Cannes 2005 Daily Report

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22 May 2005

58TH CANNES FILM FESTIVAL report by David Robinson

(picture: L’ENFANT)


L’ENFANT, directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (Belgium)

Grand Prix du Jury :
Jim Jarmusch, for BROKEN FLOWERS (USA)

Best Direction:
Michael Haneke for CACHE (France)

Best Actress:
Hana Laszlo in FREE ZONE (Israel, directed by Amos Gitaï)

Best Actor:
ESTRADA, directed by Tommy Lee Jones (USA)

Best Script:
ESTRADA, directed by Tommy Lee Jones (USA)

Special Jury Prize:
SHANGHAI DREAMS, directed by Wang Xiaoshuai (China)

Caméra d’Or, for best first film:
ex-aequo :
ME, YOU AND ALL THE OTHERS, directed by Miranda July (USA)
THE FORSAKEN LAND, directed by Vimukthi Jayasundara (Sri-Lanka)

Best film in section Un Certain Regard:
THE DEATH OF MR LAZARESCU, directed by Cristi Puiu (Romania)

International Critics’ Awards:
Competition: CACHE (HIDDEN) dir: Michael Haneke (France, Austria, Germany, Italy)
Un Certain Regard: SANGRE dir:Amat Escalante
Directors’ Fortnight / Critics Week: CRYING FIST dir:Ryoo Seung-wan(South Korea)

Cannes 2005 struck out boldly – and successfully – against the tide. The dominant phenomenon of 21st century cinema is the frantic turn-over of directors. Run through the reviews in weekly VARIETY or any listing of new releases and the most striking impression is the number of feature films by first-time directors – a quick, approximate survey puts the number at well over fifty per cent. The optimistic observer cheers the endless supply of new talent. The pessimist too often is reminded of an era of cinema where qualities like expertise, texture, craftsmanship, the rewards of experience, are few and precious.
The festival director, Thierry Frémaux defied a good deal of criticism by selecting a majority of films by well-established film makers. Out of 21 films (the odd number is explained by the exceptional inclusion of the opening film in competition) only one was made by a first-time director – and even he was hardly a newcomer: in his 60th year Tommy Lee Jones directed his first theatrical feature, the magisterial THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA. The average age, too, was surprisingly high. Out of 23 directors (2 films were shot by brother duos) sixteen were over fifty years old, only nine below. Three film-makers were in their sixties, a mere four still in their thirties.
They were familiar names – Jarmusch, Wenders, Von Trier, Hou Hsao-Hsien, the Dardennes Brothers, Cronenberg, Giordana, Haneke, Van Sant, Egoyan. No less than five of these auteurs – the Dardennes, Wenders, Von Trier, Van Sant – are previous Palme d’or winners. Despite a general conviction that the Jury President Emir Kusturica would not tolerate the prize going to a previous winner, the victors were the Dardennes, with their poignant account of a nice, dumb petty thief’s descent into debt and despair after he mindlessly sells the baby who has brought insupportable economic problems to him and his girl-friend.
L’ENFANT is a good film, not a great one; and this was the across-the-board character of the festival. There were really no inconsiderable films, nothing to provoke walk-outs (though Wenders and Egoyan fell well below standard, and Van Sant was trying for many tastes). At the same time there was nothing to mark this down as a great vintage year. One or two themes were prevalent enough to seem endemic to the moment – paternal guilt (L’ENFANT, DON’T COME KNOCKING, BROKEN FLOWERS), deceptive personal appearance (THE KING, DOWN IN THE VALLEY, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (see daily reports, below).
In a festival where the films on exhibition in the official festival section attracted a quite unwonted universal approval, the distinction of the single most execrated film in the festival went to Britain, for Thomas Clay’s THE GREAT ECSTACY OF ROBERT CARMICHAEL, shown in the International Critics’ week. This first film ends with a long, needlessly graphic scene of rape, torture and murder by three teenage hoodlums. The film weakly defends itself by references to great historic film auteurs and an unpersuasive parallel between its anecdote and the permitted horrors of war. Sadly the outstanding Greek cinematographer Giorgos Arvanitis has squandered his talent on this one.

