Both of today’s offerings had the possibility of being that masterpiece we’ve all been awaiting by a Cannes regular who has won awards before, though never the top prize. The first was “Dogman” by Matteo Garrone. He returns to a territory he knows wells—Italian mobsters. The dog man of the film is a twerpy guy who runs a small kennel in a rundown building on the outskirts of a city. He provides coke and minor services for some small time thugs who don’t much respect him. They somewhat belligerently toss him a couple of bracelets as his cut for being their driver for a heist. He is upset that they brag they iced a dog in the house they just robbed, putting it in the freezer. He returns to the house and lovelingly revives the dog. One of the mobsters who forces him to do things he doesn’t want to do is fully out of control. Some of his cohorts think he needs to be eliminated. The movie has the ring of truth unfolding as a true tale, but lacks the punch of a transcendent film.
Screen’s board of critics gave “Burning” by Lee Chang-Dong a 3.8, the highest rating of a film ever, exceeding “Toni Erdmann” from two years ago. But rarely does the highest rated film win the Palm d’Or. Erdmann was actually totally ignored by George Miller’s jury. “Burning’s” score came as a great surprise, as this vanillaish story of another guy searching for a woman he had just developed a crush on, as in yesterday’s “Under the Silver Lake,” failed to connect with either Ralph or I. We expected three-stars, not fours, across the board. It had no buzz from those who had seen its early screenings, as the final one of the day at ten pm wasn’t even a third full. Usually one has to be in line almost an hour early to be sure of getting in.
The woman who disappears is most charismatic and has two suitors. One is a dopey guy she knew growing up in their small rural community and meets up again in the big city at her part-time job trying to entice customers into shops with special promotions dancing out front and giving away stuff. The other guy is a very smooth rich guy with a Porsche who she met on a recent trip to Africa. The dopey guy, who claims to be a writer, works on his father’s small farm outside the city, is truly in love with her. The other guy may be just toying with her. Much is left unstated in the minimalist script that is padded into 148 minutes. I could have left after an hour. None of the characters are developed enough to care about. A few clues are given as to their motives, but not with much certainty. It leaves one with plenty to question, if any of it mattered.
The Un Certain Regard field has several strong contenders for its top prize—“Sofia,” “The Harvesters,” “Border” and “Girl”—so much so that it was almost a relief that today’s two films didn’t further muddle the field. The German film “In My Room” turned into a post-apocalypse movie when with no explanation everyone has disappeared from the world save one guy. He’s visiting his dying mother out in the countryside when he awakes one morning and cars are abandoned on the road and stores are empty. It is as strange and inexplicable to those watching it as it is to him. He contentedly goes about living and becoming self-sufficient on a small farm. He is eventually discovered by a good-looking woman who speaks English and they continue to exist without questioning anything or feeling as if they are under any threat. This was a genuine ho-hum of a movie that the critics could embrace if they wanted for being so understated.
“The Gentle Indifference of the World” takes its title from Camus. The two protagonists of this movie from Kazakhstan are both reading Camus. One is a young woman of intelligence whose father has recently died and is put in the position of having to marry an ogre to pay off his debts. The other is an unrefined admirer who is a genuinely good guy. As a stand-alone this might have had some interest, but it doesn’t distinguish itself in any way amongst the many films it is up against.
My other two films for the day were both awardwinners from the Critics Week. The films in this sidebar generally lack the polish of other invited films, but can shine with their heart and grittiness. That was true of both “Woman at War” from Iceland and “Sir” from India. Both center around a woman. The woman in Iceland is an idealistic middle-aged music teacher who gets around on a bicycle with a large wicker basket on her handlebars. She has large portraits of Gandhi and Mandela in her apartment. She is an ardent environmentalist who is knocking down electrical towers to discourage a Chinese company that wishes to further develop power in Iceland with “suicidal” fossil fuels rather than with the more environmentally friendly geothermal power that has been the hallmark of Iceland. The country is in a state of terror wondering who the sabateur could be. A Latino touring cyclist equipped with Ortliev panniers and wearing a Che t-shirt is apprehended several times as a suspect. The plot has other delightful wrinkles but not much supporting rhetoric in her quest to “stop the war against the earth.”
In “Sir” a young ambitious maid from rural India has just started working for a young man in Mumbai who has just called off his marriage because he is too devoted to his job in his family’s construction business to text his fiancé five times a day as he thinks she desires. The maid is very sweet and obsequious. The guy recognizes her genuineness compared to the rest around him and takes an affection to her. When the woman who directed this first film introduced it, she said, “It is extremely important that this film be seen and talked about.” That may be overstating it, but it does deserve to be seen.