Cannes 2008 Daily Report
THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY (UK/Ireland, director Ken Loach).
FLANDRES (France, director Bruno Dumont).
RED ROAD (Scotland/Denmark, director Andrea Arnold)
Alejandro González Iñárritu, BABEL (Mexico)
Jamel Debbouze, Samy Naceri, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouajila, Bernard Blancan in DAYS OF GLORY (France/Belgium/Algeria?Morocco, director Rachid Bouchareb} .
Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Duenas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo, Chus Lampreave in VOLVER (Spain, director Pedro Almodovar)
VOLVER (Spain, Pedro Almodóvar.
Camera d’Or (for best first feature film)
A FOST SAU N-A FOST? (Romania, director Corneliu Porumboiu) Romania.
Best Short Film:
“Sniffer,” Bobbie Peers, Norway.
WONG KAR WAI (President: Chinese director)
SAMUEL L.JACKSON (American actor)
ZHANG ZIYI (Chinese actress)
MONICA BELLUCCI (Italian actress)
PATRICE LECONTE (French director)
LUCRECIA MARTEL (Argentine director)
HELENA BONHAM CARTER (English actress)
ELIA SULEIMAN (Palestinian director)
TIM ROTH (English director, actor)
Recent years have seen drastic changes in the composition of Cannes Juries. The numbers have been progressively reduced – this year’s jury, with only nine members, is probably the smallest on record. Traditionally Cannes Juries of the past were heavily weighted with celebrities – painters, writers and the like – from outside the cinema. This year’s was strictly made up of serious film professionals. France, which in the old days generally dominated the Jury, had only one representative, the veteran director Patrice Leconte.
In the event no-one is likely to dispute the choice of films honoured in the awards – to that extent no injustice was done. The main award to Ken Loach’s THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY was incontrovertible. Of all the films, this one, while telling a story from the early part of the last century, was the most powerful in its commentary on the contemporary world. Ostensibly looking at Ireland in 1920, it offered a devastating reflection on the oppressive colonialism, injustice, abuse of human rights, perversion of international law that are endemic today, from Iraq across a great part of the world. It was the eight time that Loach had competed in Cannes, and his eventual victory is with a classic film.
For the rest, though the choice of films is incontrovertible, the allocation of the awards seemed questionable. The only two films which might have competed with THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY for the Grand Prix seemed dismissed with consolation prize. Rachid Bouchareb’s stunning film about France’s “African Army” in the Second World War, LES INDIGÈNES (DAYS OF GLORY) took only – the undoubtedly merited – award for the ensemble of its actors. Pedro Almodovar’s VOLVER, arguably the Spanish director’s best work to date, did only slightly better, with the award for best screenplay, as well as for the ensemble of actresses.
Thus the festival’s superior prizes went to more questionable films. Bruno Dumont’s FLANDRES, which took the Grand Prix, was more an exercise in style than a true examination of its theme of war. The only first-time director in the Festival, Andrea Arnold, is clearly very gifted, and it is gratifying to see her rewarded; but in a way it prejudices the better work that she will undoubtedly do to overrate her RED ROAD – a virtuoso treatment of a script of tv drama level – with the Jury Prize. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s BABEL (Best Director), too, looks thin and contrived in its global philosophies when compared to INDIGÈNES or THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY. The right films more or less, perhaps – but the wrong order.
DAY ELEVEN: 27 MAY
The 50th edition of the Cannes Festival ended with a run of tolerable films which nevertheless seemed unlikely to have taken up much of the Jury’s time: from Argentina, Israel Adrian Gaetano’s CRÓNICA DE UNA FUGA (STORY OF A FLIGHT), set in the dictatorship of the 1970s and relating events building up to the escape from custody of a young footballer and two fellow prisoners; from Spain Guillermo del Toro’s EL LABERINTO DEL FAUNO, a rather whimsical reflection of the brutalities of the post-Civil War era seen through a small girl’s escape into rustic pagan fantasy; from France, Xavier Gainnoli’s appealing, lightweight QUAND J’ÉTAIS CHANTEUR, with the irresistible Gérard Depardieu as a dance-hall singer. The record for walk-outs (leaving the cinema practically deserted by the end) was set by the Portuguese entry, Pedro Costa’s JUVENTUDE EM MARCHA (improbably anglicised as COLOSSAL YOUTH), an incessant series of monologues chronicling the thoughts and affections of an old man deserted by his wife and moved from his slum dwelling to an impersonal new housing development. The out-of-competition closing film – a spot traditionally little regarded by the black-tie crowd who have already suffered the prolonged award ceremony, was Tony Gatlif’s TRANSYLVANIA, a colourful piece of exotica about an rebellious young woman (Asia Argento, seen earlier in the week as an aggressive Madame du Barry in MARIE ANTOINETTE) in search of love during a pagan folk festival.
