Final report: Surprises, Delights and Confusions
Miss Bala, Gerardo Naranjo (Un Certain Regard)
An action scene is a good test for an art-house director and, behold, Gerardo Naranjo proves his chops. In three excellent set-pieces, aided by composition and sound design (not to mention the squibs), we get a real sense of the speed and weight of violence in this sideline war of drugs and mules and borders. But it's the sound in particular, which is remarkable from the first shot, that is the key to the film: while the patient dolly shots limit (literally direct) what we see, the ricocheted sounds unfurl the world beyond the frame, pushing this film of trajectories not just along its plotted through-line but out, wider, to open the space of this spiral story. We might even say the first shot is through the looking glass, an opening designed to set our Miss Bala (1) on her way, a pawn like Alice, through the back doors of a nightmare world that refutes logic. Such is the horror of this devil's work's domain.
L'apollonide, Bertrand Bonello (Competition)
Perhaps the most mysterious film of the festival, though that may be over-selling, the real influence here is Buñuel and his obscure objects. There's hardly desire though there is plenty of decadence and fleeting, one-way satisfaction. One mystery is easy enough to solve: it's not a period film even though it's got the trappings of velvet curtains and of all those clothes (corsets, vests, leggings, etc) you had to take off to fuck at the dawn of the 20th century, because its relationship to time is slippery and made apparent in certain repetitions. Like the Hong, this film is slightly surreal, though never as overtly as many zany Buñuel pictures, and its tether to the real and to sadness is what keeps its locks turned and its ironies true. After all, a number of clients are played by film directors and what's a client in a bordello but somebody giving orders to an actress made up (or unclothed) just for him, for his gaze.
Oslo, August 31, Joachim Trier (Un Certain Regard)
A fine film. Or, a refined film. One of the few I was ready to watch again the next day (though I did not I would have liked to) because of all the words. There are plenty of images, all well composed and lit, but the words--in particular a pair of monologues--and its sense of time, of timing (2), build the picture up past respectable art into the realm of life.
Play, Ruben Östlund (Directors' Fortnight)
The title was a hook for me, having read some Gadamer, but if the film is about understanding--about the productivity of certain forms of play--it's all about what forms of understanding its audience, not the varied audiences within these frames, can produce for themselves. Ostensibly about a bunch of black kids bullying a couple wussy white kids, the film is bigger and funnier than that (maybe racist) surface reading might suggest because it's more about class and power than anything else. Colleagues mention Haneke, in particular Code Unknown, but the formal strategies here, where the frame dictates the space but is free to adjust, via sliding or zooming as the scene may require, never totalize or over-determine the argument in any given shot/scene. In fact, all these subtle shifts help free the film from ideology, though there is also an argument being made about what roles we're given to play--based on every factor in our being, be it skin color or home life or hobby or shoes--in the modern metropolis. That much of the film unfolds on trams, those liminal spaces that link disparate tribes in cities, says plenty of how the film sees these unwitting games we enter: they're mobile stages with opportunities for exit but each exit carries a threat because society demands a narrative.
The Day He Arrives, Hong Sangsoo (Un Certain Regard)
The most surreal auto-critical work of Hong's that I've seen yet, with difference and repetition not literalized but formalized (thematized?) in the recurring sets (there are maybe three) and streets and people. Wish I saw it a second time so that, amidst all the laughing, I could have taken some better notes afterwards. As it was, we were swamped with talk of the "nazi" fiasco, which only proved to me that Lars Von Trier would fit in perfectly with all the hypocrites Hong writes so well. Except, of course, Hong's anti-heros are funny.
