a French fishing village. A sky of azure hangs above. A thousand people bustle
below. The sun beams on the boulevards; the town twinkles. And a Riviera runs
if you didn’t grow up fishing for films at Cannes,
after 20 years you feel as if you did. You feel like the Brad Pitt of some
Robert Redford-directed idyll about sparkling waters and the nourishing,
leaping, silvered memories that shaped your growing
you say to anyone polite enough to listen, “I was here when Jean Cocteau
sauntered through looking for some fly-fishing. I was here when the Hole in
the Zeitgeist Gang rode in, led by FrankyTruffaut and Johnny ‘Luke’ Godard,
looking for trouble and revolution. I was even here in 2010” –
you will say in 2050 – “when there was an outbreak of films that swam
upstream and everyone tried to catch a few. It was known, son, as the Year of
it should have been. How else do you categorise the 63rdCannes Film
Festival, weird and wondrous, where every competition pic
seemed made against the current? Only the currents differed, and the directors’
reasons for swimming against them. We started on gala opening night with
ROBIN HOOD, Ridley Scott’s revisionist romp about the man in tights,
attempting to prove that Robin Hood (actually Robin Longstride)
didn’t wear any tights – he didn’t even wear green or live in a wood – and
that Maid Marian (actually Lady Marian) was a married woman.
that? Cannes did with Bertrand Tavernier’s THE PRINCESS OF MONTPENSIER, a
counter-current costumer, crackling with passion, from the French craftsman
of quiet contempo dramas (A WEEK’S VACATION). Then came Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s
BIUTIFUL, swimming against the flow of his previous multi-plot output (BABEL
and Co) with the intimately focused portrait of a dying street gypsy (Javier Bardem). Then – best and most defiant of all – there was
Mike Leigh’s ANOTHER YEAR, a cine-salmon so strong it out-muscled all
contenders in making for the head of the river.
is the finest film yet from the British helmer,
previously Golden Palmed for SECRETS AND LIES. Leigh’s way of reversing the
practice of a lifetime – and our expectations – is to multiply his plots and
characters. No Leigh critic can say of ANOTHER YEAR, as of some past movies
(including his last, HAPPY-GO-LUCKY), “Oh he takes a little bunch of
interlinked neurotics and mannerises them to
the main characters, plainly yet compellingly played by Jim Broadbent and
Ruth Sheen, are not mannered at all. They’re a greenish couple sustaining
themselves in exurban London
(with allotment garden for homegrown vegetables)
whose weirdest tic is to hold open house for friends and family. These do
include a few recognizable Leigh oddballs: the middle-aged, overweight loner
(Peter Wight), hooked on oral solaces (eating, drinking, chain-smoking), who
vainly pursues the aging, chattering, insecure party girl (Leigh veteran
Lesley Manville), who in turn has an unrequited yen for the host couple’s
son, a sly extrovert with his own amatory secrets (Oliver Maltman).
when we think we’ll be staying with this lot till the film’s end crawl, the
filmmaker ups sticks and moves to a northern-England funeral. A widowered relative (David Bradley) takes centre screen.
His violent, disaffected son blows a brief hole in the protocol of
mood-and-plot unity. The film’s rhythm becomes at once brilliantly uneasy and
menacingly becalmed. Then, just like the seasons that cyclically chapter-head
the story’s sections (‘Spring’, ‘Summer’ and so on)
we wind back to beginnings, after the long year’s journey into bleak and
movie is utterly beguiling. Chekhov in Limeyland.
Its mastery lies in the connection made between different styles of
characterisation. Manville’s social butterfly, with her semi-broken wings and
reflexes, is a type known from past Leigh dramas, starting with Alison
Steadman in ABIGAIL’S PARTY. But actress and director here add extra
innerness, extra nuancing, sometimes in a mere
wordless glance. By the time the most touching scene arrives – a
meeting-quaint between Manville and Bradley, home-alone as a house guest down
south while his hosts Broadbent and Sheen are out – it becomes a triumphant
entente between opposites. Not just between the manic would-be cosmopolite
and the dour lump of northern rock-salt; but between the tics-and-tropes
style of portraiture, suddenly made human, and the minimal realist style,
given (by Leigh and actor Bradley) just that extra wit, forwardness and
the other side of the world, in the Year of the Salmon, came the
competition’s two other big fish. A brace of eerily memorable Asian movies,
their images as fluid and their spell as fugitive as their alluvial settings.
A river runs through one film; a waterfall and magical pool are at the heart
of the other.