Overall, it was a quiet festival in terms of films, personalities, protests (minimal, even for THE DA VINCI CODE) and scandals. No-one was excessively shocked even by Gyorgy Pálfy’s bizarre, clever, stomach-turning TAXIDERMIA, from Hungary, or John Cameron Mitchell’s irresistibly good-natured sexplorations in SHORTBUS. As well as three obvious candidates for the Palme d’Or – Rachid Bouchareb’s INDIGÈNES (DAYS OF GLORY), Ken Loach’s THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY and Pedro Almodovar’s VOLVER, there were unforeseen pleasures in the side-bar events: Rolf de Heer’s bewitching TEN CANOES, the Chinese Wang Chao’s LUXURY CAR and the French omnibus film PARIS JE T’AIME with a different director for each arrondissement. Real duds were few: Richard Kelly’s SOUTHLAND TALES was certainly one. In other respects also this was not Hollywood’s year, with the generally panned DA VINCI CODE, the empty-headed MARIE ANTOINETTE (which nevertheless picked up a bit of praise) and in the “Critics’ Week” William Friedkin’s misguided psycho-horror, BUG.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s contrived BABEL was over-estimated (though the distribution company did throw one of the festival’s best publicity parties); and there were greater or less disappointments from other directors who have previously shone in Cannes – Nanni Moretti’s IL CAIMANO, Paolo Sorrentino’s L’AMICO DEL FAMIGLIA and Nouri Bilge Ceylan’s THE CLIMATES – though this, too, had its share of critical admirers.
DAY TEN: 26 MAY
Late in the festival came a strong surprise contender for the Palme d’Or, Rachid Bouchareb’s INDIGÈNES (DAYS OF GLORY), a big-budget Franco-Moroccan-Algerian-Belgian co-production. Here is a film of epic scale and exemplary classical execution (even if “classical” is now often used as a derogatory term by modish critics, who see structure and craftsmanship as old-fashioned virtues from an unregretted age). It is also a film of powerful content, with a message that is not too comforting for the host-country, France. It is interesting to speculate how the jury, presided over by the Chinese director Wong Kai War and including Samual L.Jackson, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham- Carter and the Palestinian director Elia Suleiman will react to its still very contemporary political message.France’s “African Army”, recruited from her colonies, dated back to the early 19th century. In the Second World War these soldiers who had never seen France, rallied to her defence against Germany. The film gives these men and this piece of history their ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (and the comparison is not excessive). The film accompanies a little group of comrades as they fight, suffer and die on the Italian front. The survivors move to France, and fight their last fatal action defending a village in Alsace on the eve of the German defeat. The tragedy of the story is not the loss of life but the loss of faith as these loyal and devout Muslim soldiers encounter the inequalities, humiliations and betrayal inflicted upon them by the French. The oppression was to be perpetuated: soldiers who had fought for France found their pensions cut off when their countries won independence; and despite legal victories to reinstate their rights, French governments have for decades continued to evade their obligations. Bouchareb’s film is not didactic or propagandist, but human, showing trust and loyalty and even love as well as brutality and humiliation. In terms of its depiction of the experience of battle, too, this stands high among the classic war films.