Le Havre, Aki Kaurismaki (Competition)
Political without the weight of polemics, citational without the scare quotes, funny without the snark of so many lesser (less nobel) movies. Confusing simple with slight is a common problem but this film will win hearts no matter what critics or juries say--so long as its seen--due to its ability to stage action as farce and to turn an ugly corner of a bleak port town into a socialist utopia. (3)
Le gamin au vélo, Les Dardennes (Competition)
Like Hong, the brothers Dardenne get stuck in a "seen that" response but, unlike with Hong, that seemed to wash away with this one. It's what the title implies, as all their titles imply direct ideas, and what a kid on what an ugly bike. That is, the kid's the thing. Cécile de France is something, too, with her hale physique and calm caring eyes, but watching this kid fight the walls (as much as the adults) really rends the heart and sets this picture of isolation's abatement apart.
Melancholia, Lars von Trier (Competition)
A funny thing happened in my screening in the 60eme: shortly after the second half was half-way over, the Photocall for the film (where the stars and directors line up for paparazzi) began outside, with a chorus of yips and yells and cat calls that sounded hostile not happy and bled into the thin walls of that auditorium to suffuse the room with a new kind of tension. It helped the film, no doubt, since the second half felt slack otherwise, a series of scenes falling in on themselves, which works thematically but not dramatically. Truth be told, I would like to see the film again to have something more cogent to say but at first blush I was rather bewildered as to why somebody with so much talent would make a movie so vague and halting. (4) Also, there's no Udo Kier in the second half.
Drive, Nicholas Winding Refn (Competition)
The big problem with Drive is the big problem with Taxi Driver that Manny Farber and Patricia Patterson so deftly exploded--only it's worse. (5) Ryan Gosling is gorgeous and Refn loves shooting him, loves building his image as "a real hero," even though his character, the nameless driver, is in fact a real sociopath. But Scorsese and Schrader made Robert De Niro scary in detailing Travis Bickle's grime and stupidity. His oddball narration and lamebrain faux-pas interactions somewhat mitigate the fact that De Niro is electric stuff in that film, all sinew and eyeballs, turning his gait into a part of his abject view on the world. But with Refn and Gosling, it's an affectless idea of a person and Gosling's face is too pretty to hide depths of violence when all he's doing otherwise is smiling in the corner of his mouth. It's no surprise that the best scene in the picture involves Gosling walking around a bed, across a frame, while putting on some gloves, in order to intimidate the barely-there Christina Hendricks. Gosling, like Brando, is physical not interior and when you make him inert meat you make a movie only lovely to look at--or at least when there's not brains on the wall.
Hanezu, Naomi Kawase (Competition)
Sure, this is gorgeous to look at, but to such an occluded end that the final title card helps explain some vagaries of certain details but also forces you to scratch your head anew. Repeating a passage in voice-over at certain intervals over similar shots of bugs and graves and mountains does not help to redetermine the meaning nor provide clarity from an argument. In fact, I don't know if the film, in its arbitrary mise-en-scene (why shoot that hand held and this on a tripod? why cut away now? are you trying to make a documentary? where's production end and acting begin?), truly builds an argument other than the narrow observation that this ancient corner of Japan, despite its natural beauty, is rife with unsettled angst. I know about Eden already.
(1) a play on Miss Baja that means Miss Bullet
(2) There's a scene where Anders Danielsen Lie, playing ex-junkie Anders, enters a party and is told to grab himself a drink. The past thirty minutes have seen him play the role of "reformed" so well and so convincingly, despite his crushing depression made painfully aware in an extended visit with his old best friend, that we figure he will skip past the kitchen and enter the party, clean, as he entered the building. But he turns into the kitchen, hovers around the island with the champagne flutes, picks one up, pauses, you think he might stop or just sip it, then he takes half the glass in one swallow. Then there's an edit and we see him, for the first time, behind some glass walking through the party and nodding at old acquaintances, distanced from himself as much them, and you know exactly where this night is heading.
(3) A bonus: the dog, Laika, gets a credit.
(4) All that said, the final shot is one of the most spectacular things I saw at the festival--and this from a Malick fan--up until its very last flicks and flames of light before the blackness. And even with that said, as with the ending of Take Shelter, I turn back to the end of A Serious Man as the ultimate in such endings. But by no means should you take this as my final word or words towards these ends.
