"Twelve Days" by the veteran French director Raymond Depardon led off. The title is taken from the period of time a mental patient can be held without his consent. The film is a series of hearings between a judge sitting on one side of a desk and a patient with a representative or two on the other. A feature film trying to embellish their painful stories of why they were confined and why they think they should be released or not could not be more dramatic. One woman had been held for thirteen years as all she could think about was suicide. She wanted to be released so she could return to her third floor apartment so she could jump out the window. There wasn't a speck of humor in any of their predictments, only great pathos.
"Demons in Paradise" on the genocidal civil war in Sri Lanka going back to the '80s was equally powerful. A documentary crew follows a man who escaped to Canada returning to the scenes of his terror as a youth after decades away. Tears repeatedly flow as he meets people who gave he and his family refuge at the time as they recall the horror of those times. Among the recollections are executions entire villages were obliged to witness.
Ninety-one year old Claude Lanzmann recounts three trips he made to North Korea in "Napalm." They were in 1958, 2004 and 2015. Much of the movie is his voice over with footage from his latest trip, with a prolonged reminisce on a young woman he was smitten by on his first trip and how difficult it was to spend any time with her. The strongest impression she left with him was when she unbuttoned her blouse and gave him a quick glimpse of a black streaked scar under her breast from an American napalm attack, thus the title of the film.
The only screening of this batch that came to filling the 73-seat theater was a documentary devoted to Elvis called "Promised Land." It is a tragic story in a way as were the other three with a bloated Elvis dying prematurely at 42 and the director making that a metaphor for the United States as he drives around the country in Elvis' Rolls Royces during the latest presidential election asking people how their life's are. They aren't so good. He is harassed for choosing the Rolls and not one of his Cadillacs, an American car. He allows people he meets to sit in the limo and gives some of them rides, including Ethan Hawke and Alec Baldwin. Baldwin insists there is no way that Trump could possibly win.
My doc fest was bookended by the day's two Competition films. A German woman married to a Kurd living in Germany in Fatih Akin's "In the Fade" warns a young woman that she shouldn't leave her bike unlocked parked out in front of her husband's store telling her it's a dangerous neighborhood. The young woman replies that she will be leaving it for just a moment and rushes away. Lashed to the bike is a bomb which kills the Kurd and his young son. The police suspect that it is drug related as the Kurd served five years in jail for drug dealing. His wife insists he is no longer involved in drugs. The killers are eventually caught and put on trial. This was the first film where I felt genuine tension as this well-done story about a real issue unravels with the most dramatic conclusion of the festival. The only flaw was the woman leaving the bike not locking it. She doesn't immediately set off the bomb, so there was the danger that someone would steal it before she could.
I felt tension too in Fracois Ozon's "Amant Double" until I realized Ozon was just toying with us as he ventures into horror and dreamland. If I had been watching this in a press screening I wouldn't have been surprised if there had been sudden bursts of boos during the screening as this story about a young woman who falls in love with her shrink begins to fall apart. After she moves in with her shrink, she discovers he has a twin who he doesn't acknowledge, so much so that he has changed his last night so they can't be linked. He is a shrink too, so she decides to sit on his couch as well to try to get to know his brother better. It begins as an intriguing psychological thriller taking place in Paris, but degenerates into a bunch of maddening hokum.
I was hoping to end my day with one of the award winners in the Critics Weekly sidebar. I had no problem getting into the screening, but rather than a feature it was several long shorts. They were well done, but not as fully satisfying as a full-fledged movie.
Tomorrow will bring the screenings of the Un Certain Regard and Director's Fortnight winners. We are all waiting for that masterpiece that will blow us away and will stand out as the Palm d'Or. Thenonkynfilm left to be screen is that of Lynn Ramsey, the film I was most looking forward to seeing whe the schedule was announced. It's happened before that the last film screened took top honors-"The Class."