LA VIE D'ADELE - CHAPITRE 1 & 2 (dir. Abdellatif Kechiche, France)
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (dir. Ethan and Joel Coen, USA)
SOSHITE CHICHI NI NARU /Like Father, Like Son (Kore-Eda Hirokazu, Japan)
Amat Escalante (HELI, Mexico)
Jia Zhangke (TIAN ZHU DING/A Touch of Sin, China)
Bérénice Bejo (LE PASSÉ /The Past, France)
Bruce Dern (NEBRASKA, USA)
UN CERTAIN REGARD
THE MISSING PICTURE (dir. Rithy Panh, Cambodia)
OMAR (DIR. Hany Abu-Assad, Palestine
Alain Guiraudie (STRANGER BY THE LAKE, France)
“A Certain Talent” prize
Ensemble cast of LA JAULA DE ORO by Diego Quemada-Diez, Spain)
FRUITVALE STATION (Dir. Ryan Coogler, USA)
Roman Polanski’s LA VÉNUS À LA FOURRURE was destined to be ignored by a festival jury - as a two-hander, in a single set, taken directly from a stage play. Yet within these chosen limits it is a wholly satisfying and rewarding entertainment. By any standards Emmanuelle Seigner could well have merited Best Actress Award, while Mathieu Amalric’s quaint comic tics are much better employed here than in Jimmy P. Polanski collaborated on the screenplay with David Ives, author of the original Broadway success - an ingenious update and commentary on the 1870 book by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch which provided the word and the definition of masochism. Amalric plays Thomas, the author-director of the play. Just as he preparing to go home to his wife at the end of a tiring day of auditions, there bursts into the empty theatre the seemingly scatty Vanda, who defies his resistance and insists on an audition there and then, on a stage set for a theatrical adaptation of Stagecoach. Thomas reluctantly partners her. She soon shows herself unnervingly well prepared, with the script word perfect, the essential furs, and a costume all ready for him in her capacious bag. Slyly and inevitably it moves into the full Masoch engagement.
Kleist’s 1810 novella, MICHAEL KOHLHAAS was based on the historical Hans Kohlhase, who expressed his protest at the oppressive action of a nobleman by forming a band who committed acts of terror, before Kohlhaas was broken on the wheel in Berlin in 1540. For Kleist the story was a safe and useful metaphor for contemporary demands for political reform. The story has been adapted to films four times, most notably by Volker Schlöndorff in 1969, with David Warner and Anna Karina. Arnaud des Pallières’ new adaptation is earnest and sober and avoids any Braveheart spectacle – probably to its ultimate loss. It is carefully staged and good-looking; Mads Madsen is an impressive avenger; yet it is ultimately unengaging.
In a way James Gray’s THE IMMIGRANT could be a prequel to earlier films like Little Odessa, about the survival of European immigrant communities. Boldly adopting the title of one of Chaplin’s finest films, with the same setting, it relates the misadventures of a Polish immigrant. Ewa, diligently and decoratively played by Marion Cotillard, arrives at Ellis Island in 1920, with her sister Magda. Magda is denied entry on the grounds that she is probably tubercular, while Ewa is detained on the ground of sexual improprieties on shipboard, to which she was led by need. She is extricated by a charming well-doer Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) and from then the film’s fatal dichotomy sets in. Place and period are recreated with outstanding care and conviction, and Darius Khonji’s camerawork, tending to soft sepia tones, emphasizes the period quality. The script however, by Gray and the late Richard Menello (who came from rock and hip-hop subjects to collaborate with Gray on Two Lovers, and died in March 2013) imposes an uncomfortably heavy melodrama. Bruno pushes Ewa into prostitution from which his cousin, the fey magician Orlando (Jeremy Renner) endeavours to rescue her. The violent dénouement distracts belief and interest from the documentary reconstruction of the time and conditions that must have been the subject’s first attraction for Gray.
PICTURE: LA VIE D'ADELE (Palme d'Or winner)
Alexander Payne returns – via a road movie formula - to his native NEBRASKA (though his parentage is Greek through and through) for a sad and sometimes sour little comedy. Bruce Dern plays Woody, a constitutionally mean and crotchety old man now befuddled by drink and senility, who cannot understand that a leaflet telling him he has won a million dollars is only a scam. His son (Will Forte) decides to drive him to Nebraska so that he can learn the truth and stop his regular runaway pedestrian efforts to get there. An accident en route lands them in Woody’s native township, where they meet his old friends and relations who have decayed along with the place and are as greedily credulous as he is himself about the supposed windfall. Behind the kindly character comedy there is a sense of sharp disillusion in the decay of American small- town community life and ethics, and the use of monochrome photography evokes a past and a melancholy nostalgia.
