Sunday 24 May 2015

Cannes 2015: The Winners!

Just like I was saying on yesterday's post, Cannes awards are even more unpredictable than the Oscars, because of the way they are selected by a jury made of up to nine people at the most, as opposed to a whole academy. And since the jury members are all artists, that often yields some very different results than if the awards were chosen by critics. Indeed the Coen brothers made some snarky comments claiming these were not critic's awards, all the most surprising considering their choices were mostly (bar one very surprising pick!) the critic's favourites!

Cannes 2015: Marguerite & Julien by Valérie Donzelli

At times, it feels as if Cannes' Director Thierry Frémaux can never get it right in the eyes of the press when it comes to putting the official selection together. He is often criticised for every reason under the sun, often by journalist after a cheap, click-baity article, so not an easy task to chose what film will appear in the most prestigious film festival in the world. (For what it's worth, I think he's doing an excellent job). The main, recurring criticism levelled against him by some recently has been the lack of female directors in the official selection, to which he has responded that while he laments this current situation, which is endemic in the world of contemporary cinema, he is opposed to all form of positive discrimination, because the scrutiny is so intense in Cannes that it would not be fair or right. This year the official selection has a few female directors however, including Valérie Donzelli, whose latest film Marguerite & Julien was somehow unfairly lambasted by the press.

Saturday 23 May 2015

Cannes 2015: Awards Wishlist and Predictions

It is hard enough to guess what the Academy will vote as best film at the Oscars from a list of maximum ten films, a usually consensual choice, so it is impossible to ever predict the Cannes Film Festival awards. They are chosen from a list of usually twenty films, by a small jury of eight people, and as it has become the tradition ever since Isabelle Adjani, then President of the Jury in 1997 for the festival's 50th birthday, requested it, they are all artists. As a result, awards have become perhaps less dry than if chosen by critics for example, with some unexpected, sometimes maddening choices.

It is also pointless exercise to try to second guess what films the juries will have gone for based on their own films, as who knew Steven Spielberg would find himself so moved by Blue Is The Warmest Colour two years ago. Having read the daily interview of each members of the jury on the Cannes Film Festival website, they seem to have thankfully taken their task very seriously and loving the post screening discussions and discovering a certain kind of cinema they are not accustomed to.

Cannes 2015: Chronic by Michel Franco

Chronic feels a bit like those with zero interest in cinema imagine a film presented at a film festival to be: dour, slow, overlong, provocative, abrasive, featuring badly lit naked bodies and bodily fluids, and with an eager willingness to shock. And yes, all of these staples of a certain kind of arthouse cinema feature, which made for a rude experience for many wary film critics on an early morning press screening near the end of the festival. But Chronic is so much more than that.

In Chronic, David is a palliative care nurse whose most recent patient is about to die as the film opens. We know nothing about him, and the film throws a few red herrings about his personality and his past, as we see him attend his latest patient's funeral, or confide to a stranger in a bar that his wife died recently, only for the audience to realise he is actually lying to a certain degree. There are no clues about his private life past or present, or any kind of life outside his occupation. In fact, we see him actively seek more night shifts and swapping some with a colleague, which hint at a lack of any outside activity in his life.

Cannes 2015: Valley of Love by Guillaume Nicloux - Official Selection

It has been a while since Gérard Depardieu has been making the headlines for a film he was involved in as opposed to his personal life, so after his towering return to form in Welcome to New York last year (which was rejected by every selection of the Cannes Film Festival however!), he is back on the Croisette for Valley of Love. This new film has an intriguing premise: divorced couple Gérard (Gérard Depardieu) and Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert) travel to Death Valley after receiving some posthumous letters from their recently deceased son with some specific instructions and a promise they would see him there.

Friday 22 May 2015

Cannes 2015: Yakuza Apocalypse by Takashi Miike

Takashi Miike is among the most prolific directors around, making Woody One Film a year Allen come across as positively lazy and uninspired in comparison, when the Japanese director usually delivers four films a year. And you truly never know what to expect from him, having recently tackled superhero films (with Zebraman 2, because of course, he would make a film called Zebraman 2), to video games adapation such as Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney, as well as the most austere period samurai film, with Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, shown in the Official Selection in Cannes in 2011. This year he is back on the Director's Fortnight with Yakuza Apocalypse.

In Yakuza Apocalypse, a young Yakuza, Kageyama (Hayato Ichihara), is left for dead after a confrontation with a rival syndicate he used to belong to. His boss, who happens to be a vampire, passes on his power to him to allow him to seek his revenge against the syndicate, having to confront some of its weirder members along the way including an English speaking "priest" and a man with psychic powers in a tatty frog costume.

