4 LUNI, 3 SAPTAMINI SI 2 ZILE (4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS) (Romania, director Cristian Mungiu)
60th Anniversary Award
PARANOID PARK USA, director Gus Van Sant
MOGARI NO MORI (Japan, director Naomi Kawase)
Best Actress Award
JEON DO YEON for Secret sunshine (Korea, director Lee Chang-Dong)
Best Actor Award
KONSTANTIN LAVRONENKO for Izgnanie (Russia, director Andre Zvia guntsev)
Best Director Award
JULIAN SCHNABEL for Le scaphandre et le papillon, (France)
Best Screenplay Award
FAITH AKIN for Auf der anderen seite (Germany/Turkey)
Jury Prize ex-aequo
PERSEPOLIS (France, directors Marjane Satrapi / Vincent Paronnaud )
STELLET LICHT (Mexico, director Carlos Reygadas)
Prize "Vulcain de l'Artiste-Technicien", awarded by the C.S.T.
JANUSZ KAMINSKI for Le scaphandre et le papillon
CAMERA D'OR (for a first film)
MEDUZOT (directors Etgar Keret / Shira Geffen)
CONTROL (UK, director Anton Corbijn)
VER LLOVER (Medico, director Elisa Miller
AH MA (Singapore, director Anthony Chen )
RUN (New Zealand, director Mark Albiston)
UN CERTAIN REGARD
Un Certain Regard Prize
CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’(Romania, director Cristian Nemescu
Special Jury Prize
ACTRICES (France, director Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi}
Jury Coup de Cœur
BIKUR HATIZMORET (Israel, director Eran Kolirin)
Anamaria Marinca, Cristian Mungiu and Laura Vasiliu COPYRIGHT FESTIVAL DE CANNES 2007 | ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
The Jury, with Britain’s Stephen Frears as President and five actors, two directors and one writer as its other members, saw 23 films, and managed to give prizes to nine of them. Notably (and appropriately) snubbed were the indifferent Hollywood entries: the Chinese director Wong Kar Wai’s first English-language film BLUEBERRY NIGHTS, David Fincher’s ZODIAC, the Coen Brothers’ NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, Quentin Tarantino’s shaming DEATH PROOF and James Gray’s WE OWN THE NIGHT. Even the single award to a Hollywood direct seemed regrettably inappropriate. One might have expected a special prize to celebrate the 60th edition of the Cannes Festival to go to one of the great traditional masters who have honoured the festival. Instead the Jury gave it to Gus Van Sant, whose competition entry PARANOID PARK did little credit even to this uneven (and some would argue, indifferent) director.
The Grand Prix winner, Cristian Mungiu’s FOUR MONTHS, THREE WEEKS AND TWO DAYS (picture) was a universally popular choice, tipped for the prize since its appearance on the second day of the festival. It is the first time a Romanian film has won this most prestigious award, and is an appropriate tribute to the emergence of a lively and original school of young film-makers, which will be much on show in June 2007 at the Transylvanian Film Festival in Cluj – an event of ever-growing ambition and interest.
An extraordinary oversight by the jury was to ignore completely Alexander Sokurov’s magisterial ALEXANDRA, a film which many of us in Cannes saw as one of the Russian master’s finest films and most sensitive reflections on the human condition in the tortured 21st century, symbolised by a Russian military camp in Chechnya. It was equally strange that they overlooked the technical mastery of the other Russian entry, Andrei Zviagintsev’s THE BANISHMENT – flawed, but breathtaking in its mise-en-scène.
These oversights apart, the awards seemed cautious but just, and unusually none of them incited the usually obligatory vocal protest from the public. In consequence the awards ceremony proved a good-humoured occasion, marred only by a miscalculated show-off performance by last-year’s Grand Prix winner (for INDIGÈNES) Rachid Boucharev, purporting an (incomprehensible) political declaration. The other awards were mostly presented by well-loved senior citizens of the movies (inter alia Alain Delon and Jane Fonda), some daringly showing off their cosmetic surgeons’ latest successes - or otherwise.