(5) cf. "The Power and The Glory" if by some miracle you have yet to read it
Cannes #5 Ripples slow down in space before they fade away
Yes, the festival has ended and I only wound up writing three blog posts during its run. I wanted to write more during that last week of the festival because the films started to get better and because I had more to say. So this is just a quick missive to say a few quick things in the wake of that week, its wave quickly rushing out away from me.
The two purest works of cinema I saw at Cannes, made half a century apart, came wearing the same guise of documentary that arrive, fully formed for us, at somewhere beyond (between) those poles of fiction and not because truth and lies run together throughout both. By the end of This Is Not A Film, it's so easy to forget you are watching a film--not because of the title but because of its status as a document--that the intrusion by an outsider into Jafar Panahi's apartment (his world) does not at first seem a calculation but could very well be the filmmaker staging a scene of interaction instead of simple happenstance. At the close of Chronicle of a Summer, we "meet" the subjects of the feature we just watched (together?) for a post-screening discussion about the veraciousness of the stories of the very people they are sitting amongst onscreen, mirroring the space you inhabit as audience to a discussion hovering around the concept of the cinema's right to (and plausible representation of) the private life of the public. These are small films from meager means that, in their navigation of these overlapping spheres of everyday life, bloom into something close to--here's that word again--true philosophy. Method meets meaning for a felicitous conversation open to any and all tangents, including the darker sides of the world that straight fiction aims to paper over and avowed non-fiction often renders bathetic.
Part of the success of both films, of course, is that they have a sense of humor as much as a sense of tragedy. Plenty of the humor comes from absurdity, as does the tragedy, that we so easily ignore in daily life. It begins with the basic premise for Panahi: his life reduced to what feels like house-arrest, he is forbidden from making films but, regardless of the title of the work or the (video) means of production, here we are watching a film he has had a hand in making.
The first scene, as it were, is a head-on shot of Panahi eating breakfast and making a phone call to his friend and collaborator, the documentary filmmaker Mojtaba Mirtahasebi, asking him to come over to his house. Mirtahasebi does not appear for some time, during which we see Panahi do errands around the house, make more phone calls and play with his children's pet iguana. The iguana is nearly the star of the first half of the film, garnering cut-aways during some of Panahi's cellphone talks that are among the highlights in the film as he climbs not just on and around Panahi but behind and up a book shelf. (The images serve, too, as a metaphor for how editing works, behind the scenes, since the shots of the iguana are obviously not shot at the same time as the phone call.) We also hear intermittent pops and cries on the soundtrack, seemingly the standard noises of Tehran, that sound like gunfire and rallying, setting a mood of apprehension around this stage of the apartment.
You feel the film could (up-)end any second in this first third, take a new tack and find another way to show the dead-end Panahi's stationed within at the time of this filming. But, somehow, the news reports of the Japan earthquakes and ensuing tsunamis cement the film in a "present tense" and it's then clear that we're bound to this space along with Panahi. But as time wears on and edits accumulate, it is never clear if this film is, truly, a "day in the life" picture or if it is culled from a few sessions of Panahi and Mirtahasebi hanging out talking and making images. In the end, this distinction does not matter as the beauty of the film comes from its seamless flow of time. Put otherwise, aside from the bits with the iguana, I did not notice the simple craft and possibility of découpage until I began to reflect on the experience.