Martha Fiennes

21 May 2005

picture: Martha Fiennes on set

The closing film and last competition entry of the 2005 Cannes Festival was Martha
Fiennes’ CHROMOPHOBIA – a very British work, though mainly financed in France.
The title has little evident relevance to the film’s content, which as a slice of
contemporary London life is no-one’s idea of an everyday story of ordinary folk. The
focal figure is Marcus (Damian Lewis), an ambitious young lawyer, just made a
partner in his prestigious firm. His frustrated wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) is thinking
of having cosmetic breast surgery. Their young son dances seductively for the
video-camera of a pedophile godfather (Ralph Fiennes, the director’s brother).
Marcus’s law firm handles the affairs of a New Labour peer who is manipulating his
government office to massive commercial advantage (though expressing gratitude
with party contributions). His father (an excellent Ian Holm) is a high court judge who
plays doctors with a Spanish prostitute, (Penelope Cruz), unaware that she is fast
dying of cancer and has a daughter whom he has fathered. Then there is Marcus’s
college chum, a journalist who sells his friend’s drunken confidences to a newspaper
edited by a Rebekah Wade clone who rides her scandal sheet like the fifth horseman
of the Apocalypse.
The first reaction to the film is likely to be exasperation at the excess of it all – the
impossible ritziness of the homes of the rich and the dramatic squalor of the poor
prostitute; the familiar cliches of characters and relationships, the four-letter
sloppiness of the dialogue. And some of the mise-en-scene is irritatingly clumsy. Yet
at the end, admiration of the film grows as its intentions become more clear and as the
fabric of the hero’s life begins to crash around him. (Significantly, at the start of the
film a large lump of masonry falls off the High Court Judge’s Jacobean home,
inspiring his resourceful wife to turn the debris into a rockery). No “Dolce Vita”, certainly,and far from the mordancy of Lindsay Anderson’s under-rated classic
“Britannia Hospital”, CHROMOPHOBIA nevertheless essays a portrait of a sick
society, Blair’s Britain with all its corruption, hypocrisies, opportunism and
inequality. Whether its ironies will be comprehensible to non-British audiences only
the Cannes reviews may reveal, but it has a sharp word or two for the home crowd.

Three Burials

20 May 2005

picture: Barry Pepper and Tommy Lee Jones in THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA

The first theatrical film directed by the grizzled Texan actor Tommy Lee Jones proved
one of the better surprises of the festival’s penultimate day, even if its title THE
box-office attraction. Jones himself plays the protagonist, Pete, a ranch foreman in a
tiny Texan desert township. His friend, a Mexican “wetback” (illegal immigrant) is
shot, hastily buried in the desert, but then disinterred and buried in town. When Pete
discovers that the inadvertent killer was an inexperienced young patrolman (played by
a striking newcomer, Barry Pepper), he kidnaps him, forces him to dig up Estrada yet
again and accompany him and the putrefying body to the dead man’s supposed
home-land for proper burial. The grim odyssey, and the changing and often violent
relations between the two men is skilfully structured in Guillermo Arriaga’s
screenplay, which slips in and out of Mexican Spanish from time to time; and in
Jones’ firm direction and perversely winning performance.
The Taiwanese Hou Hsiao-Hsien, in the past an inveterate winner of festival
awards, appears below form in THREE TIMES, an omnibus of three stories, set in
different periods (1911, 1966 and 2005) and each played by the same actors, Shu Qi
and Chang Chen. The first story (1966) tells of a young army recruit who
romantically tracks a young woman as she moves across country, working in different
billiards halls (Hou patently enjoys observing the techniques of the game). In the
1911 story, set at the time of Taiwan’s independence movement against Japan, a
young woman is a father’s concubine and a son’s lover. The contemporary story has
Shu Qi as a young singer confused between a boy friend, a girl friend and epilepsy As
short stories, the episodes seem frustratingly inconsequential. Hou’s chic idea of
shooting the 1911 story as a silent film falls down from his failure to grasp the visual
story-telling technique of silents.
An of-beat, minor pleasure has been OPERETTA TANUKIGOTEN (PRINCESS
RACOON), a fairy tale mixing live action, magic tricks and fantastic painted sets,
directed by the 81-year-old Japanese director Seijun Suzuki. The story-line is a shade
easier to follow than STAR WARS.