Shown in the last day of the Festival, Naomi Kawase’s MOGARI NO MORI (THE MOURNING FOREST) was a somewhat surprising choice for the Grand Prix. Sincere and visually ravishing with its locations in the rural region around Nara, it is also often clumsy and ponderous in its story-telling. It is essentially a two-hander. A care-home worker feels affection for a demented old man (beautifully played by Shigeki Uda, a used-book-seller and part-time author in private life). Taking him on a birthday outing, her car breaks down, and he seizes the opportunity to scurry off on an incomprehensible mission. When she finds him. they are lost together in the woods, and a strange and touching relationship is consolidated.
Certainly this was more rewarding than Emir Kusturica’s ZAVAL (PROMISE ME THIS), a further stage in the director’s regression into self-imitation and a desperately aggressive determination to be funny, grotesque and noisy at each and every moment. It is a pity there are no new ideas whn Kusturica is still capable of organising his technical means so well.
The winner of the Prize for best film in the section Un Certain Regard, Cristian Nemescu’s CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’, confirmed, alongside the Palme d’Or winner, the unpredicted flowering of a brave and bright new cinema in Romania. The story is set in 1999, the period of the Kosovo war. A train carrying American soldiers and urgently needed military equipment is halted at a rural railway station by the corrupt and larcenous station master and town boss, with personal reasons for Americaphobia. While the American CO fumes and fights to get the documents without which the station master will not let the train pass, soldiers and townsfolk variously clash or bond. This tragiccomic look at official lassitude and endemic corruption ends catastrophically for the village, while the Americans, clean-handed, move on to their destination and destinies.
The film has a tragic background. Before the editing was completed, Nemescu and his sound editor, sitting in a stationary taxi in Bucharest, were killed by a drunken British tourist driving a rented Porsche at twice the permitted speed. CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’, even though the unfinished editing is often all too evident, remains as a memorial to an outstanding talent.
UNE VIELLE MAITRESSE is the first film by Catherine Berillat since she suffered a crippling stroke three years ago; but - as an effective commercial entertainment that is a rather odd entry for the Cannes competition - shows no lessening of her flair. True, a costume drama is something of a departure for a director whose principal concern in the past has generally been to get her erotically-charged characters out of their garment. The film is based on a novel by the 19th century writer Barbey d’Aurevilly, considered somewhat scandalous on its appearance in 1851. It chronicles the saga of a young nobleman who endeavours to break with his fiery mistress of ten years to marry a virginal young aristocrat, but, after the marriage, finds the lure too strong. Creillat captures the sour bite of Barbey’s disenchanted view of the institution of marriage and the frailty of the incorrigibly lustful male.
It is a handsome production, in sets, costumes and use of locations - particularly the dramatic sea coast which provides a suitable stage for the cruel denouement. The coarse features and unrestrained excess of Asia Argento, as the mistress of the title, are a matter of taste, and it is hard to imagine her attractions for her protector enduring ten years. Otherwise the casting is triumphant. The dubious hero is played by Fu’ad Ait Aattou, a former model who proves perfectly equal to his first acting role and has spectacular and unmatchable good looks: an acting career seems on the cards. Breillat is clearly bewitched: one sequence turns into a lyrical celebration of his (undeniably beautiful) feet. Michael Lonsdale is excellent as a cheerful old libertine, but the outstanding performance is by Claude Sarraute (as the sweetly wily old grandmother of the bride) making her debut in a feature at 80, after a distinguished life-time as hjournalist and commentator.
In the parallel Certain Regard section, Swedish director Roy Andersson’s DU LEVANDE (YOU THE LIVING) presentss a characteristically dark absurdist comedy on the human condition. Seemingly inconsequential glimpses of the vaguely related inhabitants of a community - probably suburban, but who can say? - offer a skewed picture of the plain daily life of husbands and wives, salesmen and clients, judges and the condemned, parents and children, drinkers and hairdressers. It is melancholy, comic and beneath aoo its absurdity, painfully real.
Whatever the Jury may decide, we are unlikely to see a better film than Alexandra, the latest - and one dare say, finest - film of the unpredictable Russian master Aleksandr Sokurov (born 1951). Undeniably it passed a good many of the Cannes viewers by: in their rush from one screening to another, a lot of them found it slow and boring. Yet this is the kind of work - no question a work of art - that we have almost forgotten in the cinema, a work that does not instantly yield all its depth of meaning, that has to be experienced rather than just watched and coolly judged. It does not tell us a neatly rounded story, but enwraps us in a world that is exotic and strange to us. It is a film about war in which we seen no warfare or hostilities. It is specifically set in Chechnya - and was, exceptionally, actually shot there - but it is about every war there ever was. It is about war, not as a blind political weapon, not as thrilling boys’ adventure stuff, but as a condition of life that shapes, distorts, demeans, wrecks the existence and the future of those innocently caught up in it, in whatever ways.