DAY NINE: 25 MAY
Paolo Sorrentino was in Cannes in 2004 with his arresting first feature, THE CONSEQUENCES OF LOVE, which went on to win a host of awards. His 2006 Cannes entry, L’AMICO DI FAMIGLIA (THE FRIEND OF THE FAMILY) is more elusive, though it has the same qualities of the everyday surreal and the entrapment of the characters in their slightly off-skew architectural surroundings. The central figure is an ugly old tailor-cum-loan shark, odious and odorous (Sorrentino and the actor Giacomo Rizzo bring his seedy uncleanliness to the very nostrils). Proud of his inappropriate nick-name “Geremia Heart of Gold”, he affects sympathetic concerns for his clients whilst mercilessly bleeding them. Crudely lecherous, he strikes a bargain with a young bride who overcomes her revulsion to let her rape him in return for cutting the interest he charges her cash-strapped parents for the wedding expenses. Greed finally undoes him, and his reluctant collaborators delightedly betray him. The narrative slides into incomprehensibility in the final reels, but the film’s weird surfaces keep their fascination, and Rizzo’s Geremia, with a bandage on his head like Scrooge’s night-cap, is a monster hard to forget.
Among around forty debut features competing for the Caméra d’or award for best first film, one of the most assured was the Mexican Francisco Vargas’ EL VIOLIN. Although located at the precise historical moment of a peasant revolt in Guerrero in the 1970s, the film is symbolic of the struggle of humble populations against recurrent oppression, still threatening today. The central figure is Don Plutarco, played by the calm, compelling Don Angel Tavira, who is, like his character, a one-handed virtuoso exponent of folk music on the violin. Presenting himself and his little grandson as guileless itinerant entertainers, he is in fact as deeply involved as his revolutionary son, and using his violin to smuggle ammunition. Dominated by the charisma of the octogenarian actor, EL VIOLIN, with its beautiful black-and-white images and subtly handled sound, is a first feature that betrays Vargas’ well-spent apprenticeship in documentary.
Manuel Huerga’s SALVADOR, from Spain, is a less successful portrait of a revolutionary, in this case the real-life Salvador Puig Antich, the last political prisoner to be executed by the garrotte in Franco’s Spain, in 1974. Antich is played by Daniel Brühl, whose career till now, with highlights like GOODBYE, LENIN!, has been in German cinema, but who was in fact born in Spain to a Spanish mother and German father. His first Spanish role is not comfortable. The first half of the film makes revolutionary activism look embarrassingly like high-spirited but dangerous student pranks: the second is a tortuous and too-agonised account of his family’s attempts to prevent his execution. The elements do not mix well, and Brühl seems ill at ease.
Another creditable debut is Slawomir Fabicki’s Z ODZYSKU (RETRIEVAL). The story is conventionally familiar, but done with a feeling for the drab and demoralising milieux of Silesia, with its derelict mines and poor tenements. The young hero Wojtek (Antoni Pawlicki) battles not only to survive, but also to get papers for his Ukrainian illegal immigrant girl-friend and her young son. From clandestine boxing bouts he moves on to be bully and debt collector for a vicious small-time bandit. Pawlicki’s well-studied performance keeps the character both believable and redeemable.
DAY EIGHT: 24 MAY
Sofia Coppola’s MARIE ANTOINETTE, simple-minded as it may be, is not positively bad, nor boring. The script is tidy and fairly dutiful to history – as it should be, being based on Antonia Fraser’s biography of the ill-fated French queen. It looks very handsome, largely shot in Versailles (a privilege that has been given to few film-makers, notably Sacha Guitry and James Ivory); and the design and camerawork (Lance Acord) are exemplary. The casting is imaginative, with Marianne Faithfull an unexpectedly matronly and regal Maria Teresa of Austria. The director, too, remains true to herself in pursuing the fundamental theme of her earlier films, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES and LOST IN TRANSLATION – a bewildered adolescent in search of her place in life. Marie is a naive 14-year-old princess of Austria, thrust into a diplomatic marriage with the young heir of France, whose passions for hunting and lock-making leave him with little interest in the politically vital business of procreation. She also has to learn to deal with the jealousies and ludicrous etiquette of Versailles. Elevated to Queen, she abandons herself (as any girl would) to a non-stop round of balls, shopping, sex and giggles with her entourage of groupies who use words ike “Fabulous!”
As a historical period piece it has nothing new to offer. MGM did the same story just as well 60 years ago: the principal difference is that of the production period. Norma Shearer played Marie as a patrician American socialite of the thirties. just as Kirsten Dunst plays her as a 21st century American college girl (forget Austria!). In a clumsy and ill-advised attempt to give the film further appeal to a young contemporary audience, bursts of rock music and an unwisely jazzed-up version of “Fools Rush In” are dumped on the film at intervals.
