Midway Through Cannes, Expectations Busted

By J. Hoberman in Festivals
Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 11:13 am

Certified Copy.jpg

The increasingly bleary world press dutifully assembled Monday at 8:30 a.m. for the latest by the Mexican mega melodramatist (director of Babel and onetime Cannes discovery) Alejandro González Iñárritu: Biutiful (as in "Life is"). Javier Bardem stars as a suffering Brando type--a leather-jacketed man about Barcelona who traffics in undocumented immigrants and feels their pain, in part because he's pissing blood and possibly dying of cancer. Adding to the misery, this sensitive thug is saddled with two small kids and a crazy ex-wife (who might complement the bi-polar chatterbox played by Lesley Manville in Mike Leigh's Another Year.) Iñárritu is not without talent, and this blatantly artistic movie isn't just awful but confidently so--overwrought in every sense and just bad enough to win.

From the drearily Biutiful to the stunningly gorgeous: the most anticipated movie at Cannes, Jean-Luc Godard's Film Socialisme. The first hour is wonderful--a dense, visually ravishing, highly fragmented analysis of recent European history as allegorized by a Mediterranean cruise ship. Everyone is in the same boat, if not the same class. The dialogue mixes French with Russian, Arabic, and German, and is subtitled by Godard in what he termed "Navajo English"--a form of concrete poetry that offers little clarity but adds another element to the assemblage.

Unfortunately, as with much Godard, the movie is unsustainable. Film Socialisme goes on the rocks once it lands somewhere in the south of France, where the children of a gas station owner put their parents on trial and advise the world to both liberate and federate. A climactic montage recapitulating Godard's thoughts on six historical territories--Egypt, Palestine, Greece, Naples, Odessa, and Barcelona--comes too late to get the movie back on track, despite attractions that included Joan Baez singing "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" in French. Godard's final words ("no comment") presaged the 79-year-old director's last minute decision to stay away from Cannes, among other things out of solidarity with Greece. All in all, a disappointment, although not as much as last night's Jia Zhangke--I Wish I Knew--an oral history cum documentary on China's largest city that, despite some fascinating sequences, seems suspiciously like an infomercial for the upcoming Shanghai World's Fair.

Already predisposed against the day's final blockbuster, Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy-- an international love story shot in Tuscany with Juliette Binoche and English baritone William Shimell--my animus was further enhanced in that, in order to secure a seat, I had to bolt from The Wanderer ten minutes before the end of this small, stark Israeli movie about a confused yeshiva student's search for love. As it turned out, Certified Copy is less a romance than an amazingly adroit two-hander, an advanced level acting exercise that justified its too-tricksy philosophical rumination on the nature of authenticity with the star panache of Binoche's performance. Shimell at one point cites a Persian poem but, the semi-documentary mise-en-scene aside, the cleverest thing about Kiarostami's first fiction feature made outside of Iran is that it's a "certified copy" of a European art film. Sometimes it's a pleasure to be proven wrong.

P.S. The apolitical Kiarostami has been criticized for his apparent support of the Iranian government's current regime. As I write, there's been an unconfirmed announcement that the regime is planning to help him out by releasing his jailed onetime protégé Jafar Panahi to coincide with Certified Copy's public screening tonight.

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