Thursday 21 May 2015

Cannes 2015: The Assassin by Hou Hsiao-hsien

Probably one of the most anticipated films of this year's selection (and so long in the making that some were expecting it to be in Cannes last year), The Assassin is that one film we literally did not know what, being a martial arts film which we knew would be nothing like any we had seen before.

In The Assassin, Nie Yinniang (Shu Qi) is a trained assassin, who was abducted from her family at an early age, and under the wing of a mysterious nun we know little about, who seens Yinniang on various missions, which she accomplishes with a deadly precision. Until the day where she is sent to kill her cousin, and as we find out, her first love, Tian Ji'an, to whom she was promised to. Forced to face her past and long buried emotions, she must chose between remaining faithful to the order of the assassins or to her heart.

Cannes 2015: Love by Gaspar Noé

Love was the hottest ticket of this year's edition. A late addition to the official selection (but out of competition), and with a midnight screening slot (usually reserved for the more violent/trashier/naughtier films), it felt as if just about everybody was queuing to get in the screening, with a terrifying scrum and a palpable excitment once inside, with Thierry Frémaux delivering a rousing introduction of the film.

Gaspar Noé loves to shock, and has always done so throughout his career, which reached his highlight with the difficult to watch but incredibly affecting Irreversible, which was presented in Cannes in 2002, and which caused some audience members to pass out, or so does the legend go.
Its follow-up Enter The Void was a disappointment for me however, as for all its grand claims of a head trip, it really does not amount to much. Past the intriguing premise, the film did not go anywhere. And unfortunately, with Love, Gaspar Noé has slipped down the slope even more.

Cannes 2015: Mountains May Depart by Jia Zangke - Official Selection

Having been noticed with such films as Still Life (2006) and 24 City (2008), Chinese director Jia Zangke made a real impact with his previous film, A Touch of Sin (2013), which tackled corruption and violence in modern China, and won a prize for best screenplay in Cannes. And he is back on the Croisette this year with the poetically named Mountains May Depart.

Mountains May Depart is set in three different time periods. We first meet childhood friends Tao (Zhao Tao), Zhang (Zhang Jinsheng) and Liangzi (Liang Jin Dong) in 1999 while in their mid twenties. The trio first appears to be friends, but love rivalry soon emerges, leading to jealousy and even violence. And Zhao is having to choose between her two suitors, the former an ambitious entrepreneur and the latter a miner. Fast forward to 2014 (the Malaysia Airlines is mentioned as if to anchor this part in the present even more) and a lot have changed, relationships have ended, characters have moved on (or not)... Then we skip to 2025, a period during which the repercussions of the character's life choices are now felt by the next generation.

Wednesday 20 May 2015

Cannes 2015: Arabian Nights by Miguel Gomes

Arabian Nights was arguably the most anticipated, or at least the most mysterious films presented at the Cannes Film Festival this year, the new folly of Portuguese director Miguel Gomes, who charmed the arthouse scene in 2012 with Tabu. Of Arabian Nights we knew very little, apart that it was to be a loose adaptation of the eponymous Arabian tale(s), transposed to contemporary Portugal, and that its running time was clocking over 6 hours! Rumour has it that it was due to be presented at Un Certain Regard, only to be rejected due to its screening arrangements. So it has ended up at Director's Fortnight instead, and split into three parts.

So how did it turn out, and what kind of film is it? Having watched the three parts (all introduced by a very spirited and entertaining Miguel Gomes, whose regular presence over this short period of time I shall miss), I can confirm that Arabian Nights is a triumph, a sprawling film essay that goes against all current trends of current world/arthouse cinema, a love letter to Portugal and its people, and a staunch anti-austerity tirade, in a way that is really heart-felt and never patronising.

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Cannes 2015: Office by Hong Won-Chan - Midnight Screenings

The Midnight Screenings within the official selection at the Cannes Film Festival seem to have been neglected over the last few years and have a distressing lack of proper genre cinema. There are fewer of them (only 3 this year) and the picks are not always inspired. If anything, it feels as if the Director's Fortnight sidebar selection has been grabbing all the best horror/indie/cult films over its last editions. Still, this year we had Amy which was widely celebrated, and everybody has wild hopes for Love tomorrow. And the third film within the Midnight Screening line-up, Office, was unleashed last night.

In Office, the employee of a big corporation slaughters his family in the shocking opening scene before going on the run. An homicide inspector interrogates his colleagues and superiors trying to understand how a seemingly normal man could commit such an act. But there seems to be a culture of secrecy, and the killer seems to be felt or even seen within the premises.

