CANNES, FRANCE. Big news day on La Croisette: First, the only outside story with any traction here became a bit more intense when reports of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's resignation fueled the conspiracy stories to which some French subscribe: Had the IMF chief been set up by Sarkozy? The Russians? The New York Post? Then the Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi made an on-screen appearance in a 75-minute long home-movie verite essay created in defiance of the government ruling banning him from working in cinema, called quite pointedly This is Not a Film. And finally, just as an audience of journalists was waiting for the Panahi film to begin, smart phones throughout the room began to buzz with the news that the Cannes Film Festival had suspended professional handful Lars von Trier for professional stupidity at the press conference following the screening of his new movie Melancholia.
Thanks to the idiosyncrasies of Air France's pricing schedule, I am departing Cannes on Thursday morning, before the premieres of some of the festival's most anticipated titles--including the Ryan Gosling-starring Drive; This Must Be the Place, featuring Sean Penn in rock star drag; and new titles by Pedro Almodovar, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Jafar Panahi and my personal favorite, Hong Sang-Soo. So, after 21 films in 7 days--miraculously, I got into every film I attempted to see and walked out of nothing--my Cannes 2011 ends here. I'll have a full recap of my Cannes experience in next Thursday's LA Weekly. In the meantime, what follows is a list of everything I saw, ranked from most hated to favorite, without commentary (but with links where appropriate).
21) Code Blue
20) Silence of Joan
19) Sleeping Beauty
18) Hors Satan
15) The Artist
13) The Look
12) Midnight in Paris
11) Oslo, August 31
10) We Need to Talk About Kevin
9) House of Tolerance (L'Apollonide)
8) Declaration of War
5) Miss Bala
4) The Kid on a Bike
3) The Tree of Life
2) Bonsai (above)
After the jump, my number one film of Cannes 2011...
I saw Tree of Life on Monday morning when everyone else saw Tree of Life, but instead of writing about it right away, I went straight into a screening of Bruno Dumont's Hors Satan. By the time I emerged two hours later, many of my colleagues had already posted their Tree of Life reviews, which I thought was astonishing for a few reasons, but mostly because several times during Hors Satan I had to close my eyes because I was still so physically and psychologically overwhelmed by the experience of Terrence Malick's gorgeously form-defying film that trying to take in Dumont's blunt, brutal one actually hurt. I didn't know how to translate that feeling into an evaluative response.
24 hours later, I think I still don't, but before the negative response to the film from some of my colleagues calcifies and liking this movie starts to look like a deliberately oppositional stance, let me state for the record that while I have questions and reservations, I am on Team Tree of Life.
CANNES, FRANCE. Much improved since I last posted, the Cannes Film Festival celebrated its midpoint in train-wreck fashion, its wagon to hitched to The Tree of Life.
The first screening of Terrence Malick's long-awaited new movie, three years in the editing, ended with in a moment of near total silence, followed by short fuselage of irate boos and an answering burst of applause--thin, but impassioned. Were the international critics gathered early Monday morning to bear witness to The Tree stunned or stupefied? (To judge from the instant raves found in the trades, the answer is both.)
Malick goes one on one with God, not to mention Stanley Kubrick, and on both counts comes up short--very short. Tree of Life, which opens with God addressing Job from out the whirlwind ("Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?"), is nothing if not overweening in its spiritual ambition. It's essentially a religious work and, as such, may please the director's devotees, cultists, and apologists. I doubt however that it will make many new converts.
My week in Cannes is just about half over, and while I haven't yet seen a film that I would champion without reservation, there have been a few near misses. Gerardo Naranjo is a hell of a director, but I'm not quite as high as Hoberman
on Miss Bala. It's probably the most visually exciting film I've seen here -- more than one masterful, unbroken wide-angle steadicam shot in this deadpan violent saga that calls to mind Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend (an interesting trajectory for Naranjo, whose last feature, I'm Gonna Explode, recast Pierrot le Fou as a kind of punk romcom of class-crossed Mexican teens). But Stephanie Sigman's would-be beauty queen character is barely developed, making it difficult to invest in her escalating punishment. As she's shuttled between increasingly bizarre stages of exploitation, her receding personality seems increasingly like a deliberate strategy to set up one woman's suffering as a stand-in for the rape of a nation--a suspicion bolstered by Bala's gratuitous film-closing on-screen titles, reminding us that The War On Drugs is, like, bad, especially for women.