GRIGRIS follows the Chad director, Mahamet-Saleh Haroun’s outstanding A Screaming Man, which won the Cannes Jury Prize in 2010. His new film also shows an honourable life shattered – though this time the story has a grimly positive outcome. Grigris (the supremely charismatic Souleymane Deme) has overcome the handicap of a paralysed leg to achieve local fame with his spectacular dancing. But when his beloved uncle falls ill, the income from night-club gigs will not pay the medical bills, and he is forced to work with, and then double-cross the local gangster running a racket with stolen petrol. Fortunately his sideline as photographer has brought him together with the local beauty Mimi, who has also been intermittently misled by need. When the murderous gangsters come after Grigris, Mimi organizes the women of her native rural community to a ferocious – ultimately lethal – defence. The story is simple, but Haroun is a richly talented story-teller, vividly contrasting the life of town and country, and subtly characterizing his characters: there are real depths behind Grigris’ ready smile.
Nicolas Winding Refn declares that the original concept of ONLY GOD FORGIVES was “to make a movie about a man who wants to fight God” and the pretentions of this technically accomplished and absurd film escalate from that point. Julian (Ryan Gosling) and his psychotic brotherBilly run a dubious boxing club in Bangkok. Billy wanders off, murders an underage prostitute and is in turn dispatched by her father under the approving eye of ex-policeman Chang. This brings in the boys’ witch mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) as eager to deride her younger son for his lack of fraternal loyalty and sexual short-comings as she is determined bloodily to avenge her favourite. Instead she meets her own colourfully violent end. Despite all, Refn has his fans. It seems however unkind of him to dedicate the film to 84-year-old Alejandro Jodorowsky, who was visible at the festival with a lively new autobiographical film.
Diego Quemada-Diez was camera assistant to Ken Loach on Carla’s Song, Land and Freedom and Bread and Roses; and his first feature film LA JAULA DE ORO (Un Certain Regard) has all the truth, passion and spareness of a Loach film. With minimal preparation or explanation, it shows three teenagers – two boys and a girl defensively disguised as a boy – embarking on the hazardous journey from Guatemala to the “golden cage” that the United States might offer. En route they are joined by Chauk, a Tzotzil Indian boy with whom they have no shared language. At first Juan, the oldest and bossiest of the quartet is hostile to Chauk, who will nevertheless eventually command respect by saving them from at least one of the misadventures that assail them. In the course of their terrible journey, they are robbed, exploited, beaten – but there are moments of comedy and kindness too, though the end is tragic, for this is no Disney adventure, despite the grand panoramic shots of the trains they must jump, crossing endless deserts
Half a century after La Dolce Vita the gifted Paolo Sorrentino offers his own affectionate but despairing portrait of the Eternal City and its ephemeral denizens, in LA GRANDE BELLEZZA. The film was generally received rather coolly by the Cannes critics, who found it indulgent, overlong and unstructured – but they would probably say that about La Dolce Vita if such a phenomenon happened now. After a shock-comic opening (an enthralled Japanese tourist drops down dead) the scatter of characters and incidents are held together as the daily encounters and adventures of Jep Gambardella (Tony Servillo, who played Il Divo), a Roman star journalist who at 65 is recognizing the onset of age and the disappointments of a life which never followed up his successful first novel or his failed first love. Indefatigably partying around among the topographical splendours of Rome, he rubs shoulders with politicians, aristocrats, models, social climbers, stylish criminals, actors, clerics, artists, intellectuals, fakes, agents and a 104-year-old candidate for beatification. Characters and anecdotes are uneven, but we are always swept along by knowing there will be a new one in a minute or so. The best are memorable – the epicurean prelate more interested in cuisine than his spiritual duties, the infant action painter howling hysterically as she smears paint on canvas, the 104-year-old saint (“I thought she was older”) attended by her press agent and quietly losing a shoe.
BEHIND THE CANDELABRA, declares its director Steven Soderbergh, is his last film. Cannes launched it to a triumph exceptional for what is ostensibly an HBO biopic designed for television. Vladziu Valentino Liberace, of Italian-Polish parentage, transformed himself from an exceptional pianist into a phenomenal entertainer – “a one-man Disneyland” as he styled himself. From the 1950s almost to his death in 1987 he used television with extraordinary understanding, to build up an adoring and influential audience, principally female. He got away with outrageous camp in an era not yet so sensitive to sexual variety, and – a devout Christian and conservative – litigated fiercely against accusations of homosexuality. Behind the Candelabra, though, is based on the book by Scott Thorson, Liberace’s lover for five years from 1976, when Thorson was seventeen. Richard Lagravanese’s script is a serious attempt to explore Liberace’s complex character, his outrageous egotism, public confidence and private fears, his dependence on devotion and his ability to discard it, his lavish generosity that could end in malicious meanness. But Thorson’s original evidence still feels one-sided: the film finally shows Liberace as a fairly unredeemed bad character, and Thorson the unqualified victim. The performances are admirable. Michael Douglas cannot capture the oily seduction of Liberace’s voice, but his Liberace is human and complex. Matt Damon, with the help of great wigs and body doubles, makes a brave shot at teen-age sexual allure. In supporting roles Debbie Reynolds impressively recreates Liberace’s devoted mother – apparently from first-hand memory; Dan Aykroyd is unrecognizable as Liberace’s ruthless manager; and Rob Lowe brings a touch of horror to the plastic surgeon with paralysed face, whose surgery and drugs effect Thorson’s domestic downfall.