Lee Changdong’s POETRY from South Korea gave a whale of a
part – never mind smaller aquatic lifeforms – to YunJunghee, playing a granny
bringing up a teenage brat suspected of gang-rape activities. He’s only a schoolkid, but a girl has killed herself: we see her
float downstream in scene one. Grandma is a touching biddy, still holding out
for refinement (pastel-print jackets, lace-style white scarves) as
Alzheimer’s Disease moves in and amour-propre starts to move out. The palsied
old man she works for, as maid and carer, wants more for his money at bathtime than just a back rub.
old girl goes to poetry classes: she’ll transcend her life if it kills her.
But what to do about grandson?Director Changdong, who made the superb
SECRET SUNSHINE, a Cannes hit
two years ago, again zones in on bereavement, vulnerability, age and the
ambivalent motives of those who ‘care’. In the earlier film it was a creepy
religious sect. Here the fathers of the gang-rape boys band together, and
recruit Grandma, to appease and buy off the dead girl’s parent. Will Gran blow the whistle? Will Gran
even shop her own brat to the cops? The bewitching delta of story
trajectories – even though we know they will all end and merge, beyond the
film’s own completion, in the sea of death – are magically conjoined in the
source character. Old age is no respecter of the quest for tranquillity; at
least while life lasts and the heart, mind and soul are open to fresh truths
UNCLE BONMEE RECALLS HIS PAST LIVES. This poet of the Asian screen made the
haunting, fantastical TROPICAL MALADY, another Cannes
revelation in its year, and now re-summons that movie’s jungle imagery and
ghostly supporting cast. The ‘Uncle’, tended by his small family, is dying of
kidney disease – his belly in bedroom scenes a spaghetti junction of tubes
siphoning off effluvia – while his mind is swirled about, no less
convolutedly, by spirits and essences that become more visible, more tangible
as the tale progresses.
dead sister materialises at the meal table. A son who mated with a ghost
monkey returns as, yes, a ghost monkey. (Loved the two red eyes burning out
of the dark Chewbacca fur). Soon we watch as the main characters, dead and
alive, troop into deeper caverns of storytelling, journeying Jules Verne-like
to the centre of their spiritual or karmic selves. Jungles, caverns; a
waterfall at whose foot – a fairytale within fairytale – a princess is
ravished by a catfish. By the last scene, in whichtwo key characters or their avatars part
from their bodies to go off for a Thai restaurant dinner (sic) while their
source selves stay home to watch TV....Well, by that time you are either in
seventh heaven or in the seventh circle of Incomprehension Hell.
Weerasethakul freely admits
it helps to have been born a Buddhist. In Thailand
transmigration of souls – people turning into animals – is part of the normal
traffic of thought, even if not of belief. But what sentient westerner can resist the spooky spell
and eerie flow of this film’s phantasmagoria? What clinches UNCLE BONMEE as
poetry – screen poetry – is its very matter-of-factness. The beauties are
entranced and entrancing, yet they are spoken not sung. They issue from the
same daily life, the same marketplace of the mundane, as the family meal, the
evening at home, the visit to the restaurant, the
tragic but universal domestic rites of the terminal disease…
easy to believe in transmigration and metamorphosis at Cannes.
Step out of your darkened cinema, and the Croisette
– the palm-sentinelled beachfront boulevard – is a 24:7 wonderland, even in years when Tim ALICE IN
WONDERLAND Burton is
not president of the jury.
dressed as an 18th century dandy dandles two dancing cats on his
shoulders. A troupe of breakdancers
perform their upside-down gyrings and gimblings. The town’s sand-sculptor finishes his latest
Neptune or recumbent mermaid. (This year he gave us Batman too). A gaggle of
zombies, in a promo stunt for the latest living-dead romp, stagger towards
you, one carrying his head under his arm. And just occasionally there’s a
plain and simple celebrity. Ooh look, there’s Oliver Stone (squiring WALL
STREET 2) or CateBlanchett,
looking fresh for the fight as France gets its first glimpse of ROBIN DU
Ah Cannes. If
you didn’t exist, the world would have to invent you. But didn’t the world
invent you anyway? All your accretions and accessories, at least, of culture
and razzmatazz, of picture premieres and partying. The last two are usually
reserved for the dark hours, not that Cannes is
ever really dark. Lit by the jewelled wattage of the Mediterranean sky – even
the seagulls are luminous at night – the town answers the stars with its own
billion points of light. The
streets explode with glamour and gaudiness. The gigs on the beach begin.
