It got off to a great start at 8:30 in the 2,300 seat Palais Theater. It was great to get into the theater from the last-minute line for non-ticket holders, slipping into a seat in the already darkened theater, and then great that the movie was exceptional as well. Former Palm d'Or winner Mike Leigh was given the honor, if it is one, of having the first movie in the 18-film field of Competition films. It was "Mr. Turner," a two-and-a-half hour biopic of the British artist J. M. W. Turner. This period piece of the first half of the 19th century wasn't on the epic scale of a film of such length, but the performance of Timothy Spall as the somewhat repugnant, grunting and groaning, semi-lecherous, Turner was so riveting the film seemed no longer than ninety minutes. The film doesn't have the grandeur or originality or emotional punch of a Palm d'Or, but Spall will be hard to beat for the best actor award. Seven of the ten critics on the Screen panel gave if four stars, one of the best percentages ever. But noted French critic Michel Simon gave it a mere two stars, not impressed by its straight-forward approach.
Because Ralph, a friend from Telluride who is back for his third appearance after missing last year, and I gained admission to the 8:30 screening and didn't have to settle for the delayed nine o'clock screening in the Soixante Theater, we were able to get into the 11:30 a.m. Un Certain Regard screening of the French film "Party Girl," though just barely, and didn't have to settle for lesser fare. We were among the final ten allowed in and ended up having to sit in the aisle in the balcony. A retired coal miner who frequents a cabaret proposes to a 60-year old dancer who he has paid to dance with for two years without having a relationship outside the club. She thinks he is joking, but then accepts his offer after consultation with her younger dancers. It seems like this could be a feel-good romance, but she begins having doubts. She tells her fellow dancers that she isn't capable of having sex with him. "Can't he get it up?" they ask. No, she is the one who has no desire for sex. She tells him she'd prefer to wait until they are married. He is considerate enough to willingly accept this.
This was a script that was fully committed to the characters without any pandering to the audience. The same could be said for the other Un Certain Regard relationship movie of the day, "That Lovely Girl" from Israel. The woman director warned the audience that this was a hard film not meant for entertainment. The subject of incest wasn't a popular draw, as the 1,068 seat theater wasn't even half full for the ten p.m. screening. The movie begins with the sexual relationship between a 50-year old man and his daughter well into her twenties fully established. She is very messed-up and morose with an eating disorder that has her stuffing herself and then vomiting and also slashing herself on her arms. But she is very possessive of her father and is extremely jealous when he starts having an affair. This was all-too disturbing and not a necessary movie, but quite well-done nonetheless.
For the rest of the day I dabbled in the market with films of lesser cinema-magnitude, but still of considerable merit. An English biopic of Mother Teresa had very low production values, but more than adequately portrayed her life. It was called "The Letters," as it was marginally based on forty years worth of letters that Mother Teresa wrote to her spiritual advisor, played by Max Van Sydow in a very limited role, questioning her life. The movie recounts her life beginning in Calcutta in 1946 when as a 36-year old principal of the school in the cloister she is assigned to she requests to answer a call from God to go live in the slums and help the poor. Her request is taken all the way to Pope Pius. He grants her a one-year leave of absence. She soon attracts world-wide attention for her work. She reluctantly accepts the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize. The movie alternates with occasional scenes in Rome in 2003 for her canonization process. Before she can become a saint two miracles have to be attributed to her. So far there has only been one.
200,000 fans jammed Rio de Janeiro's Maracanazo soccer stadium for the 1950 World Cup championship game between Uruguay and Brazil. It is considered the greatest game ever played. Uruguay upset the heavily favored Brazilians, leading to the deaths of fans who jumped from the stadium. It was the fourth time that Uruguay had won the World Championship, including Olympic wins in 1924 and 1928. The story is fully recounted in the Uruguayan documentary "Maracanazo: The Football Legend." The film is rich in archival footage of the game and of the period. There are also interviews with a few of the players. One of the Brazilians is emotionally overcome recalling the defeat.
My other documentary of the day, "Attention: A Life in Extremes" from Austria, featured a Norwegian who jumps off cliffs in a wing-suit, a Frenchman who dives to the depths of the oceans, and an Austrian who has competed in the Race Across America (RAAM) nine times, finishing second twice and third twice. The three stories are interwoven. The Race Across America is as much an exercise in sleep deprivation as a bicycle race. Gerhard Gulewicz averages less than one hour of sleep per day over the first eight days of the race. A crew member pricks his finger as he sleeps to test his blood. When he awakes from his short naps a crew member asks, "Are you there? Are you conscious?" His tortured, hollow-eyed face and efforts to keep going do not celebrate the joy and beauty of cycling, only a few rural shots of he on his bike in the distance. He is a virtual corpse when he collapses for his rare rest stops. He barely has the energy to chew. He struggles to decide whether to keep going when it is clear he is not going to win the race the year he is being filmed. "You're nothing, if you finish fifth," he laments.
No new movie other than a slate of horror movies fit into my schedule in the early evening so I treated myself to one of the twenty-some classics being screened--an early Kieslowski, "Blind Chance," that played at Cannes in 1981, eight years before his seminal "Decalogue." His daughter was on hand to introduce this new print that included segments that had been censored by the Polish authorities, though it lacked one of police beating the lead character, as no footage of it could be found. As the extreme sports documentary, this had three stories--one each of what happens as a young man chases after a train leaving the station and whether or not he manages to make it. The stories all reflect on the difficulties of living in a totalitarian state.