SARAH PRÉFÈRE LA COURSE, Chloé Robichaud’s first feature, is a minimalist film in the extreme. Sarah (the quietly impressive Sophie Desmarais) is exclusively passionate about running, to the anxiety of family and friends. She goes to Montreal to train with the McGill athletics team, in the company of her friend and now roommate Antoine. For financial advantage, they marry, but Sarah does not acknowledge the arrangement, despite Antoine’s growing wish for a relationship. At the same time however she begins to evince some feeling for a teammate, Zoey. More negative human concerns threaten to interfere with her obsessive concentration when she develops an apparent heart problem. There, midstream, the film ends. Where does she go from there?
At her press conference, charged that her characters in LES SALAUDS (Un Certain Regard) were “elliptical”, Claire Denis snapped back, “They speak enough for me to understand them. What more can they say?” Well, they could for instance have made the story more comprehensible for the rest of us. Vincent Lindon plays a container-ship captain who is called back to Paris to look into the circumstances of the suicide of his sister’s husband, in some way the victim of his business partner. The couple’s daughter is mentally and physically injured after some unexplained accident or assault. The returning seafarer seduces the undesirable partner’s desirable mistress; and something sinister has been going on involving corncobs and female pubic hair. There is a dramatic denouement which does not leave the viewer much wiser. Denis handles it all with seductive management of sound, image and music, which do not much help narrative comprehension.
WAKOLDA is the name of a child’s doll in Lucia Puenzo’s film of that title (Un Certain Regard). Based on her own novel, it is a fictional treatment of the generous hospitality that Argentina offered to former Nazis after the Second World War. A nice middle-class family are befriended by a charming, evidently distinguished physician (Alex Brendemühl, who becomes their first guest when they open a lodging house beside the Hanuel Huapi lake. Their suspicions are not aroused by his nasty sketch-book drawings, his eagerness to devise hormone treatment for their under-size daughter, and his excitement when the wife gives premature birth to male twins. Any of the film’s spectators could have told them that they had taken in or been taken in by Dr Josef Mengele, Hitler’s “Angel of Death” who was to stay on in Latin America (this story takes place In the 1960s) until his death in 1979. Given that Puenzo’s film is entirely a dramatic fiction, it seems a lost opportunity not to have given it a little more drama
Hany Abu-Assad’s OMAR, screened in the Un Certain Regard section, revealed the same rich humanity of his Paradise Now. His characters are not good or bad: they are at any moment what conditions make them. The young Palestinian Omar and the Israeli prison chief Rami – mutual nemeses - are essentially honourable men forced to do dirty work. Omar lives behind one of the crazy walls set up not to protect communities but to divide and demoralize them. With agility he regularly scales the walls to meet his friends Tarek and Amjad and Tarek’s sister Nadia. Captured, Omar is humiliated by Israeli soldiers. Later, the three friends without premeditation kill an Israeli. Captured and tortured, Omar is offered a choice by Rami - life in jail or becoming an informer … The violent denouement makes poignant tragedy of senseless political hostilities.
An extraordinary feature of the 2013 festival was that only one woman director, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, was in competition – and for sure her film UN CHATEAU EN ITALIE
did not merit a place there. The meandering script involves the heroine’s return to the crumbling family home in Piedmont to try to sell off assets and retrieve financial stablity. There seems to be a deal of autobiography here: The director (sister of Carla Bruni) plays the main role; her ex-partner, Louis Garrel, her younger lover; her mother, Marisa Borini, her mother; and there are identifiable references to family history. Yet this over-privileged family are never engaging; and the film’s handsome look rather emphasizes than glosses over the deficiencies of the wandering script and uncontrolled performances.
From the moment of its first screening, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (Joel and Ethan Coen) was the best-loved film in Cannes and stayed the universal favourite. No wonder: it is pure, undiminished Coen, and the qualities of humanism, understanding, kindliness and gentle sadness that underlie its quirky comedy are qualities rare in cinema and practically absent elsewhere in Cannes this year. Oscar Isaac wholly inhabits Llewyn Davis, a folk singer with a big talent that goes unappreciated and unmarketable. It does not help that he has no gift of ingratiation, despite his dependence on friends and acquaintances for beds, couches and the occasional handout. The era is the sixties (effortlessly suggested in mood as well as visuals): he is a man before his time, and probably won’t make it that far. His closest encounters are with a fellow musician’s wife (Carey Mulligan) irritated to have been impregnated by him in a one-night stand, and an obstreperous fugitive ginger cat. John Goodman and F.Murray Abraham make striking incursions.