Part of this is the success of the almost unbroken final sequence, which starts with Mirtahasebi leaving Panahi, setting down his camera, which he has trained on Panahi, who is filming Mirtahasebi with an iPhone, and leading Panahi to the front door, where they meet a young man who says he's collecting trash, who Panahi invites to find the trash himself in the kitchen, where we see, via the camera on the table, the young man notice the camera with curiosity and something like fright, before telling Panahi, "You know, you have a real camera in there." Panahi chuckles in agreement then exchanges his iPhone for the "real camera" and, appearing in the swing of things and excited for interaction, decides to accompany this young man on his trash run through the building, from Panahi's ninth floor all the way to the basement, stopping at each landing, before wheeling out into the blue of the car port with Panahi in tow up to the front gate of the property, where we see youths pour gasoline on a bonfire and shout and jump while fireworks pop off in the distance, at which point the young man says, "Don't come out, Mr. Panahi, they might see you with the camera," as he exits the gate with the garbage and jumps over the fire himself while we fade to black, to a title card saying, "An effort" by Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahasebi.
I trust this will not "spoil" the film because, if it's working--if you are put in the frame that this is Iran and this is Tehran and this apartment is in Tehran and this man is no longer in this apartment, that this reality is past yet real--you are likely to forget my words as the elevator descends and the jokes pile up. (And: God only knows when this film will make its way from the Croisette to anything like your local screen, though screeners are said to already exist.) It's a document after all, even if it's a little fudged, and its weight is made formal in that elevator descent that acts as a return to life, to the world where we walk on the ground not carpets. But that world is not mine and I'm not ashamed to admit that, seeing that world, I thought, "How does anybody live in such a place?" If this film has any answer, it's a bad one at that, saying you've got to have faith in your goals because these walls feel awful, feel close, with little air left unspoiled. The garbage, we're reminded, stinks.
Happiness, it would seem, is a luxury in Panahi's Tehran. But that's the kickstart for Rouch and Morin's Chronicle of a Summer. They begin with asking people, Are you happy? No matter the context, that is a loaded question demanding qualitative thought beyond assent and dissent. Indeed, the answers vary. But the film's great strength is quite simple: it's alive, as we see Rouch and Morin are, to the differences that make a difference in every day life. Each "subject" is a friend of Morin's in some capacity and part of his dismay at the fall out of the final post-screening talk is that not all of his friends are going to like each other either on screen or in the streets (in the seats of the theatre). Yet Morin's hope is a utopia. Not everybody can be friends. People are different. The beauty of life is that it allows for this truth. You see some friends on Fridays, others on Tuesday; you buy one person dinner, another lunch; you talk politics with one or two people, you talk movies with almost anybody though its best with certain friends, you talk about the future with your lover (you'd hope) or your family--and not your lawyer. After all, the future is a luxury as illusory as happiness and we ought to prize its rarity--it comes to us in waves--if we own it.
No. 4: Mea culpa from Milan
Though I should like to see the film again before proclaiming it a masterpiece, I am pleased that The Tree of Life won the Palme d'Or. I was certain the Aki Kaurismaki film would win, which would have been just as well, if not better, given its importance to Europe (as far as these American eyes can see), but I also had an inkling that Nicholas Winding Refn's Drive might steal some jury votes. Too bad I was right about the second prediction and not the first, with Refn winning Best Director, since Drive is pretty but empty and Le Havre is simple but rich. It's not that I'm a softie, I just like egalitarian ideas better than postcards from brains I fear.
Too bad, too, that I avoided the Nuri Bilge Ceylan movie, Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, having heard from a Ceylan fan that it was not on par with his previous work, as it split the Grand Prix with the Dardennes' Le gamin au vélo, a film I enjoy and respect quite a lot; also because a number of other colleagues I respect, who did not like prior Ceylan films did, in fact, find this one quite something. Luckily, given Ceylan's status as something of an art house (read: Cannes) staple, I have no doubts that I, like you, will be able to see the film in theaters in the near future. (Or, it will do its festival circuit and then we'll all be able to see it; it may take until next May.)