The setting is a Russian military camp on the edge of a small Chechen town. An old lady arrives there to visit her grandson, a 27-year-old officer (an old man in the camp’s terms) whom she has not seen for seven years. Their reunion is joyful, but communication is hard: Denis has lived too long in this environment to know how to make easy conversation with grandmothers. In the next days Alexandra wanders about the camp, moving among these soldiers who are mostly boys barely old enough to shave. They shyly keep their distance, but the presence of this stout old lady clearly stirs memories and associations. Alexandra goes into the Chechen town, and is befriended by another old lady, a former teacher. The kinship of matriarchs is stronger than political conflict. And then Alexandra must pack her bags and go back home.
So, nothing much happens. All is in looks and signs - the meeting or evasion of eyes. They are looks that tell us that underneath the dutiful coldness and discipline of camp life, the emotional life of these kids persists: Sokurov gives us undoubted clues to their private intimacies, and hints that for them too human needs may prove stronger than political strictures in their dealings with their Chechen contemporaries.
The glory of the film though is Alexandra herself, played by the great opera singer Galina Vishnevksaia, who first became connected with Sokurov when he made a documentary portrait of her and her late husband Mstislav Rostropovich. At 81, playing this ordinary woman who may once have been a teacher, she is magnificent, statuesque and with features that betray strength, wisdom, an indefinable spirituality. Alexandrfa exudes history - the women of the Revolution with its hopes and disillusion, the heroines of the devastating Second World War, the mothers and grandmothers of Putin’s enigmatic empire, of the soldiers who kill and die in new wars. She is Russia, and the protagonist of the epic poem which is ALEXANDRA - only gradually yielding up all its layers of meaning and emotion to those who have eyes and ears for it. ALEXANDRA is one of the very rare contemporary films that asks to be seen again and again.
THE MAN FROM LONDON, the latest work of the Hungarian cult director Béla Tarr, plays perilously into the hands of those who regard his vaunted genius as having about it much of the Emperor’s new clothes. Certainly he has earned his reputation with remarkable and impressive, if not particularly winning films (Sátántangó, Werckmeister Harmonies); but THE MAN FROM LONDON, excessively long and self-indulgent, has none of their pretensions to (admittedly elusive) underlying spiritual or moral values. It is adapted from a thriller by Georges Simenon, which has been more conventionally and effectively brought to the screen two or three times before. Tarr follows the story more or less – a railway worker comes into possession of a stash of stolen money and is left to extricate himself from the perilous events that follow. But the film is not concerned with effective narrative. When necessary the story is explained in lengthy speeches. There is no narrative structure: the film is composed in excessively long and lingering scenes, aspiring to a kind of noir expressionism, and certainly showing off the stylish quality of Fred Kelemen’s camerawork. The international cast (including Tilda Swinton as the protagonist’s bothered wife) are all dubbed into Hungarian. Mihaly Vig’s moody score is oddly divisive: those who resist the film itself, like it, those who admire the film, don’t
Fatih Akin, winner of the Berlin Golden Bear for his Gegen die Wand (Head-on), again explores with intelligence and sensitivity the uneasily juxtaposed cultures of Turks and Germans. In AUF DER ANDEREN SEITE (THE EDGE OF HEAVEN) his story is unashamed in its schematism and the plot’s dependence on coincidence. A lecherous old Turk moves into his home a Turkish prostitute, working in Germany to earn money to educate her daughter back in Istanbul. In a fit of anger he kills her and is imprisoned. His son, a university teacher, goes to Istanbul to try to find the daughter, who has meanwhile fled to Germany, to avoid troubles arising from her political activities. In Germany she forms a lesbian relationship with a young German girl. When the girl in turn dies, her mother (played by a sturdy, middle-aged Hanna Schygulla) also makes her way to Istanbul. The frankly artificial pattern of relationships is handled deftly and sensitively by Akin, who wins convincing performances from his mixed cast of actors: besides Schygulla there is the top Turkish star, Tunjcel Kurtiz, as the father and a younger, German-based Turkish actor, Baki Davrak as his professor son.
