Thursday, May 19, 2016

Day Eight

There may be a dearth of films directed by women with only three of the twenty-one films in Competition, but there is no shortage of films that are stories of women.  If this continues it will be the men protesting.

"The Unknown Girl" by the Dardenne brothers is the compelling story of a young woman physician searching for the identity of a young African woman who died after she refused to open her clinic door to her when she came knocking after closing time.  She seems burdened by the demands of her profession to begin with, having no life outside her work, but even more so with her issues of guilt.  Only once is her perpetual frown broken by a smile, when she receives a phone regarding another matter. She is in a continual state of anguish, but totally committed to being a responsible doctor.  She lives and works in Seraing, a run-down industrial city outside of Liege that has been a Ville Étape twice in my years of following The Tour de France.  Social issues aren't as dominant of a focus as the Dardennes usually make them, but they aren't much below the surface.  The plot has its facile contrivances, but it serves it's purpose.

The first Brazilian film in Compeittion in years, "Aquarius," is the story of a 65-year woman who refuses to move from her large apartment building that is being renovated by a young developer who has just completed business school in the US.  She is the lone resident of the complex that overlooks the vast beaches of the large city of Recife. Her children encourage her to accept the large offer to move, but she refuses.  This film didn't need to be two-and-a-half hours long other than to indulge in directorial art capturing the beauty of Brasil and the vitality of its people.  It lapses into rousing musical interludes, that don't have much to do with the story.  I could hardly object though when the woman pulls out Queen's "Jazz" album and puts it on her turntable.  I was hoping for the "Bicycle Race" cut, but "Fat Bottomed Girls" was fine too.

A woman is also the center of the Iranian film "Inversion."  Tehran is smothered by pollution, an inversion, and an elderly woman is advised by her doctor to leave the city immediately.  Her daughter is being pressured by her older brother and other family members to go with her since she is unmarried and has no children, though she runs a small sewing shop.  She's not so happy about giving up her life in the city and continually ordered about by her brother.  This continues a long line of socially realistic films from Iran and continues the string of fine films in Un Certain Regard.  There hasn't been a fizzle yet.

My day's documentary also featured a woman--"Bernadette Lafont, And God Created the Free Woman."  Commentary from this French New Wave actress, who appeared in more than 120 films and died in 2013, provides a voice-over for this film recounting her legendary career that began with Chabrol and Truffaut.  She took a break when she was still in her prime to have three children, among her many acts of independence that made her career so exemplary.

My lone Market screening was a virtual one-man performance by the prolific Gerard Depardieu.  He ventures off into the forest with his dog and a rifle in "The End."  He loses them both and himself as well.  He becomes frantic trying to find his way out.  He comes upon a barefoot woman who remains mute.  The eventually encounter a pair of hikers who lead them back to his car.  This might have been inspired by Gus Van Sant, but it was no more successful than his effort to plumb the essence of a lost soul.  

The day of cinema was highlighted by the festival's annual "Master Class,"--a nearly two-hour conversation between William Friedkin and Michel Ciment accompanied by clips from Friedkin's oeuvre. After the two were introduced by Festival director Thierry Fremaux, Friedkin said, "Before we start I'd like to say what a great pleasure it is to be here with Michel Ciment, the greatest living film writer and critic."  Friedkin remained garcious and enthusiastic, like a perfect guest.  Ciment didn't have to ask many questions, as Friedkin had much to say. 

As a previous Master Class subject of Ciment, Philip Kaufman, Friedkin came out of Chicago.  His first film was a documentary on someone on death row in Chicago.  Kaufman had gotten his start in television and made this film to try to save his life.  He didn't attend film school, but gained his skills from "Citizen Kane," the French New Wave and Hitchcock. 

The first clip was from "The Birthday Party," a Pinter Play.  The next was from "The Boys in the Band," an early representation of gays in cinema.  It was Friedkin's fourth film and as Ciment pointed out, his fourth commercial failure.  "Why did you bring that up?" Friedkin joked.  "I didn't come here to be insulted."

Ciment brought it up because his next film was the monumental "The French Connection," followed by the equally momentous "The Exorcist."  Until then it took a considerable effort for him to make a film.  Every studio turned town "The French Connection," some twice.  But it was the same with "Forest Gump" and "Star Wars."  After "The French Connection" he said he could have made a movie of his son's bar mitzvah.

Friedkin also set the record straight on Howard Hawks.  Hawks claimed that he urged Friedkin to make "The French Connection."  Hawks daughter, Kitty, was Friedkin's girl friend at the time he made "The Boys in the Band."  Hawks wasn't surprised that the film made no money.  He told Fiendkin that the public wants action movies.  That wasn't what made Friedkin make "The French Connection," though Hawks wanted to think so.  Friedkin's stories on Brando and Hackman and others were so lengthy that Ciment couldn't play all the clips he wanted to, but no one could be disappointed.  When they finally had to end their talk, many in the audience rushed the stage to ask Friedkin questions of their own. Any film festival would be lucky to have him as a guest.  It'd be a great treat to have him at Telluride.

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