Sunday, May 13, 2018

Cannes Day Six

At the half-way point of the festival it has almost become a tradition that all and sundry bemoan there hasn’t been a great film yet, nor even a film worthy of the Palm d’Or.  That may have been partially been put to  rest with this morning’s Competition film “Three Faces” by Iranian master Jafar Panahi, who is respected for his films and also for riling those in charge of his country and not being allowed out.  

More simple than seminal, this is an effortlessly executed film of wide ranging social commentary that might find some support for the Palm d’Or.  A well known Iranian actress and prominent director are driving to a small village in the mountains in search of a teenaged girl who texted the actress a video of her hanging herself in frustration of the repression she is suffering in her village, preventing her from going to college to pursue a career in acting. They’re not sure if the video is a hoax, but are concerned enough for the actress to abandon the film she is working on throwing the director of the film into a panic. 

When they reach the isolated village, the locals are thrilled to meet the famous actress and also hope the distinguished looking man accompanying her is a government official come to improve their lot.  Everyone spontaneously disappears when they learn they’ve come in search of this young girl, as she’s considered a hellion that no one can countenance.  A lone young girl takes them to her home, where her crazed brother throws a tirade over her wanting to leave the village to further her education.  The girl disappeared three days before and no one will admit to knowing her whereabouts.  They go to the cemetery and see a freshly dug grave.  They peer in and see an elderly woman laying there saying she is getting accustomed to her future home.  The film is a succession of such dainty morsels tinged with comedy and poignancy as they pursue their mission.

My day’s other Competition film, “Girls of the Sun,” lacked the depth or legitimacy of Panahi, as it tackled the subject of a band of Kurdish women participating in an offensive to regain their home town.  It may have been artfully shot, but it was a fanciful glorification primarily of the woman in charge of the battalion and a woman reporter courageously going into battle with them.  The director, Eva Husson, is preoccupied with closeups of the grim face of Golshifeh Farahani.  She berates the male commandeers for not being aggressive enough.  

The women of the jury used the Opening Night screening of the film as an opportunity to gather 82 women in the film industry, including Agnes Varda, representing the number of films that have been directed by women that have been selected to play in Competition in the 71-year history of the featival, compared to over 1,600 by men,  to march up the Red Carpet.  They weren’t necessarily calling the festival sexist, just the industry.  Rarely is Thierry Fremaux and his circle of advisers criticized for their selections. They are after the best films available.  Rarely does anything turn up in Director’s Fortnight or elsewhere more worthy  than what they have selected. This film though might have been given a little extra sway overlooking it’s hookey portrayal of its subject.  It was waterdowned  “Rambo.” It was the first of the nine films screened so far to receive zero stars from two of Screen’s panel.   The lone three star review got its aggregate up to a woeful one star.

I managed three Un Certain Regard films, one after another.  I wouldn’t have bothered with the Argentinian film “Murder Me, Monstor,” if I had known it was a horror film.  It looked good, but I had no interest in the search for the creature that was biting the heads off of people in a rural community.  The Indian film “Manto” told the true story of the controversial writer Saadat Hasan Manto during the tumultuous four year period during India’s Independence and partition.  He leaves Bombay for Pakistan where his writing is deemed obscene and is put on trial.  It gave a good history lesson of those times and the Hindu-Muslim conflict.

“Girl” goes all too deep in examining the subject of a Belgian teen-aged boy undergoing the process of a sex change.  It is a queasy experience for the boy and it is a queasy experience watching it.  He wants to become a ballerina.  Those he dances with don’t know his gender, but wonder why he never showers with them.  He tapes up his genitals so they won’t be seen. Those at his high school know, as one of his teachers puts it to a vote whether the girls are okay with him using their bathroom. At a sleepover with all the girls, they demand to see his genitals, one of many, many uncomfortable moments in the film.  The hormones he is taking aren’t giving him the breasts he wants.  He’d like to increase his dosage, but his single father and his doctor are opposed to it.  He has no real friends other than his six-year old sister.  With his long blond hair and continual feminine smile he does look like a girl,  though he is taller than all the girls he dances with.  He is in genuine anguish, as one might expect a person undergoing such a transition to be.  This was quite well done, but not a movie-going experience that many would want to endure.

I was also able to insert a  dopey film on the French Revolution, “A Violent Desire for Joy.”  Revolutionaries take over a rural convent, forcing the monks to exchange their habits for uniforms.  Whatever humor or commentary the makers of this film intended was utterly lost in this infantile exercise.  I regretted I had been turned away from the mid-afternoon Competition film in the Lumiere putting me on track for this rather than Wim Wender’s documentary on Pope Francis receiving its World Premiere before opening in the States later this week.  

The quote of the day from my reading of the trade papers came from Debra Granik, who directed the Oscar best picture nominated “Winter Bone.” She’s in Cannes with  “Leave No Trace” that debuted at Sundance and is playing in Director’s Fortnight: “On a good day directors are visual anthropologists and on a bad day they are voyeurs.”

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