The less said about Poliss the better, but boy was Maïwenn's acceptance speech (panting performance) a hot mess. And yet, Kirsten Dunst was even more naïve, though also more charming, in her podium moment. She hinted at the fiasco her director made (the less said about LVT's antics, too, the better) for her but you could tell the honor meant more than some bathetic benediction. I didn't see The Artist because the Weinstein stamp (and backdoor shadows) put me off, but that guy, as I imagine the film, is affable. Most heart-warming, however, was Joseph Cedar's wife telling us that he would like to dedicate the award to the late Donald Krim of Kino International, who released Cedar's first feature, Beaufort, in the US. Having missed Footnote and having not seen Beaufort did not take away from the grace of the nod since Krim died just two days prior and, as one of our gatekeepers, has played a role in bringing cinema to more eyes than us lucky few thousand who descend/descended on that little seaside hamlet now synonymous with prestige and other words.
The point being: I missed plenty of films this year, my first in Cannes, for a variety of reasons. As I predicted, the weather and the scenery are often quite a pull away from the dark. As I did not predict, editing my other Cannes coverage, those Cannes Questionnaires with Danny Kasman, took over my computer and my free time when not in line or a screening or eating. This is fine--maybe even better?--, just a detour from my comfort zone of words. So before I begin my longer through-line dispatch, I will try to craft a few little blurbs (at worst) and observations (at best) for this blog.
Cannes #3: There is no tunnel, only light
I'm at home, or at this apartment we're renting, after seeing The Tree of Life this morning at 8:30am. We three woke up rather early, around 6:30, to shower and drink coffee and eat little bits of bread before heading to the Palais to stand in line for the film. In fact, I'm eating again, having come home in lieu of another screening; I made a three-egg scramble with lox and crème fraiche. The food here, in France, is maybe my favorite thing despite eating a good number of uninteresting kebabs to save time and money during this festival. We're lucky enough to have secured a flat next to a six-days-a-week market where, every morning rushing to some film, I try to at least buy an apple and dream of buying a lot more vegetables. So far I've only made eggs and sandwiches, but they've all been delicious and more restorative than anything eaten on the go. That is, I felt this little meal just now a necessity after that film.
This is the new Terrence Malick movie, to be clear, and I think you know he's one of my favorites (or his movies are among my favorites) because, amidst a swirl of motivations, I find something close to a kinship with his work and ideas and philosophy. Each film is an American period piece, each deals with the world as a concept beyond private or subjective experience, and each is interested in just how we experience the immensity of life in this world that is at once as private as a bath tub or as public and grand as theaters of war, or the cosmos. In fact, a good chunk of the first half of The Tree of Life is devoted to rendering how our universe came into being, from forms of light stretching--discovering ways into the darkness--to recognizable shapes and forms such as stars and planets. This continues in a descending order of things, in a way, though it's not quite so pat as a catalog of other eons as my following list might indicate: after space's brilliance, we get terrestrial, seeing all the collisions of energy requisite to building a planet such as our Earth that pits lava against water while gasses bloom across the rocks that pattern the screen; we see some dinosaurs licking wounds and crossing rivers; we see a meteorite and an ice age of sorts. We see grass and we see a romance in miniature; we watch a baby become a child, come into language with his mother; we see him try to assert his chubby wrists over his newborn brother; we learn he's Jack.
Jack's the movie's main character, I suppose, since Sean Penn plays him as an adult. Not that he talks much in the timeline that looks as close to "now" as Malick has ever attempted. He's mostly a lonely thinker, lost in his head, which becomes the screen, which is given to his youth as the eldest of three boys born to a former Navy man (Brad Pitt) and his stunning wife (Jessica Chastain). But to summarize their winding current of a story is to deny the pleasure of the experience (again that word!) of the film. And, well, it's a simple story. More interesting, as ever, is how Malick films light and what light's doing in any given scene. (Or, that's what interested me looking at this light from the balcony of this huge auditorium they call Le Grand Theatre Lumière after the first filmmakers.) Looking at light is unavoidable, really, since it's everywhere. It splays itself in lens flare, of course, but we also see it reflected onto walls and we see it fall into waters or we see it through waves from the floor of a sea we are made well aware we are party to not just in those shots but also in how all things pass into one another. The film is porous, perhaps the most so of all Malick's movies, with light finding your eyes from any angle imaginable. And the sky is all over the screen, too, to the point that I want to say you are the sky as much as the sea because the sky, or its blue, is, after all, a refraction of the sea's deep and deeper hues. And the clouds, in another consonance we're made to see, are the ocean made almost material.
