Cannes 2010 Daily Report


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23 May 2010

CANNES 2010 - THE AWARDS

Palme d'Or:
LUNG BOONMEE RALUEK CHAT (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives) directed by Apichatpong WEERASETHAKUL
Grand Prix:
DES HOMMES ET DES DIEUX (OF GODS AND MEN) directed by Xavier BEAUVOIS

Award for Best Director:
Mathieu AMALRIC for TOURNÉE (ON TOUR)
Award for Best Screenplay:
LEE Chang-dong for POETRY
Award for Best Actress:
Juliette BINOCHE in COPIE CONFORME (CERTIFIED COPY) directed by Abbas KIAROSTAMI
Award for Best Actor Ex-aequo:
Javier BARDEM in BIUTIFUL directed by Alejandro GONZÁLEZ IÑÁRRITU
Elio GERMANO in LA NOSTRA VITA (OUR LIFE) directed by Daniele LUCHETTI
Jury Prize:
UN HOMME QUI CRIE (A screaming man) directed by Mahamat-Saleh HAROUN

With a score of films of fairly consistent quaiity, but no earth-shattering masterworks, the Jury decisions were predictably uncontroversial. There was no doubt that the Palme d’or winner, UNCLE BOONME WHO COULD RECALL HIS PAST LIVES, with the vivid surreal imagery of its Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (who made his first impact on Cannes in 2004 with his magical TROPICAL MALADY) must appeal to the special visual sensibilities of the Jury President, Tim Burton.
Some complained that the Best Actress prize to Juliet Binoche looked like an award to the 2010 festival poster, designed by and featuring Binoche herself, rather than to her likeable but unremarkable performance in Kiarostami’s time-marking French two-hander COPIE CONFORME. Conversely Lambert Wilson, with outstanding performances in both Bertrand Tavernier’s LA PRINCESSE DE MONTPENSIER and Xavier Beauvois’ DES DIEUX ET DES HOMMES, would have seemed a more likely candidate for Best Actor than the nonetheless worthy ex-aequo Javier Bardem and Elio Germano.
The three English-language films in competition were totally ignored by the jury, though the overall critical view was that the two English veterans Ken Loach, with ROUTE IRISH, and Mike Leigh, with ANOTHER YEAR (including a strong Best Actress contender in Ruth Sheen) were in top form. Ironically this was the second successive year that Loach was snubbed: last year his excellent comedy WAITING FOR ERIC was a major popular and critical success, but overlooked by the jury and confirming the principle that festivals never reward comedy.

22 May 2010

Day Eleven

Reputedly the most costly film in Russian film history, Nikita Mikhalkov’s BURNT BY THE SUN 2: THE EXODUS generated surprisingly little interest at Cannes (it was admittedly shown late in the festival). Made sixteen years after the original BURNT BY THE SUN, which won the 1994 Cannes Jury Prize and the 1995 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, almost all the original cast resume their same characters, even though the action is supposed to take place only five years after the previous film. A further slight continuity problem is that the protagonist and many of the other characters now resurrected appeared to have died at the end of the earlier film.
The protagonist, played by Mikhalkov himself, is General Kotov, who in BURNT BY THE SUN, set in 1936, was betrayed by a vengeful acquaintance and was sent to a Stalinist prison camp. Now, at the start of the Second World War, believed dead even by the Stalinist authorities, he escapes from the camp and goes to the front as a private soldier in a voluntary battalion. He fights fearlessly, is injured, but refuses discharge, believing his wife and daughter have died in the labour camp. However they have survived, and father and daughter will be reunited. Strangely, the only character from the first film who is recast is the wonderful Ingeborga Dapkunaite, replaced as Kotov’s wife (now a minimal role) by Viktorya Tolstoganova. The director’s daughter, Nadezhda Mikhalkova, 8 years old when she appeared as Kotov’s daughter in the original film, has had to experience a somewhat anachronistic maturing to work as an army nurse in this new episode.
A largely hostile Russian press had seized on historical improbabilities that might not be so evident to foreign audiences: even so, Cannes tended to disbelief in the high-flown sentiments and disappointment in the costly battle spectacle. A sequel, BURNT BY THE SUN 3: THE CITADEL is promised for next year.
Cannes chose an unusually quiet closing film. THE TREE is the second feature directed, in Australia, by Julie Bertuccelli, after long experience in her native France as assistant to such distinguished directors as Iosseliani, Kieslowski and Tavernier. Her script, from the novel by Judy Pascoe, skillfully avoids the cute and sentimental in a story with touches of magical realism. After the sudden death of their father, three young children begin to bond with a giant back-garden tree, through which they feel he communicates with them.