LE SCAPHANDRE ET LE PAPILLON (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) adheres to the current vogue for subjects involving tormenting sickness and death. Julian Schnabel, a former artist of the American “New Expressionist” persuasion, imaginatively dramatises the real-life experience of Jean-Dominique Bauby, some-time editor-in-chief of “Elle” magazine, who was left by a massive stroke in the condition of “locked-in syndrome”, unable to move or to communicate except to blink one eye. A creative speech therapist devised a specially organised alphabet whose letters Baudry could denote with a complex system of blinks. Incredibly and heroically, he used this letter-by letter system to dictate an entire volume of memoirs, published three days before his death, at the age of 45, in 1997.
Schnabel, aided by the English writer Ronald Harwood, the images of the fine Polish cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, and the ranging performance of Mathieu Arnalric, sets out to recreate the sick man’s image of the world with which he cannot communicate directly, from the point at which he emerges from the first total coma. The enclosed mind provides its own off-screen commentary, revealing a man who is still fast-thinking, witty, sensual, ironic, as he remembers incidents from his active past,. In the later scenes the view moves to the exterior, to show us the motionless figure in the wheel-chair of whose still-vigorous inner life we are now aware.
At well over two hours in length and with its tightly confined story and setting, Carlos Reygadas’ STELLET LICHT puts some demands on the spectator, but the final impression is rewarding. Beginning with a long time-lapse shot of the sun rising over a rural community near Chihuahua, Mexico, he concentrates on a little group of figures in a Mennonite community – migrants from the North, still speaking their forefather’s archaic Germanic language. The hero, Johan, is tormented by his guilt at having fallen in love with another woman – a lapse which he does not conceal from his stoic wife, and which the devoutly religious community deals with in its own calmly humane fashion. The actors are non-professionals, chosen with inspiration: they speak rather than act their lines, and the technique works to fine effect. It is a film that is richly rewarding for spectators able and willing to adapt themselves to its pace and tone.
With French production financing, Gus Van Sant happily commits himself to an undisguised “art movie” in the 87-minute PARANOID PARK (pictured), which was the winner of Cannes’ special Sixtieth Anniversary Prize. Based on a novel by Blake Nelson, set in the writer’s home-town (and Van Sant’s own base) of Portland, Oregon, it is a familiar metaphor of contemporary communication failure - the story of a disaffected, middle-class 16-year-old, with divorcing parents, girl-friends who are more interested in him than he in them, and a compulsive escape in skateboarding. Somehow (as becomes clearer at the end of the film) he and his skate-board have been involved in the grisly death of a security guard near the venue for skaters and bums, called Paranoid Park. Alex’s own paranoia, anxiety and guilt are aggravated as he is questioned in school by an amiable but persistent detective (Daniel Liu). On the advice of a girl-friend, Alex begins to write his impressions as an extended letter, and it is these sketchy and disjointed thoughts that form and drive (comparatively speaking) the film. While the shattered narrative demands some patience, the film has the attraction of Chris Doyle’s moody photography, celebrating Van Sant’s homo-erotic vision of these teenagers and the long-haired, downy-faced young hero (Gabe Nevins: the casting of the youngsters was done through MySpace). The skating scenes are given a different quality by Rain Kathy Li’s catch-as-catch-can Super8 and video footage. An interesting musical score, ranging boldly from Beethoven to Nino Rota helps energise the fllm.
The Austrian Ulrich Seidl’s 145-minute IMPORT EXPORT ranks without contest as the festival’s grimmest and gloomiest competitor. It tells the parallel stories of a young nurse and single mother travelling from Ukraine in search of a better life (which for sure she does not find) in Vienna, and a young Austrian driving to the Ukraine with a truck-load of gambling slot-machines, in company with his gross step-father, in quest of off-the-leash sex. Seidl unsparingly (and maybe unnecessarily) inflicts scenes of work in an on-line live web-cam sex service, physical humiliation of cut-price prostitutes, and the indignity of the patients in a geriatric hospital – an intrusion into a real-life institution and defenceless lives which is by any standards offensive. Seidl is a capable director, here working without discretion or very evident purpose.
