Tuesday 28 May 2013

Cannes 2013 Diaries Day 2: Takashi Miike, Seduced & Abandoned

So my first day in Cannes 2013 was a lot more successful than last year's one, when, under a torrential rain, I managed to see zero films despite queuing for hours. Things were on to a great start. And day two was to be a day of emotional highs and lows, of Japanese thrills and dreams of escape to a castle in Italy.

Having already secured an invitation thanks to a twitter contact, undeterred by the early start required, I made my way to the Palais for the 830 am screening of Takashi Miike's latest, Wara No Tate (Shield Of Straw). The prolific Japanese director makes about 7 films a year, with only a few trickling through the West, and you truly never know what to expect every time, from the man who offered us intimate torture, zebraman superheroes, and for the last two years in Cannes, samurai revenge and teen musicals. I knew nothing about his new film, which is the way I love to watch films.

And what a wonderful surprise it turned out to be. At its core, there is a brilliant concept which is bound to be adopted for a US adaptation: as a child killer is to be escorted across the country to Tokyo for his trial, the grandfather of one of his victims makes an online announcement offering a one billion yens bounty to whoever kills him. The five police officers escorting him have to protect him at all cost against 125 millions potential killers, in a more and more desperate mission with everybody a potential suspect, even within their ranks.

The concept is of course crazy and scarcely believable, but I loved what the Japanese director did with it. It all starts off as a high octane action film, which was the perfect way to wake me up on this early morning, as the convoy position seems to get constantly compromised, and the squad having to face up anybody and anything that is being thrown at them to protect their charge, including a speeding truck full of explosives, in a scene that elicited cheers from the audience.

But while an average blockbuster might have not gone very far with this premise, the film becomes more and more tense and dramatic even as the group's situation becomes desperate. And as some falls victims of attacks, the question of whether their lives are worth being endangered for the safety of a such an unspeakable person becomes more and more pressing.

Takashi Miike and his actors at the Wara No Tate Cannes Gala Screening
Of course I can understand how some lamented how the film becomes so melodramatic, hysterical even, but you cannot deny its nail-biting efficiency, which in parts reminded me of 24, in the way seemingly good people find themselves facing impossible moral choices under fire. And at its core, the film offers a powerful examination of the very essence of loyalty (so prevalent in Japanese culture) and Justice.

It could have gone all Daily Mail but the film is better than that, and does not offer any easy solution and answers to the questions it raises. Exciting and exhausting, I did not expect the film's reception however (the 830am screening is filled with both journalists and professionals). A few limp applause and quite a lot of booing, followed by some terrible tweet reviews, all made me wonder whether we had actually watched the same film. Indeed it ended up being one of the most poorly received films of the reception, which must have come as a surprise to Cannes honcho Thierry Fremaux who had evoked Howard Hawks when presenting the film at the initial Cannes line-up press conference. But I am sure it will be enjoyed by amateurs of of pulpy and over the top Asian cinema.

After a few hours of enjoying the weather and the lovely seaside, my aim was to attend the 4pm gala screening of Valéria Bruni-Tedeschi's Un Chateau En Italie. Posting myself outside the palais two hours before, my little sign saying "Une invitation pour Un Chateau En Italie svp" provided some unintentional laughs, as several non festival related French passers-by made some loud comments when reading my sign, absolutely convinced that I was some lunatic asking to be invited to a castle in Italy.

Louis Garrel got in without me :(

But luck was not with me, as on top of the ridicule my sign brought me, I secured an invitation too late, and as I watched the whole cast walk up the red carpet (including Louis Garrel), we were told that the screen was full and we were turned away. The irony of getting an invitation for the Coen film within minutes, that some journalists had to go through three attempts and a total of 6 hours of queuing to see, while being turned down for a Valéria Bruni-Tedeschi was scant consolation. It did not seem that I had missed much however. The director/actress is not all that known outside France, but in the 90's she had made a speciality of a certain sort of hysterical and typically French characters which I do not remember fondly, and the reviews were mostly average.

Plus at least I already had an invitation for James Tobak's documentary Seduced & Abandoned later that day, in a smaller screen called Salle Du Soixantieme. Surely by posting myself in the queue an hour before the film, I was bound to get in? As I watched my friend with a proper press pass get in and save me a seat (assuming I'd be let in), I was actually among the last ten people to be allowed in, which confirmed that queues had indeed gone crazy in Cannes this year, it was just becoming too close for comfort!

The documentary has been shot the year before at the Cannes Film Festival and featured Alec Baldwin, who was present to introduce the film with his director. Now, he is not exactly my favourite actor but I still get a childish thrill when I find myself in the same room as a Hollywood actor, this is also, after all, part of the magic of cinema!

Thierry Frémaux, James Tobak and Alec Baldwin

Sadly the film was a let down despite its amusing concept. In it, James Tobak and Alec Baldwin attempted to highlight the difficult task of financing a film, by pitching their new project during the festival to various producers, a sort of Last Tango In Paris set in Irak, which was to feature the actor and Neve Campbell. The thing is, this project sounded so laughable that it quickly became clear that it was not a serious at all, and that they obviously never had any real intention to ever make it, which undermined their effort, and made it fall into the annoying "Supersize me" category of documentaries, with so many scenes feeling fake and staged.

There were some painful truths to be faced (most producers making it politely but firmly clear that Neve Campbell, and even Alec Baldwin, despite his recent TV success, were not bankable at all), and some unrelated but compelling interviews with masters of cinema such as Martin Scorsese. But it all fell mostly flat. Besides, with the recent Kickstarter/Zach Braff storm, the film actually felt pretty dated, on top of being rather pointless. One to catch on TV, perhaps.

So on day two, two films and one fail yet again. At that stage, the festival had the potential to go either way still!

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