21 May 2010

Day Ten

The screening of Rachid Bouchareb’s HORS LA LOI brought one of the more dramatic days in the Festival’s history, with a massive police presence, including helicoptors, and demonstrations by French veterans of the Algerian conflict. The furore was generated by politicians, who, without seeing the film, protested at the representation, in a film part-financed by France, of the notorious 1945 massacre of Sétif. In fact the event – essential to the back-story of the film’s protagonists – occupies only five minutes of the running time. The story tells of a mother and her three sons, dispossessed of their patriarchal home in Algeria in 1925, when the French allocate the lands to new colonialist settlers. Twenty years later, following the Setif massacre, they migrate to Paris, where they survive in shanty-towns and are grateful for work in the Renault factory. Messaoud joins the French army and fights in Indochina; Said does well with boxing and shady night clubs. Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila, who played a namesake character in Bouchareb’s 2006 Golden Palm-winner Indigènes) becomes a leader of the Algerian Independence Movement, and ultimately gives his life for the cause. Their destinies are constantly linked by their adoration of their indomitable mother. Though more evidently schematic than the superb Indigènes, HORS LA LOI shows Bouchareb’s human commitment and directorial mastery at their finest, after the disappointment of London River, which also featured Bouajila in a supporting role.

The Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul first made an impact in Cannes in 2004, with Tropical Malady, a film which confounded as many as it thrilled with its originality and strangeness. His new film, UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES, found the 2010 festival audience more prepared, and ready to accept his singular world, without attempting to understand and interpret. The story is in part based on a 30-year-old book by a Buddhist priest about a man, actually called Boonmee, who claimed to recall his past lives; and in part on Apichatpong’s memory of the Thai soap-operas of his youth, filmed on 16mm and with other-worldly intonations resulting from the unrehearsed actors being prompted on every line.
Yet all is absorbed and transformed into his unique personal vision. Uncle Boonmee, accepting the fact of his imminent death from kidney failure, decides to spend his last days in the forest countryside, surrounded by his loved ones, who are calmly joined by the kindly ghost of his wife, and his long-mislaid son now changed to a red-eyed but genial monkey. A wandering buffalo and a lecherous talking catfish who makes outrageous advances on a Princess may or may not represent the past lives of Boonmee’s memory. This is a different world, at once funny and touching, bewildering and comforting.