It would not be wise to attempt to interpret or even categorise Alex van Warmerdam’s BORGMAN: the best guess is to style it a demonic comedy. We first encounter Borgman and his cohorts being rooted out of an underground hideaway by a priest with a rifle and assistants. Borgman – an unkempt and badly soiled Christ caricature – presents himself at the door of an indecently glamorous suburban home, and requests a bath. The arrogant house-owner, Richard, a successful television producer, beats him up when he makes a dubious suggestion about Richard’s wife Marina. Marina’s pity thus aroused, she gives Borman his bath and a bed in the guest wing. Thereafter the troubles grow, as Borgman takes on a more seductive aspect and is joined by his cohorts who embark on a campaign of annihilating or perverting the over-privileged middle-class household. Van Warmerdam maintains our sympathy with the devils.
Rithy Panh was thirteen in 1975 when Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh and inaugurated the tyranny which was to take the lives of Panh’s family. THE MISSING PICTURE of the film’s title is the reality of the times: all the visual evidence consists of mendacious propaganda films which depict a mythical egalitarian paradise. Panh’s daring solution to giving visual form to this fearful history is to represent it – and particularly the first-hand experiences of his family – through dioramas made up of miniature clay figures, executed with startling expressiveness by Sarith Mang. Through these mute monuments we experience, expressed with a power and pain that could never have been anticipated, the helplessness, oppression, starvation and brutal murder of that era. Original, unique and wholly achieved, THE MISSING PICTURE was the inevitable winner of the Grand Prix for Un Certain Regard.
The Filipino director Adolfo Alex’s DEATH MARCH is a bewilderingly ineffective tribute to the victims of the notorious death march inflicted on more than 70,000 American and Philippine soldiers after the defeat of Bataan, on the principle, stated here by a Japanese officer, that soldiers who surrender deserve to be treated like dogs. Alex has chosen to depict the horror with deliberate artifice, in patently created sets and theatrical frame compositions, and with stock characters acting out the suffering, dysentery, delusions, death and groans (a continuing chorus). The all-smiling evil Japanese officer is contrasted with the single humane one, who at one point materializes as an angel. It is a bizarre exercise that could have made an intriguing short film, but (as the Cannes walk-outs demonstrated) is hard to support at almost two hours.
Kore-Eda Hirokazu has said that SOSHITE CHICHI NI NARU (LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON) is the first time that he has so candidly poured his emotions into the protagonist of a film. As the father of a five-year-old daughter he pondered, “Is it, then, the realization of shared blood that makes a man into a father? Or is it the time father and child spend together? Could it be that my tenuous acceptance of myself as a father comes from not having spent enough time with my child? Is it blood or is it time? I began to think that this personal quandary could be the theme of a movie”. Ryota (played by a top Japanese popular singer Fukuyama Masaharu) is an architect, who owes his self-made success to hard work and concentration. He has established a stylish, perfectly ordered home and family. In the little time he gets to spend with his six-year-old son, he is disappointed at the child’s lack of apparent concentration and ambition. Hence there is a shade of relief as well as shock when he is informed that the boy is not his biological son – two babies were mixed up at the maternity hospital. There is a further shock when Ryota and his wife meet the family who has brought up their boy – a cheerful, lazy shopkeeper who enjoys playing with his children very much more than work. Faced with the decision of how to solve the situation, Ryota for the first time experiences self-doubt, as he faces the question of whether the relation of father and son is a question of nature or nurture, and whether he has been a father at all. Kore-Eda’s treatment is quiet, gentle, funny, with spare dialogue and an outstanding, eventually very moving performance by Fukuyama.
The origins of JIMMY P. (PSYCHOTHERAPY OF A PLAINS INDIAN) are perhaps more interesting than Arnaud Desplechin divulges. It is based on the 1951 account “Psychothérapie d’un indien des plaines” by Georges Devereux (1908-1982). Devereux, whose real name was György Dobó, was a Hungarian Jew and pioneer ethnopsychiatrist. After varied studies – including physics and chemistry with Marie Curie – he embarked on anthropological studies, living with the Mohave Indians, whose concern with dreams, he wrote, converted him to Freud and to the combination of anthropology and psychiatry. He joined the American army in 1943, and the events related in his 1951 account and the film took place in 1947 when, seemingly, he was called in by the Topeka Winter Military Hospital to carry out psychoanalysis on a psychologically injured Blackfoot war veteran, Jimmy Picard. The film faithfully recreates the course of the analysis and the associated conditions (like Picard’s weakness for getting drunk). Desplechin has determinedly chosen his style, risking monotony and inaction – offset by the subtly nuanced performance of Benicio del Toro and the more flamboyant clowning of Mathieu Amalric, which tends to show Devereux less as the pioneer scholar that he was than as the view of his more sceptical critics.
Rebecca Ziotowski’s second feature film, GRAND CENTRAL is marred by uncertainty whether she wants to make a social drama or a torrid illicit love affair, involving two exceptionally charismatic romantic actors, Tahar Ramin and Léa Seydoux (also co-starring in the Palme d’or-winning Blue is the Warmest Colour). Ramin plays Gary, unemployable and unemployed until he lands a job with subcontractors in a nuclear plant. The job is dangerous – not only does careless management present the constant risk of radiation, but radiation above a certain point (constantly measured) means dismissal. The plant also gives Gary a communal life, and the peril of the pretty and too-willing Karole, girl-friend of Gary’s giant-sized superior. Whichever way you look, there’s danger.