I can't say much more at present, to be honest, because the film is such a flux that it can wash over you if you give yourself to it. But I do want to tell you, Mom, that in conversation with its interest in light, the film is also rather nakedly about faith. Malick is an Episcopalian (as you baptized me) and his reverence for the Lord is made explicit here. But it's not proselytizing. In fact, I think the movie could care less whether you in the audience believe in a Christian God as much as Malick may (or appears to) for the simple fact that the Lord, as He's intoned throughout, is kept in the second person for most of the picture. Nearly all the voice-over is in the second-person, addressing "you," but the audience (within the film) for all these appeals is not always God (Jack's parents talk to him, give him and his brothers lessons) though it is always you, the one reading this; and you, as well, are likely to be in a different seat in a different theatre hearing these words that I've heard. Put otherwise, Mom, when you see the movie, let it talk to you.
The initial tagline from the early publicity for the film was such an invitation: "A hymn to love." Indeed, it is a choral film. Many voices come from the screen, which might confuse you, but if you approach it as you might a Bach fugue (though I don't think there's any Bach in the film, despite the innumerable sources that scrolled in the credits), open to repetitions and transpositions of similar themes, you might be able to find purchase with the story, such as it is, if that's what you need to make it through the drift of the thing to its beachfront finale of recognition and release. Or, maybe all the talk of God, and the inquisitive side of faith--there is fear, there is trembling, there is a fight in everything--may help you find a way up into its branches. Because the film is a tree as much as it is the ocean or the sky. Remember that trees are porous, too, as they grow and rise to the dotted heavens in split limbs that require time, more time than humans may allow or be free to warrant, to strengthen and stand alone.
In any case, I hope you see it when it opens there in South Carolina (and it will, it stars Brad Pitt). I trust it will open here, in France, just as I trust it will open elsewhere in Europe while I'm abroad, and I'd like to think that I'll be able to see it again and, in the near future, write something more cogent than this missive that's less personal than you or I would like. But this letter, of sorts, was the way I wanted to put some of my words about this beauty out into the world, even if it's an odd way to serve the twin desires to act like a son and act like a critic (such that I am). Navigating all those motivations is, at bottom, just what this big yet humble movie is all about. So, you know, I thought it might be cute as well as touching and maybe even smart to do it this way for now.
(Also because I'm lagging on blogging through this first week of the festival. I still need to put together something on a Mexican film I loved called Miss Bala, but I know you would not love it because it's about violence and, as a result, it is very violent; I need to think in written words on a movie called L'apollonide about a turn-of-the-20th-century Parisian brothel, or house of tolerance, that I found pretty close to great and rather mysterious despite its direct attitude; and I should probably note that the two other American films I saw in the past two days, Return and Take Shelter, which are both much smaller than this Malick I just saw, are also about families and individuals but in a much more straight-forward way; both boast some great female performances, including another one by Jessica Chastain--she's the mom in Tree of Life as well as a mom in Take Shelter--, who has such a command of respect in both films I want to say it's because of her face but it's more in her eyes and how she carries herself--in a well-sprung gait that connotes strength without the weight of a man--and how she moves her arms, often around the men she's playing off; and, finally, I should like to address the fact that every single movie I've seen here is built around a woman or some women and how this delights me as much as, well, it makes me really curious and stumped as to what's in the air. This confluence of philogyny (a great homonym with philogeny, which is a biological term) is another reason why I wanted to write this letter to you in particular among the other smart, distinctive women I've come to love, admire and miss in my young life. After all, being a man, your experience--your lives--are still a mystery to me. I hope I never solve it.)