19 May 2005


Twenty-one years after “Paris, Texas”, Wim Wenders and Sam Shepard are reunited
as co-writers, with Shepard also playing the lead in their Cannes competition entry,
DON’T COME KNOCKING. The film comes with the familiar and invariably
ominous description of “a journey of self-discovery”. Strangely paralleling Jim
Jarmusch’s competition entry, BROKEN FLOWERS, shown the previous day,
DON’T COME KNOCKING tells the story of a man’s discovery that he has a grown
son, and of his quest to meet him. Shepard plays Howard, a beat-up star of
Hollywood westerns, with a record of high-living and trouble-stirring. He walks off
the set of his current picture to disappear into Montana – or rather into the haunting,
lurid impression of it dreamed up by Wenders and his cinematographer Franz Lustig.
Here he embarks on his search for a family he scattered somewhere on his travels long
The problem is that there is not so much a coherent script as a collection of
highly-coloured characters, formed out of movie cliches rather than real life, who
collide rather than inter-act. There is Howard himself, beat-up and world-weary; his
forbearing mother (Eva Marie Saint); stoical, worldly-wise one-time lover (Jessica
Lange), the emotionally erratic son who fiercely rejects him (Gabriel Mann,
performing atrociously), the desiccated bounty hunter from the movie insurance
company (Tim Roth). The result is loud, portentous and disjointed. With Emir
Kusturica – a director whose own recent work has been characteristically loud,
portentous and disjointed – as Jury President, the film should not be discounted as a
Palme d’Or contender.
The same could hardly be said for SIN CITY, an odd choice for competition. Directed
by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller and adapted from Miller’s “graphic novels”
(which is the smart new name for comic books) the initial admiration for its visual
styling will not detain adult audiences for long.
The third French competition entry, after LEMMING and CACHE, PEINDRE OU
FAIRE L’AMOUR (TO PAINT OR MAKE LOVE) is an middle-brow, middle-class
and self-satisfied concoction by the brothers Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu, whose
much admired debut film, “A Real Man” was a good deal more original and eccentric.
Here Daniel Auteuil and Sabine Azema are a city couple who move into an abandoned
farm-house, which quickly acquires a sophisticated urban style, but discover the guilty
delights of swinging with the blind local mayor and his nubile wife (Sergi Lopez,
Amira Casar.
Competition choices are sometimes bewildering, and too often seem to exclude
smaller and economically more modest productions, One such is the veteran actor
NOT QUITE THE LIFE I DREAMED OF), shown out of compassion. The film is
conceived in a highly stylised form, with caricatural characters, minimal dialogue,
ritualistic action and a touch here and there of the comic style of Jacques Tati. The
story involves what seems to be a self-indulgent wine merchant (Roger Jendly), his
wife, mistress, house-keeper and grandson, and some genuine emotions concealed
beneath the comic-cartoon exteriors.