The reception in Cannes has been enigmatic. Opening this week, it had friendly notices from many French critics, but at the press screening it was greeted with the most hostile booing suffered by any film in the festival so far. But the Coppola name counts (and father Francis Ford Coppola sat behind his daughter at her press conference like a whiskery guardian angel) and some of the most august internatonal critics have written about the film with guarded approval. More to the point is how the film may fare at the box office. Kirsten Dunst has a big teen following; and the film may well dissolve for audiences not too much into European history into the Ruritanian romance of an all-American girl who gets to be a queen – even if it all goes a bit awry at the end.
DAY SEVEN: 23 MAY
Festival audiences and juries always show a preference for the grim and unsparing – comedies rarely if ever win prizes. Here in Cannes they have been richly supplied with daily gloom. BABEL is the third feature film by the Mexican Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who sprang to prominence with AMORES PERROS, and here hits the big-time with a film shot in four countries and roles for Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Gael Garcia Bernal. The film ostensibly wants to be a global statement on lack of communication in the modern world; but the pile-up of coincidences that link stories in far-flung regions seems rather to prove the contrary.
In North Africa a young boy trying out a rifle hits an American in a tourist bus. Back in San Diego the injured tourist’s kids are having bad times with their illegal immigrant Mexican baby-sitter who has taken them, with the best intentions, across the border. In Tokyo a deaf-mute girl wretchedly desperate for sexual initiation happens to be the daughter of the man who first gave the gun to the community in North Africa. And so on. The scenario is, in fact, rather like those old-fashioned children’s stories like “The Story of a Penny”, only this is the story of a gun. Still, it harrows its audience for a couple of hours, probably hoping to give the warm reassurance that they are vicariously sharing the experience of the suffering wider world they see nightly on CNN. And there are the obligatory poliical touches: the Americans turn the African kid’s accident with the rifle into a new episode in the War on Terrorism.
Bruno Dumont’s FLANDRES is also partly set in North Africa, though it is framed in the broad bleak agricultural landscapes of Flanders. Landscapes are everything to Dumont, who explains, “When you film a landscape, it represents the character’s interior climate … I do not film landscapes like a documentary maker. .. Everything is mental and internal. .. My characters never contemplate what they are doing. They do, they act, they never think about who they are”. In the pursuit of this rather personal and not always communicative relationship between landscape, figure and camera, Dumont works with rather stoic-faced non-actors, apparently drawn from the countryside.
He subjects them however to a pretty tough story. In the opening, two of the village men show a rather rude and rustic sexual interest in the heroine, leaving her pregnant when they are all sent off to fight in an unidentified North African country (presumably Algeria in some past time). There they are transformed into monsters, mindlessly embarking on killing and raping of innocent civilians. All but one die horribly: the survivor returns to be a father to the girl’s new child. The degradation of ordinary men entrapped in war is a very current them, which films in the past have generally avoided: the popular images of heroism and sacrifice linger. But Dumont, ferociously though he depicts the horrors, seems detached from the subject, more interested in his aesthetic principles.
TO GET TO HEAVEN FIRST YOU HAVE TO DIE, directed by the Tadjik director Djamshed Usmonov is an unexpected, off-beat, poetic coming-of-age tale. Kamal, played by the director’s nephew Kurched Golibekov) is 20 years old, deeply troubled because he has not succeeded in consummating his four-month marriage to a wife he dearly loves. He consults a doctor; then naively sets off for the city, hoping to meet some woman who can somehow solve his problem. His encounters on the way bring him more than he had bargained for, though not, until the very end, the soluton to his problem. Given the toughness of the climactic action, it is a very appealing film, much enriched by the compelling central performance.
DAY SIX: 22 MAY
The mid-point of the festival displayed two masters in compeition, with markedly different films. Many critics were startled by the minimal modesty of the Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki’s third episode in a trilogy on unemployment, homelessness and now loneliness. The hero of LIGHTS IN THE DUSK, played with appropriate Kaurismaki stoicism by Janne Hyytianinen, is a night watchman in a big shpping mall. Though he has secret hopes and ambitions, he is chronically unable to relate to other people, and is ostracised by his work-mates. Into this sad solitude irrupts a beautiful young woman with whom he becomes infatuated, ignorant that she is planted by a criminal orgaisation in order to gain his codes and keys. The resulting imprisonment, humiliation and worse still leave him with a glimmer of hope, because (says Kaurismaki) the director is a kind old man. Kaurismaki’s quirky, melancholy humour, his distinctive vision of the physical world and his cool observation of every detail of character and behaviour are compelling as always.
