Monday 30 May 2016

The Measure of a Man by Stéphane Brizé - Review

Very few films in the last 10 years of social realist cinema have managed to achieve what Stéphane Brizé has in The Measure Of A Man (La Loi Du Marché). The film made its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last year, and its lead Vincent Lindon won a Best Actor award. It was also shown at last year’s London Film Festival, and was an early favourite with critics and festival-goers alike. It tells the story of a put-upon former factory worker Thierry (Vincent Lindon), who after giving the best years of his life to a job he excelled at is made redundant and forced to go through the bureaucratic rigmarole of job seeking, retraining, and having to justify his unemployment benefit cheque every month. At first Thierry seems to be taking everything that is thrown at him in his stride, actively looking for work in his area of his expertise, but we soon see him becoming more and more exasperated by the unfairness of what has happened to him.

Friday 27 May 2016

Rams by Grímur Hákonarson - Review

Grímur Hákonarson's bone-dry comedy drama, now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Soda Pictures, introduces us to rival Icelandic sheep farmers Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson). The pair are feuding brothers whose lands lie adjacent and who nevertheless haven't spoken to one another for 40 years, relying on Somi the sheepdog to deliver messages back and forth - and only when absolutely necessary. The exact cause of their quarrel is obscured by the mists of time, although elder brother Kiddi, a temperamental alcoholic, appears to nurture a grievance about their long-dead father's decision to entrust Gummi with the family pastures rather than himself. 

Journey To The Shore by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

The first words Mizuki says as Yusuke, her long-dead husband, suddenly returns to their marital home one night are “welcome home”. No gasps of fright, no shock; just the resumption of a routine. It’s a reflex, an irrational instinct that speaks volumes about Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Journey To The Shore. How can we process the loss of a loved one when they’re ripped away from us with no warning or explanation?

Sunday 22 May 2016

Cannes 2016: Awards & Comments

By all accounts, this has been the strongest edition of the Cannes Film Festival in well over the decade, the official selection in particular, and there were fears that the jury might not deliver the awards that would do it justice jury members being particularly fickle. Few of us could have imagined how wrong this George Miller led jury was about to be however, crowning of the best edition with some of the most misguided awards in history.

First of all, I must specify that this bitter disappointment is not due to the arrogant belief that only I know which films deserved some awards, my tastes are quite unusual at the best of times, and as much as I loved Park Chan-wook's The Handmaiden, my favourite of the festival, I never expected it to win the favours of such a diverse jury (I had wrongly hoped for a directing nod however). Rather I am judging these results within the context of the festival's history, and what constitute some "good", worthy winners. And considering the savage response from critics to these results, I am far from alone.

Cannes 2016 - Awards Predictions

It is with a heavy heart that I am writing those predictions. By all accounts, this Cannes Film Festival edition has been the strongest in many years, with most of the already established directors in competition delivering some of the best work, and a discovery that took the Croisette by storm. Yet, insistent rumours about which directors has been called back for the awards ceremony tonight promise a disastrous list of awards. I will pretend that I have not read those as, after all, every year the wildest rumours fly around, and I will stick with my original predictions.

Saturday 21 May 2016

Cannes 2016 - The Neon Demon by Nicolas Winding Refn

Nicolas Winding Refn had already made a name for himself among the most discerning arthouse crowds with Pusher, Bronson and Valhala Rising, when he crashed into the Croisette on 2011 with his biggest hit to date, neo-noir Drive, which earned him a best director award, a great critical response and catapulted his lead Ryan Gosling into the A-list. Their return to Cannes two years later with Only God Forgives, a more radical and, in my humble opinion, a better film, was not so successful, with some accusing the director of quickly becoming a caricature of himself. He is back this year in competition, with arguably the most anticipated film of the official selection for fans of cult films, The Neon Demon, which he described as a female-centric horror film set in the fashion world of Los Angeles.

In it, naive ingenue Jesse (Elle Fanning) moves to Los Angeles with star in her eyes and dreams of making it big as a model. As she enjoys a meteoric rise, under the watchful eye of make-up artist and confidente Ruby (Jena Malone), she soon has to face to dark side of the city.

Cannes 2016: Elle by Paul Verhoeven

For any cinephile, the announcement that Isabelle Huppert and Paul Verhoeven were going to make a film together was among the most unexpected and exciting news you can think ok. Verhoeven has made few films over the last decade or so, after the highlights of his Dutch then American career in the 80's and 90's. So the idea of him making a film in France, and with Isabelle Huppert, arguably the French actress with the most celebrated and diverse career at the moment, was catnip to us all. Announced two years ago, and with some expecting it for Cannes 2015, the film is finally finished and it screened in the official selection this year.