20 May 2010

Day Nine

Cannes saw a startling day of exposés of the deceptions and corruption of the Bush-Blair adventure in Iraq. A last-minute addition to the festival, Ken Loach’s ROUTE IRISH is a fierce engagement with the business of mercenary soldiers - “private contractors”, “security consultants” - out of whom fortunes have been made by companies like Halliburton (CEO: Dick Cheney). At the height of the conflict there were as many as 160,000 of these private contractors at work in Iraq, given total immunity from Iraqi Law by the notorious Order 17 introduced by Paul Bremer, US head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, and which lasted from 2003 to 2009. Apart from the official profits from these mercenaries, nine million dollars disappeared.through corruption.
The script is by Loach’s usual collaborator Paul Laverty, and ingeniously probes the business not on the ground or at the top, but in its repercussions back home, in Liverpool. Fergus (Mark Womack), in a general state of mess after his stint in Iraq, attends the funeral of his best friend Frankie (John Bishop), who has died in an ambush on Route Irish – the perilous road between the Green Zone and Bagdad airport. Suspecting that Frankie’s death was set up as a convenient cover-up by the security company who employed them, Fergus begins to investigate with the help of Frankie’s girl-friend, an Iraqi exile, internet, skype and Frankie’s mobile phone. From this point the film wanders into somewhat conventional thriller territory, but Loach never loses sight of his rage against an official system which incidentally lures unemployed men to sell their souls for an irresistible £10,000 a month.
Doug Liman’s FAIR GAME brings to the screen the story of Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame’s bitter experiences at the hands of the war-crazed Bush administration. A career diplomat, Wilson was despatched to seek evidence that Niger had supplied Saddam Hussein with enriched uranium for the production of weapons of mass destruction. His report that there was no such evidence was unwelcome to the Washington hawks and suppressed. When Wilson, in the New York Times, exposed the White House lies, Dick Cheney’s office retaliated by leaking to the media that Valerie Plame, Wilson’s wife, was a CIA agent. The revelations not only ended her career but brought the death of scores of her informants in the Middle East. The script, from Wilson and Plame’s own memoirs, is by the English brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, and sensitively looks at the implications of these strange and troubled careers upon the marriage of the Wilsons, played by Sean Penn and Naomi Watts. Doug Liman (whose previous films have included The Bourne Identity and Mr and Mrs Smith) understands Washington: his father Arthur L. Liman, was chief counsel for the Senate investigation into the Iran-contra affair. These were bad times.

19 May 2010

Day Eight

Shown out of competition, Olivier Assayas’ CARLOS, a miniseries running to five hours and
nineteen minutes, was an unlikely attraction in the pressurized atmosphere of Cannes; but most who tackled it stayed the course. The film is a meticulous and intently researched reconstruction of the career of Ilich Ramirez Sanches, alias Carlos (and retrospectively “The Jackal”), the most spot-lit international terrorist of the 70s and 80s - now 61 and serving a life sentence in France. Ramirez – who has married his lawyer whilst in custody – is already threatening action against the film for defamation, claiming, for instance, that Assayas’ depiction of the taking of hostages at the 1975 Vienna OPEC congress misrepresents the elegance of his style.
Carlos’s destiny was sealed from the start by a father who named his three sons Vladimir, Ilich and Lenin. He received his political education in Moscow and London. Since then, his loyalties have ranged from Palestine Liberation to Islamist extremism, the KGB and the Stasi, and his exploits have embraced as many bungles as the spectacular and more publicized terrorist dramas he has pulled off. His undoing (tranquillized and handed over to France by the Sudanese authorities while recovering from a testicular operation) was an ironic anti-climax to a spectacular career which had brought so much death and destruction. Edgar Ramirez, a Venezuelan like Carlos himself, manages to remain compelling in this ultimately unfathomable role. The film, shot on many international locations, has none of the look of a miniseries, and - with plans for variant forms and durations – looks set for big commercial success.
The 139 quiet minutes of POETRY never seem too long, even though it concentrates on the story of one 66-year-old lady called Mija, played by the veteran actress Yun Jung-hee, lured out of retirement for the role by the director Lee Chang-dong. She supports herself and her sullen grandson by caring for an old man, paralysed by a stroke but still menacingly lecherous. Diagnosed with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, she reacts by enrolling in a poetry class, fulfilling an early dream to write. Life is unsparing: her grandson is implicated with a group of boys in a horrible rape, and the well-heeled fathers of the others look (condescendingly) to Mija to join them in buying them off. Her brave spirit, upheld by her poetry and the vision it gives her into the beauty and solace of nature, resists. It is a unique, invigorating and genuinely poetic film.

18 May 2010

Day Seven

Xavier Beauvois’s fine DES HOMMES ET DES DIEUX is inspired, rather than directly based upon a 1996 incident in the Algerian civil conflict, when seven Christian monks from the little monastery of Tibhirine were taken hostage by the Groupe Islamiste Armee and subsequently murdered and beheaded. Only in recent months has new information been released to indicate some responsibility by the state military for the atrocity. Beauvois’ script (with Etienne Comars) is concerned with the months leading up to the fatal incident, as the monks persist in their work of supporting the village with communal and medical work; while pondering and praying, to decide if they should follow the French government’s instruction to return home, following the Islamic extremists’ order that all foreigners should leave Algeria. Beauvois, with the seven gentle monks vividly cast and distinctive characters, makes their faith to their religion and their community tangible. There are outstanding performances by Lambert Wilson as the prior, as unshakeable faced with terrorists as with the army, and Michael Lonsdale as the octogenarian doctor.

