A list and a few short notes about this year's Cannes edition, which had a better-than-usual competition, but rather lackluster sidebars (the few exceptions see below):
0. Princess Racoon
(Seijun Suzuki, Out of Competition). Truly Out of Competition - I refuse to rank this: Suzuki's last two films are messages from another universe. This one is as formally advanced, hyperstylized and crazy as Pistol Opera
, but it's a more joyful affair, a weirdo musical based on an old folk legend. Also, it stars Zhang Ziyi as the raccoon princess and opens with unexplained knights talking in some mishmash of Portuguese and Spanish. Then
it gets really weird. Don't get me started on the Frog of Peace. Find the trailer here - http://www.tanuki-goten.com/ - and get a faint idea. (Also has the catchy love theme.) We're not worthy etc.
1. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
(Cristi Puiu, Un certain regard). Puiu's second film after the likeable Stuff & Dough
is a quantum leap. It should have been in competition, but it's a 2 1/2-hour Romanian epic about a not very likeable old bastard dying. 1st hour, just in his apartment, drove many out, but then it really kicks in, emotional emergency for 90 minutes from hospital to hospital, with every actor absolutely uncanny in their believablility. Handheld plan sequence style adds to realism, Puiu quotes "Emergency Room" and Rohmer's "Six Moral Tales" as inspiration (this is supposed to be the first in a cycle of six films) - the latter makes sense when you think of it as an encypcopedia of human behaviour concerning certain moral questions. UCR section jury president Alexander Payne walked out, a good friend of mine (and co-juror) made him see it again, then they gave it the section's pirze. No other choice, really.
2. (tie) Election
(Johnnie To, In Competition) / A History of Violence
(David Cronenberg, In Competition) / Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine
(Peter Tscherkassky, Quinzaine des realisateurs)
Here's to some of the most realiable directors in the world: To's film, on the surface a superb, stylish, dark thriller about gangster ethics, was the most underrated and misunderstood film in Cannes. It also doubles as a history of the triads and a provocative political allegory.
Cronenberg is on similar terrain, also examinating a dielactical relationship between history and present (see further: Haneke's strong Cache
). On the surface it seems almost mainstream (think: misleading autumnal idyll of Dead Zone
goes graphic novel - this one showed Sin City
where it's at, in a way), except for the weird tone, wavering between comedy and melodrama, which makes it all the more unsettling. A return to form for Cronenberg after the formally astounding, but comparably slight Spider
, with the American Dream as the New Flesh.
Austrian Avantgardist's Tscherkassky found footage short triptych The Cinemascope Trilogy
is one of the greatest achivements of recent cinema; In this 17-minutes-masterpiece, he's using Leone's The Good the Bad & The Ugly
as material for another characteristic, darkroom- and editing table-composed adrenalin-pumping meditation on life & death (of cinema). Spellbinding, and it stars almost exclusively Eli Wallach.
(Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, In Competition)
Nobody matches the Dardennes for urgency and precision, although they may have overreached with the final Pickpocket
quote, as the immediacy of their style makes for a very different kind of transcendental experience, if at all. Other than that it's perfect, it's also their most "narrative" - hence, also their most accessible - work since La promesse
. (Which, surprisingly, has made it a kind of consensus Palme D'or winner, and a deserved one for once.)
6. Tale of Cinema
(Hong Sang-soo, In Competition)
I like Hong and usually at least find something in his movies, but this one is moving in unexpected ways (it's his best since and maybe even better than his finest work so far, The Power of Kangwoon Province
). A completely unusual take on film-in-film (and the transition to "normal" is one of the most astonishing film moments I've ever seen/heard), Hong's characteristically unsentimental edge doesn't get blunted, exactly, but softened in a welcome way - it's still very ambivalent, but the sense of reverie (about cinema) that's creeping in on the edges gives it a unique emotional pull. Also, darkly comical streak even more natural than usual. In a way: the best Woody Allen film in Cannes. (The Woodster, meanwhile, as you probably heard, has made his best film in years: Match Point
, Out of Competition. It's true, and it's very enjoyable to watch - maybe also because it's not that personal, more accomplished in a good-craftsman-kind-of-way -, but nothing to get crazy about, eiher.)
(Joao Pedro Rodrigues, Quinzaine des realisateurs)
The Portuguse talent's follow-up to his radical and brillant sex-and-garbage-saga O fantasma
has the most mesmerizing direction of all films I've seen in Cannes - I was aesthatically thrilled from first moment to last. I'm still not sure about the story (hysterical pregnancy and whatnot), but he's a unique filmmaker, clearly working a field all of his own, has a peculiar vision of transformation and redemption.