Aficionados of Asian cinema shook their heads at Jia Zhangke’s startling change of pace and style in the brash, violent, episodic TIAN ZHU DING (A TOUCH OF SIN). The shift looks symptomatic of contemporary disillusion and despair. The four – occasionally loosely linked – stories tell of contemporary Chinese driven by frustration or abuse to desperate acts. A miner takes up his gun to punish the greedy corruption of the village leaders; a migrant worker likewise discovers the solace of firearms; the receptionist at a sauna takes bloody revenge on rich clients who assault her; a young factory worker moves from job to job trying to better his lot, but takes his life when he finds himself entrapped. There is sometimes a dark ironic comedy in the violence – hinted in the English title, A TOUCH OF SIN, which echoes that of King Hu’s 1971 kung-fu classic A Touch of Zen – but the bitterness is unqualified in Jia’s urgency to expose a society divided between the oligarch rich and the envious dispossessed.
LE PASSÉ lacks the purity of Asghar Farhadi’s 2011 masterwork Separation. Too many melodramas are packed into this moral tale of the impossible struggle to escape the past and its consequences. Marie (Bérérénice Bejo, star of The Artist)
summons her ex-husband Ahmad from Iran to Paris, formally to conclude their divorce so that she can proceed with her liaison with a younger lover Samir. Uncomfortably she installs him in their little house in the mean Paris suburbs, where the wayward offspring of her liaisons before and after Ahmad seize upon him as a parental figure, more rational and disinterested than their other elders. Samir, proprietor of a dry cleaning business, has his own dramas, spinning from the tragic consequences of his infidelity to his previous wife …It is credit to Fahradi’s observation and understanding of the predicaments of the human heart, and the meticulous observation of the conditions of their messy physical lives, that his narrative remains so compelling and credible.
The directorial debut of the actress Valeria Golino is the stylish and confident, if finally not quite realised, independent production, MIELE (“HONEY”). Jasmine Trinca plays the title role, a young woman who presents herself as a university student, while clandestinely carrying out a flourishing business as an “angel of death”, professionally and tactfully delivering euthanasia to the terminally ill by the use of animal poison that she stocks up on trips to Mexico. She gets a certain thrill out of her work, and otherwise enjoys ordinary pleasures like swimming and sex with her colourless boyfriends. The film seems to be lingering too slowly on the verge of an ethical reflection on euthanasia, when it takes a more conventional turn into a rather familiar relationship story: Miele (this is her professional pseudonym) is faced with a client who admits he is not terminally ill, only depressed - but asks why he should have less privileges than the sick. The relationship that grows up between Miele and Grimaldi (a winning performance by Carlo Checchi) is touching and interesting, but evades the questions the film first proposes.
After a directorial career of twenty-something years, Alain Guiraudie declares that L’INCONNU DU LAC marks his personal sexual coming-out. The film celebrates a gay beach: there are only three locations – beach with view of the lake, car park where the lone men leave their cars, and the forest where they withdraw for more vigorous and varied sexual activities than the cuddling and kissing to be enjoyed on the beach. The protagonist Franck (Pierre Delonchamps) spends much of his time in full-frontal nudity and there is a good deal of hard-core sex (with body doubles) under the trees. Franck is out of work and able to spend the summer on the beach, where he strikes up a friendship with a plump and plain logger, a little vague about his sexual interests now his marriage has come to an end. At the same time Franck is erotically drawn to the macho and moustached Michel, no less after he witnesses him apparently drowning his previous lover in the lake. Is he positively attracted by the danger, or unaware of it, or simply besotted? Whatever, the story and the odd idyll ends up with violence and doubt. The Cannes reception showed that Guilraudie’s film has an appeal beyond the LGBT audience.
Sofia Coppola dramatizes the news story of a gang of well-off Hollywood kids, who embarked on a spree of robbing the houses of the celebrities they admired (and whose houses, they could learn from Facebook, were currently unoccupied). In time they made off with around $3,000,000 worth of luxury gear, and thus were able to experience a sample of the excess of the likes of Paris Hilton. The problem is that the writer-director seems unable to distance herself from the kids’ own fascination with money, luxury and excess in general, so that she becomes one with them. The performances, including Emma Watson, are as unappealing as the characters themselves.
François Ozon’s JEUNE ET JOLIE finds the director on form with a finely crafted, sensitive, if ultimately inconclusive study of a young middle-class girl who determinedly launches herself into internet prostitution. Even if Marine Vacth looks rather more than seventeen (she is 23) her first leading role reveals a distinctive new star of presence and subtlety.