Stephen Frears is a singular figure among the dozen or so major international septuagenarian directors, in that his singular talent lies in his gift for interpreting the scripts and ideas of others. The only moment when his career conveyed a sense of authorial style was in his early years of extensive collaboration with the writer Alan Bennett , which seemed to bring out a particular sympathy, perhaps rooted in both artists’ regional (though socially very different) origins. The hazard of this is that in a sense he is as good as his script, as occasional failures have testified. In TAMARA DREWE he has the good fortune of one of his best scripts, skilfully developed by Moira Buffini from a “graphic novel” by Posy Simmonds, in turn distantly inspired by Thomas Hardy’s “Far From the Madding Crowd”. The setting is the Dorset countryside and a farmstead whose owners – a successful crime novelist and his devoted but ever-deceived wife – have transformed into an idyllic retreat for writers of all kinds. The place and the surrounding community are turned upside down by the return of Tamara Drewe (Gemma Arterton), who left the village years ago as a plain, gawky and spurned young woman, but now reappears as a successful London journalist, glamourised by a clever nose-job. Officially there to prepare her late mother’s home for sale, she turns the heads and hearts of the writers and her old rustic flame now employed as handyman, while getting momentarily engaged to (and enthusiastically rutted by) a passing pop drummer.
The already complex and ever-shifting relationships are further confused by the tricks,machinations and e-mailing of two lecherous early teenagers with a fixation on the drummer. Frears turns all this into a fast-moving entertainment, rich in over-done characters and fast one-liners, and keeps the laughs going right through the very dark ending, involving sudden death (both human and canine) and the promise of paedophilia. Only occasionally does narrative wooliness indicate an over-long script cut down a shade too late in the editing phase of the film.

With his protégé and fellow Iranian director Janar Panahi languishing in a Tehran gaol, it is a matter of speculation why Abbas Kiarostami has chosen this moment to make his first film outside his native country – a virtual two-hander, shot in Tuscany, with a French film star (Juliet Binoche) and a British opera singer, William Shimell. The story of COPIE CONFORME is a tease. This middle-aged couple meet, as it seems, by chance and as strangers at a book presentation (he is a writer). They take off together in her car into the countryside; and their conversation turns into that of a bickering married couple, with fifteen years of memories (or forgetfulness). What is reality and what is their invented fantasy? Unfortunately it does not seem to matter very much

17 May 2010

Day Six

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s BIUTIFUL stars the incomparable Javier Bardem as Uxbal, who battles for a living on the rough streets of Barcelona, trading in fake luxury goods to palm off to tourists; trading equally in undocumented Chinese workers; and indeed doing anything that will make money, including marketing his own psychic powers. He is not lucky: his bipolar, alcoholic wife is incapable of caring for their two children, and he is under sentence of soon-to-be-fatal cancer. Yet with all this he is not a bad man; and his medical condition may have enhanced his desire for redemption. His efforts to protect others do not all turn out well, but we feel in the presence of a man who, against all odds, yearns to be good. The script meanders, with too many marginal characters, and it is hard to go along with Inarritu’s assertion that it is his most optimistic film; but all is redeemed by Bardem’s extraordinary and complex performance.