More soon, I promise. Je t'embrasse,
Cannes # 2 There's no mystery in an end zone
There's an odd temptation to say that the problems with Lynne Ramsay's We Need To Talk About Kevin stem directly from the fact that it's taken her so long to find a project to bring to fruition (1). Because the problem isn't craft, per se; it's focus. In fact, the film is made better (shot, edited, scored) than plenty of stylish crap. Ramsay has not lost her gift for making images--nearly every shot is interesting in one way or another--but this film makes me question whether the abstraction in her earlier films was motivated by ideas about (against) representation or, as the case is here, if the post-human plays of light and shadow were (are) simply window dressing on a jumble of arguments that only tear and fray.
No doubt some of this new dissatisfaction falls from the shadow cast by Morvern Callar, whose wordless, often aimless, stretches transcend hokey "existentialism" thanks in large part to the pools of affect that are Samantha Morton's eyes. Not to mention, a killer soundtrack full of true irony and gorgeous location photography that's less about the location, though of course it is, than about this lady in the location. For all the abstraction in the picture--some call it "subjective" filmmaking; I'd say the film itself has a point of view--, it's got a real trajectory across real places with characters rooted in milieu (even when it's the two girls on holiday, they bring home with them) as much as mood. Kevin, on the other hand, has no real sense of place. We hear the words "New York" but all we see are UPS trucks; we see a strip mall and a high school, but they're just signifiers. Tilda Swinton, too, is mostly just Tilda Swinton: a compulsively watchable and photogenic physiognomy, but never not herself. Her Eva is never given anything to do but act put upon, on either side of of the not-mysterious event at the center of this whirlpool narrative.
Truth is: there are significant gaps in logic throughout that cannot be "forgiven" thanks to the beauty of the images because, as much as the picture aims to refute the psychological, it's not about phenomena. For instance, John C. Reilly's role is less a part of the plot than a part of the scenery outside of Eva. He's almost a ghost, which almost works, but this is no picture of a couple, nor does the picture operate from "inside" Eva (as, one might argue, Morvern Callar does)--It's just fragments. The center doesn't hold because there's nothing at the center.
Towards that empty end, the film does succeed in certain passages at gathering together the feeling of anxiety, that endless pressure of walls and how flashlights always seem to find you when you want darkness. After all, the best sequence in the film is the Halloween evening drive home of Eva's "present" life where a Buddy Holly song turns sinister (all the pop songs gain a darker hue in here (2)) as we see mask after mask make the night a live gallery of ghouls. But then it's over, and the idea of the world against Eva is just that, an idea, left alone in the array as we hop to another possible thread that doesn't find a foothold. The allure of the abstract unmoors any ideas Ramsay puts into play, creating a miasma of horror and futility that, though well crafted, holds no mysteries.
+ + +
There's no real mystery at the heart of Maïwenn's Polisse either but then there's no real mise-en-scene with all that back-and-forth from all those unnecessary cameras. I can't say I wasn't moved at points in the story since children make the best cinema with their lack of guile (3), but I can say that I was put off by some of the audience bait of a lot of the grandstanding. There's one scene that goes from zero to sixty in the space of one question, marked by the snapping of a pencil that's too funny to be ignored. Good thing both Louis-Do and Alice de Lencquesaing show up in separate scenes to breathe real life into dead-end device roles; they both use their eyes and voices as part of the bodily performances (he slouches and pouts, she just opens wide despite a will to suppress herself) that make their faces draw not just attention but sympathy. The fact that Louis-Do plays a molester and we feel bad when he gets his face based in should say enough about how off this too-long all-caps non-procedural stunts.
+ + +
(1) Caveat: I don't know the full story of what it was Ramsay was doing in this late interim, but we all can guess at its vague narrative's salient points: projects falling apart in various stages of development coupled with the notion (started where? by whom?) that female directors are less marketable, or bankable, commodities in today's filmmaking world. (This latter idea, of course, is a generalization and rather unfair on my part.)
