Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Day Eight

For ninety minutes today Sophia Loren was on stage in the intimate 300-seat Bunuel theater conducting what the festival calls a "Master Class" recounting her storied career.  The ever radiant 79-year old actress was interviewed by a white-haired, female Italian critic interspersed with clips from her many movies, including fourteen by Vittorio De Sica, who as Loren, was from Naples.  Joining the line to get in an hour ahead of time was just enough for me to gain entry, facilitated by those of us waiting being quarantined on the small fourth floor landing outside the theater, with guards at the stairwell not letting anyone else up after the landing had filled.  Loren mostly spoke Italian, though she occasionally lapsed into French and apologized, thinking it wasn't fully fluent.  The audience was provided with headsets to listen in English or French.

She has been attending Cannes since the 1950s shortly after she began her career.  She was such an icon early enough in her career that she served as the jury president in 1966 for the twentieth anniversary of the festival, giving "A Man and a Woman" the top prize.  She appeared in twelve films with Marcel Mastrianni.  She had such a close bond with him she choked on tears as she recalled their friendship.  She said she could feel his presence, especially as he graces this year's festival poster.

It would have taken a great, great film for anything other than this program to be the highlight of the day, if not the festival.  Nothing came close today.  The day's opening Competition film, "The Search," most realistically recaptured the chaos and upheaval caused by the 1999 Chechen war.  Berenice Bejo, last year's best actress winner for "The Past" and wife of the film's director Michel Hazanavicius, plays a UN representative assessing the situation.  She takes in a lost young boy whose parents were killed by the Russians and is so traumatized that he refuses to speak.  His older sister is searching for him.  The director must have thought he was making another silent film, not recovered from his last Competition film "The Artist," as the film was undermined by the overly melodramatic elements of a silent film and heavy-handed and preachy dialogue.  

Jean-Luc Godard offered up the day's other Competition film.  It was up against Loren, so I was spared it.  Ralph had an Invitation, but he cut it too close, arriving during the red carpet promenade of Godard and  was among more than 100 ticket holders turned away.  He had needlessly stayed to the end, as I had, of the English drug-drama "Snow in Paradise."  This separates itself from standard such fare with the lead character, a young former boxer being drawn into the world of big-time drugs as his father had been, potentially being saved by becoming a Muslim.  It lacked that magic ingredient to transcend beyond the ordinary.

Our previous film, "Fantasia," also an Un Certain Regard entry, did have it, partially thanks to its very artful cinematography making the large Chinese city Chingqing along the Yangste River look appealing.  It was a companion to the Dardennes movie with a wife going to family and friends asking them to help her pay for her husband's monthly blood transfusion combating leukemia, as the factory where he works cut his health benefits by half.  Their son stops going to school to work against his parents knowledge and wishes and their daughter starts working as a prostitute.  This was pleasingly sincere and honest.

John Boorman also offered up a sincere and fairly honest autobiographical film, "Queen and Country," of his two years of conscription into the military starting as an eighteen-year old in 1952.  It was too gentle and light-hearted for Thiery Fremaux, even though Boorman has had four films accepted into Competition, so was relegated to the Director's Fortnight. Boorman's intellect spared him from being sent to Korea, as he was assigned the duty of teaching typing.  He had a rebellious attitude standing up as much as he could to his career superiors.  There are just a couple of nods to his love for cinema, one attending "Rashomon" with an older woman he is pursuing.

There was nothing but absolute, undiluted realism in "Maiden," a 130-minute documentary on the Ukrainian  uprising this past winter in Kiev that left over one hundred dead.  Sergei Loznitsa sets up his camera in various spots in the huge central plaza of Kiev, known as Maiden, that was thronged with as many as half a million demonstrators and just lets it run.  There are no interviews or talking heads other than speeches heard in the background or songs sung by the masses.  There was a steady trickle of people out of the packed Bunuel for this Out of Competition selection, but for many it was a most mesmerizing film.

For the first time Ralph and I ended our day with different films, as he is more committed to making sure he sees all the Competition films and not willing to risk seeing those he's missed when they are all replayed at the end of the festival.  So he passed on Boorman and saw "Mommy."  He restrained giving his reaction, not wishing to affect my viewing.  Boorman's film ended at 12:30.  Eight hours later Ralph and I would be back at the Palais for Ken Loach's latest and then right after I would have at "Mommy."  Always some seminal cinema to look forward to.


Matt said...

From our POV Godard's new film is making waves. It's all over twitter and the critics seem to really like it. Sounds like it's both a mess and amazing at the same time.

Robert Kennedy said...

According to Neil Young from Jigsaw Lounge at his odds for winners:, he contends Godard is slated for a Special Award, while Loznitsa's outside competition "Maiden" is the highest rated film at Cannes so far according to this critic composite of 7 different critical sources, which consists of over 100 film critics: