Saturday, 19 May 2018
While it is always near impossible to guess what such different jury members might pick as their awards at the Cannes film festival this year, we all thought this time we had it all figured out. In the year of #MeToo, of political and social injustice around the world, we all assumed the awards would be political. We were also near certain that a woman would win the Palme d'Or, for the second time only in the history of the festival, with two strong contenders: Alice Rohrwacher with Happy as Lazzaro, and Nadine Labaki with Capernaum. The awards however, while including the majority of press favourites, were not quite what we expected, especially not the top prize.
The Cannes Film Festival truly had the last laugh this year. Before it started, there were some tiresome, angry think pieces who had already deemed it a poor edition before anybody had even watched any films, because of the Netflix withdrawal and lack of big names (especially Americans).
When the festival's line up includes some established directors, it is criticised for always inviting the same people. When it does not, the "where are such and such?" comments are deafening, proving than in the eyes of some, the festival can never get it right.
Yet the festival has delivered what probably is its best edition in decades, an exciting line-up that put the spotlight on world/arthouse cinema in the way no other film festivals ever could. Who cares if we did not get Oscar bait or Netlflix films if this means that left some space for the endlessly brilliant streak of films we saw each day. The big names have delivered some of the best work of their career: Kore-Eda, Lee Chang-dong, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Jia Zhang-ke, Christophe Honoré... as have some of the less established names: Alice Rohrwacher, with her blistering tale of magic realism did not come to play, with her finest film to date, and Nadine Labaki has already become a directing force to reckon with, come what may tonight, not to mention Kirill Serebrennikov, who set the bar very high at the start of the competition with Summer.
While the festival has not really featured many genre films over the last few years, apart from their midnight screenings, everything changed this year, with a cornucopia of cult/experimental films in all the strands. The icing on the cake however was the addition of Yann Gonzales's Knife + Heart in the official selection, and in competition when we expected it at Directors' fortnight. The French director made a name for himself with You & The Night, a visual and literary gem. So when we heard the premise for his new film, we all salivated!
In Knife + Heart, Anne (Vanessa Paradis), a gay porn film producer in Paris in the 70's, is trying to win over her former lover, while trying to find the masked serial killer who is brutally despatching her male cast.
Friday, 18 May 2018
While the name of Bi Gan does not mean much to many cinephiles, the young Chinese director made a big impact in France with his first film Kaili Blues so there was a certain trepidation when his second film, Long Day's Journey Into Night was announced as part of the selection in Cannes this year, especially since the film was said to be in 3D, always an intriguing prospect for arthouse cinema.
Rather confusingly, the director came to introduce his film stating the film wasn't in 3D, confusing the audience as we had all been given 3D glasses, and true to his word, the first half of the film is in 2D. In it, Luo Hongwu returns to his hometown Kaili to search for the woman he loved and was never able to forget.
Thursday, 17 May 2018
For a few decades from 70's to about the mid-00's, French cinema seems to concentrate exclusively on content as opposed to form, delivering some very literary films. As for genre cinema, it was barely existent and looked at with suspicion. Thankfully a new generation of filmmakers are changing that, referencing their own, wide cinephile references to infuse French cinema with a breath of fresh genre, experimental air and the Cannes Film Festival is reflecting that this year, with Knife + Heart screening in Official Competition later this week and the presence of Ultra Pulpe by Bertrand Mandico in the Semaine de la Critique.
Bertrand Mandico has made a name for himself with a series of short films that were unlike we've seen before in French cinema, weaving references to some of the most insalubrious genre cinema with a very French elegance. He graduated to feature length with the other-worldly Wold Boys earlier this year and is back to short films with Ultra Pulpe.
Wednesday, 16 May 2018
South Korean is arguably one of the best in the world and Lee Chang-dong. The director (who was Minister of Culture many years ago!) has achieved an incredible body of work and expectations for his latest, Burning, were high, eight years after the critical hit Poetry.