Monday 18 May 2015

Cannes 2015: Cemetery of Splendour by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

In a rather unfortunate chain of events, three directors that we were expected in competition this year in Cannes, have found themselves relegated to Un Certain Regard: Brillante Mendoza, Naomi Kawase and, more surprisingly, former Palme d'or winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul, which made the audience wonder if there was less to expect from the latest of the Thai director.

In Cemetery of Splendour, an elderly woman, Jenjira (Jenjira Pongpas) offers her assistance to a military hospital in the Northern Thai countryside, where soldiers are stuck by a mysterious sleeping illness. She strikes an unlikely friendship with one of them, Itt, (Banlop Lomnoi), while a psychic claims to be able to unravel the curse.

Cannes 2015: Green Room by Jeremy Saulnier

One of the best aspects of Cannes is being among the very first audience in the world to discover films, sometimes without having read any reviews, seen as much as a trailer or even a still. Indeed it is often a complaint for some that films who get a rapturous reception in Cannes do not live up to their growing hype by the time they reach cinemas months later. But sometimes the Cannes hype machine gets into overdrive so quickly that watching a film at the festival itself merely a few hours after its first well received screening can also lead to disappointment, and this is what happened to Green Room as far as I am concerned, after enthusiastic words all over Twitter after its first screening of the day.

Sunday 17 May 2015

Cannes 2015: Tale of Tales by Matteo Garrone

With its striking trailer release just before Cannes (the film is out in Italy on the same day as its festival screening), The Tale of Tales had the audience salivating, with its starry casts and striking imagery. And you cannot accuse Garrone of resting on its laurels and not trying something completely different, with a new film full of fairy tales and monsters after Gomorrah about the mafia, and Reality dealing with, well, reality TV.

Cannes 2015: Asphalte by Samuel Benchetrit

The theme of urban loneliness used to be a recurring trope in indie cinema in the 90's, and was often the scourge of film festivals at the time, with audiences having to sit through yet another ensemble films filled with quirky characters, in a we are all at one with each other, yet we are so far from each other kind of way. So that Asphalte was tackling such a theme, and with a comedic angle, was filling me with a dread, despite the starry cast. Yet how wrong I was...

Cannes 2015: Carol by Todd Haynes

Todd Haynes's last visit to Cannes, in 1998 with Velvet Goldmine, was not the most fortunate, with many critics seemingly expecting another slice of Cool Britannia in the footsteps of Trainspotting, and not the contemplative and melancholic film the American director delivered. I even remember a member of the audience shouting "boring!" at the press screening back then. And now that his career has gone from strength to strength, he is back in the Croisette with Carol, an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's The Price of Salt.

The film is set in the 50's, and in it, an older woman, Carol (Cate Blanchett), falls for a shy and younger shop assistant called Therese (Rooney Mara). Set in a gorgeously wintery New York, Carol is quite simply sublime. All the talent of Todd Haynes is in evidence, in the way he transcends what could have been a bland and melodramatic period adaption. While the Americana of the time is lovingly evoked, it never overpowers the film. Sets, costumes and period details are absolutely perfect, but they remain firmly at the service of the film and never take over. And the hypnotic score by Carter Burwell add to the film's pervading charm

It might sound like a stereotype, but this is a film in which a fleeting glance, a touch speak volumes, and makes you want to frame every single ravishingly composed shot. The first half of the film is a dance of seduction between the confident and classier Carol, and the confused and timid Therese, who picks up on the signals of the older woman, while not quite knowing what to do with them.

While society at the time did not look so kindly at that sort of union, Todd Haynes is very careful not to demonise Carol's husband Harge (Kyle Chandler). He is a broken man, with conflicting and raging emotions, who is fighting to keep his wife and save his marriage, even though he is fully aware that it is hopeless (we learn that this is not the first time Carol had a fling with another woman!). And there is an unexpected and devastating scene in the couple's lawyer office, during which, for all the bitterness of their dispute, remains of affections between the two emerge.

Cate Blanchett has recently delivered the absolute best and definitive female performance recently in Blue Jasmine, and yet she still manages to come close to this yet again, with a character full of strength, class and poise, with an almost predatory vibe to her but with a beating heart underneath that cover. The Australian actress is quite simply the best and most glamorous film star we have at the moment, following each towering performance with another one that nearly tops it up. And Carol is also the confirmation of the vast talent of Rooney Mara, who manages to express so much conflict and confusion with her trademark sad blue eyes, who always seem to be looking further away than any one of us can see.

Carol is a triumph, and the crowning glory of Todd Haynes's career.

Star rating: 

Carol was presented in the Official Selection, In Competition.