Nanni Moretti’s IL CAIMANO is a political fable whose rather erratic structure may in part be due to the proximity of the recent Italian elections and the consequent uncertainty, during the production period, gabout the future of Silvio Berluschoni. The hero (a fatally unsympathetic performance by Silvio Orlando) is a failed producer of exploitation films endeavouring to restore his career while battling with a failing domestic life. Accepting a script by a young woman unread (in the traditional way of producers) he discovers too late that it is an undisuised expose of the misdeeds and subterfuges of Prime Minister Berlusconi. The project nevertheless proves a political and moral reawakening for this washed-up man – though the pay-of of the film-within-the-film is that this re-awakening is not likely to be shared with the larger Italian populace. The conclusion is equivocal but unquestionably pessimistic.
DAY FIVE: 21 MAY
Film makers approach the great traumas and conundrums of the 21st century in different ways and with different degrees of success. Given his head (and a big budget) after the surprise success of his independent debut with DONNIE DARKO, Richard Kelly takes a bad tumble with SOUTHLAND TALES. This attempt at a horror-comic apocalyptic epic is set in Los Angeles in 2008, when America has been overtaken by nuclear attack, ultimate energy crisis and cultural melt-down. A foolish farrago that had nine producers but would have done better with a team of sympathetic but tough script editors, the film proved Cannes biggest walk-out picture of the year. In contrast, the Cannes Critics’ Week introduced a modestly-budgeted and beautifully written Norwegian film, THE BOTHERSOME MAN, directed with great energy and wit by Jens Lien. The hero is bothersome because he is for some reason discontented with the perfect urban world (represented by Oslo) into which he finds himself absorbed – a world of nice flats, easy jobs, friendly people, tasteful decors, tasteless food and drink that does not inebriate. It is a world where even injuries magically and swiftly heal. His inquisitive quest for older values that linger irritatingly in his memory bring him inevitably into conflact with this superficial utopia which shows it has its nasty side for those who do not contentedly conform.
The accomplieshed Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who made an international mark with his exquisite first films THE SMALL TOWN and THE CLOUDS OF MAY presents in competition a film, THE CLIMATES, which though as richly stylish (in compositions, used of sound, and relentlessly leisured pacng) seems trite in comparison with his previous work. The director himself plays a rather dour man who breaks up with his girl-friend, renews an old, clumsy affair with the partner of an absent friend, and then endeavours to resume the affair with his original girl-friend – still loving but realistic about what this rather unreliable character can offer. There are occasional attractive moments – encounters with the hero’s family, played by his own parents – but overall the film has the ingrown feeling of a self-diagnosis that has limited interest for the spectator.
France has offered two more side-bar films. Patrick Grandperret’s LES MEUTRIERES (THE MURDERESSES) is a by-now rather conventonal, but still attractive sad story of two troubled late adolescent girls on the loose in La Rochelle, whose feckless adventures pass from irresponsible fun to fatal catastrophe. Anne Feinsilber’s REQUIEM FOR BILLY THE KID is a curious documentary-style quest for the truth about the Wild West legend, in which she interviews present-day inhabitants of Lincoln County, where William Bonney’ s brief but violent career took place, and draws far-fetched parallels between Billy and his contemporary, the French poet Rimbaud. A fatal error, in segments of recreation, is to give Billy, who was killed at 21, the voice of Kris Kristofferson, who, though he once himself played Billy, now talks with a low and antique growl.
DAY FOUR: 20 MAY
There is a persistent habit among screen-writers – perhaps it ultimately derives from Robert Altman – of building scenarios around communities of characters rather than risking all on specific relationships. This perilous habit was the undoing of the British-American FAST FOOD NATION and also weakens the impact of the French Nicole Garcia’s otherwise confidently directed SELON CHARLIE (CHARLIE SAYS). The stories of six men and a boy, brought together in a small coastal town, are not so much interwoven as casually juggled, with scenes often rather haphazardly lurching between tale and tale. At least the characters are attractive and intriguing enough to make the viewer regret not being able to come closer to them.
