Expectations here in Cannes were high—or at least semi-high—for Nicolas Winding Refn's Only God Forgives, in which Kristin Scott Thomas and Ryan Gosling play a mother-son duo with what might politely be called unresolved issues.
Marion Cotillard in The Immigrant.
You know those two little lines you get in your forehead when you frown? The ones that, if you frown too much, stick there for good? The French have a name for that: "the lion wrinkle." And by the 10th day of Cannes, there are a lot of lion wrinkles visible among critics and journalists around the Palais des Festivals. People are tired and cranky and appear to be thoroughly sick of the French Riviera, if such a thing is possible.
Ladies and gentlemen—anyone, really, who cares about his or her mug—step right up. According to a bit of advice proffered in one of the festival editions of The Hollywood Reporter a few days back, the beauty product to buy while in Cannes is Avibon, an "only-in-France aging cream." If sun and cigarettes don't turn your skin to crinkled leather, now there's a product to help you achieve that just-rolled-out-of-the-crypt look.
I. First, Something About the Badges (Then We'll Get to the Coens)
Someday I'm going to write a song and call it "Ballad of the Blue Badge." I haven't figured out a rhyme scheme yet, let alone a melody, so please allow this outline to suffice: At Cannes, the color of your badge determines the ease with which you're able to gain entry to any of the 1,001 screenings taking place at any time. For members of the press, the most desirable badges are white (which allow you to sit at the right hand of God after you die, among other benefits) and rose (the badge I receive, which will get you into pretty much anything you might need to see and even some things you really don't want to see).
|Photo by www.NicoleRivelli.com © 2012 Topeka Productions|
|Benicio Del Toro and Mathieu Amalric in Jimmy P.|
In Arnaud Desplechin's English-language Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian), Benicio Del Toro--freed at last from the tyranny of playing bit-part heavies in American thrillers and action movies--is James Picard, a Blackfoot Indian who has lost his way in post-World War II America.
Considering that the Cannes experience consists mostly of critics and other assorted ornery types shambling into theaters, sitting in front of a screenful of flickering images for a few hours and then, like Flash Gordon’s Mole People, tumbling back out into daylight, news travels surprisingly fast.
Earlier today, a colleague and I had just stepped out of a midmorning screening of a rather steamy and interesting little thriller, Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake, when a third colleague began thinking aloud about what he might see next. Earlier in the morning, some of our friends who are surprisingly adept at being in two places at once had seen a picture called The Selfish Giant, screening not in the main competition, but in the Quinzaine, or Directors’ Fortnight, section of the festival. Our colleague told us what he’d heard about the movie, and warned us that it was probably going to be upsetting; a Cannes programmer had told him he still feels a little melancholy every time he thinks about it.
"It's hard not to be romantic about baseball," admits Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics played, in career-best form, by Brad Pitt in Bennett Millers' Moneyball. This line, from a screenplay by Stephen Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, happens in the home stretch of a film about the push-and-pull between traditional methods of baseball team building and player evaluation, and the experimental methods Beane put into practice beginning in 2002, after a heartbreaking pennant series loss to the Yankees--a team with a payroll four times the size of Oakland's.
Tired of being beaten and having his players poached by wealthy bigger-market franchises ("We're organ donors for the rich," he complains, with Pitt giving the middle-aged former player a touch of brass tacks anti-establishment swagger reminiscent of his Tyler Durden from Fight Club), Beane hires Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) to shake up the As with the aid of math. A fictional figure based on Paul Depodesta (Beane's assistant at the A's who graduated to the general manager post at the LA Dodgers, from which he was fired in 2005 by Frank McCourt after a Depodesta-rebuilt team finished the second worst season in LA history), Brand is a Yale graduate and disciple of Bill James, the former security guard, writer and current Red Sox employee who essentially invented the advanced analysis of baseball statistic known as sabermetics.
The second narrative feature from writer/director Julia Loktev (Day Night Day Night played TIFF in 2006), The Loneliest Planet stars Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg as Alex and Nica, a newly-engaged couple who hire a guide (played by real-life guide Bidzina Gujabidze) to lead them on a backpacking trip in the mountains of Georgia. The title, an apparent play on the Lonely Planet travel guides designed for boho tourists like Loktev's couple, takes on more complicated connotations as the trio delve into rugged, desolate terrain, both literally and figuratively.
The movie opens with the most disarming image I've seen at the festival thus far.
|Greta Gerwig in Damsels in Distress|
Tragic romance is a big TIFF theme this year. Soured love tied to death and/or suicide and/or beautifully-lit misery has popped up in eight of the nine films I've seen since I last blogged. At the festival midway point, I've seen so many movies hinged on mad/bad romance, rejection and infidelity, that they all threaten to blur into one massive, incredibly melancholic scare campaign. You have been warned: open your heart at your peril.
Some of these films (like Philippe Garrel's That Summer, or the long-awaited Whit Stillman romantic-musical-comedy Damsels in Distress) really deserve more careful consideration than I can give them whilst under the scheduling demands of a film festival. Others (like, say, Alexander Payne's The Descendants) don't. With that caveat, and the promise that I'll dig deeper into few of these movies when time allows, here's a notebook drop from my last 48 hours in Toronto.
Friday was Foreign-Born Documentary All-Stars Tackle Powerful Symbols of America day at TIFF. The scarily prolific Werner Herzog (whose first foray into 3D, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, premiered at this festival last year before its blockbuster theatrical run this summer) is back with another new feature, Into the Abyss, which considers the different fates of two young men accused of collaborating on a murder: one was sentenced to 40 years in prison, the other to die at age 28 via lethal injection. The press screening of that Texas-set story preceded Sarah Palin: You Betcha!, an attempt by British documentarian Nick Broomfield (whose work has long circled infamous American women, from Heidi Fleiss to serial killer Aileen Wuornos to Courtney Love) to "find out about the real Sarah from the people who know her best."