This year’s entries from Romania were not marked by easy appeal. AURORA, by Cristi Piu, director of Stuff and Dough and The Death of Mr Laazrescu, observes for three hours the unexplained activities of a middle-aged man, possessed of a rifle but revealing little of thoughts and relationships and less of motives or the reasons for his evident troubled state. The man – often seen only in shadow or through half-open doors - is played by the 42-year-old director himself. Piu is a good enough story-teller to command attention …. just.
Andrei Ujica’s THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF NICOLAE CEAUSESCU is at first something of a shock for those of us not intimately informed on Romanian history. Here is a three-hour assembly of newsreel footage, covering the Romanian tyrant’s rise and fall between 1965 and 1989, without a word of commentary or explanation. But as we watch the figure and the body-language through its changes, from the cheery populist of early days to the monster toppled by popular revolt, we realise that this really is visual autobiography. Andrei Ujica expresses his intention and achievement well: “After all, a dictator is simply an artist who is able to fully put into priactice his egotism. It is a mere question of aesthetic level, whether he turns out to be Baudelaire or Bolintineanu, Louis XVI or Nicolas Ceaucescu”. For those as ignorant of Romanian culture as this writer, Dimitrie Bolintineanu (1819-1872) was a poet, politican and nationalist of Macedoian-Aromanian origin.

16 May 2010

Day Five

LA PRINCESSE DE MONTPENSIER shows the French director Bertrand Tavernier well back on form (after Berlin’s disappointing In the Electric Mist) in a genre in which he is one of the few masters, costume drama. His film is based on a 17th century novel by Madame de la Fayette, set in the late 16th century and the merciless religious wars of the ascendency of Catherine de Medici. The Princess is the unwilling bride of an arranged political marriage; her true passion is reserved for the opportunist Duc de Guise, while the heir to the throne, the Duc d’Anjou lusts after her. Meanwhile she is secretly adored by the pacifist (and therefore virtually exiled) Comte de Chabannes, whom the Prince de Montpensier leaves as her tutor while he goes off to war. The complexities of this story of lust and romance are compounded by the political complexities of court life; but Tavernier constantly compels interest with the careful splendour of the mise en scene and the finely handled performances. Most of the actors – including the personable and spunky Melanie Thierry in the title role – are new names. The exception is Lambert Wilson, who gives Chabannes an innate nobility that finally reveals him as the hero and strong centre of the story
The Chad director Mahamat Saleh Haroun’s L’HOMME QUI CRIE, dominated by the noble performance of Youssouf Djaoro, is certainly one of the best films the Festival has seen so far, though it is one of those quiet works which rarely carry off top prizes. It captures at once the tragic folly of Chad’s brutal civil conflict and the personal tragedy of Adam, whom we first meet as the pool attendant at a ritzy international hotel. Adam is a handsome, powerful 55-year-old and a former swimming champion, but is demoted by the down-sizing new Chinese management, and replaced by his 18-year-old son Abdel. In a moment of jealous weakness, called upon to make his citizen’s contribution to the government’s war effort, Adam lets Abdel be press-ganged for the army. He has his job back, but soon the war closes the hotel. Meanwhile Abdel’s pregnant girl-friend moves in, lovingly adopted by Adam and his wife. News arrives of Abdel’s serious injuries; and Adam sets off with his motor-cycle and side-car to retrieve his son from the military hospital. From that point the film rises to a tough yet lyrical tragic close, which gives it a place with the best films on the folly and human waste of war.
One of two Hungarian films on show (this one in the side-bar section “Un Certain Regard”) PAL ADRIENN is directed by Agnes Kocsis, who made the excellent 2006 Fresh Air. Piroska, the heroine of this new film is a massively overweight, fortyish nurse, who munches contentedly on starchy buns as she patiently wheels away her passed-on patients from the Terminal Ward. The arrival and death of a patient called Adrienn Pal sets off an eventually obsessive concern to find the woman’s namesake who (as she possibly mistakenly recalls) was Piroska’s best friend until they separated at ten. The ambiance of the hospital wards and of Piroska’s cheerless home, shared, till be walks out on her, by her older boyfriend, are vividly established, but the quest for Adrienn never becomes very gripping, while no reason is ever established for making Piroska this booted heavyweight.
A Dutch entry in “Un Certain Regard, David Verbeek’s inconsequential R U THERE is at least a delight for video-gamesters. The youngish hero is a professional player, who lands up with his team in Taipei. An injury to his shoulder leads to his being dropped by the team, and hiring a beautiful but unobliging hooker to massage him. And then they both turn into video-game cartoons . . .

