Monday, May 19, 2014

Day Six

"Foxcatcher," the ninth of the eighteen films in Competition, becomes the first of the lot to break through the good and very good category to the mantle of greatness.  This true story of the deranged billionaire John du Pont appropriating the US wrestling team in the 1980s to his estate outside of Valley Forge was a gripping and powerful portrayal of ego and the curse of wealth and trying to please one's mother.

At last we had a movie that had us thinking and talking for long afterwards about its every grim, disturbing detail and the brilliant performances by its lead characters, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo as the brothers Mark and Davie Schultz, gold-medal winning wrestlers from the 1984 Olympics, and Steve Carell as the creepy DuPont, and also the brilliant directing of Bennett Miller, whose other two features were "Capote" and "Moneyball" and the great documentary "The Cruise" about a New York tour guide.  This may be too close to Hollywood fare for the jury to give it the Palm d'Or, but best director would be a worthy consolation prize.

My day was bookended by Competition films, as Ralph and I ended our day with the Japanese film "Still the Water" by Naomi Kawuse, who has won awards at Cannes twice before.  She called this her best film.  This was traditional art fare that would be too challenging for most audiences.  The story set on a lesser tropical island in the Japanese archipelago quietly drifts along interlaced with pleasing shots of crashing waves and aerial views of lush mountainous scenery and the best of all of cinematic shots, a boy and girl who are in the early stages of a fumbling romance gliding along on a bicycle, the girl clutching his waist.  

There was even more biking, and the best of the festival so far, in "The Finishers," a French film by Nils Tavenier, son of Bertrand, who has had a few Competition films over the years.  A father and his 18-year old son with cerebral palsy are training to compete in the Nice triathlon, which has a 112-mile bicycle leg with a 3,000 foot climb after swimming 3.8 miles in the Mediterranean and then concluding with a marathon.  The boy has to convince his father to do the triathlon with him and also the administrators of the event to let them in and his very protective mother as well.  Tavenier recognizes the beauty of bicycling, so his characters spend much more time training on their bicycle built for two  with the boy perched in front of his father, than swimming or running.  This inspiring, beautiful film already played at Toronto and is in commercial release in France.

My day also included the well-done documentary "Life Itself" about Roger Ebert that debuted at Sundance.  It was the first film from Chicago's Kartemquin group to play at Cannes.  The director Steve James had just flown in, arriving ten minutes before the screening.  He was accompanied by his son who had graduated from Chicago's Columbia College, where Janina teaches, with a degree in cinematography.  He worked as the second cameraman on the film, which was largely filmed in Ebert's hospital room in his last days.  Ebert's wife Chaz was also on hand to introduce the film.  Scattered in the audience were Milos Stehlik of Facets, critic Scott Foundas who along with Milos participated in the tribute to Ebert at the Chicago Theater after his death, and Michael Kutza, director of Chicago's film festival, good friends of Ebert. None were included in the film, though they could have, and the film did include excerpts from the tribute, actually opening with it.  Jonathan Rosenbaum, interviewed in the lobby of the Music Box, is among the many talking heads in the movie along with Martin Scorcese, Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, Gene Siskel's widow, Rich Kogan and other former drinking pals, Richard Corliss and  A.O. Scott.

Chaz said the movie, named for Ebert's memoirs, could have been titled "Love Itself," as the movie is "about his love for me," not something that most would agree with. During the movie James asks Chaz how they met.  She made public for the first time it was at an AA meeting when Roger was fifty and weighed 300 pounds and had no hang-ups about his weight.  Roger over the years had been very open about AA coming to his rescue in 1979, but Chaz had preferred to remain anonymous about her affiliation.  

The projection of the film was interrupted for half an hour about two-thirds of the way through.  James and Chaz took to the stage to fill the time.  Someone asked Chaz if she had always been a cinephile.  She had indeed.  Her favorite film was "Clockwork Orange."  No mention was made that Roger had seen many a film in the centerpiece theater, the Bunuel, where the screening was taking place.  I had memories myself of sitting near Roger in the theater with his boisterous voice loud above all others.  This very even-handed film does not shy away from mention of some of Ebert's lesser qualities, but by and large champions him as one of the premier lovers of cinema of all time.

With the break in the film extending its running time I was thwarted from seeing either a French documentary on political cartoonists or an Argentinian film that were both Out of Competition selections that would have been superior to anything else playing next.  Instead I had the unpleasant experience of watching an American semi-horror film such as I try to avoid.  But I feel duty-bound to see something, if only to see what filmmakers are up to.  "Blue Family" actually tried to lend itself some credibility by closing with the statement that it was dedicated to those who have fought and will fight for the freedom of everybody, as it is about three young women who have been abducted and held hostage in a car salesman/musician's basement so they can give him the family he has never had.  This low-budget bunk will be lucky to be seen by anyone other than the people who made it.

I did luck into a decent little American-made thriller earlier in the day--"Things People Do."  Like the Spanish film "Beautiful Youth" from the day before it was a story of our desperate economic times.  This one though wasn't about ordinary people but rather a guy who had just lost his good job and could no longer afford the mortgage on his luxury home with a swimming pool that he had recently spent $40,000 to install.  He doesn't tell his wife about his firing, but instead tells her he is in line for a promotion so they can better afford their lifestyle.  He is an otherwise very likable and moral guy, even calling a foot fault on himself at a bowling match after he rolls a strike.  But he falls into the life of armed robber.  It seems inevitable that he will be caught.  He has recently become good friends with a police detective.  This film was well-executed from start to finish without going too far, complete with a fresh and credible resolution.

Ralph's day was further highlighted by sharing a coffee with Tommie Lee Jones and his wife Dawn at the Carlton Hotel, where the festival is hosting them in one of its penthouses.  Dawn Is enrolled along with Ralph in the highly-respected Brookings Photography school in Santa Barbara.  The actor/director was still nervous about the reception of his film, as he has yet to secure an American distributor for it.  He was unaware of the Screen Magazine report card of ten critics.  Ralph had to reassure him that his 2.6 score wasn't bad at all.

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