Before the Un Certain Regard jury tendered their awards this afternoon in the Debussy theater I was finally able to have a word with juror Julie, director of the Telluride Film Festival, in the lobby preceding her taking the stage with her fellow jurors Benicio Del Toro, Virginia Ledoyen, Annemarie Jacir and Kantemir Balagov. Usually I share a few screenings with her during the festival, but her jury duties had kept her so busy this was the first we had crossed paths. She was full of glee over her experience and also over their choices. I asked if they had to deliberate very long. She said it went fast as they had been talking about the films they had seen all along and knew one another’s feelings. She agreed with Ralph and I that Un Certain Regard had an exceptional batch of films this year, the strongest since she has been attending the festival.
Ralph and I were thrilled with their choices, as it means there is a strong likelihood Julie will program several of them for Telluride and we’ll get to see them again. Their top prize went to the Swedish film “Border” about a facially disfigured border security guard with a gift for spotting smugglers and her friendship with a guy with a similar look and mysterious qualities. It was easily the boldest, most imaginative film of the festival. The teenaged boy undergoing a sex change in the Belgian film “Girl” was awarded best actor for his agonizing, sensational performance. “Sofia” won best script. This story of a young unmarried Moroccan woman who shocks her family and faces prison time when she turns up pregnant may have been the most gripping film of the festival. Best director went to the Ukrainian film “Donbass” that was the Opening Night film for this category. I had missed it, but Ralph really liked this film on warfare. They also gave a Special Jury prize to the Brazilian film “The Dead and the Others” for its anthropological portrayal of the life of an indigenous people.
Julie asked what I thought would win the Palm d’Or. She was hearing that “Cold War,” the Polish film by the director of “Ida,” a Telluride discovery, had a good chance. I had just seen “ Capharnaüm,” a Lebanese film with the absolutely amazing performance of a twelve-year boy who is fed up with his abusive, indigent parents living on the margins of society and moves into the hovel of an African refugee and her infant son. His gut-wrenching struggles to survive and care for the infant in a most unfavorable environment were remarkably well-portrayed. This smaller film could win the favor of the jury simply for its subject matter. Julie agreed that was a possibility, but she hates it when a jury allows that to dictate their thinking.
Neither of us had seen the final film due to be screened in a couple of hours, the Turkish film “The Wild Pear Tree” by former Palm d’Or winner Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and knew that was a strong possibility. Ralph and I feared we wouldn’t be able to see it until after the awards ceremony, as it’s lone screening the next day was at 7:45, just as the awards ceremony would be concluding. But we lucked out and were allowed into the press screening today when there were plenty of empty seats in the Bazin for this three-hour movie. We were concerned that we may have been too sleep deprived to do it justice, and that it might have been better to hold off on it until the next day, but it was so well done that it was the only film today that I didn’t nod off in. If nothing else, it ought to win the award for best script.
It is a series of long conversations, some going on for ten or fifteen minutes, between a young man just out of college trying to get his novel published while hoping to get a job as a teacher, with a series of people over a few days until a jump ahead of several months to conclude the film. He still lives at home. His father teaches grade school and has a gambling addiction. He has no money, even trying to cadge money from his penniless son. The son hates the town he lives in. He has a perpetual scowl on his face. His conversations generally begin with an air of amiability, but degenerate into diatribes of bitterness, even with a local novelist he goes to for advice. This didn’t have the profundity of Ceylan’s Palm d’Or winner “Winter Sleep,” but was still an exceptional film of considerable depth. It is not a sure winner, but with no clear standouts this year, it will be under consideration.
The Italian film “Happy as Lazarro” might also have some supporters. Ralph and I finally caught up with it today after missing it earlier in the festival. A perpetual smile of benevolence graces the face of Lazarro, a guileless young man who lives in the country and ventures off to the big city. His purity generally wins him favor from those he encounters. The film adeptly bridges on the surreal in its commentary on a world of craven selfishness.
I managed a fourth Competition film today, leaving me with just one more to see tomorrow. Vanessa Paradis gives a swashbuckling performance as the producer of third-rate gay porn in “Knife and Heart.” Á knife-wielding killer is murdering people she has worked with eventually derailing her productions. The police aren’t all that motivated to track the killer down so she follows up on the mysterious clue of a feather left at the murder sites. This wacky film isn’t meant to be taken too seriously, nor will the jury. The film begins with a gruesome murder and is the fourth film in Competition to end with a murder (five actually if one includes Spike Lee’s film as it ends with the gruesome footage of the car that ran down a woman in Charlottesville). All this brutality is making the heartwarming Japanese film “Shoplifters” of an offbeat family full of goodwill and consideration more and more palatable as the Palm d’Or. If it wins, Ralph says it will be the first time in his seven years of attending the festival, going back to the “Tree of Life” year, that his choice will have won. In the “Tree of Life” year he was rooting for Ceylan’s film “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.”
I inserted one of the Director’s Fortnight winners into my day—the best European film (though Gaspar Noé’s French film “Climax” won the best overall award, the Italian film “Lucia’s Grace” about a surveyor who becomes haunted by the Virgin Mary trying to make her resist abiding by the wishes of a corrupt developer. The developer argues that if he did things properly he’d be locked up for being corrupt, so he had no choice in this world of ours.