15 May 2010

Day Four

The 2010 festival is unlikely to see a better day than this, with two consecutive films showing the veterans Mike Leigh and Woody Allen at the very peak of their form. Allowing for their dramatically different styles, approaches and social canvas, Allen and Leigh share very much the same curiosity in humankind, the way that ordinary people cope with the problems of simply living with themselves and others , and each one’s needs, neuroses, fears and desires. Leigh’s ANOTHER YEAR is structured in four seasonal acts, as it follows the fortunes of the little group of friends and relations who surround Tom and Jerry (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) a modestly successful professional couple, who love each other, cook enthusiastically, drink a drop too much wine and care diligently for their allotment, which supplies them with vegetables. They bravely support their neurotic friend Janet, whose loneliness, insecurity and uncontrolled drinking leads to nymphomaniac outbreaks. Although his central figures have rarely been as totally fulfilled and well-balanced as they are here, this is familiar Leigh country – but no less welcome for that, for his people, collaboratively structured by the acting ensemble and Leigh himself (credited as writer) are always new and always solidly true. A single reservation would be that, within the ensemble, Imelda Staunton, as Janet, is more visibly acting than the rest.
ANOTHER YEAR is mostly set in suburban London, where the main characters seem to have migrated from the Midlands and North of England. Woody Allen’s YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER is set in the capital’s smarter western postal districts, with money not a pressing problem since Helena (Gemma Jones) collects enough alimony from her rich ex-husband, Alfie (Antony Hopkins) to pay the rent for her daughter and non-selling novelist son-in-law (Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin). But things go no more smoothly in Allen’s world than in Leigh’s. Alfie squanders his fortune on marriage to a gold-digging hooker; the novelist walks out; and everyone is driven crazy by the guidance Helena gets from a clairvoyant .... The characters and their situations are comic, extravagant and absurd; but in their different ways these people are as human and tortured as Leigh’s.

14 May 2010

Day Three

Oliver Stone’s WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS might have been a more worthy sequel to the original WALL STREET of 23 years ago if Stone (son of a stock-broker) had again written his own script: this one is by Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff. The nicest scene is the opening, with Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) coming out of gaol in 2001, after serving his sentence for insider training. His handed-back possessions include a telephone whose massive bulk reveals at a glance the length of his term, and gets the picture’s best laugh.
In the original, Gekko, with his slogan of “greed is good”, became a potent symbol of the coming melt-down and exposure of the financial system. In the sequel, with Gekko reformed enough to call his new book interrogatively “Is Greed Good?”, Wall Street is manipulated for melodrama rather than set up for exposé. Gekko is adopted as mentor by an ambitious but improbably idealistic young banker, who happens to be in love with Gekko’s daughter. The plot and mechanics of manipulation are too contrived and complex for comfort: but Stone remains a compelling story-teller.
The ever-appealing Mathieu Amalric’s third feature as director, TOURNEE offered less than it promised, with its story of a one-time tv producer (Amalric) who decides to introduce New American burlesque to France. He imoorts a troupe of strippers with appealing names like Dirty Martini, Kitten on the Keys and Roky Roulette, and tours the lesser seaside resorts with diminishing success and fading hopes of a Paris debut. The film hardly rates as Festival fare, but is unfailingly good humoured and often touching.
Shown in a special screening out of competition, Patrico Guzman’s haunting documentary NOSTALGIA DE LA LUZ is set in Chile’s vast Alacama Desert, where astronomers from around the world gather at the observatory, under a sky so translucent that they can view what seem to be the boundaries of the universe. But this was once also the setting for a miners’ ghost town, used by Pinochet as a political death camp; and for thirty years the loved ones of those who disappeared under the dictatorship have continued scraping in the earth for relics – some fragment of bone or clothing which will provide an emotional closure. Guzman conveys a moving and memorable link between these very different searchers.

