Thursday, May 22, 2014

Day Nine

In "Mommy" French-Canadian Xavier Dolan returns to the material that launched his career, a single mother and her teen-aged son verbally lambasting one another with a viciousness never before seen.  His first film "I Killed My Mother," which he wrote, directed and starred in when he was nineteen years old, was my most memorable film-going experience of the 2009 festival, if not the entire year.  I have vivid memories of walking of its end-of-the-day screening on the final Saturday of the festival at the Arcades with Charles of Facets, both of us overwhelmed.  The film was so subversive it received only a token release in the US several years and films later.

The film was fresh and original and seemingly personal and cathartic.  He's made three films since before resurrecting the mother-son battlefield in "Mommy," his first non-gay themed movie.  Rather than offering a new perspective on the love-hate relationship of a mother and son, he seems to be trying to one-up his first movie.  Here the son, whose role he turns over to Antoine-Olivier Pilon, escalates his combativeness to trying to strangle his mother and molesting a neighbor's wife and other extreme unsettling acts. He is a menacing monster. Among other things he calls his mother a whore and a hoe at the top of his lungs.

He has brief respites of calm, but is generally out of control and self-destructive, even setting fire to his school resulting in a lawsuit of $250,000.  Whereas the son in his first film was somewhat sympathetic and held the promise of maturing, this latest version is so volatile and repugnant that he seems doomed to a horrific, tragic end. There is no denying Dolan's rare talents, but they largely went to waste on this less than fully reasoned retread.

The venerable 77-year old Ken Loach, rather than growing angrier and more incensed with age, has mellowed enough to temper his outrage at the injustices of society to make "Jimmy's Hall" less of an indictment of the powers-that-be than a younger version of himself would have made.  This true story of Jimmy Gralton building a dance hall in 1921 Ireland and the outrage it caused the Catholic Church includes some of his trademark rhetoric, but it is not as powerful or as pointed of a film as it could have been.  There are almost as many feel-good moments in the movie of dancing and the citizens of the town embracing their beloved Gralton topped by a concluding scene of hoards of the citizens on their bicycles chasing after the truck that is sending him into exile in the US for the rest of his life.  A younger Loach would have dominated his film with Gralton passionately arguing for his dance hall and all it represented.  There are a handful of tempered speeches and debates that make his case, and show where Loach's heart is, but nothing to compare to the prison scene in Steve McQueen's "Hunger" of Bobbie Sands articulating in no uncertain terms his refusal to eat. Despite its restraint this was worthwhile, wholesome pablum.

I caught up with Atom Egoyan's "The Captive" that played on the third day of the festival and was so reviled by the critics.  Through the first two-thirds of this crime thriller I thought they might have been wrong as Egoyan introduced a host of interesting characters while trying to create some suspense, but when it came time to tie up the many strands of this kidnapping movie it became a grotesque insult to anyone with the intelligence of much more than an ape.  Very often one can be swept up by such a movie and overlook some of its inconsistencies that only begin nagging if one thinks about it too much, but those in this one are glaringly evident at the very moment.  

The festival selection committee totally misread this movie.  Today and tomorrow all the Competition were scheduled to be replayed.  And then the process will be repeated Saturday and Sunday.  What theaters they will play in this weekend hasn't been decided.  They will be seeded by their popularity, the better ones in the larger theaters and the lesser in the smaller theaters.  But those playing today and tomorrow were predetermined before the festival started.  Eight of the eighteen films are playing in a large 260-seat theater while the other ten are playing in theaters with half to a quarter of its seating capacity.  The schedulers thought Egoyan's film would be among the eight most popular films along with those by Dolan, the Dardennes, Leigh, Loach, Hazanavius, Bomello, and Cronenberg.  They were wrong on Egoyan as well as overlooking the films by Ceylan and Miller. That will be rectified this weekend.