In Elle, Michèle (Isabelle Huppert), the CEO of a game company, is the victim of a brutal rape at her home one evening. Except that, instead of reporting it to the police, she engages in a game of cat and mouse with the masked perpetuator who keeps coming back to visit her, all while dealing with a complicated life, with her wayward son, her narcissistic mother and  her demanding ex-lover all causing her some grief.

Cannes 2016: Rester Vertical by Alain Giraudie

Alain Giraudie made a big splash (pun intended) in the festival and world cinema scene with Stranger By The Lake (2013), which screened at Un Certain Regard in Cannes, while many felt it deserved a slot in the official selection. The film was quite a departure from some of his early work, which is more of a comedic tone, and Giraudie's latest film, Rester Vertical, which is presented in the Official Selection this time, feels closer to his first films in tone and spirit.

In Rester Vertical, Léo (Damien Bonnard) is a film director in serious lack of ideas for his new film, and who goes on a trip in the countryside looking for inspiration, where he meets shepherdess Marie (India Hair). He, somehow, gives her a son, while being embroiled in a love triangle with two other men.

Friday 20 May 2016

Cannes 2016: Dog Eat Dog by Paul Schrader

Sometimes, film directors with the most uneven, unpredictable careers are the most interesting ones, against those with a more calculated ones, and Paul Schrader firmly belongs in the former camp. Having written some of the best films of the 70's and 80's (Raging Bull, Taxi Driver...) his director career has many highs (American Gigolo, Cat People, Mishima...) and many lows (Light of Day, Patty Hearst, the awful Exorcist sequel Dominion...). His previous film, The Canyons (with James Deen and Lindsay Lohan), was widely panned by the critics even though I find it rather fascinating. He is back with Dog Eat Dog and a rather starry cast: Willem Defoe, Nicolas Cage...) which was presented as the closing film of the Director's Fortnight strand in Cannes.

Thursday 19 May 2016

Cannes 2016: It's Only The End of the World by Xavier Dolan

It's hard to think of a more precocious talent recently than Xaxier Dolan. Only 27 and the Canadian director has just made his 7th film, all of them bar one who made to various selections of the Cannes Film Festival. Many felt that Mommy, his first foray in competition in 2014 deserved the Palme d'Or (he shared a jury prize with Jean-Luc Godard instead). Now the prodigal son is back in competition with It's Only The End of the World.

Wednesday 18 May 2016

Cannes 2016 - The Wailling by Hong-jin Na

Genre cinema is a rare presence in the official selection in Cannes, especially horror films, except for the Midnight Screenings, and even the titles selected for those over the last few years have been rather lacklustre. There have been the odd exceptions in the 90's (the most notable being the inclusion in competition of Abel Ferrara's Body Snatchers (1993). So the inclusion of The Wailing this year, in the official selection (but outside competition, unfortunately) is a pleasant surprise, the film being a proper horror film, bloody, terrifying, and disturbing. It also shows, alongside The Handmaiden (also in the official selection), that South Korean cinema is making a great comeback in the international scene after a few years with few memorable titles.

Tuesday 17 May 2016

Cannes 2016: Personal Shopper by Olivier Assayas

Olivier Assayas and Kristen Stewart made for the most unlikely pairing when they collaborated on their first film, Clouds of Sils Maria, shown in Cannes in 2014, and in which the American actress had a supporting role against Juliette Binoche, yet she made a big impact, winning a César in the process. Now the auteur dream team is back with Personal Shopper, in which Kristen Stewart has the leading role.

In Personal Shopper, Maureen (Kristen Stewart), a young American woman works as the personal shopper of a famous woman in Paris, while coming to terms with the recent death of her brother.

Monday 16 May 2016

Cannes 2016: Paterson by Jim Jarmush

Is there a more timeless director than Jim Jarmush? The director, at the forefront of the wave of new indie talents of American cinema in the 80's, has conducted his career admirably, faithful to his style and philosophy while constantly surprising us. He dazzled Cannes with his vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive in 2013, and he is back on the Croisette with Paterson.

In Paterson, Paterson (Adam Driver) is a bus driver in the city of Paterson, writing poems to keep the dreary routine of his job at bay, while his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) embarks on her own artistic pursuits.

Cannes 2016 - Loving by Jeff Nichols

Loving is based on the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an American interracial couple in the 50's, at a time when some states still banned mixed races weddings, faced with the prospect of living their marriage away from those they loved and the place they called home.