18 May 2005

picture: Orsi Toth in JOHANNA

The Cannes polls were upset overnight, as brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s
L’ENFANT and Jim Jarmusch’s BROKEN FLOWERS tied for second place to
Michael Haneke’s CACHE (HIDDEN), which still holds its position as top favourite
for the 2005 Palme d’Or. BROKEN FLOWERS looks set to be Jim Jarmusch’s most
commercial film to date, without sacrificing any of his quirky, affectionate
observation of human foibles. In the opening scene Bill Murray is seen watching
Douglas Fairbanks’s 1934 film “The Private Life of Don Juan”, the legendary star’s
last appearance and the story of an ageing Don Juan, no longer able o work the same
amorous magic. Significantly, the character played by Murray is called Don Johnston.
He receives an anonymous note from a long-ago lover, telling him that he has a
19-year-old son who may or may not be searching for him.
Unwillingly spurred on by his Ethiopian neighbour, an enthusiastic amateur sleuth,
Don sets off in search of the women from the appropriate vintage of his conquests, to
try to unravel the mystery. Perhaps the title refers to the much-changed people of
these reunions, played by a n impressive range of actresses including Sharon Stone,
Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton. Bill Murray’s performance is a masterpiece of
minimalism. His thin lips are pinched tightly in a poker face that is less mobile than
Buster Keaton’s; with the result that the a slightly raised eyebrow, a twitch of the
mouth, or a momentary shuttering of the eyelid can have the effect of an explosion.
The comedy has a melancholy edge. We sense in the final scenes that the reunions
have brought home to the superannuated Don Juan the lost opportunities and passage
of time: and there is real poignancy when, at the end, Don momentarily, frustratedly
imagines he has found his son.
Without question one of the most original films to hit Cannes is the Hungarian Kornel
Mundruczo’s JOHANNA, conceived as an opera, with music by Zsofia Taller, and
with a visual style inspired by classic German Expressionism. The story is a very
modern take on Joan of Arc. Johanna is a morphine addict, helped by a young doctor,
and recruited as a hospital nurse. She discovers a gift of healing, effected by sexual
union with the patients. The medical staff are predictably outraged: the young doctor
sings, “You have a gift, but you have no respect”. Despite all the efforts of her
devoted patient-followers, she is, like the original Joan, condemned to incineration.

17 May 2005


Part of the fun of Cannes is to watch the daily poll of a group of international critics,
published by the British trade magazine Screen International. Half way through the
festival the clear favourite remains Michael Haneke’s psychological suspense thriller
CACHE (HIDDEN). In the last two days however second and third place have been
firmly usurped by David Cronenberg’s THE HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (see report of
15 October) and the latest work of the Danish enfant terrible, Lars von
Trier,MANDERLAY. The film follows “Dogville”, as the second part of an intended
trilogy which von Trier titles “USA – Land of Opportunity”; and like its predecessor is
staged virtually without settings or properties apart from a vast-seeming studio floor,
with labels to indicate locations. The film starts stunningly as a cortege of miniature
cars crosses a map of the United States, until the camera moves down upon the cars,
which assume real-life proportions and disgorge Grace, the heroine of “Dogville”
along with her top-flight gangster father and his henchmen. The faces though are
changed – Willem Defoe replaces James Caan as father, and Bryce Dallas Howard
creates a much less incisive Grace than did Nicole Kidman.
The time is 1933, so the newcomers are surprised to find themselves at a Southern
plantation, where slavery and whippings still flourish, unaffected by the social
revolutions of seventy years before. Grace, with father’s support, takes over the
plantation, which is not difficult, since the old slave-owner (Lauren Bacall) is
breathing her last. Grace’s strenuous efforts to introduce freedom, self-sufficiency
and democracy progress less than well. Rather than confront the terrors of
emancipated America,: the slaves of Manderlay prefer to revert to the old ways –
codified in a manuscript document, Mam’s Law – and seek to make Grace their new
Von Trier toys with some fascinating ideas that range larger than the immediate
issue of slavery, to take in very contemporary issues of the nature of American
cultural and political domination: the epilogue, once more to the music of David
Bowie’s “Young Americans” is a montage which includes images of the Twin
Towers, the death of Martin Luther King, the beating of Rodney King, America troops
abroad, the Ku Klux Klan and George Bush at prayer.
Also in competition, L’ENFANT pursues the concern of the Belgian
writer-director brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, with the acutely
under-privileged young – in this case a 20-year-old who struggles along by theft and
worse to keep his younger wife and the child of the title – the object of the film’s
painful denouement.
One of the most surprising films in the section “Un Certain Regard” has been the
Romanian Cristi Puiu’s THE DEATH OF MR LAZARESCU – surprising for the
director’s skill in making the slim anecdote of a boozy old man falling sick and
looking for hospital treatment compelling viewing for two and a half hours. Puiu says
that his intention is to answer the “Six Moral Tales” of Eric Rohmer, a director he
much admires, with “Six Tales of the Bucharest Suburbs. The film is the obverse of
the familiar tv hospital series. Here is a public medical service that is over-stretched,
malfunctioning and with demoralised workers who have lost their human contacts
with the patients. This is the third film by Cristi Puiu, who is 38 – and a self-confessed