Burning is adapted from a short story by Murakami, Barn Burning and the prospect of Lee Chang-dong adapting the work of the illustrious Japanese master was intriguing enough, although he has only kept the heart of the story.
David Robert Mitchell made a big impact in Cannes in 2014 with its It Follows, and you cannot accuse him of resting on his laurels and repeating himself: just as he switched from romantic comedy to horror between his first and second films, he now tackles the film noir genre.
In Under The Silver Lake, Sam (Andrew Garfield), a thirty-something in L.A., meets an enigmatic and kooky new neighbour, Sarah (Riley Keough), with whom he shares a few hours of burgeoning connection and flirtation, only for her to vanish the very next day, having emptied her flat overnight. Suspecting foul play, he embarks on his own investigation in the city of angels, filled with conspiracies, mysteries and odd characters.
Tuesday, 15 May 2018
Previous Star Wars films such as Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith have screened at the Cannes Film Festival, but this is the first time Disney brings one of them to the Croisette since the studio took over the franchise, and one has to wonder if they are trying to deflect the attention from all the rumours of a troubled production that have been flying around for months. There was the departure of the two original directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who were replaced by Ron Howard, said to have reshot as much as 70% of the film. Then the studio was reportedly unhappy with Alden Ehrenreich's performance, and an acting coach was recruited.
Solo is far from being the only blockbuster with a few bumps along the way however, and this should not matter to the audience if the finished product delivers. So does it?
Lars Von Trier is back on the Croisette this year with The House That Jack Built, seven years after the Melancholia's press conference debacle, that earned him a persona non grata status, which was recently revoked (although the film is being screened out of competition). I would guess the first reactions his film are eliciting today are exactly what Lars Von Trier had hoped for, from a commercial point of view, and because he just loves annoying people, as well as what he feared, since his film is being seemingly misunderstood after its first two world screenings.
We follow serial killer Jack (Matt Dillon, never better) over the years through flashbacks, as he converses off-screen with an unseen figure (Bruno Ganz), going through his "work". It becomes obvious as the film unfolds, that Lars Von Trier is Jack, whom he presents as some kind of monstrous artist, who is allowed to gets away with, well, murder. Indeed Jack keeps mentioning how amazed he is that he never gets caught by the police throughout his killing spree, and the same thing could be said about the director, feted by art institutions the world over despite his increasing provocations.
Monday, 14 May 2018
In Shoplifters, Osamu presides over a family of shoplifters, in which every member, including the son and grand-mother have some illegal scheme going to to keep them at flow. Until the day in which the unexpected arrival of a little girl they decide to rescue from their abusive parents disturbs the fragile balance of their lifestyle.
We might have unfairly taken prolific Japanese director Kore-eda Horikazu (or simply Kore-eda as he is mostly known) for granted over the last few years. He has arguably made some of the best films of the last few decades with After Life, Still Walking and Air Doll, as well as having achieved worldwide recognition with Like Father, Like Son, which won the Jury Prize in Cannes 2013, from the hands of jury President Steven Spielberg who had expressed an interest in remaking it, yet his more recent output made fewer waves, and as a Cannes regular, he even found himself relegated to the sidebar selection Un Certain Regard After The Storm.
This year's Cannes edition truly is genre-tastic across its selections, what with Climax, Knife + Heart, Ultra Pulpe and this mystifying Argentinian gem: Murder Me, Monster. Set in the Mendoza region, usually more famed for its wines than supernatural shenanigans, the film follows the investigation into some brutal murders, with the victims decapitated in what appears to be the work of a monster for some in the village.
Sunday, 13 May 2018
Chinese director Jia Zhangke is a regular in Cannes, with A Touch Of Sin having made a big impact in the festival in 2013 and winning best screenplay in the process. His previous, Mountains May Depart (2015) divided critics. He is back with Ash Is Purest White, the tale of a doomed love spanning decades.