13 May 2010

Day Two

It was perhaps one of the most memorable and thrilling moments of Cannes’ sixty-three years when the 101-year-old Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira strode – virtually ran, indeed – onto the stage to introduce his new and just completed film THE STRANGE CASE OF ANGELICA. He carried a walking stick but did not use it: its purpose was most likely to deter anyone who had the nerve to stretch out an unnecessary steadying hand as he mounted the stairs. He spoke fast and wittily, introducing a film which if anything showed a still-ripening mastery, confidence and wit.
The story is from a project he planned almost sixty years ago, but which is now radically updated to confront the spiritual realities of the 21st century with Oliveira’s metaphysical views of life, death and humankind. The story involoves a young Jewish photographer (played by Oliveira’s grandson Ricardo Trepa) who is called out in the small hours by a rich family and asked to photograph their dead daughter before she is placed in her coffin. The photographer is startled when the dead but beautiful Angelica, seen through his view-finder, opens her eyes and flashes a dazzling smile. Developing the pictures, he becomes more fascinated and ultimately overwhelmed by the presence of Angelica.
Oliveira still directs with verve and originality, always the master of composition and pace, and here introducing effects quite novel in his work, as the spirits of Isaac and Angelica, released from their earthly bodies, soar through the sky. The funereal and spiritual aspect of the film is always wittily offset by the subtle comedy of scenes in the lodging house where Isaac lives. Significantly, in an interview, this phenomenal director , who made his first film - still a silent - eighty years ago, has said. “Cinema is the same as it was for Lumiere, for Max Linder, tor Melies. There you have realism, the fantastic and the comic. There’s nothing more to add to that, absolutely nothing”.
Oliveira’s film was chosen to open the festival’s parallel event “Un Certain Regard”. The somewhat unlikely competition entry of the day was the Korean woman director Im Sangsoo’s THE HOUSEMAID, a remake of a 50-year-old genre movie. The house-maid of the title is taken on by a very rich upper-class family, whose handsome young head quickly seduces the willing girl. But nothing escapes the eyes of the manipulative old house-keeper, and when she informs the master’s wife and mother-in-law of what is going on the situation turns eerily dangerous. The structure and screenplay fall very much behind the stylish design and interesting performances as well as (in the view of cognoscenti) the 1960-ish original.

12 May 2010

Day One

Ridley Scott’s ROBIN HOOD provided a loud but dour opening for the festival. Brian Helgeland’s script strives for a new take on the story, while committed to provide maximum opportunity for computer-generated (while family-friendly) bloody spectacle. The film ends with the information “and so the legend begins”: this is indeed the back-story to the Robin Hood we know, who here only makes his way to Sherwood Forest in the last reel. The film- makers are evidently proud of their historical responsibility, which is paradoxical since the myth of Robin Hood was a matter of centuries of literary accretion, long after the time he was supposed to have lived. In the Scott-Helgeland version, Robin returns from the Third Crusade, sees the death of his beloved King Richard, becomes a mercenary, and then leads an uprising against King John and the cause of Liberty against Taxation. Given this somewhat fashionable 21st-century conservative stance, Russell Crowe’s Robin is a mouthpiece for liberal slogans which were probably less familiar at the turn of the 12th century than they are now – as is Marion’s (no maid, but a tough-talking widow) assertion of sexual equality. Robin’s Men are in the making, with Friar Tuck already in attendance, but they are not very Merry: the film is very far from the exuberance of Douglas Fairbanks or Errol Flynn. Loud and hectic action has to provide the contemporary compensation. Even though the film runs for 140 minutes, some choppiness in the narrative hints at re-editing.

10 May 2010

CANNES 2010 - The Line-up

The last film to join the Cannes 2010 competition – announced only two days before the opening of the festival – is Ken Loach’s ROUTE IRISH. This brings the number of competing films to 19, and re-unites Cannes’ favourite British directors, Loach and Mike Leigh, who competes with ANOTHER YEAR.

Other major names familiar to Cannes are the Iranian Abbas Kiarostami, with CERTIFIED COPY , Daniele Lucchetti with LA NOSTRA VITA and Takeshi Kitano with a characteristic yakuza thriller OUTRAGE. The veteran Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov returns to the screen, as both director and leading actor, in the sequel to his Academy Award-winning BURNT BY THE SUN.