Loving is a great film as much for what it is as for what it is not. You could be forgiven for approaching the premise with caution. So many mediocre directors hide behind a worthy subject to offer dour, melodramatic films with no personality and not an ounce of cinema. "Important" Award baits are often guilty of that too. Yet director Jeff Nichols has not put a foot wrong so far with his young career, and Loving is no exception. This might sound like a more classical territory for him, but such is the mark of a great director that he makes it completely his own. Talking about the film at the press conference today, he made it clear that he did not want to make a courtroom drama. So do not expect a bombastic soundtrack, big shouty acting, tear-jerking scenes... Instead, the Midnight Special director delivers a film spared down to the absolute minimum, yet such are his confidence and talent that every scene and every meaningful moment count.

Sunday 15 May 2016

Cannes 2016 - Train To Busan by Sang-ho Yeon

In Train To Busan, a busy businessman, Sok-Woo (Yoo Gong), takes an early morning train from Seoul to Busan with his young daughter Soo-Ahn (Kim Soo-ahn), to take her to his estranged wife. As the journey begins, a mysterious virus outbreak spreads through the country, turning its population into mindless, flesh eating monsters, and infecting the passengers too. The survivors have to fight to make it until the train reaches Busan, which has been spared so far.

It is a bit of unfair stereotype among those who do not know much about cinema that the Cannes Film Festival is all about the most boring and/or experimental "foreign" films, but far from it. Genre cinema often finds its place in the line-up, and there is even a Midnight Screening sections for those violent/naughty films that cannot be shown earlier in the day.

Cannes 2016: Toni Erdmann by Maren Ade

The official selection in Cannes is often blamed for relying on established talents, and not giving newcomers a chance. It is a rather unfair criticism, as Thierry Frémaux has explained that the intense scrutiny of the selection can break a film, a career even, which is why Un Certain Regard or other sidebars selections are often more suited. As such, Toni Erdmann was a surprise addition to the competition this year, the third film of a rather unknown German director (none of her films have been released in the UK although she has attracted a certain following in some circles).

In Toni Erdmann, Winfried (Peter Simonischek), tries to reconnect with her estranged daughter, Ines (Sandra Hüller) by following her on a business trip to Romania. Winfried is a joker who has seemingly never grown up, while is daughter is trying to climb to corporate ladder, and see his arrival and his pranks as an unwelcome distraction at best.

Cannes 2016 - I, Daniel Blake by Ken Loach

The unflappable Ken Loach, who is about to reach his 80th birthday, has tireless made some films supporting his political leanings, and there is so much to be angry about in the British society at the moment, so much injustice and inequality... Seen as a left-wing, out of touch radical during the Blair years, he has recently been vindicated with New Labour dying a good death, and Labour taking a shift to the left. In his new film, I, Daniel Blake, his target is the Tory government and particularly its workfare programme, which has purposed itself to put a lot of benefit claimants back to work, using some coarse, unfair methods in the process.

In I, Daniel Blake, Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) is a carpenter who, having suffered a heart attack, finds himself out of work and having to rely on benefits to survive, facing a complicated, Kafka-esque system in which benefit claimants are seen as skivers and liars. He befriends single-mum Katie (Hayley Squires), who has been relocated from London to Newcastle with her children, where she has no support system or even acquaintances, and who faces the same hardship and a baffling system.

Saturday 14 May 2016

Cannes 2016: The Transfiguration by Michael O'Shea

Genre cinema is everywhere in Cannes this year, with zombies, demons yet to come, and vampires in The Transfiguration, the first feature length film by director Michael O'Shea. Finding new ideas to inject in the vampire mythology is nearly impossible, so having the film set in a tough urban environment (ok, the ghetto) is quite original, indeed vampire films have rarely features POC characters (please don't mention weird mismash A Vampire in Brooklyn with Eddie Murphy. There have actually been a few case of interesting new takes on vampires in the world of indie cinema, best of all being Abel Ferrara's The Addiction, with his blend of philosophy artfully shot in black and white, Claire Denis's Trouble Every Day, as well as more recently Let The Right One In.

Friday 13 May 2016

Cannes 2016: Ma Loute by Bruno Dumont

French director Bruno Dumont is having the most unusual turn of career. Originally known for extremely serious, austere films, which, for some audiences, were filled with arthouse stereotypes (glacial pace, glances that speak volumes, heavy subjects etc...), he surprised everybody by making a mini-series about a killer on the loose in a rural community, that was among the funniest films of the recent years, showing us a comedic talent we would never have expected from him, all while sticking to his theme and personal style. He is back in Cannes this year with yet another comedy, Ma Loute.