On the contrary, one could hardly come closer to the characters in SHORTBUS (shown out of competition) who are shown in sexual situations that makes it a challenging prospect for even the most liberated tv or theatrical outlets anywhere in the world. The film is conceived and directed by John Cameron Mitchell, who previously made the no-less provocative HEDWIG OR THE ANGRY INCH Here his very serious aim is to show that character and relationships – as in real life – can sometimes be most vividly revealed through sexuality. The film opens spectacularly with one of the protagonists performing oral sex upon himself, setting the tone for what follows. The principal characters are a female relationships counsellor who cannot get an orgasm, and a loving, long-established gay couple, one of whom is secretly drifting to suicide. The three meet – along with a variety of other anxious, frustrated, deprived or confused people, at a bizarre New York sexual therapy club, Shortbus. Unrestrained as it is, the film is too funny and good-natured to offend any but the most prudish, and in its loving treatment of the gay couple and the people who enter their lives, is marked by a sweet and endearing old-fashioned sentimentality.
DAY THREE: 19 MAY
In his new film VOLVER (TO COME BACK) the Spanish master Pedro Almodovar confirms himself again as one of the great story-tellers. The film is deft, light, fast, full of sly jokes and absurdities, yet at the same time a very deep and personal exploration of personal preoccupations – motherhood (and in particular memories of his own mother), death, memories of youth in La Mancha and its ways of life, cheerful superstitions and age-old skills of coping with mortality and the other life.
He is working with a virtually all-woman cast of actresses familiar from his earlier films. Penelope Cruz – who has the near-extinct star virtue of combining the most exotic glamour with rich real-life characterisation – plays a working mother. Her entourage includes daughter, sister, senile aunt and the ghost of her estranged mother (Carmen Maura). The ghost is all in a day’s work, along with the corpse of a murdered, abusive husband stored in the deep-freeze of the restaurant she has hijacked…. Almodovar juggles this farrago of improbabilities with wit and faultless polish. It is only a slight come-down when rationality intrudes to round off the story – but even the disappointingly logical denouement is compensated by the exuberant clatter of skeletons out of the family cupboards.
Following Ken Loach’s Irish-based THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY, Britain enjoyed another critical success with a first feature film, written and directed by Andrea Arnold, and co-produced with the Danish Zentropa Films, home of Lars von Tier and the “Dogme” impetus. RED ROAD is set in Glasgow, where the heroine is a policewoman whose job – a curious mixture of tedium and suspense – is to observe ranks of police CCTV monitors. Her attention becomes focussed on one man whose daily activities she obsessively tracks. As she becomes more actively, and finally sexually, involved with the man, a back-story of resentments and revenge emerges. The film – whether in its elements of suspense or tormented sexuality – is a model of virtuoso directing remarkable in a first feature, but somewhat undone by the script which maintains its suspense of mystery too long before collapsing into a predictable, even banal, denouement.
The first Italian exhibit (not in competition but in the major side-bar, “Un Certain Regard”), THE MARRIAGE DIRECTOR, by the Italian veteran Marco Bellocchio, is a wry but not spry comedy about a hack film director who flees from the project of directing yet another version of the classic “I Promessi Sposi” and from his distress at his daughter#s marriage to a devout Catholic, only to find himself engaged to film the wedding of the daughter of a stern and eccentric aristocrat. Incorrigibly he falls in love with the bride and battles to prevent this marriage of convenence. A defter sense of comedy and irony – perhaps not Bellocchio’s forte – seems required.
DAY TWO: 18 MAY
Ken Loach is British cinema’s national treasure. In a 40-year career he has not once compromised his humanist beliefs or his liberal political principles. He has never sought easy popularity – and in many circles his new film THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY will be very unpopular indeed. The British prefer not to be reminded of the atrocities, however well documented, committed by British troops, the notorious black-and-tans, after the 1916 Rising: Loach depicts them with shocking reality. The American right is likely to recognise uncomfortable parallels between the catastrophe of the Irish Civil War and very current events in Iraq.
Loach’s story centres on two brothers, united in their outrage and militant resistance as members of the IRA to the excesses of British colonialism, but fatally divided in the Civil War provoked by the compromised and divisive Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921.