(2) Except for "In My Room" by Brian Wilson, which is used not for irony but for a punchline.
(3) Another issue with Kevin is the casting of Kevin, who's a "freaky little kid" or a "affectless youth" depending on the timeline.
Cannes #1 Joining the party
I joked in a tweet that one possible inspiration for Woody Allen's latest film, Midnight in Paris, could have been Woody seeing Christopher Nolan's Inception last summer. While this joke was somewhat facetious, it also was not: Owen Wilson's chief co-star is Marion Cotillard as a dream-like love interest forever out of reach thanks to the vagaries of time (time travel, even) and fantasy. Of course, Allen's film is superficially much simpler, or at least less ostentatious, but the main thing that separates the two (outside genre trappings like guns) is that Allen's film is playful, humble, utilizes the master shot and comes in at less than 100 minutes.
When asked by a colleague who got to town too late to attend either press screening what other Allen films I would place it against, or with, I had to think for a bit before I could come up Purple Rose of Cairo. Granted, I have not seen Cairo in some time, and this new lark may not be as "good" (the start of the movie is three minutes of mostly boring B-roll that I'd be shocked to learn Darius Khondji did in fact shoot; there's a lot of slack shot-reverse shot editing), but that fantastic relationship between life and art is what came to mind. Truth be told, much of the fun of Midnight in Paris is that, going into the screening, I didn't know anything about the film's forks in reality. So I feel it a disservice to explain the plot, on the one hand, but, on the other hand, by now in this always-too-fast internet-world there's bound to be other coverage "spoiling" this element so I might as well spill it.
Owen Wilson proves perfect casting as one of Woody's morbid neurotics, Gil Pender, a successful self-proclaimed "Hollywood hack" who always dreamt of writing a novel while living in Paris. Just so happens that he and his fiancée Ines(Rachel McAdams' character isn't a character, though to nod to Bottle Rocket is cute) are tagging along (I think she says "freeloading") on her father's business trip, pitting all of Gil's dreams of Paris--rooted in Hemingway's name-checked "moveable feast" era--against the reality that today is today. Reality, with its obvious politics and banal shopping trips, hardly makes a dent in any of the days Gil spends puppy-dogging behind his wife-to-be and her chanced-upon friends Paul and Carol. Paul is played by Michael Sheen, wearing a neatly trimmed beard and all the verbal tics of a know-nothing know-it-all, that kind of pedant who insists he's right after saying something like, "if I'm not mistaken" with a finger on his lips. Sheen is, you guessed it, hilarious at effecting this posture. He's also not around much/enough, in part because Gil can't stand him and in part because the majority of the film takes place either in Gil's head or in a manifestation of some part of his nocturnal head.
That is, every night after a stroll to nowhere, when the clock strikes midnight, Gil sees an old Peugeot taxi appear--though it is not a pumpkin hue, you might say the streetlights are--to whisk him into the nightlife of 1920s Paris to hobnob with "The Lost Generation" he'd been extolling earlier; he's quick to join the party, meeting the Fitzgeralds then Hemingway; he's in deep enough by the third or fourth night that he, too, is called lost' which of course he is; which of course we may call any generation; which of course is a part of the point of this film; which is kept fun because Woody's not interested, really, in what's real or, for that matter, how these taxis to the twenties actually happen.
Gil's nightly trips down a literal memory lane are, like a lot of devices in Woody Allen's movies, designed to serve a moral lesson, meant to teach a protagonist the primacy of the present, the value of choice and the importance of passion. (Nothing new.) But, for once, I don't think the movie (Woody) is asking for your approval. It's just a movie, after all, and a funny one at that. Like any good comedy, it's got a happy ending; but it's not like the film exits the fantastical at any point. Which is why a lot of people might like it, though the opposite is also true. But, since the film is rather blatantly about fantasies and the role they play--as interpretations of the real, as lessons about re-entering life--I found it, if slight, a fine start to my fortnight festival.