The Chinese director is able to depict contemporary China like no other, in great details and offering a less than flattering portrayal in the process. He is particularly interested in the way the country has changed so dramatically over the last two decades. In Mountains May Depart he was looking into the future, here he turns back to to the turn of the century, a pivotal moment in which China embraced capitalism and saw its economy grow exponentially.
In Climax, a group of dancers gathers in an isolated building to rehearse then party. A spiked sangria leads to a night of hell.
Gaspar Noé took us by surprise when Climax was announced as being finished and ready for Cannes earlier in the year, even before we knew anything about this project, and we entered the screening without having seen as much as a still still or even a list of the cast, just a vague promise of a new nightmare.
Saturday, 12 May 2018
Having fled the Colombian conflict, in which her husband was killed, Amparo (Marleyda Soto) moves to La Isla de la Fantasia at the border of Brazil, Colombia and Peru with her two children to start a new life. They soon discover that the spirits of the dead roam around freely in their new surroundings.
There has recently been an epidemic of films that "do" social with no lightness of touch or cinema in them, in which a heavy subject blackmails its audience (and festivals' jury members). No such thing in Los Silencios. This is no social or ethnic tourism, and there is a refreshing lightness of touch despite the subject. Yet we immediately feel invested in the life of the family, their daily struggles, some small but significant, such as when Amparo who, upon registering her son at a new school, finds herself unable to afford the compulsory school uniform Neither her of the film wallow in self-pity, the film approaching these scenes with great dignity.
Friday, 11 May 2018
Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski had made a name for himself with a series of gritty, realistic British films (while he was born in Poland, he has lived most of his life in Britain). He returned to his home country to make the stunning Ida (2013) to worldwide acclaim and the film went on to win the Oscar for best Foreign film.
In appearance, Cold War seems similar, a Polish language film shot in black & white. Yet they could not be more different. Ida had a beautiful austerity and restraint to it whereas Cold War lets it all out, even going for a jazzy and boozy vibe as the story moves from Eastern Europe to France.
Survival films are terribly compelling, whether it's the beautiful, wild landscapes they are set in, the man against nature primal theme, or just the soothing schadenfreude of watching somebody exposed to the elements having a terrible time, while in the comfort of a cinema/your own home.
Some directors down the action route, others use the premise as a metaphor about the might and indifference of nature (Werner Herzog!)... In Arctic, Joe Penna chooses the path of realism. The film smartly opens right after the crash of a light aircraft that caused Overgård (Mads Mikkelesen) to find himself alone in the arctic wild, with no other survivors. We are spared the usual introductory scenes, we do not know the first thing about him, giving his plight for survival a raw simplicity.
Thursday, 10 May 2018
A Scandinavian genre film, with a screenplay written by John Ajvide Lindqvist (author of Let The Right One In) is a salivating prospect, and indeed Gräns shares some similarities with the Swedish horror classic. In it, Tina (Eva Melander), a border inspector with an uncannily developed sense of smell, lives a lonely life due to her unusual appearance, when a stranger enters her life, one she feels a connection with, without quite understanding why at first.
Gräns is immediately captivating thanks to its inspired visuals and pervading sense of oddness. While the interiors are purposefully pictured as drab and depressing, being houses or workplaces, far from the usual stereotypes of Swedish Ikea living, in contrast nature is filmed beautifully, not in an idealised, elegiac way, but in a very earthy and tactile manner, with crawling insects and soil in close-up, a place not so much accepting as indifferent, and where Tina finds some solace.
Wednesday, 9 May 2018
In Everbody Knows, Laura (Penélope Cruz) returns to a Spanish village for a big family wedding, having made her life in Argentina. The celebration takes a turn for the worst however, as her teenage daughter Irene (Carla Campra) is kidnapped the night of the wedding. Unable to contact the police due to threats from the kidnappers, the family members tear each other apart as they attempt to solve the mystery and rescue her.
When a director travels to a completely different country to its own, and films in a different language, there is an inherent danger that their style will not translate well, that they might have a superficial outlook over a culture they are unfamiliar with. Of course, it can also works beautifully (see Paul Verhoeven recently, with Elle).