A compelling, personalised story, centred on the individual fates of a small community, it is nevertheless an epic of universal meaning – as much, in its searing human wisdom, about Iraq today as about Ireland of 1920. More significantly, it is unlikely that such a film could have been made or would have been believable four years ago, before we had seen the phenomenon of the great democratic nations abjuring long-established principles of law and human rights and justifying torture as a legitimate weapon. Loach’s history is very contemporary.
The 21st century is provoking many film makers into healthy subversion. FAST FOOD NATION, produced by the ever-adventurous British producer Jeremy Thomas and directed by Richard Linklater from Eric Schlosser’s best-selling documentary novel, is an expose of a hypothetical fast-food giant, as ruthlessly exploiting its employees as its customers, and cynically manufacturing execrably polluted foodstuffs. It is a strong story, sympathetically acted, but fatally undermined by a script (Linklater and Schlosser) which does not succeed in integrating its too-many disparate elements.
Unique and irresistible, Rolf de Heer’s TEN CANOES, made in collaboration with the iconic Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil (who provides his voice as narrator and his handsome son as a leading player) is set in the remote Northern region of Arnhem, whose aboriginal inhabitants recreate the lives and the story-telling of their tribal ancestors. The execution is so faultless that this charming, funny picture looks more like genuine ethnographic documentary than a story re-enacted by people who in private life enjoy television, mobile phones and supermarkets. Its greatest triumph is to recreate the protracted, digressive native story-telling style, to compel and fascinate audiences very foreign to this far-off world.
The Hungarian TAXIDERMIA (director Gyorgyi Palfy) is as grotesque a picture of humanity as the festival is likely to see, and, brilliantly effected and original as it is, sent the squeamish rushing for the doors. The central section is a wild parody of the competitiveness in sports deemed patriotic in the socialist era. The sport in question is gargantuan eating, with concomitant vomiting. Wild goes to worse with the inevitable and messy bursting of the eating-champion hero, whose taxidermist son dutifully stuffs his father before methodically turning his professional attentions on himself. Cannes can get no wilder.
The first French film shown in the “Un Certain Regard” section of the festival, Denis Dercourt’s LE TOURNEUR DES PAGES is a fascinating anecdote about revenge. A gentle, charming young woman makes herself indispensable, as the perfect page-turner, to a neurotic concert pianist, while quietly and systematically wrecking the lives of the woman – who long before had frustrated her entry into the Conservatoire – and her unwitting family. The story does not grip as it should – perhaps because Dercourt seems to have cast actors who convincingly play the piano, rather than evincing special skills for this kind of psychological suspense.
16 May 2006
The 59th Cannes Festival opened with the long-veiled DA VINCI CODE – whose coming massive world-wide release will make the privilege of this preview a rather short-lived distinction for the vocally enthusiastic black-tie audience who packed the gala premiere. Alas, their enthusiasm was not shared by the press, which was almost unanimous in finding the film confused and overlong, and was at moments during the preview openly derisive. The programme line-up for the next twelve days however looks brilliantly promising – though experience of many past festivals warns that promises can easily be broken. The overwhelming majority of the films in competition are by directors who have already competed – and often been prize-winners – in previous festivals. Thus the selection is distinguished by the number of top international names. Pedro Almodovar, last in competition in 1999 when he took the Best Director Prize for ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER, presents VOLVER, featuring an all-woman cast including Almodovar favourites Carmen Maura and Penelope Cruz. A former Palme d’or-winner (for DISTANT in 2003) the Turkish Nuri Bilge Ceylan returns with CLIMATES. Ken Loach has competed in the Cannes competition eight times, and never achieved the Palme d’or, though he has had the Jury Prize and the award of the international critics. This year’s entry, THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY, traces the fortunes of two brothers engaged in the Irish struggle for independence. The Finnish maverick, Aki Kaurismaki took the Cannes Palme d’or in 2002 with THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST, the second part of his “Unemployment” trilogy. The third part, LIGHTS IN THE DUSK, is this year’s candidate for a Cannes award Sofia Coppola follows THE VIRGIN SUICIDES and LOST IN TRANSLATION with a very different project, a study of MARIE ANTOINETTE, based on Antonia Fraser’s biography of the French Queen. The unfortunate Louis XV is played by Rip Torn. The project was actually planned before LOST IN TRANSLATION, whose success greatly facilitated the ambitious production, with unstinting help from the French authorities, including freedom to film in Versailles.