16 May 2005

The Cannes world premiere screening of STAR WARS EPISODE III REVENGE OF THE SITH can be considered historic as officially declaring the death of celluloid film, with digital projection definitively overtaking the 110-year-old technology. The Palais des Festivals boasts one of the world’s largest and most beautiful screens, as well as the most sophisticated digital projection system to date. On these, the screening of STAR WARS III was preceded by an extract from Jean Renoir’s exquisite, 70-year-old PARTIE DE CAMPAGNE, which has never – even when new – been seen in such detail and with such perfect sound as in this digitally restored version. Visually STAR WARS III, also projected in digital format, was predictably stunning, with the vast panoramas of soaring galactic cities and wastelands; the look of the spacecraft, hardware and natives as likely to be inspired by anything from entomology and pre-Raphaelite painting to martial arts movies. In other respects, of course, 28 years after the first episode, it looks distinctly archaic, though the new generation of audiences, brought up on the tradition and hype, is unlikely to be affected by that, and will rediscover the delights of comic-strip characters, incomprehensible future-world politics and the great demolition-yard in the sky. This episode is a prequel to the whole series, showing the creation of Darth Vader and the birth of Luke Skywalker – anticipating the intended re-release of the entire series, in new stereoscopic versions. The cycle need never end. Some elements seem up-to-date at least. When the Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDairmid) announces to the celestial council that he will bring peace to the galaxy by slaughtering every Jedi, the sugared presidential tone is oddly familiar.

The gifted French director Francois Ozon’s career began with off-beat comedies, generally of intriguing sexual equivocation, and went on to such celebrations of divas as “8 Women” . TIME TO LEAVE, in contrast, is the second film in an intended trilogy on death, which began with UNDER THE SAND. Here the central character, played by Melvil Poupaud, an actor of always slightly elusive screen presence, learns that he has terminal cancer with only months, if not weeks, to live. Ozon traces the stages from anger, through denial, to acceptance. It is an austere and sombre study, with extraordinary moments, like the hero’s farewell to his adored grandmother, impressively played by Jeanne Moreau, and his chance to leave an heir by impregnating the desperate wife of an infertile man.

The most divisive film so far on show is A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE by the master of visceral nastiness, David Cronenberg: the first showing was greeted by a fairly equal balance of applause and derisive booing. Its theme – the nice guy in town who turns out to be something different and more dangerous than he appears – is recurrent in Cannes (compare DOWN IN THE VALLEY and THE KING, previously discussed in these reports). Viggo Mortensen plays a sweet-natured father of two and proprietor of the local diner who suddenly proves surprisingly handy with fire-arms when his family is threatened by bad men who suddenly invade their lives and insist that he is not who he says he is. This viewer is on the side of those who found the film an intriguing exploration of the title premise.

15 May 2005

picture: Gael Garcia Bernal in THE KING

Michael Haneke, the Austrian master of suspense and psychological terror, appears in Cannes with a new French production, CACHE (HIDDEN). The lives of a prosperous and self-satisfied middle-class couple – he is in television, she in publishing – are disrupted when packages begin to arrive containing voyeuristic video-tapes of their daily lives together with strange threatening drawings. Their anxiety is communicated to their 12-year-old son, with further distressing results. Gradually the husband begins to suspect that he is being vengefully persecuted by an Algerian whom his family had adopted when both men were small children, but whom the jealous French boy had succeeded in getting sent away and placed in an orphanage. The effects of his obsession about the tapes leads to a nasty outcome, while the mystery -in Haneke’s habitual style – is never resolved: the pleasure is in the suspense, not the solution. The central theme of guilt and denial; with Daniel Auteuil offering a subtle portrayal of the traces of the mean little boy in the successful grown man, only obliquely touches on the broader issue of French guilt about their former colonialists.