CANNES, France. The air is sweet, the food is fine, the company agreeable, but the movies so far... oy vey.
With one exception: Inspired by the true story of a Tijuana beauty queen who got mixed up with the local narco gangsters, Gerardo Naranjo's Miss Bala is a ferociously paced crime thriller, filled with atmospheric detail and exceedingly bleak humor. Here, even more than with his Godard homage youth film I'm Gonna Explode (the great discovery of the 2008 New York Film Festival), Naranjo demonstrates an impressively fluid camera, a feel for location, and a terrific rapport with actors. Stephanie Sigman, the natural beauty who innocently stumbles through the looking glass to find herself catapulted into a series of increasingly violent gangster transactions, as well as the televised Miss Bala pageant, exhibits tremendous poise in her first major role--one that requires her to be present in virtually every scene.
Miss Bala, shown as part of "Un Certain Regard," is hardly the only movie at Cannes to be predicated on a woman's hellish predicament.
My Cannes 2011 began with a kind of American teenage death trip double feature: the world premieres of Lynne Ramsay's We Need to Talk About Kevin, and Gus Van Sant's Restless.
The non-linear Kevin, based on a novel by Lionel Shriver, stars Tilda Swinton as Eve, the mother of Kevin (Ezra Miller), a teenage boy responsible for a rampage at his suburban high school. The film flows between Eve's dreary, post-incident present-day reality (data entry job, dirty dishes, booze, pills, panic attacks) and fragmented, hyperreal flashbacks to her old life as a glam travel writer (her actual work is never as well-defined as her asymmetrical haircut), and eventual wife to photographer Franklin (John C. Reily), raising two kids--Kevin has an angelic younger sister, Celia--in a cold, minimalist-modern Connecticut dream house. Kevin's pre-meditated killing spree changes everything, leaving Eve plagued by associative memories, forced to contemplate where she went wrong.
CANNES, FRANCE. That faint noise wafting in mid-afternoon from across the Atlantic will not be the cacophony of bravos raising the Grand Palais roof in appreciation of the 65th Cannes Film Festival's opening attraction--rather it will be the sound of the prolonged smooch that the fest's opener, Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, bestows upon the City of Light.
Nothing at Cannes is likely to be as flattering to la belle France than Le Woodman's amiable Back to the Future fantasy in which that most appealing of American doofuses, Owen Wilson, partakes in the moveable feast of '20s Paris--hobnobbing most amusingly with Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Picasso, Man Ray, Dalí, Luis Buñuel and more. The modernist giants are referenced in force; even the press notes feature a picture of Wilson strolling by the Seine beneath Van Gogh's "Starry Night."
Braden King's Here stars Ben Foster as Will, an American satellite cartographer on a contract assignment in Armenia, where he meets Gadarine (Lubna Azabal), who is visiting family in her home country after making a name for herself as an artist abroad. She is stubbornly independent, her professional and personal self-sufficiency expressed through a habitual globetrotting that serves as a small-scale political rebellion against her old-fashioned, peasant-class family. Comparatively restrained and watchful, Will is equally focused on transience. Drawn to one another after two chance meetings ("Big world, small country," she says), Gadarine impulsively joins Will on a trip to gather ground data to make a more accurate Google-style map.
In The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Morgan Spurlock pays lip service to the importance of educating consumers to recognize clubby corporate brand synergy and false advertising. That the film itself, financed to the tune of $1.5 million by companies ranging from Pom pomegranate juice to JetBlue to the tourism board of Aruba, is a feat of clubby corporate brand synergy and false advertising is not ironic, exactly--depicting the "transparent" inner workings of the brand relationships are the film's reason to exist, and the bombastic title is Spurlock's attempt to wink-wink appropriate the language of what he's ostensibly critiquing. Not that this documentary is the "greatest" anything, but that's not the word in the title that rankles most. The problem with calling this project The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is that this is not really a movie at all.