26-year-old first-time director Ryan Coogler has scored a remarkable success with FRUITVALE STATION – main prizewinner at Sundance and recipient of the “Avenir” prize of Un Certain Regard. It is a fictional recreation of the last day of the life of a young black man, Oscar Grant, who was shot by a traffic policemen at the Fruitvale Station on San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit line on New Year’s Eve, 2009. Opening with telephone footage of the shooting, and closing with documentary footage of the 2012 commemoration of the event, it is a deeply felt protest at the senseless killing. But, admirable as is Michael B.Jordan’s performance, there is a sense that the cards are stacked in the depiction of Oscar’s sweetness and New Year resolve to put behind him the errors of a poor black kid’s life – including a stint in gaol, drugs and meannesses to his Mom (Octavia Spence) and girl-friend.
THE GREAT GATSY Baz Luhrman’s film and Scott Fitzgerald’s novel tell the same story about the same people - and there the similarities pretty well end. The novel sensitively and elegantly used its story to probe the contemporary society of 1925, to expose the darker side of the American dream. The film is a flamboyant period piece, a Baz Luhrman musical spectacle, joyously overdone, overblown and over the top, with all the thrills of CGI spectacle that recreates 1920s Long Island in 2010s Australia, anachronistic but remarkably effective music by Craig Armstong, and a succession of extravagantly choreographed fantasy parties. The remaining link between novel and the human heart of the film are the fine performances of Leonardo Dicaprio brilliantly capturing all the facets and pain of the title character, and Tobey Maguire as his reluctant friend and chronicler: the script, by Luhrman and Craig Pearce, invents an odd framing device, having Nick setting down the record as therapy as he recovers in a psychiatric hospital from the effects of the catastrophic events in which he has been involved.
In HELI - his first film in competition, following the successes of Sangre (2005) and Los Bastardos (2008) in Un Certain Regard - Amat Escalante expresses his horror and despair in face of Mexico’s continuing escalation of violence and narcotics crime. The film starts arrestingly as the camera follows a lorry carrying two bodies to a grim lynching, then goes back to trace the events that have led to this moment. Heli (an ideally cast debutant Armando Espitia) works in an auto factory and lives in the shacky desert township that has grown up around it. He strives for a decent life with his wife, child, father and 12-year-old sister – who succumbs however to the seductions of 17-year-old Beto, warped by the humiliations of his training as a police cadet. Beto steals some drugs destined for destruction, and hides them in Heli’s family water tank. When Heli finds them and well-meaningly tries to dump them, he and Beto are seized by a drug gang (probably with police connections). The climactic scene of torture is extreme, climaxing with the incineration of Beto’s penis. The only glimmer of light in this story is Heli’s ultimate survival. Escalante is driven to this brutal vision of Mexico, but portrays it with a classic, precise visual style.
REPORT ON THE COMPETITION
AT THE BERLINALE 2013
Golden Bear For Best Film: POZIŢIA COPILULUI (Child's Pose; director, Călin Peter Netzer)
Jury Grand Prix (Silver Bear): EPIZODA U ŽIVOTU BERAČA ŽELJEZA (An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker; director, Danis Tanović)
Alfred Bauer Prize (Silver Bear]: VIC+FLO ONT VU UN OURS (Vic+Flo Saw a Bear; director, Denis Côté]
Best Director (Silver Bear): David Gordon Green for PRINCE AVALANCHE
Best Actress (Silver Bear): Paulina García in GLORIA (director, Sebastián Lelio}
Best Actor (Silver Bear): Nazif Mujić in EPIZODA U ŽIVOTU BERAČA ŽELJEZA (An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker)
Best Script (Silver Bear): Jafar Panahi for PARDÉ (Closed Curtain) (directors, Jafar Panahi, Kamboziya Partovi)
Outstanding Artistic Contribution: Aziz Zhambakiyev for camera in UROKI GARMONII (Harmony Lessons; director, Emir Baigazi
ELLE S’EN VA will be an irresistible draw for the older public, though it is unsure if younger audiences will have patience for its near two hours. Catherine Deneuve has made a triumphant career move in acknowledging her age, after more than half a century in pictures, and in taking on roles of plump, elderly women fighting back, as in Potiche and now as Betty in actress/director Emmanuelle Bercot’s Elle s’en va – a role specifically written for her. Betty pops out of her Breton restaurant to buy some cigarettes, and decides to keep going, in her grubby Mercedes, to get away from bankruptcy, her collapsed long-time romance and her enthusiastic old mother. In an unlikely concatenation of events and coincidences, she gets to know her grandson, lands in a reunion of beauty queens from 1969 and promisingly stirs the interest of her daughter’s crabby father-in-law. It all gets more improbable, digressive and overlong as time goes by, but its heart is in the right place and Deneuve holds our trust and affection
HARMONY LESSONS, the startling second film from the 29-year-old Kazakh director Emir Balgazin is a horror story of school life: we are left guessing whether these events are fantasy or a possible reality in oligarch President Nazarbayev’s republic with its notorious reputation for corruption at every level. 13-year-old Arslan’s humiliation during a school medical examination pushes him into self-doubt and an obsession for cleanliness and control. His opposition to a protection racket by which a juvenile gangster extorts money from the younger pupils leads to his being accused of the gangster’s eventual murder. The police stop at nothing in their effort to torture an admission of guilt from him. It is gripping, if sometimes elusive; always handsomely staged; and with consistently impressive performances from the boys.