Hollywood has made no great mark at the festival, apart from Michael Moore‘s assault on the inquities of American medical care, SICKO. The competition entry NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, directed by the brothers Ethan and Joel Coen had its admirers, but it is an essentially slim excuse for a succession of violent effects. The story relates how a poor man (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon the aftermath of a desert shootout, and happily makes off with a stash of money. The next two hours relate his pursuit by a crazy but effective killer (the eerie Javier Bardem). Some life is provided bythe performance of Tommy Lee Jones as a shrewd sheriff who has seen it all before. There were fewer good words for Abel Ferrara‘s account of a foundering Manhattan go go club, GO GO TALES. Gus van Sant’s PARANOID PARK is an uncharacteristically quiet and reflective opus, chronicling the fear and anxieties of conscience of a young boy who has accidentally caused the death of a security guard, hit by his flying skateboard. The film was cast via internet and in the protagonist, Gabe Nevins, van Sant has found an ideal figure for his constant and unconcealed delight in the young male. There is, too, an odd and certainly not accidental tribute to Eisenstein as Nevins’ reversed black baseball cap and cascading black hair give him all the look of an acolyte from IVAN THE TERRIBLE.
Three star directors of the Hong Kong cinema - Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam and Johnnie To - collaborate on TRIANGLE, each handling one of the inter-twined stories of criminals and hidden antique treasures. Sadly the stories, rather than combined are hopelessly middled.
In contrast, an exemplary handling of a complex plot was provided by an Itanlian film, MIO FRATELLO E FIGLIO UNICO (picture), co-scripted and directed by Daniele Luccheti. Set in small-town Italy in the turbulent 60s and 70s it tells the story of two brothers, one committed to Communism, the other to patriotic fascism, and both in love with the same woman. A film of non-stop dialogue, Italian=style it still succeeds in establishing its locale and an ensemble of believable, likeable and finally somewhat pitiable characters
Cannes 2007 has succeeded in producing one of those great moments of discovery that make festivals worth while. There was no advance information or great expectations of an Israeli film with the hard-to-decipher title BIKUR HATIZMO (it turns out to mean THE BAND’S VISIT). The first-time director, Eran Kolirin, was unknown: but he will not remain so. His film is a small, wry, comedy whose faultlessly-maintained tone recalls the early films of Milos Forman, Ivan Passer and the Czech New Wave of the 1960s. The story begins with the arrival at Tel Aviv airport of the band of the Alexandria Police Corps on a (highly improbable) cultural visit to Israel. Nobody turns up to meet them and they are left standing in their absurd neo-military uniforms of a violent marine blue which goes badly with the bleak sandy landscape. Misdirected and bearing their instruments under the burning sun, they land in a benighted village whose inhabitants are initially mocking and vaguely hostile to these suspect foreigners. The simple laws of hospitality prevail, and in the course of the night which he band is obliged to spend there, human connections are formed and gestures of mutual understanding leave everyone a little changed and enriched. It is a tale of small encounters of minds and sentiments, which are observed with an accuracy and truth that make the prevailing comic tone marvellously rich and human. Neither Korinin nor his wonderfully cast actors (Israelis playing the Egyprian roles) ever makes a false move.
This modest film found instant discovery. Press-show audiences are normally phlegmatic but the spectators for this enchanting little film stayed, and stood for close to twenty minutes applauding the flabbergasted first-time film-makers. Within hours distributors from all over the world were battling to buy a film of which no-one had heard the day before.
The Cannes festival selection is always somewhat puzzling and it is hard to know why this film was shown out of competition in the “Un Certain Regard” sidebar, while Raphael Nadjan’s TEHILIM was chosen to compete. The film is honourable and thoughtful, but unlikely to make much impression on a jury. The French-born Nadjan, whose fourth film this is, is a reflective director; and his scenario is an intelligent discussion of the shades of religion and morality in an ever-changing society. When the father of a family mysteriously disappears, after an inexpicable car accident, the various members of his family find different ways to deal with the crisis. The vanished man’s strongly orthodox father and brother seek solace and solutions in prayer, to the exasperation of the non-orthodox wife or widow. The action however centres on the two young sons, confused, leaning to the paternal faith, and finally posing the film’s main ethical question, by committing a sin in the cause of a greater good.