Hard on the heels of DOWN IN THE VALLEY (see report for 14 May, below) comes THE KING, which tells a similar story of a personable young man who arrives in a little community and wreaks havoc in an already dysfunctional family. This one though has a more distinctly gothic character, in part inspired by its location, the unlovely (real-life) Texas township of Corpus Cristi where oil refineries overshadow a sinister swamp. The endlessly versatile Gael Garcia Bernal plays an ex-sailor who comes to town to seek out his natural father (a greatly-aged William Hurt) who has endeavoured to forget this error of his youth and is now the pastor of a conservative church, with a sternly disciplined family. At first rejected, the newcomer gradually insinuates himself into the family and wreaks a terrible vengeance. It is directed with style and a powerful sense of atmosphere by James Marsh, the British-born documentary film maker. Shown in the “Certain Regard” section of the festival, THE KING has been disqualified from participation for the Camera d’Or prize for a debut film, along with Tommy Lee Jones’ THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA, since it was discovered that both directors had previously made feature-length films for television.

The Italian director Marco Tullio Giordana, who received a Cannes award two years for “The Best of Youth” appears this year with QUANDO SEI NATO NON PUOI PIU NASCONDERTI (ONCE YOU’RE BORN YOU CAN NO LONGER HIDE).The fascinating premise gives great strength to the first half of the film: A clever and sensitive young boy, the son of a well-to-do factory owner in Brescia, falls off his father’s yacht on the high seas at night, and is picked up by a boat-load of desperate, exploited illegal immigrants. When the vessel is finally discovered by the immigration authorities, the boy identifies with the plight of the immigrants and particularly a Romanian boy and girl who have befriended him. From this point the twists of the plot seem frustratingly evasive both of the boy’s own problems of ethical as well as economic responsibility and of the universally pressing issues of

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

13 May 2005

picture: Robert Downey Jr in KISS KISS, BANG BANG.

Following MATCH POINT the festival offers a variety of North American productions. In its wild way the most successful is KISS KISS, BANG BANG, a debut feature by Shane Black as writer and director Less a comedy-thriller than a nonsense-thriller, it is very much the film of Hollywood insiders who still see the absurd side of their unreal world. Robert Downey plays Harry, a petty thief, bolting from the police, who lands in a stage audition and makes such a good impression with his representation of terror and panic that he is instantly swept off to Hollywood. There he is put to study his part with a gay detective (Val Kilmer) and in no time the two of them are reluctant partners embroiled in an eventually incomprehensible farrago of homicide and switched identities. It is fast, funny, skillfully paced and benefiting hugely from Downey‚s unerring comic brilliance, gamely supported by Kilmer and the spirited Michelle Monaghan.

David Jacobsen‚s third feature (previously he made Criminal, 1994 and Dahmer, 2002) DOWN IN THE VALLEY also benefits from a stunning performance by Edward Norton as a likeable young fantasist whose irruption at first exacerbates but finally resolves the tensions of a dysfunctional family. The film suffers from an excess of plot and incident, which only slightly diffuses Jacobsen‚s evocative impression of the San Fernando Valley, with its monstrous Highway 405, lingering ghosts of pioneer days and a general sense , in Jacobsen‚s words, of „a bunch of people thrown together where there is nothing.

Different again is Gus Van Sant’s LAST DAYS, loosely inspired by the last hours of Curt Cobain – which when it comes down to it is no great inspiration. Michael Pitt – looking somewhat like Cobain, with a shaggy mess of dyed blonde hair – spends the film wandering around a mansion and its estate, changing clothes (sometimes a woman’s sleazy dress) and mumbling incoherent and disconnected phrases which are only sometimes clarified by the French sub-titles. At various times he is joined by friends and colleagues who for the most part are no more coherent You would have to care a lot about the subject to find much interest in this portrait of the final stages of self-destruction. The compensation is an always inventive sound-track, sometimes of unclear relevance.

LAST DAYS is matched in its minimalism by Kobayashi Masahiro‚s BASHING, based on a true story of a young woman who went to Iraq as a humanitarian worker, was kidnapped, and after her return to Japan was pursued and pilloried by a society which disapproves such individual action and interference in the affairs of others. BASHING shows the effects of the persecution by internet and telephone: the girl and her parents all lose their jobs; her father commits suicide. It is a quietly unflattering and subversive portrait of an iuncorrigibly conservative society.