PRINCE AVALANCHE, David Gordon Green’s singular two-hander is a rather unexpected remake of a 2011 Icelandic film, Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurösson’s Either Way, the uneasy, shifting relationship of two young men thrown together on the lonely task of repainting the markings on an endless, deserted country road. Both films take place in the 1980s, but the American version is precisely set in 1988 Texas, in recently fire-devastated former forest areas (It was in fact shot after the equally disastrous 2011 fires). The roles are demanding but satisfyingly realised: Emile Hirsch is the flakey young would-be (but unsuccessful) playboy and womanizer; Paul Rudd is the solemn, studious fiancé of his companion’s sister. They make unlikely and unwilling buddies, though after trials and squabbles they make up and discover mutual compassion and respect. Only two other figures irrupt into their lives – and they are probably ghosts: an old lady searching for memories in the charred ruins of her home, and an old truck driver who hands them bottles of homebrew (played by Lance LeGault, who died soon after filming: the film is dedicated to him).
Denis Tanovic achieved international reputation with his 2001 film set in the Bosnian war, No Man’s Land. His new film AN EPISODE IN THE LIFE OF AN IRON PICKER has a much smaller canvas, but records no less dramatic personal events. The true-life story of Nazif and Senada made the newspapers in 2011, and stirred Tanovic to seek them out, to recreate their experiences on film. They are a Roma family living far from any urban centre. Nazif struggles to keep them by selling scrap metal salvaged from old cars; Senada cares for the home and two little daughters, until one day she discovers that her baby has died in her womb. Without medical insurance, they are refused the life-saving treatment she needs, without payment of a fee far beyond their means. Bravely, they succeed in cheating the authorities to save her life. Tanovic, a documentarist by persuasion, does not dramatise, he simply shows. The deprivation and desperate acceptance of the Roma (Nazif has no pension from his four years in the trenches during the war) is implicit.
Pascale Mercier’s philosophical novel NIGHT TRAIN TO LISBON was to become a rather surprising best-seller, and now an uncomfortable film subject for Bille August. Mercier (the pseudonym of Peter Bieri, a Swiss academic philosopher) used the protagonist’s search to retrace the life and death of a young Portuguese doctor and writer during the Salazar oppression, to explore questions of self-awareness and the control of one’s own actions and experience. The philosophical intent is obscured however in what becomes an investigative thriller; and the initial premise - that a sober London Latin teacher (Jeremy Irons), stirred by finding a book and saving a mysterious Portuguese girl from suicide, will drop everything and take off for Lisbon to find those who can help him recreate the story of the lost hero’s life and death – becomes strikingly more improbable than in Mercier’s book. An additional distraction is the game of star-spotting, with Christopher Lee providing the best cameo as an aged priest
The direction of PARDÉ (CLOSED CURTAIN is credited to Jafar Panahi and Kamboziya Partovi jointly, and production, script and cutting to Panahi alone - even though Panahi is officially banned from writing or making films.
The film is elusive in the extreme, never making clear what is reality and what is imagined. A writer (Partovi) retreats into a house on the seashore, draws the curtains and barricades himself, apparently to save his dog from being destroyed to satisfy Islamic law on the uncleanliness of canines. He is joined by a suicidal young woman, apparently on the run after participating in an illicit party. They co-exist with suspicion in the shuttered house … until the director (Pahani) whose house this evidently is suddenly enters, opening up the curtains. At this point the others disappear. Reality seems to have irrupted – yet the images of what went on in the curtained house remain on a mobile phone.
In CAMILLE CLAUDEL 1915 Bruno Dumont, as might be anticipated, offers a much more unsparing portrait of the sorrows of Camille Claudel than Bruno Nuyttens’s romantic 1988 Camille Claudel, which centred on her stormy relationship with faithless fellow sculptor Auguste Rodin. We glimpse nothing of her creative life – only the torment of her incarceration in the psychiatric clinic near Avignon to which her family have committed her, and sometimes a sense of the tragedy of an artist deprived of the means of her art. The visits from her beloved brother, Paul Claudel (Jean-Luc Vincent), are no comfort: he has become a self-righteous, religion-obsessed prig (a title tells us that despite medical opinion that Camille was fit to leave the asylum, her family chose to leave her there for 29 years more, until her death in 1943). Dumont has little mercy on the viewer. Camille’s troubled and troubling fellow-patients are played by actual handicapped people. In the midst of all, however, Juliette Binoche’s performance is triumphant, authentic and irresistibly affecting, her features gaunt and without make-up, sliding from the acutely rational to paranoid delusions that she is at risk of being poisoned.
