses to sing at dinner one night for academic friends who have come to his rescue once again, creating a most horrible scene. He ridiculously heckles an older woman at one of the folk venues he performs at. He leaves a string of women pregnant, the latest the wife of a friend. At least he knows a doctor who gives abortions. This movie may have meant to be funny, but no one was laughing in my packed theatre. The Coens resort to the cheap gimmick of a cat that continually goes astray. At first it seems as if it will add some comic relief to the heavy moroseness that suffocates any enjoyment to be found in this sad, pathetic portrayal, but it too brings down the movie. And there is all too much mediocre singing, justifying why Davis is not a success. The jury will be very irresponsible to give this any awards.
This movie let out too late for me to make it to the Critic's Weekly award winning film. Instead I had to settle for a trio of 3D experiments by Godard, Peter Greenaway and Edgar Pera. Greenaway and Pera were there to introduce it. Greenaway said he wasn't sure if he would ever attempt another 3D film while Pena called 3D a new frontier and a playground. Both their segments were innovative and somewhat playful, Greenaway in particular making extravagant use of the extra dimension, while Godard only marginally took advantage of it.