This was a day of second choices. Three times I heard the word "complet" before I had my pass scanned by the usher at a theater's entry. Every time it was for a film by a name director--the Coen brothers, James Toback and James Franco. I'll have ample opportunity to see the Coen brothers' film, the highest rated of the ten Competition films screened so far. The other two are no necessity. I had back-ups for all three films, so kept to my average of seven a day.
Its a rare year with no Hanake or Von Trier film in Competition. The Dutch film "Borgman" partially fills the void with elements from each--a family of affluence terrorized by a team of wackos and a quick-tempered husband and wife who are regularly at each other's throats. A long-haired homeless guy knocks at the door of the wealthy family asking if he can have a bath. The husband answers and categorically says no. The homeless guy says he knows his wife. A moment later she approaches the door herself. She denies knowing him. He says she once tended to him as a nurse in the hospital. She says she has never worked as a nurse.
The husband shoves the the guy out, knocks him down with a couple of punches and then repeatedly kicks him. His wife is appalled by his uncharacteristic response and later goes out to tend to the homeless guy. She gives him refuge in their small guest house and smuggles him into the house for a bath. The next day she says he ought to leave, but he refuses. She allows him to stay. The homeless guy eventually brings in several comrades leading to a diluted form of Hanake terror. Despite interesting characters all round, including a Dutch nanny and her military boy friend, the director Alex van Warmerdam hadn't fully digested his material and lacked the firm and precise vision that could have made this more than a small curiosity.
At least there was a shred of veracity to this film, a quality notably lacking in my other Competion film for the day, Takeshi Milke 's "Shield of Straw." A squadron of 350 vehicles are escorting a young man who has committed a couple of heinous rapes and murders of young women that has enraged all of Japan. A businessman whose grand daughter was one of his victims has offered a billion yen to whoever kills him before he is brought to trial. No one is above suspicion wanting the bounty, including the cops escorting him. Even this huge convoy is not enough to protect him as a semi-trailer full of nitroglycerin bashes through them, the first of countless absurdities. But Milke doesn't care about reality. His movies are simply exercises in highly stylized violence that are invariably cinematic enough to be selected for Competition. One has to choke though on the heaps of baloney he serves up.
Ritzy Panh's "The Missing Picture" was nothing but the essential truth, an essay-narrative in the spirit of Chris Marker about the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot's takeover of Cambodia in 1975. Panh was a thirteen-year old at the time. He reconstructs the years of the Khmer Rouge's complete overhaul of the country with archival footage and clay dolls. This was captivating and insightful cinema most worthy of its Un Certain Regard selection.
The Ecuadorian film "Path to the Moon" also won my full attention with its adept portrayal of a father and son on a 600-mile road trip through Costa Rica and Panama to a bowling tournament that the son is competing in. The father and son haven't seen each other in a while and are somewhat reconciling their relationship helped by a young woman hitch-hiker they have picked up. I particularly related to the film as I biked the exact route they took back in 1989.
I was also drawn to the documentary "Out of Africa: Quest for the Northern Lights," as it was described as a drive around Iceland, a route I have also biked. Iceland was simply a hook to draw people to this movie, as it was largely an exercise in propaganda about how the West has plundered Africa over the years, first by its colonizers and then by multi-national corporations and the World Bank. Although there are short snippets of Iceland interspersed in the movie, often with a commercial for the hotel the film-makers stayed in, the film largely showed footage of Africa from over the years and how it has been preyed upon, not only by whites, but by black dictators as well.
An even bigger dud of a movie, as at least the Africa movie was well-financed and competently directed, was the American film "The Activist." This was a bad, inept movie in every respect and I knew it the moment it started. It had a worthwhile subject, the Wounded Knee confrontation in 1973, but the script did it no justice whatsoever. Two activists, one a Native American, are locked up in a small town cell for the duration of the movie. They are beaten by one of their jailers and receive a couple visits from a representative of President Nixon, accompanied by a pair of ditzy female assistants. There is no future whatsoever for this film. I regretted not having gone to see a documentary on climbing in Patagonia instead of this. Of the 42 films I've seen so far, this was easily the worst, but there's always at least one like that.
Being turned away from James Franco's directorial debut in Un Certain Regard of Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying" allowed me to see the documentary "Jodorowsky's Dune" screening in the Director's Fortnight. The 84-year old Jodorowsky provided a most energetic commentary on his attempt to make "Dune". He'd lined up Salvador Dali and Orson Welles for two significant roles and had a team of artists and technicians working in Paris on all the special effects. Hollywood pulled the money on the project just as he was set to begin building sets in Algeria. All the preparatory work he put into it is argued to have been put to use in "Alien" and "Star Wars" and other seminal films. His "Dune" is considered the greatest movie never made.