8. Three Times
(Hou Hsiao-hsien, In Competition)
Can there be any doubt that Hou is the most ingenious master of our time? Was I almost jerking off as he out-Wonged Kar-wai in the opening 60s episode? Was I spellbound as he consigned all dialogue to intertitles and had lighting to pass out for in the middle 1911 episode? Was I watching in awe at how the juxtapositions of these three tales on love ultimately unraveleld in the elegant modern alienation final episode? You bet I was, still, I'm just not sure if the central conceit - 60s: romantic swooning, 10s: noble suffering, now: alienated youth - isn't a bit too cliche, also it's maybe just great reworking of previous territory. See it and weep, though.
(Lodge Kerrigan, Quinzaine des realisateurs)
This one you've probably already heard of, as it was "only" European premiere. Doesn't look all that special in the beginning, but at some point becomes really powerful in an outstanding way, also: a superb tribute to the Dardenne style. Who's that lead actor? He's incredible.
10. Moments choisis des histoire(s) du cinema
(Jean Luc Godard, Cannes Classics)
Yes, the distillation is only 85 minutes and thus loses the symphonic sweep. It's still overwhelmingly beautiful, mostly, and fascinating to see what JLG chooses to omit and keep.
Also worth mentioning: Falscher Bekenner
aka Low Profile
(Christoph Hochhäusler, Un certain regard) - remarkable take on the contemporary German New New Wave style, blinkered smalltown-lower-middle-class universe so satirically dead-on it stings; Cache
(Michael Haneke, In Competition) - our Michael has become the finest bourgeois artist in search of underlying terror of modern cinema, for some reason I admire this more than I like it (the construction is virtuoso, really, and the direction matches that, so his prize was more than deserved), but I'm sure joker will go all gaga; The Forsaken Land
(Vimukthi Jayasundara, Un certain regard) - a noteworthy, elliptical, slow and quite ravishing first film from Sri Lanka (co-winner of the "Camera D'or" for first feature, good choice) in some respects very Weerasethakulish; The Wendell Baker Story
(Andrew & Luke Wilson, seen on the market) - crude appearance, but emotionally and thematically close to Wes Anderson, and really quite heartfelt, takes a while to get going, then the superb supporting cast comes, especially splendid parts for Harry Dean Stanton & Seymour Cassel plus Kris Kristofferson as old codgers; Eli, Eli, Lemma Sabachthani?
(Shinji Aoyama, Un certain regard) - maybe not really good, but positively crazy, with half of the film just ultra loud roise-nock improvisation by Tadana Asanobu & partner, that was so cool; Last Days
(Gus Van Sant, In Competition) - need to see it again, was very tired and kept zoning in and out, very befitting for this movie, but I'd like to give it a more concentrated look, very worth seeing in any case, e.g. for Harry Savides' again oh-so-magnificent lighting, another great musique concrete soundtrack and some grand scenes, with the one Hoberman described in his Cannes piece as a "reverse Wavelength
" particularly breathtaking; The Buried Forest
(Kohei Oguri, Un certain regard) - also too tired in this one to say if the polyphonic structure ultimately works, but check out some of those incredible HD visuals anyway.
And, for those who care:
Most overrated: Broken Flowers
(Jim Jarmusch, In Competition). Aka Lost in Translation Redux
- actually quite nice and likeable (too much so, in fact) and the most acceptable of the many, many midlife-crisis films at the fest, but also kind of a conservative letdown.
Unfortunately not the great comeback: Who's Camus Anyway?
(Mitsuo Yanagimachi, Quinzaine des realisateurs) - good the master's back, but again: who'd a thought he'd also settle for (mostly) nice and likeable; probably most interesting for auteurists, as his key essay on cinema.
Fortunately not as annoying: Manderlay
(Lars Von Trier, In Competition) - I really don't wanna go to the cinema to see preachy theater, but hey, prankster Lars, whatever, at least this time it's shorter, even more Brechtian (baad acting) and sometimes actually quite funny (Chloe Sevigny in blackface etc.)
Most ridiculous: The Bow (Kim Ki-duk, Un certain regard) - "This will finally confirm all the prejudices of the Kim haters", warned Pierre Rissien before, and boy was he right; nicely shot, but ultra-silly and corny parable with unfathomably bad music (Kent Jones: "I had all these Dan Fogelberg flashbacks!") - critical opinion divided between so-bad-it's-almost-fun and worst film ever.
Worst film ever: Once You're Born You Can Never Hide
(Marco Tullio Giordana, In Competition) - as you can see, I find this treatment of the illegal immigrant issue on the level of a book for adolescents much more offensive, since it's just as dumb and kitschy, but botches a real problem - here it's not some hilariously overblown vulgar-psychological kim obsession that's milked, but they quite knowingly drown what they actually wanna deal with in the worst cliches (music also: unforgiveable) and the cheapest manipulation. All those who declared this neocon cinema d'hearstring-tug guy a good filmmaker (when he's just made one serviceable film, and it's The 100 Steps
, not the 5 hour TV series masquerading as cinema d'heartstring-tug-nostalgia) should have learned by now.