Saturday, May 20, 2017

Cannes Day Four

Clint Eastood's Master Class scheduled for this afternoon was postponed until tomorrow, freeing up my day. I was prepared to sacrifice two hours waiting in line for what could be the highlight of the festival scheduled for five in the Debussy.  The past few years the Master Class has been held in the much smaller Bunuel.  It was a relief that it had returned to the thousand-seat Debussy, as Tarantino and Scorcese had filled when they had been given this career retrospective.

The cancellation allowed me to make an attempt on the two o'clock screening of the two-and-a-half hour Competition entry "The Square" at the Soixante rather than waiting until the eleven p.m. screening, which would have kept me from getting to bed until two a.m., an hour later than I've been managing. Even though I arrived less than fifteen minutes before the start of the film, luck was with me and I was among the last to be seated for this Swedish film by Ruben Ostlund, whose avalanche film "Force Majeure" was an award-winner three years ago.  

Juror Maren Ade, director of last year's hit "Toni Erdmann," will no doubt champion this black comedy, as could jury president Pedro Almodovar, who said that "Erdmann" was his favorite film in 2017.  It starts out as if it's going to be a series of episodic bursts of outrageous behavior beginning with a young pretty blonde American interviewing the director of Stockholm's art museum, asking him two oblivious questions and then leaving it at that.  Then we see the director walking home and intervening in an altercation between a man and a woman that has repercussions that reverberate through the rest of the film.  It does settle into a narrative of a sort, but is laced with not always connected in-your-face encounters of  brutal honesty and moral quandary that has the audience squirming, glad they're not caught in the quagmire. The film may not have the magnitude of a Palm d'Or winner, but it will have its advocates.  It could be Ade's opportunity to make up for the indignity she suffered not receiving a single award from last year's jury after being deemed the front runner for the Palm d'Or.

The day's first Competition film, "120 Beats Per Minute," will be a strong contender for best screen play if not more.  Written and directed by Robin Campillo, writer of the brilliant "The Class," that won the Palm d'Or by a unanimous vote of Sean Penn's jury, it is an insider's look at Act Up Paris in the 1990s, the gay advocacy group that didn't hold back confronting and disrupting individuals, groups and corporations that were resistant to gay rights.  There are extended scenes of the group's weekly meetings plotting their strategy and their attacks, which include rampaging through a drug company squirting fake blood everywhere and spreading the ashes of one of their comrades on a luxurious buffet.  Its members are deeply committed to their cause, but can't always agree on the best means of promoting it.  They argue passionately.  There is a considerable amount of injections as they each fight their personal battles with AIDS, and intimate sex as well.  The men are happy to passionately kiss to shock. One wonders if it can maintain its opening brilliance.  It lags at times, but it is still a remarkable portrayal of people fully devoted to something they believe in.

Agnes Varda offered up my other French movie of the day--"Faces Places (Visages Villages)."  She and the photographer JR drive around France photographing and interviewing people and mounting giant renditions of JR's photographs on walls and barns and trains and water towers and other unlikely canvases.  One is stacks of giant freight containers in the Le Havre docks. After initially interviewing three of the dock workers Varda arranges to meet their wives, saying we always hear about the frequently striking men but not their wives.  JR photograph them and put the photos up in the yard, making their husbands very proud.  Varda asks the wives how they respond to their husband's strikes.  One says she always stands behind her husband.  Varda asks, "Don't your stand beside him?"  She agrees that yes she is beside him.  She ends the movie by going to visit her long-time friend Jean-Luc Godsrd, who she hasn't seen in five years.  Unfortunately, she is stood up and calls him a "dirty rat" for this indignity.  Otherwise, this is a very warm-hearted portrayal of two artists with an affection for one another practicing their craft.

The day also included another special presentation of a documentary by a prominent auteur--Barbet Schroeder's rather shocking "The Venerable W."  W is a fear-mongering Buddhist monk in Mynamawr who denounces Muslims as an evil force in the country that needs to be suppressed.  In his sermons refers to them as "kalars," the local version of "nigger."They only contrive four per cent of the country's largely Buddhist population, but he makes them out to be a fast-breeding threat that could take over. His preaching inspires violence and the passage of laws limiting religious freedom.  Not all of the Buddhists agree with his teachings, but as Trump has demonstrated, loud-mouthed zealots appealing to basic instincts can cultivate an impactful following.

This was my first day without a Market screening, as my two other films were in Un Certain Regard.  The Chinese film "Walking Past the Future" portrays the contemporary downturn in the Chinese economy and how young and old are pressed to find work.  It opens with an older worker being fired from his job, at least the third firing I've seen in a film so far.  The bulk of the film follows the plight of a young woman who is somewhat unwillingly convinced to buy an apartment she can't really afford and then being forced to supplement her income.  One of her extra sources of income comes from allowing herself to be a guinea pig for new drugs.  She has a weak liver and this only leads to trouble.  This film didn't have the power or impact of yesterday's Iranian film or the film on Bulgaria the day before that were also slices of life of those societies, but it did give a worthwhile glimpse.

"Wind River" missed its ten p.m. starting time by forty-five minutes due to a bomb threat in the press screening of the Godard bio-pic preceding it in the Debussy, so I was kept out until nearly one a.m.  But it was well worth it.  Director and screen-writer Taylor Sheridan introduced the film along with three of his cast members. Taylor had previously written the dazzling scripts for "Sicaro" and "Hell or High Water," both of which played Cannes, but this is the first film he had directed.  He said he made this movie from his soul and with such truth and honesty that he could look his friends in the eye, implying the other films didn't live up to that with their fanciful elements.  Un Certain Regard tries to include a film of impact from Sundance. This murder mystery that takes place in winter-time Wyoming was this year's selection.  Sheridan proves himself not only a premier writer, but director as well.  He fully captures the unbridled machismo of rough, trigger-happy men living in a frontier setting.  

A female FBI agent played by Elizabeth Olsen is sent from Salt Lake City to investigate the death of an 18-year old Native American woman found dead in the snow on federal land three-and-a-half miles from the nearest habitation.  She is barefoot and has been raped.  The agent is unprepared for the cold conditions, but she otherwise proves herself to the local authorities, who at first think she is in way over her head.  She relies on the expertise of a professional hunter, Jeremy Renner of "The Hurt Locker," who kills wolves and mountain lions that prey on farm animals.  He intimately knows the land and the people.  He had lost a sixteen-year old daughter several years before to similar circumstances, and still carries the heavy burden of that.  This fresh, gripping story with considerable amount of carnage has one unexpected, but legitimate, turn after another.  It justifiably received the most resounding applause of any movie so far.

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