Picture: BEFORE MIDNIGHT
POZITIA COPILULUI (CHILD’S POSE), the third feature film of Romanian Calin Peter Netzer (whose last film was the under-valued 2019 Medal of Honour) tells the story of a rich and privileged upper-class mother’s battle to buy and bribe her son’s extrication from a charge of killing a child by reckless driving. Insistent and not original, it is still a bitter reflection of moral collapse, both personal and institutional, in present-day Romania. Luminia Gheorghiu, in her first lead performance, takes every opportunity offered by the expert script.
BEFORE MIDNIGHT presents the third part of Richard Linklater’s romantic duologue, which began seventeen years ago with Before Sunrise and continued in Before Sunset. Here are the same couple, gracefully aged, still played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who have again collaborated with Linklater on the script. We learn that since the reunion of the second film Jesse and Céline have stayed together, and we find them now spending a holiday with their daughters. Life and love are not easy, as their reel-long conversations about their inner lives, in cars or tracked strolls, reveal. The final sequence is set in a hotel bedroom, offered by their friends to provide a romantic night alone. The outcome is quite the opposite: the night generates into a row which leaves us wondering where they will go from here to the next instalment. The great cinematographer Walter Lassally, now domiciled in Crete, makes an effective appearance as an expatriate British writer.
Sebastián Lelio’s GLORIA (Chile/Spain) acknowledges the growth of an older audience, with its story of a 58-year-old divorcee (played with superb intelligence and restraint by Paulina Garcia), proudly self-reliant yet quietly yearning for companionship, romance and perhaps love. Her forays into dance clubs and singles parties brings her together with a newly divorced ex-naval charmer who has two demanding daughters. For a while Gloria is patient with his family responsibilities and culpable weakness, but ends up bravely alone, singing and dancing to Laura Branigan’s 1982 “Gloria”. With Garcia’s intelligent collaboration Lelio frankly explores the realities of still powerful desire and sexuality in the not-so-young.
The multi-national credits and erratic story-line of Pia Marais’ LAYLA FOURIE somewhat undo the existentialist intentions of its story. Layla (played by the English actresss Rayna Campbell) is a South African single mother, who betters herself by getting a job in a distant casino resort, as a polygraph operator carrying out lie-detector tests for a security company. Her work takes on ironic implications however: on the journey to the new job with her small son, her car hits a white man; and through no fault of her own she is obliged to dump his body – thereby involving herself and the child in a tangle of lies. The narrative thereafter unravels into improbable and illogical plot twists, when her first interviewee in the new job turns out to be intimately connected with the road victim. By this time too the performances are suffering from the stiff English dialogue written by Marais herself with her usual co-writer Horst Markgraf. The consolation is the sturdy, believable performance of Rapule Hendricks as the instinctively moral child.
Picture: REACHING FOR THE MOON
In the singular world of Denis Côté’s VIC + FLO ONT VU UN OURS things happen and people appear without warning or reason (probably more in the way of life than fiction). Vic and Flo are lesbian ex-cons (their age difference seems no problem) who set up house – or rather hut – in the backwoods of Quebec. Their brief encounters include Vic’s ancient uncle and his incompetent young minder, a gay and caring probation officer and a seemingly amiable shadow from Flo’s past who may however prove their nemesis. Côté has his own ways of mixing off-beat comedy and menace.
DESHORA (BELATED), Barbara Sarasola-Day’s first feature film is a somewhat elusive study of repressed sexuality. A long-married couple live on their tobacco plantation in the mountainous juhgle of North-West Argentina, rather lackadaisically wishing for children. The tedium is relieved by the arrival of the wife’s cousin, a handsome young man just out of rehab. His presence reawakens the couple’s sexuality. The wife rejects his advances but is still excited by his sexuality. Meanwhile he shares the husband’s macho activities, both work and recreation. But when their relationship suddenly finds physical expression, the only possible resolution of the problem for the husband is murder.
REACHING FOR THE MOON, directed by Bruno Barreto, is an adaptation of Carmen L.Oliveira’s 1995 novelistic account of the 16-year love affair of American poet Elizabeth Bishop and Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares. A best-seller in Brazil under the title of Flores Raras e Banalissimas, it is translated into English as Rare and Commonplace Flowers. In 1951, 40-year-old Bishop, in search of new inspiration, visits her college friend Mary in the Brazilian country estate she shares with her architect partner Lota de Macedo Soares. After initial hostility, the overbearing Lota (“I want everything I can get”) draws Bishop into an uneasy ménage à trois. In time the trio adopt a child, but the relationship is not easy, fraught by jealousy and Bishop’s drinking. Now a Pulitzer prize-winner, Bishop accepts an academic post in New York, while Lota is commissioned to create Rio’s Parque de Flamengo, for which she is now best remembered. Finally, the apparently confident Lota is the one who declines into sickness and suicide from grief at separation and the break-up of the affair – achieved by Mary’s destroying the letters sent to Lota by Bishop from New York. The film is good-looking – exploiting the spectacular scenery of Brazil – and believably acted, but the fictional spirit of the book (excused in the final credits) prevails.