Then, after the long dose of hedonism and a night to sleep it off, we troop
back into the cinemas, first thing next morning, to suffer for art.
host nation does its best to mortify us. And itself. Two competition films
addressed the agonized history that is north-west Africa. To
former colonists this is still, it seems, an unhealed abscess. Xavier Beauvois’s OF GODS AND MEN powerfully imagines the human
drama underlying a true story: the deaths of a group of monks in Algeria, 15
years ago, when Islamic terrorists raided their monastery and led them off to
presumed slaughter. A sober, even sombre, mise-en-scene
paints their devotional lives in shades of grey while allowing the actors’
humanity – Lambert Wilson as Father Superior, Michael Lonsdale as the elderly
friar running the missionary clinic – to touch in life-giving flesh tones.
The ending is shocking, though even here the film sustains a reverential
distance, reverencing not God but those who bravely, even when blindly, serve
him. As they hymn their defiance, who is not reminded of the tolling close of
Poulenc’s opera DIALOGUES OF THE CARMELITES, the
prayerful music of the martyrs rising against the grisly punctuation of their
and more of an intended flashpoint was RachidBouchareb’s HORS LA LOI (OUTSIDE THE LAW). Debate raged
in the French press before the screening. The screening itself
was a high-security gig worthier of an airport: bags searched, bottles
impounded, bodies frisked. No bomb went off, unless you count the movie
itself. Bouchareb, whose last celluloid explosion
was INDIGENES (DAYS OF GLORY), about the ill-treatment of foreign-born French
soldiers in World War Two, tells the history of the FLN, the Algerian
resistance movement. The lives of three brothers (played by the earlier
film’s stars JamelDebbouze,
RoschdyZem, SamyBouajila) split apart,
then come together, as the flames of anti-colonialism rage. The fictive story
is a little corny, big with contrivance and tragic irony as it strides across
the years. (Mix in your imagination Pontecorvo’sBATTLE OF ALGIERS and
Victor Hugo’s LES MISERABLES). But the cold water of reality – murder,
torture, betrayal – is thrown in our faces often enough to keep us alert and
wired and discomforted.
chipped in with THE PRINCESS OF MONTPENSIER and TOURNEE (ON TOUR). The first
is a vivid costumer from Bertrand Tavernier, a director we had feared lost
after his last film, the US-made IN THE ELECTRIC MIST, a slab of loony
southern gothic starring Tommy Lee Jones. PRINCESS is set in 17th
century France and
based a novel by Madame de La Fayette. It skitters stylishly through war,
love, royal politics and fine-turned dialogue. Definitely one for world arthouse distribution. TOURNEE, for contrast, is the tale
of a burlesque troupe managed by Mathieu Amalric
(also the film’s director), who does tousled sleaze to a T and an S. This
charismatic scuzzball could be Archie Rice from THE
ENTERTAINER crossed with Charles Aznavour in SHOOT
THE PIANIST. Minor, but fun. And lots of gratuitous nudity.
too, at least in language, was MahametSaleh-Haroun’s UN HOMME QUI CRIE (A SCREAMING MAN) from Chad. The
ABOUNA director deploys a dark, poignant palette in portraying his
strife-torn country. Here is the tale of a tragic father, guilt-racked after
sending his son (and work colleague) into the army, partly to preserve his
own job as a pool attendant in a tourist hotel making economies. Horrors
start to happen. Grief rains down the screen, slow and ineluctable, like
dirty rain. The ending – a bleak rhyme with the happier opening scene of
father and son enjoying a breath-holding contest in the out-of-hours pool –
is simple, laconic, devastating.
was not much you could call ‘escapism’ at the 63rdCannes Film
Festival. Takeshi Kitano took time off from his serious self to make OUTRAGE,
a Yakuza thriller. But the violence is so extreme – finger-loppings, a gruesomely novel decapitation – that two
hours in Japanese gangland are hardly recreational. FAIR GAME was Hollywood’s
bid to lighten the tone. But even with Naomi Watts and Sean Penn adding
lustre, the true tale of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame and her persecuted husband Joe Wilson – who made
the mistake of providing Bush and Co with WMD-doubting intelligence before
the Iraq invasion – is a shock to the system, assuming your system doesn’t
know the story already. Plame and Wilson suffered
badly at the time. But both were in Cannes,
smiling for the paparazzi. So for now at least, they live ‘happily ever
after’. And Bush is back in Texas.
film you approached with least expectation of escapism was CristiPiuiu’sAURORA. Puiu made the grimly brilliant DEATH OF MR LAZARESCU.