In Ma Loute, set a few years before WW1, the Van Peteghem, a very bourgeois family, travel to their beach house for their usual summer holidays. Tourists begin to disappear in mysterious circumstances however, with two local cops being sent to investigate.

Thursday 12 May 2016

Cannes 2016 - Sieranevada by Cristi Puiu

Director Cristi Puiu made an impact on the European arthouse scene ten years ago with The Death of Mr Lazarescu (winning the Un Certain Regard top prize). However some felt that its follow-up, Aurora, was a relative failure. He is back in Cannes this year, having been finally upgraded to the the main competition with Sieranevada. The film is a daunting prospect for your average filmgoer, a near three hours long Romanian film, in which most of the action is set in a flat, and yet, and this is the magic of Cannes, it had the same red carpet treatment with a screening in the main screen today as Jodie Foster's Money Monster starring Julia Roberts, so let it be said that the Cannes Film Festival loves cinema and that's the end of the matter as far as I am concerned.

Wednesday 11 May 2016

Cannes 2016 - Café Society by Woody Allen

In Café Society, Cannes opening film this year, young New-Yorker Ben (Jesse Eisenberg), unwilling to taker over his father's business, comes to Hollywood at the height of its golden age, to work for his agent uncle Phil. Starting at the bottom of the industry and learning the ropes while mingling with the who's who of the film industry, he falls for Phil's assistant, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), who is only willing to offer her friendship in return, her heart being already taken.

Period Woody Allen is often him at his most sparkling, with some of his best films such as The Purple Rose of Cairo and Radio Days taking place in the past. But period dramas always run the risk of looking back with rose tinted glasses, a theme that was basically at the heart of Midnight in Paris (another Cannes Film Festival opener, in 2011).

Tuesday 10 May 2016

Departure by Andrew Steggall - Review

Andrew Steggall’s debut feature Departure ambitiously attempts to tell a story of coming of age and sexual awakening within the picturesque setting of the beautiful French countryside. It deals with themes of teenage rebellion, sexual frustration and parental disobedience. The film tells the story of 15 year old Elliot (Alex Lawther) and his mother Beatrice (Juliet Stevenson) who arrive in the middle of the night at their holiday home in a small Languedoc village after a long drive from England. We soon realise that this is no ordinary holiday, and that they are in fact here to pack up their beautiful summer home in order to sell it.

Sunday 8 May 2016

Evolution by Lucile Hadžihalilović - Review

Over a decade on from her debut Innocence (2004), French director Lucile Hadžihalilović returns to our screens with a haunting sophomore work as mysterious as it is exquisite.

Evolution introduces us to a seaside community presided over by a strange, all-female sect. The children they care for are all prepubescent boys who spend their days idling on the isle's volcanic shores and playing in the streets. One day, one of their number, Nicholas (Max Brebant), dives below the waves and returns in a state of shock, claiming to have seen the body of a dead boy staring up at him from the seabed, a red scar slashed across the corpse's belly. Nicholas's mother (Julie-Marie Parmentier) rubbishes the claim and takes him to a local hospital, where he is swiftly operated upon by the facility's sinisterly browless staff. Taken thereafter to a ward populated by other boys who have undergone the same procedure, Nicholas learns to his horror that he is now pregnant and seeks help from Stella (Roxane Duran), a sympathetic nurse.

Sing Street by John Carney - review

Where were you when you heard that song? Where were you when you fell in love? Where were you when you felt you knew who you were? These are questions that writer/director John Carney asks in his new musical joint, Sing Street. In your teenage years there's perhaps no greater influence than music to help you find yourself. It's that feeling of someone articulating something you've felt but never been able to understand or tell someone else. Carney, director of Once (2007) and Begin Again (2014), has soared past his previous efforts and bottled up that feeling of music composing one's identity in a tale of teen romance.

Tuesday 3 May 2016

Horror & Feminism: The Final Girls

Béatrice Dalle in Trouble Every Day (2001)

We might be reading a lot about the decline of cinema, but the London repertoire/film curating scene is in rude health at least, with some recent collectives such as the Badlands collective and The Bechdel Test Fest to name a few, who have come up with a truly inspired and lively line-up of films over the last few years. And there is a new player on the block, The Final Girls, a collective who is specialising in the horror genre through a feminist prism. I feel that this is a great initiative, as the horror genre often gets a bad press when it comes to its representation of female characters, and they are kicking off in style, with a screening of Trouble Every Day (2001) by Claire Denis, which is a must-see. So I was very keen to interview its creators, Anna Bogutskaya and Olivia Howe.