From Italy, Nanni Moretti – winner of the 2001 Palme d’or for THE SON’S ROOM – returns with a scathing satire on the regime of Silvio Berlusconi. A fellow-Italian, Paolo Sorrentino, who made a mark with his 2004 offbeat mafia story, THE CONSEQUENCES OF LOVE, returns with the story of a detested loan shark. FRIEND OF THE FAMILY. From France, Rachid Bouchareb’s DAYS OF GLORY, the story of the fate of the 130,000 African soldiers who fought for France in the Second World War, promises to be contentious. Algerian-born Nicole Garcia, whose L’ADVERSAIRE competed in 2002, this year offers SELON CHARLIE. The only competing film from Asia, Lou Ye’s SUMMER PALACE sets the story of the social and sexual liberation of a university student arriving from the country to study in Beijing, against the traumas of Tiananmen Square and the collapse of European communism. Lou Ye competed at Cannes three years ago with the elegant PURPLE BUTTERFLY
The Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu established an international reputation with AMORES PERROS, launched at Cannes in 2001. His 2006 Cannes entry BABEL – the third part of the trilogy that began with the 2001 film – intertwines three stories variously set in the US, Mexico, Morocco and Japan. A fellow-Mexican, Guillermo del Toro, is one of the 2006 Festival’s very few first-time competitors, with PAN’S LABYRINTH, the experiences of a young woman in Franco’s Spain. Another of the minority of newcomers is the English-born Andrea Arnold, who won an Oscar in 2005 for her live-action short WASP. Her Cannes contender, RED ROAD, is a thriller set in Glasgow and was co-produced by Denmarl’s Zentropa Films, the birthplace of the “Dogma” movement. Exceptionally the American independent Richard Linklater has two films showing in Cannes – in competition FAST FOOD NATION, a dramatised investigation of the fast-food industry, based on the best-seller by Eric Schlosser, and in the side-bar section “Un Certain Regard”, A SCANNER DARKLY. Another intriguing prospect from the USA is Richard Kelly’s SOUTHLAND TALES, set in the chaos and collapse of a near-future (2008) California. The major side-bar events are as usual “Un Certain Regard”, “The Directors’ Fortnight” (see below) and the “Critics’ Week”. In addition Cannes continues to increase its presentations of archival films and restorations. Among this year’s highlights are the newly completed restoration, by the Museo Nazionale del Cinema of Turin, of Giuseppe Pastrone’s spectacular 1914 epic CABIRIA, and restorations of films by the British director Carol Reed and the great Scottish-born animator Norman McLaren. Other restorations of famous or forgotten films from the silent period include Eisenstein’s OCTOBER (1926), Julien Duvivier’s THE MYSTERY OF THE EIFFEL TOWER (1927) and Henri Fescourt’s MONTE CRISTO (1929)
FILMS IN THE DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT
“Azur et Asmar”Michel Ocelot (France)
“Bug”William Friedkin (U.S.)
“Ca brule”Claire Simon (France-Switzerland)
“Changement d’adresse”Emmanuel Mouret (France)
“Congorama”Philippe Falardeau (Canada-Belgium-France)
“Daft Punk’s Electroma”Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter (U.S.)
“Dans Paris”Christophe Honore (France)
“Day Night Day Night”Julia Loktev (U.S.-Germany-France)
“Did It Happen or Not?”Corneliu Porumboiu (Romania)
“Even Independent It’s All Right”Kim Rossi Stuart (Italy)
“Exterminating Angels”Jean-Claude Brisseau (France)
“The Hawk Is Dying”Julian Goldberger (U.S.)
“Honor de Cavalleria”Albert Serra (Spain)
“The Host”Bong Joon-ho (South Korea)
“Jindabyne”Ray Lawrence (Australia)
“Lying”M. Blash (U.S.)
“Princess”Anders Morgenthaler (Denmark-Germany)
“Summer ’04 on the Banks of the Schlei”Stefan Krohmer (Germany)
“Transe”Teresa Villaverde (Portugal-France-Italy)
“We Shouldn’t Exist”Herve-Pierre Gustave (France)
“White Palms”Szabolcs Hadju (Hungary-France)
“Yureru”Nishikawa Miwa (Japan)