Thursday, May 10, 2018

Cannes Day Three

This was a near dream day of cinema with bold and innovative films from Russia, Egypt, France and Sweden, any of which could have been a day’s highlight.  It began at 8:30 with the Russian Competition entry “Summer,” a black-and-white period piece of rock and roll rebels in 1981 Leningrad emulating what they knew of rock and roll on the other side of the Iron  Curtain.  They were as passionate about their music and expressing themselves as those who inspired them.  It wasn’t easy for them to perform, but when they did they had fans who fully responded.  

The film’s cinema-verité style with an abundance of music morphed on occasion into extraordinary dream sequences of outrageous behavior.  It will be difficult for any film in the festival to top a three minute scene of Psycho Killer on a train after some officials start harassing the long-haired musicians for their anti-Soviet behavior.  It was positively electrifying—one of many musical scenes of great impact and commentary.  The musician prancing down the aisles of the train belting out “don’t touch me, I’m a real life wire” is digitally enhanced with a white border outlining his body and other dazzling special effects.  This has to be seen to be believed—rock and roll in all its glory.  I am eager to see this again on the last day of the festival when all the Competition films are screened one last time. 

The day’s other Competition film, “Yomeddine” from Egypt, immediately afterwards was equally engrossing and sincere, though not of the same energy level.  It was a full immersion into the life of a man whose face and arms are deformed by leprosy.  He’s just lost his life and decides to embark on a trip across Egypt with his donkey in search of the family that abandoned him to a leprosy colony when he was an infant.  He is accompanied by a ten-year orphan by the name of Obama who is likewise ostracized by society. They encountered realistic adversity along the way.  This was another film unlike any before it and another remarkable achievement.  Two in a row was almost too much to take.

I was able to take a brieather with a lightweight Italian comedy in the Market with the catchy title of “Grannies on the Run.”  It stars 80-year old Claudia Cardinale.  She and a cohart plot to make a break from their nursing home to attend a concert in Venice.  In better hands this might have been hilarious, but I didn’t laugh once. 

 I didn’t object at all to the lukewarm nature of the film as I decompressed from my previous two exceptional doses of cinema  and looked forward to a conversation between film critic Elvis Mitchell and Ryan Coogler, director of “Black Panther” in the Bunuel.  These conversations had formerly been called Master Classes, but had been rebranded as a Rendezvous.  There were four of them scheduled this year, twice as any as usual, with three directors and John Travolta.  The festival recognized the phenomenon of “Black Panther enough to have screened it last night in the outdoor theater on the beach, the first time a film in current release has been accorded that honor.  And there was enough interest in Coogler that the theater was already filled 45 minutes before it was to start when I showed up for it.

That meant I could go see “Border,” an Un Certain Regard film from Sweden.  “Yomeddine” had prepared me for having a prolonged gaze at deformity.  The two lead characters in this movie both have pockmarked faces and quivering lips and hair in disarray as if they are a different species.  One is a border guard who has the uncanny ability to sense if someone is carrying contraband.  She miraculously discovers a well-attired young man has a chip hidden in his phone of child pornography and then is enlisted by the police to track down those involved.  Her senses are mistaken though when she questions a guy who has a tormented face and mannerisms remarkably similar to her. They later discover they both have scars from being struck by lightening and a scar on their backside.  When he passes through customs on another occasion she realizes they have a bond and tracks him down to the hostel he is staying at.  He is foraging maggots in the forest and eating them.  He dares her to eat one as well.  She resists, but then succumbs and is delighted by it.  This mirrored the day’s first two films with its amazing originality..  This was a dabble in the supernatural without pushing it too far.  

The day’s other Un Certain Regard film, “Sextape” from France, continued the theme of bold originality with its frank portrayal of two glib, fast-talking teenaged boys trying to convince  their girl friends to give them blow jobs.  It is at once comical and disturbing.  The girls are sisters.  The older, more experienced sister has already succumbed to her boy friend’s demands/needs and makes it acceptable for her sister to go along with it.  She’s not so sure.  She continually rolls her eyes at the outlandish arguments of the guy she’s been set up with.  The boys are clearly idiots and the girls wise to their ways. The boys can be sympathetic characters, but are all too often reprehensible.   Feminists will be divided between being appalled by this movie and applauding it as a cautionary tale for all women.  The girls are at times noble and heroic. The dialogue and acting by the Arabic foursome is something to behold, but it can be most disquieting at times.  It is hard to imagine that people could behave as they do, but it was a convincingly realistic and empathetic portrayal and cinema of merit.  There is so much to laugh at, one isn’t as disturbed as much as one should be.

My day was further highlighted by a film of yore—“Beating Heart” from 1940 by French master Henri Decoin.  I planned to watch the first hour and then go see the Chinese black comedy “Looking for Lucky” that purported to be a “biting satire on every conceivable ill in modern society,” but I was so engrossed by the love story of a young woman escaped from a reform school and a diplomat that I had to see it to its end.  This had all the twists of Farhardi’s bungled “Everybody Knows,” but each was plausible and well-earned.  The surprises came one after another, but rather than cringing at their contrivance one could admire them for their genuineness and ingenuity.  We were all fortunate to be treated to this.

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