In 2004 Michael Moore won the Cannes Grand Prix for FAHRENHEIT 911. Three years on, there is a sense that he is no longer the critics’ darling that he was then, but that there is a hardening reaction against that cheerful manipulation of both material and audience, that constitutes his method and strength as a master communicator and propagandist. Michael Moore is what he is, and you have to accept his overstatements and jugglings with the facts to make his points. The point of his new film SICKO (shown out of competition) is the shame of the United States as the only country in the western world that does not provide its citizens with free medical services. Moore lashes out at politicians who are in the hands of the booming drug industries and steadfastly fight against state aid for medicine (Hilary Clinton’s campaign to change things soon foundered); against the great insurance companies whose principal business is to find means of rejecting patients’ claims; against hospitals in rich states that simply dump chronic patients on the skid-row sidewalk when they are no longer able to pay He finds scores of people - among them some of New York’s proclaimed heroes of 9/11, whose lives have been wrecked by the financial disaster sickness can bring to the ordinary American.
In contrast, often ironic, Moore shows the workings of the health services of Canada or European countries like France and England. Finally - since the US Government have so grandly boasted of the free health service provided to the incarcerated in Guantamo Bay - Moore takes a group of out-of-means US patients there; and when they receive no welcome from the guards on the American side of the line, make their way to Havana. There they receive first-class medical services and needed drugs at an infinite fraction of American prices. Not even the most enthusiastic Cubaphile could for a moment believe that every Cuban receives care at the level. Still, Moore’s point is made.
Moore has a gift for ironies. The most virulent anti-Moore website announced impending closure because its proprietor’s wife was sick and he could not afford to pay her medical bills and still maintain the site. Moore anonymously paid the doctors, so that the site was able to re-emerge with gratitude to its anonymous benefactor alongside a triumphant, “Fuck you, Michael Moore”. Someone’s face will be red when SICKO is released in the US.
Today also saw a French entry in the non-competitive section “Un Certain Regard“, LE REVE DE LA NUIT D’AVANT, directed by the Italian émigré actress, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi. The story of a stage actress facing the crisis of approaching forty, and from time to time going to pieces off-stage and on-stage, the film risks being a vanity production, with Ms Bruni-Tedesci as director, writer and star. But both she and her film have enough verve and wit, allied to some shrewdly-cast supporting performances to make it a thoroughly engaging entertainment.
Anyone currently faced with the programme of a major film festival nowadays could occasionally be forgiven for supposing that early 21st century cinema had taken as its task to plumb the depths of the world’s sorrows - not the great international issues and disasters that threaten world stability, but the intimate personal agonies that might hit any private life. It is rare these days to see a happy person or a fulfilled relationship on screen. Festival audiences are conditioned to accept that the greater number of movies - particularly those with claims to art - chronicle misery or wickedness. Movies aren’t for fun any more.
An instance is one of the best films to appear so far, and the first possible candidate for a major prize - the Russian Andrei Zviaguintsev’s THE BANISHMENT. At its base is a twist on familiar Russian rural mysticism. Here the city, with its speed and vitality buoys up human relationships, while the countryside fosters brooding and mistrust. A young couple, for reasons that are not quite clear but probably have something to do with the man‘s criminal brother - take their children to the husband‘s paternal home village. There the woman reveals that she is pregnant with a child which is not his. The man agonises for a while, then with his brother’s help, arranges an abortion which proves fatal. Only afterwards does he experience the full agony at the discovery of his error.
The subject is hard, and the screenplay often very clumsy - particularly in its last-reel recourse to an explanatory flashback. Yet all this is offset by the dazzling skill of Zviaguintsev’s mise-en-scene, his depiction and comprehension of the breath-taking countryside and its effect on the frail humans dwarfed by it. It is a masterwork that is not, having been betrayed by its screenplay.