Carol. USA 2015. Directed by Todd Haynes. Starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, Sarah Paulson...

Friday 15 May 2015

Cannes 2015: Irrational Man by Woody Allen

The Cannes Film Festival's love affair with Woody Allen, like any long term relationships, has had its ups and downs, its period of adoration and separation over the years. Although it seems as if the old couple has patched its differences over the last decade or so, and the American director is usually happy to send his films to La Croisette, albeit always out of the competition, even though the programmers tried to convince him to give the competition a go this time, considering the quality of his latest, which boded well.

In Irrational Man, newly appointed philosophy teacher and loose cannon Abe (Joaquin Phoenix), suffers a an existential crisis as he takes his new position in a college in Rhode Island. Circumstances and the unexpected eavesdropping of a conversation in a dinner lead him to believe that the most heinous crime can be justified depending on the circumstances, setting off a chain of events that gives him a new appetite for life, as he believes to have committed the perfect crime.

Cannes 2015: The Lobster by Yorgos Lanthimos

In The Lobtser, single people in a dystopian world are sent to a seaside hotel in which they have forty five days to find a companion and fall in love. If they fail, they are turned into the animal of their choice and released into the wild. And there are severe punishments for those who try to lie about their true feelings.

On paper, The Lobster logically should not have worked. Many promising European directors have had their fingers burned when turning to the English language (or worse, going to Hollywood!). Add to the mix a quirky premise and an international cast with various accents, it sounded like a recipe for disaster or some kind of arthouse Euro pudding (think the godawful Mr Nobody by Jaco Van Dormael). And yet…

Thursday 14 May 2015

Cannes 2015: Mad Max Fury Road by George Miller

Cannes sometimes has a stereotype attached to it, that it only shows pretentious, slow, arthouse (and for some, foreign films always mean arthouse!) but it has not been true for several decades now, it changed on that electrifying opening night of 1992, for which Giles Jacob had picked Basic Instinct. Since then, genre films (Body Snatchers the following years, the usual Midnight screenings) have found their space in the line up. And what a glorious day indeed when you can watch Mad Max Fury Road in the giant Theatre Lumiere with an audience of over 2000 journalists and industry not hiding their enthusiasm at all.

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Cannes 2015: La Tête Haute by Emmanuelle Bercot

With such a different, unlikely choice for their opening film, it is as if the Cannes Film Festival wanted to send a message for the 2015 edition. After years of starry, mostly Hollywood outings with various degrees of critical reception (see the justified mauling of last year's unintentional comedy Grace of Monaco) and criticism for the lack of female directors in the official selection, they have given us the polar opposite of the previous years with La Tête Haute, a tough social drama directed by a woman, Emmanuelle Bercot.

Monday 11 May 2015

BFI Cult: Eaten Alive by Tobe Hopper

Texan filmmaker Tobe Hooper peaked early. Following his freakout debut with the rarely seen hippie time capsule Eggshells (1969), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) was only Hooper's second feature, but would go on to become an important and influential classic of atmospheric unease, changing the genre landscape forever and cementing Hooper's permanent place in the horror pantheon. For many, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is quite simply one of the greatest horror films ever made, a reputation which of course presents a problem for the budding filmmaker: bloom too early (and too exquisitely), and wilting inevitably follows. Even if Hooper would subsequently helm the odd estimable genre title such as Poltergeist (1982) or Lifeforce (1985), his has been a career of steady decline. By the new millennium, barely a quarter century after The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was first digging its hook into stunned cinemagoers, Hooper was directing undistinguished straight-to-video schlock like Crocodile (2000).

Saturday 2 May 2015

Tears of God by Robert Hillyer Barnett - Review

The first thing we see in Robert Hillyer Barnett's feature debut is a movie camera, filmed head on as though it were filming us. The second thing we see, presumably in reverse shot as the true subject of that initial camera, is a woman (Kate Lyn Sheil), half-lost in shadow but visibly weeping - until the voice of a second woman is heard laughing off camera, and the woman in shot smiles, shakes her head and laughs too. If the first woman's tears are the titular Tears of God, they are also counterfeit - part of an actor's routine, performed for the (or at least a) camera. Before the title itself appears on screen, printed bright red in gothic font, the camera tracks through not just a wintry woodland, but also a dusty old movie theatre (which, it will turn out, is now serving as the church headquarters for a doomsday cult). In other words, whatever else it might be, Tears of God is a film very much concerned with its own status as a film, and with the mystic artifice of cinema itself, able to to capture otherwise forgotten or overlooked truths, and to preserve, even perhaps revive, the dead.