When director Juho Kuosmanen accepted the award he thanked Thiery Fremaux for liking weird films, even though his film was anything but weird. It was a very understated, almost drab, portrait of the boxer. It must have won favor from the five-person jury, which did not include Fremaux, for having been shot in black-and-white. The boxing and training are very limited. A large part of the training consists of trying to make weight by sitting in a sauna and vomiting. It did include the best bicycling scene of the festival, Maki riding through the countryside with his girl friend on his handlebars and also a scene of his girl friend on her bike as he trains running behind her.
The Directors Fortnight gave "Mercenary" one of its six awards--the Europa Award for the best film from Europe. There is more sports action in this rugby film about a young man who is recruited from his small South Pacific island that is a French territory by a fellow islander who doesn't have his best interests at heart. He is given a salary of just 400 euros a month to play for a small-town club team that is comprised mostly of local French players but supplemented by other mercenaries such as himself from other countries. He isn't totally welcomed by his teammates even though he developers into a dominant player. This well-crafted, finely-acted film gave a fine insight into the island culture he comes from and the trials he has adjusting to his new culture.
Directors Fortnight gave its award for the best French film to a romantic comedy featuring swimming, though not of a competitive nature. A young man takes a liking to a swimming instructor and pretends he doesn't know how to swim so he can take lessons from her. As they are making out for the first time high up on the diving platform at the pool when it is supposed closed, three other people appear at the pool. One falls in fully clothed and appears to be struggling. The man who supposedly doesn't know how to swim dives in and saves her. Rather than being a hero to the instructor, she is incensed at his duplicity and refuses to have anything to do with him. He is so smitten by her he pursues her to Iceland where she is attending a conference on swimming. The dramatic Icelandic geography and its host of wacky characters bring the comedy to a boil. This at first seemed little better than Market fodder, but it developed into genuine entertainment.
The day was rounded out by the final two Competition films to be screened. Sometimes the best is saved for the last and sometimes the worst is slipped in at the end to spare it the savagery of the critics, as was the case yesterday with Sean Penn's unfortunate film. Today's films greatly exceeded that. Paul Verhoeven's "Elle" could have earned Isabelle Huppert a best actress award if there weren't so many other fine female performances and that juries tend to give the award to unknowns rather than icons. She heads a large company that makes violent and sexually-charged video games. Her life mirrors her profession.
The film opens with her being violently raped by a masked intruder into her home. She doesn't notify the police as she wants no media attention as her father was a notorious serial-killer and is seeking parole after over thirty years in prison. She was involved as a ten-year old in destroying the evidence of his crimes and still suffers recriminations from the public for it. Someone sends out a mass email to everyone in her company of an animated video of her being raped by a large serpent. She's not sure if that is connected to her own rape. The plot thickens as she is having an affair with her best friend's boy friend and her mother hints of marriage to her boy toy and her son is about to move in with his girl friend who has him completely under her thumb, glaring at Huppert when she goes him a kiss letting her know he is now hers while demanding a large screen tv rather than a microwave as a gift for their apartment that Huppert will be paying for. She is a no-holds barred bitch. Feminists will flip out over the rampant misogyny, but those who go for sexist-thrillers will be delighted by this feast of intrigue.
The wife of a school teacher and actor is startled while showering by someone who comes into her apartment in Tehran under mistaken pretenses in "The Salesman." She falls and injures herself and is greatly traumatized by the event. They have just moved into the apartment and learn the former tenant was a prostitute. They want out, but it is not easy to find s place to live in Tehran. The intruder left his pickup truck. The husband tries to track him down. The plot doesn't thicken to the degree of Ashgar Farhardi's two previous award-winning Cannes entries, but it is a good companion piece to his work examining the mores of Iranian society and the strictures placed upon women.
One day to go. The just released schedule of repeat Sunday will allow be two see both Romanian films again along with the lone film I have yet to see, "Ma' Rosa," but not "Toni Erdman." I could also see "The Salesman" again to try to tie up some loose ends. Neither Ralph or I could understand why blood on a guy's sock was such significant clue. The films are rescreened in four theaters ranging in size from the Debussy with 1,068 seats to the Bazin with 280 seats. The three films scheduled for the Debussy, giving them top seeding, are "Paterson," "Toni Erdman" and "I, Daniel Blake." There are only three time slots there as the award ceremony and then Palm d'Or winner will be shown on its screen. Last year for the first time a ticket and formal attire was required at the Debussy. In the past it was for the press and those with Market badges. If that is not the case again this year, we'll have to watch the proceedings on a television in the Palais complex. Either way, it will be reviting and a fine conclusion to another two weeks of the best cinema to be found.