Christian Mungui, whose first film "Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days" made him one of the youngest winners of the Palm d'Or, led off the day at 8:30 a.m. with "Graduation." It was a grand-slam without even anyone on base. This highly-detailed, brilliant-conceived, sweeping indictment of the moral decay of Romania firmly places him as an auteur of the highest rank. A physician known for his honesty, a rare breed who doesn't need incentive (bribes) to do good by his patients, is driven into the moral abyss to insure that his daughter gets a good grade on her final exams so she can earn a scholarship to a university in England. He becomes entangled in a vast web of corruption that involves a liver transplant. The fully credible, deeply nuanced plot reveals how horribly corrupt Romania has become with things accomplished only through favors circumventing the law. That is why the doctor is so determined to free his daughter of Romania.
It was three hours until the screening of "Toni Erdman." I'd met two guys who had twice been turned away from seeing it despite waiting two hours in line. Today all passes were treated equally, so if one was in line early enough there was no concern of a rush of priority passholders keeping one out. I was among the first in line two-and-half hours ahead of time, allowing me to catch up on the trade papers. Only two women, who said they were financiers for the film, slipped in ahead of us. Erdman is the alter-ego of a mostly retired music teacher whose daughter is a corporate shark. He doesn't see much of her so he decides to surprise her where she is on assignment in Bucherest.
They couldn't be more different. He is a fun-loving prankster and she is coldly calculating and driven. He is so frustrated by her he asks, "Are you human?" Later she responds to his crazed antics asking, "Are you insane?" Thus are the lines drawn in this offbeat comedy with skyrockets of great originality. It's the third film by Maren Ade. If she were a more accomplished director she would have considerably tightened up its three hour running time and made it a much more powerful film. It lacked the full impact of a Palm d'Or winner. Either of the leads could win a best actor award, especially the daughter for an outrageous and totally unexpected prolonged scene of nudity. The film received all the accolades it did because it was such a surprise, not so much for being truly exceptional. It was hardly a disappointment, but certainly failed to live up to being the best film screened at Cannes in the past twenty years.
A true disappointment was Dolan's "It's Only the End of the World." Not even its stellar cast of Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassell and Gaspar Ulliel among the five players in this play turned into a movie could save it. A writer returns to his family after a twelve year absence to tell them he's dying. Everyone's so wrapped up in their own petty grievances with one another and the world he never gets around to why he returned. The dialogue is so fast and disjointed it's almost impossible to follow. Cotillard, who is totally wasted in her mousey role, said she never had so much difficulty in learning her lines because they were so obtuse. Dolan is an inventive as ever with his camera work, but his choice of making it ninety per cent close ups of heads doesn't make it particularly watchable. No awards for this film, though Dolan was hoping for the first Palm d'Or for his generation, possibly making him the youngest winner. Ralph and I stood in line for two hours to make sure we saw it. It put Ralph to sleep.
The pair of two-hour waits for films today limited me to just four for the day. My only non-Competiton film was "The Transfiguration," a small but very worthwhile film that smoothly unfolds in housing project in Queens. Like many of those selected to play in Un Certain Regard rather Competition it had an uncomplicated plot without any grand ambitions, making it less liable to stumble. A bright fourteen-year old boy who lives with his ex-military brother, as both their parents are deceased, has an obsession with vampires. He is picked on by the older gang members who are impossible to avoid. He is a good-hearted kid who develops a caring friendship with a white girl a little older than him who lives in his building with an abusive grandfather. There is no sugar-coating or mincing with the difficulties of their predicament, though the film maintains an air optimism. This was a most satisfying film that justifies this twelve-day submergence into the world of cinema.