Significantly – given the imprisonment in Iran of his former disciple and one of Iran’s finest directors, Jafar Panahi - Kiarostami’s film was made in France, starring Juliette Binoche and the writer Jean-Claude Carrière. This further strengthens the impressive French entry, which also includes Rachid Bouchareb’s HORS LA LOI, tracing the fortunes of three brothers separated after losing their home in Algeria, and Bertrand Tavernier’s costume drama LA PRINCESSE DE MONTPENSIER. A frequent competitor in Cannes, Mathieu Alamric made a major mark in 2007 with LE SCAPHANDRE ET LE PAPILLON, and now returns as writer-director and main actor of TOURNÉE (ON TOUR), about a small time strip show impresario. Xavier Beauvois’ DES HOMMES ET DES DIEUX is a metaphor of intolerance, set in the Maghreb, where Christian monks and Muslins formerly long lived in harmony.

The Thai director of the remarkable 2002 Jury Prize-winner TROPICAL MALADY, Apichatpong Weerasethakul returns with UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES. Also from Korea are Lee Chang-Dong’s POETRY and IM Sangsoo’s debut THE HOUSEMAID.. Mainland China shows Wang Xiaoshuai’s story of a father’s regretted lost opportunities to have known his dead son, CHONGQUING BLUES.

Sean Penn is the star of the only competing film from the United States, Doug Liman’s FAIR GAME, a story centred on the WMS fictions of the Bush regime.
From the Ukraine, comes a debutant director Sergei Loznitsa with MY JOY. The talented Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczó plays a leading (type-cast) role in his own TENDER SON – THE FRANKENSTEIN PROJECT, as a film director who rediscovers the monstrous son he once fathered.

The opening film is ROBIN HOOD, Ridley Scott’s 21st century revisit to a story which has inspired close to a hundred film-makers since 1908, when rival American and British versions came out at the same time. Other major directors whose films are shown out of competition or in the section “Un Certain Regard” include Woody Allen, Oliver Stone and Stephen Frears, though one of the most awaited films will be THE STRANGE CASE OF ANGELICA, directed by the tireless Manuel de Oliveira, now in his 102nd year and still fruitfully at work.

The President of the 2010 Jury is Tim Burton. His appointment was announced in January last, when he declared that this was “a dream come true”. His fellow members are two other directors, the Spanish Victor Erice and the Indian Shekhar Kapur, the actors Benicio del Toro, Kate Beckinsale and Giovanna Mezzogiorno, the writer Emmanuel Carrère, the composer Alexandre Desplat and the director of Turin’s Museo del Cinema, Alberto Barbera, who brings a touch of classic film scholarship to the group.

21 February 2010

BERLIN 2010: THE PRIZES

PRIZES OF THE INTERNATIONAL JURY

GOLDEN BEAR FOR THE BEST FILM
Bal (Honey) directed by Semih Kaplanoglu
JURY GRAND PRIX-SILVER BEAR
Eu cand vreau sa fluier, fluier (If I Want To Whistle, I Whistle) directed by Florin Serban
SILVER BEAR FOR BEST DIRECTOR
Roman Polanski for The Ghost Writer
SILVER BEAR FOR BEST ACTRESS
Shinobu Terajima in Caterpillar directed by Koji Wakamatsu
SILVER BEAR FOR BEST ACTOR
Ex aequo Grigori Dobrygin and Sergei Puskepalis for Kak ya provel etim letom (How I Ended This Summer) directed by Alexei Popogrebsky
SILVER BEAR FOR AN OUTSTANDING ARTISTIC ACHIEVEMENT IN THE CATEGORY CAMERA Pavel Kostomarov for the camera in
Kak ya provel etim letom (How I Ended This Summer) directed by Alexei Popogrebsky
SILVER BEAR FOR THE BEST SCRIPT
Wang Quan'an and Na Jin for Tuan Yuan (Apart Together) directed by Wang Quan'an
ALFRED BAUER PRIZE, awarded in memory of the Festival founder, for a work of particular innovation
Eu cand vreau sa fluier, fluier (If I Want To Whistle, I Whistle) directed by Florin Serban