Atom Egoyan, once a one-man Canadian avant-garde, is in Cannes with a very conventional thriller, WHERE THE TRUTH LIES, whose screenplay (by Egoyan) winds on as repetitively as a tv miniseries. Purporting, not very convincingly, to take place in the United States, it stars Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth as a duo of 70s entertainers with a dark secret which is unearthed, years afterwards, by a determined and seductive journalist (Alison Loman). Bacon, as usual, is at pains to reveal his well-conserved physique.

12 May 2005

picture: Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Scarlett Johansson in MATCH POINT

Woody Allen, a perennial Cannes favourite, is here with his new, all-English film MATCH POINT. Nowhere do the credits indicate that the story is a free translation to contemporary London of Theodore Dreiser’s classic novel “An American Tragedy” which has twice been filmed – most notably as “A Place in the Sun” – and certainly had an influence on both novel and film of “A Room at the Top”. (For the historically-minded, Eisenstein prepared a script of the subject which he hoped to shoot during his brief Hollywood sojourn in 1930).

A young boy from a poor Irish home (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) makes his way, via tennis prowess, into friendship with a rich family. The father grooms him as a business tycoon, to make him a worthy husband for his daughter. He is undone by lust for an American beauty (Scarlett Johansson); and is forced to take desperate steps to save his carefully acquired life-style. Allen endeavours to smarten it up with periodic quotations from “La Traviatata” and reflections on the role of luck in our lives; but for the most part it remains reasonably engaging high-society novelette, with the Allen touch only visible in two or three show-stopping set-pieces. Finally it has to be admitted that the Allen style does not translate successfully. The English actors do well, but somehow seem to slow it down, in comparison with the characteristic New York zip. Allen’s major gift to British cinema may well be his recognition of Jonathan Rhys Meyers, the boy from “Bend It Like Beckham”, who has looks to kill as well as being is an actor of real style and depth.

11 May 2005

picture: THE BOW

Even the director Dominik Moll was surprised that his film LEMMING should have been selected as the opening film for the Cannes Festival. “Usually they go for something more commercial”, he says; and it is true that the first-night audience, having fought for tickets and struggled into tuxedos, is made up less of film people than of local politicians and society, not inclined to be over-patient with films that are in any sense demanding. LEMMING is also unusual for an opening film in being in competition.

Moll had a world-wide success five years ago with his psychological comedy-thriller “With a Friend Like Harry”; and here attempts the same genre again, though with new elements of fantasy and the supernatural. The protagonist (Laurent Lucas) is a designer of electronic devices like an electronic webcam; and he and his wife seem completely in control of their lives until the fateful night when he invites his boss and his wife to dinner. This other couple are at open war, with the wife (Charlotte Rampling) evidently mentally disturbed and offensively disruptive. As the couple’s fates intertwine in strange ways, the hero’s ordered life and psyche are shattered, while reality and dream become indistinguishable.

The film benefits from a virtuoso quartet, completed by André Dusollier and Charlotte Gainsbourg, and is structured with ingenuity, though weighed down by excessive convolution and a redundant subplot about the lemming of the title.

In the non-competitive section of the festival, “Un Certain Regard” two films have already stood out. THE BOW, by the Korean director Kim Ki-Duk has the same intriguing mixture of ritualistic action and human sensuality as his wonderful SPRING, SUMMER, SUTUMN, FALL … AND SPRING (2004). A sixty-year-old man lives alone on a fishing boat with a young adolescent girl, whom he plans to marry. The bow of the title does double service as a weapon with which the old man aims lethal arrows at strangers who eye his fiancée; and – with the insertion of a sound box – a stringed instrument from which he draws love music with an arrow used like a violin bow. The first film of the 26-year-old Mexican director Amat Escalante, SANGRE, is a study of an urban couple whose dessicated lives are shaped by the behaviour and dialogue of the tv soap opera characters who provide their principal view of the world. The film is beautifully observed, without entirely solving the problem that such narrow and spiritually deprived lives can result in somewhat soporific viewing – as a glance around the Cannes press show audience demonstrated.