Hopefully all the Un Certain Regard films will be replayed as well what with the extra day of repeats due to the European elections Sunday. There are several I'd very much like to see.  Among them is Rolf de Heer's "Charlie's Country."  I had to walk out after half an hour to see "Mommy."  I could tell from that half hour it was another completely assured and coherent tale from this Australian master who never fails to please.  Ralph thought this Aboriginal tale the best film he's seen in Un Certain Regard.  We'll find out the jury's decision tomorrow, a day ahead of the Competition film awards.

The nine-year old girl in the Italian film "Misunderstood" could win the category's best actress award.  She is a wildly energetic sprite coping with the lack of attention of her separated movie star father and famous musician mother played by Charlotte Gainsbourg.  There is a host of frenzied characters in this entertaining saga that is more commercial than art-house fare.

Ralph and I also saw one of the ultimate art films of all time, a fully restored copy of the Russian film "The Color of Pomegranates."  It was introduced by Kent Jones, who oversaw the restoration.  People who didn't know what they were in for in this non-narrative tableau of scenes representing the key moments in the life of the Armenian 18th century poet Sayaf Nova streamed out of the theater.

I was only able to see the first half of another restored movie playing immediately afterwards--Hitchcock's "Jamaica Inn" from 1939, the last movie he directed in the UK before heading to Hollywood.  The movie of a bunch of brigands who plunder shipwrecks and are in danger of having their operation exposed by a young woman who comes to stay with her aunt who is the wife of their leader had fully grabbed my attention, but I had an Un Certain Regard film to see.

Likewise I caught abbreviated thirty-minute doses of films I had seen earlier and liked, "Red Army" and "Two Days and One Night."  Surprisingly there were empty seats in the Dardennes movie half-way through when I showed up to get in line for the Egoyan film.  Since no one was in line for Egoyan I slipped in to revisit the Dardennes.  One plot line they resisted was having any of Marion Cotillard's co-workers promise to vote for her to keep her job rather than for their bonus, to be nice to her, but then not in the secret ballot, showing another dark side of human nature.  But that would have further complicated the plot, that the Dardennes tried to keep simple.

I've now seen twelve of the Competition films and am in good shape to see the remaining six. I have an Invitation for tomorrow's Olivier Assayes film in the same time slot that "The Class" and "Blue is the Warmest Color" filled, also French films that went on to win the Palm d'Or.  As good as his film may be, the day's highlight could well be the festival's second Master Class, this one with French master Jacques Audiard.  It will be a thrill to see snippets of "A Prophet" and "Rust and Bone" and "The Beat My Heart Skipped," that Janina teaches in one of her film classes, and hear him comment on them.  Ralph too is giving priority to the Master Class after missing Loren's.  He photographed Audiard at Telluride and talked Leicas with him.  Audiard also requested a spectacular photo of Ralph's that the festival showcased of "Rust and Bone" on the screen of the outdoor theater with Cotillard and a whale.


Matt said...

George, Mommy sure got a lot of people excited on twitter. For many people this is the first film they will see by Dolan. I have to say I had a different reaction to I Killed My Mother. I couldn't get through it. I never understood why he didn't like his mother. She was too likable to be hated. The film had stylist flourishes but little else. Perhaps I'll try seeing it again.

Time Out predicts this:
Palme d’Or - ‘Leviathan’
Grand Prix -‘Timbuktu'
Jury Prize -‘Mommy’

More here:


george christensen said...

Matt: All those who saw I Killed My Mother on the big screen here at Cannes five years ago were left abuzz with incredulity not only at the audacity of this provocation but that it was pulled off by a nineteen year old. That four of his films have been invited to play at Cannes and the fifth at Venice speaks for itself.

Looking forward to the repeat screening of Godard on Sunday,

Regards, George

Matt said...

George, perhaps I was unfair in my memory of the film. It did get good reviews. No doubt he is a filmmaker with talent. And maybe now a Cannes award.

Here's a Cannes Roundtable discussion from Film Comment of most of the films.