Abortion in its medical, social and human reality is the single theme of Christian Mungiu’s `
FOUR MONTHS, THREE WEEKS AND FOUR DAYS (picture), from Romanis, a country which is currently enjoying some prominence for its youthful and explorative young cinema. In late communist Romania, a feckless young student becomes pregnant, and with the help of her loyal and much more practical friend, arranges an illegal abortion. The brutish male abortionist has all the means to blackmail them both into paying in part with sex. The screenplay has a lot of loose ends, but the oppressive atmosphere of Ceaucescu’s Romania, where a hotel has the same surveillance as a jail, and the reality of this nightmare amateur surgery are vividly depicted as a background to the touchingly true characters of the girls.
Compared with these, the ordinary pains of adolescence are only small troubles, but Celine Sciamma depicts them with feeling in LA NAISSANCE DES PIEUVRES, chronicling the sexual awakening of three 15-year-old girls, variously attached to a swimming club (which conveniently provides the obligatory locker room and showers). For this film, lesbian love appears to be the most fulfilling relationship, just as the happy end of another French film, Christophe Honore’s CHANSONS D’AMOUR (picture) appears to be when the hero settles, after a good deal of alternative experiment, for a homosexual love. Honore is a 37-year-old writer, whose previous three films have received qualified reviews. This one is distinctly irritating in its hommages to the long-ago French New Wave, and particularly for its recollections of Jacques Demy’s LES PARAPLUIES DE CHERBOURG. As in that film the characters break into song in their more emotional moments, but Alex Beaupain’s recitatives are pale echoes of Michel Legrand, and not many of the otherwise attractive cast sings very convincingly. The rather willowy former child actor Louis Garrel plays the leading role of the Israeli Ismael (whom the dialogue scuriously specifies as “not even circumcised“), who works his way through various sexual permutations and a bereavement to his final fulfilment (which is quite the prettiest and most erotic sex scene in the film).
The Cannes Film Festival is celebrating its 60th edition: that's for sure. What is less certain is the cheerful assertion that it is also the festival's 60th anniversary. All the publicity is careful to give no date for the first festival, but Film Intelligence is pretty certain that it was in September 1946 - which would make this year the 61st anniversary. It is of little account - the festival is upon us, bigger and more glamorous than ever.
The centre-point of the glamour image is the great red stairway which the audience must ascend for the evening show in the Grand Salle Lumiere. Tonight's opening-night ascent was as usual a spectacle that combined elegance, style, show-off and grotesque. Careful couturier displays alternated with serious errors of dress judgment, incautiously displaying unsuitable bits of anatomy. Some cannot conceal their embarrassment at the inquisitive cameras; others are there to perform a full circus parade. The prestige people make sure of being on the right arms, but the boy-friends and girl-friends can generally be glim-sed not too far away.
This is the night when the jury goes on show. The President is Britain's Stephen Frears, basking in the big success of THE QUEEN and tonight respendant in a tuxedo and exceptionally looking as if he had shaved. His colleagues for the twelve days of fetival include a rotund and genial Michel Piccoli, the directors Marco Bellocchio and Abderrahmane Sissako (Mauretania), the actors Sarah Polley, Maggie Cheung, Toni Colette, Maria Di Medeiros, and the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk. Medeiros and Polley have both tried their hands at direction also.
The most thrilling moment of the Red Stair parade, however, was the arrival of the great Portuguese director, Manoel de Oliveira, 98 years old and the only living director whose first film was a silent. Unaided, except by an elegantly wielded stick, de Oliviera mounted the steps looking a fraction of his age. The only surprise was that he had time to come to Cannes (having just returned from New York) since he is at work on his next film and hard at work on preparing the masterwork he plans to celebrate his centenary in 2009.
The film that awaited them when they had run the gauntlet of tv cameras and paparazzi was somewhat of an anti-climax. The first English-language American production by the prestigious Chinese director Wong Kar Wai had been anxiously anticipated, and disappointed no-one in the sheer beauty of the images and elegance of the craftsmanship. Somehow though this rather familiar story of a young woman, having suffered an emotional break-up, travelling across America, working as a waitress and meeting a variety of other lost souls on the way never quite takes off. As the official synopsis says, a shade ominously, "Through these individuals, Elizabeth witnesses the true depths of loneliness and emptiness, and begins to understand that her own journey is part of a greater exploration within herself". Her encounters include such luminaries as Jude Law and Rachel Weisz; but the performances - most notably of the singer Norah Jones in the leading role - suggest Won Kar Wai's discomfort directing actors in a foreign tongue. Still - Cannes is under way