Here he was, at it again, we hoped, with a 3-hour film about a divorced man
(played by the director), plagued by society and himself, who takes to
murder. Yummy: there would be lots of Romanian schadenfreude, bitter comedy,
social satire. And it’s only two years since Romania won
the Golden Palm (CristiMungiu’s
FOUR MONTHS, THREE WEEKS, TWO DAYS).
we’re all out of schadenfreude. And the rest of the shopping list.
AURORA limps at a slow pace, going nowhere while accumulating a great deal of
useless detail. You can learn how to re-plaster a house. In some scenes you
can almost literally watch paint dry. What a letdown. Still, Puiu is making four more films in this series. Keep hope
showed noncompetitively in Un Certain Regard, the main sideshow at Cannes.
This year’s programme was topped and tailed by Portugal and South
Korea. The last film
HAHAHA, also won the event’s top gong, the Prix Un Certain Regard. (For ‘noncompetitive’ read ‘oh all right, a bit competitive’).
This award was Greek to me, never mind Korean: Hang Sangsoo’s
film is a fey, logorrheicromcom
hard to sit through for two reels, never mind two hours.
the Portuguese opener. Ah Manoel. Ah Dolly. Yes,
it’s the Manoel De Oliveira show again. Now 101,
the prolix Iberian remains spry enough to take a Cannes bow,
never mind to make a feature, THE STRANGE CASE OF ANGELICA. This is like some
divine coition between Hitchcock and Borges. A young photographer (Dolly
regular Ricardo Trepa) falls in love with the face
of a dead girl he is asked to lens-immortalise in her coffin. She ‘comes
alive’ in her photographs. The photographer’s halo of otherworldly joy starts
to disturb his boarding-house colleagues, a typical bunch of De Oliveira
gossips and meal-table philosophers. Then there is his weird compulsion to
watch, photograph and tape-record the singing diggers on the vine terraces of
the opposite hill…..
a film about past, present, future; about nostalgia for what was and
‘nostalgia’ for what cannot be; about speech and song as differently terraced
states of being; about the dimension between sentient life and prescient
life-before-death, which an artist of 101 is qualified, like no other, to
know and address. We say ‘like no other’. But in a year’s time De Oliveira
will be 102: better qualified still. And ready, no doubt, with his next billet-doux
from the near-beyond.
the prizes. The spotlights waved, the fanfares sounded. The fireworks worked.
The women in designer dresses and the men in penguin suits climbed the red
carpet. The subsidiary prizes, read out by jury prez
Tim Burton (wearing geek chic specs and hair coiffed in the
dragged-through-a-hedge-backwards style) and his crew, were as follows in
Prize to Chad’s
THE SCREAMING MAN. Best Screenplay to Korea’s
Lee Changdong for POETRY. Best Director to Mathieu Amalric. (Bit of a surprise, but it’s a Gallic fest).
Best Actor shared by Spain’s
Javier Bardem (BIUTIFUL) and Italy’s ElioGermano (LA NOSTRA VITA).
Best Actress to JulietteBinoche
(for her incandescent performance in Kiarostami’s
CERTIFIED COPY). Grand Jury Prize to Xavier Beauvois’s
OF GODS AND MEN.
the Golden Palm. Bent by winds of acclaim, combed by breezes of
beatification, the palm bowed with generous reach towards Thailand.
Yes. It was ApichatpongWeerasethakul’s
UNCLE BOONMEE WHO RECALLS HIS PAST LIVES. Mr A-Pong thanked the gods and
spirits of his native land. We thanked the gods and spirits of Cannes –
those topless deities that hover over the Croisette
with tans and Dior sunglasses – for the privilege of having seen the film and
witnessed its apotheosis.
miracles can happen. A final one occurred on my plane home. The Catholic
priest-critic colleague who once accosted this writer, when peering
penniless-seeming and roughly dressed into a Cannes shop
window, and promised him alms, finally – after many years – handed them over.
As the Euro cent changed hands (roughly the value of one US cent), the angels
in heaven cheered and applauded.And I
was at peace.
wasn’t a Palmed’Or, but
it was an Alm de Cuivre
(copper). This priest friend is now saved. He is able, when he departs the Vatican on
his final pilgrimage, to tell St Peter: “I gave him the moolah.”
St Peter, the patron saint of bouncers and doormen, can say: “In you go,
then. And the drinks are free after the first one.”
COURTESY T.P. MOVIE NEWS.
WITH THANKS TO THE AMERICAN FILM
INSTITUTE FOR THEIR CONTINUING INTEREST IN WORLD CINEMA.