Thursday, May 18, 2017

Cannes Day Two

As with yesterday, my day's selections were French-centric with three of my seven films devoted to the land where I find myself.  I may have made a misjudgment though when after twenty minutes I aborted "Brave New Jersey," a schmaltzy American feature on how a small town reacted to Orson Welles's legendary 1938 Halloween radio broadcast of a Martian invasion for one of the French films, the documentary "Walk With Me" on a Buddhist meditation center called Plum Village in the Dordogne region of France.  I had hoped for some inspiration and enlightenment and more insight into the French, but this British production was so superficial it even wastes time on the visit of a female monk to her father in his New York nursing home. 

The center was established by the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh in 1982.  It is home to some two hundred monks, male and female all with shaved heads, and has grown into a thriving business offering retreats to the public to practice mindfulness.  The film is interspersed with Benedict  Cumberbatch reading passages from a book by Hanh.  I was hoping the film would at least entice me to add Plum Village to my list of places to visit in my meanderings around France, but it didn't even succeed in that.

A second documentary on France, "Before Summer Ends," followed the travels of three thirty-year Iranians around France before one of them returns to Iran.  They stay in campgrounds and drive roads I'm most familiar with through rural France, but the movie is more about them than France.  The guy returning managed to avoid military service by becoming obese.  What he'll most miss about France is the alcohol aisle in the supermarket. One of the others avoided his military service by becoming a student in France, but is presently faced with the dilemma of never returning to Iran after ending his studies or doing his duty.  They travel with two young French women for a spell and teach them the three words for fart in Farsi.  Most fascinating was how the French woman director managed to sit in the front seat of their small car and film four of them crammed in the seat behind the obese guy at the wheel.

My third French film, "Julie and the Shoe Factory," was one of at least three feature films in the Market on French workers battling to save their jobs, a favorite French theme. The movie begins with a young woman, Julie, being fired from a job and then her struggles to find another.  She is depressed and morose, puttering around so slowly on her moped that a group of old French guys in matching Lycra uniforms on bicycles pass her.  When she finally is hired to work in a shoe factory, she is so happy that she rides fast enough to pass the same bunch on her way home.  Shortly after she is hired, news breaks that her company is going to send its work to China.  The women in the factory hire a bus and drive to Paris to protest to the owner of the company.  This rather wane tale is given an occasional jolt when the characters periodically break into song.

My day also included two movies by name American directors--one at the top of his game, Todd Haynes, and the other, Alan Rudolph, attempting a comeback, but failing miserably.  Haynes, whose "Carol" many thought was the best film in Competition two years ago, led off the Competition slate this year with "Wonderstruck."  Haynes specializes in period pieces.  This encapsulated two, the twenties and the seventies, as it intersperses the stories of a young deaf girl and a young boy just rendered deaf by a lightening bolt.  Though it had some early poignant moments, one had to be patient with the movie awaiting for it to reach its dramatic conclusion.  It seemed at times an exercise in cinematic mastery, of a black and white silent film, and resurrecting bygone eras.  The story hinges on outrageous coincidences.  If one can accept them, they add to it's impact.  Unlike "Carol" with six Oscar  nominations, there is no hope for such acclaim for this.

Seventy-year old Alan Rudolph, protege of Robert Altman, hasn't made a movie in fifteen years.  "Ray Meets Helen" will surely be his last. Rudoph's frequent star, Keith Carradine, plays an insurance investigator who has just returned from Peru on an assignment that left him so sick he vomits on the customs official in LA, an early indication of the quality of this film. His next assignment is to recover $250,000 that fell out of a Brinks truck in a rough neighborhood in Los Angeles. He discovers a young boy has most of the money and is willing to give it to Carradine.  Carradine is thrilled and intends to keep it himself.  He spends a hunk of it on a woman his age he meets in a fancy French restaurant who is also mired in despondency.  Only nine others cared to give this a chance and only three of us endured this nonsense to its conclusion.

Early in the day I passed on "Crazy for Football," an Italian film about a soccer team of the mentally impaired, but was able to see "Shoot," a soccer film from Vietnam later in the day.  It was a tribute to the Vietnamese love for soccer and abounded with loads of nifty close-up footwork.  Two brothers are the stars of a small team.  One of the brothers dies when they get mixed up with the mafia.  The other quits playing, but makes a comeback, first as s coach, and then as a player when his team is desperate for another player. It's feel good, triumphal conclusion will please those devoted to the sport.

The most solid and realistic film of the day and the festival so far came from Un Certain Regard--"Western," a superb German film about a group of Germans on a construction project in a small Bulgarian town.  They have trouble integrating into the community, not speaking the language, and coping with the lingering hostily towards Germans of many of the townspeople.  A shop owner won't even sell them cigarettes.  The men are starved for female companionship. When three women in bathing suits appear on the opposite side of a river where they are sun bathing themselves, they are imperiled by their lusts.   The film retains a tempered tone throughout, not resorting to any extravagance, including this episode.  This was cinema as commentary and art.  It saved my day.

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