AMERICAN CINEMA PAPERS
GO MAD, BAD AND DIRTY IN PUBLIC
THE 48th INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
by Harlan Kennedy
c'est pour la presse!" screamed the man with the purple tie and matching complexion. "S'il vous plait!!" placated the guard, beating off a hundred elbows. "C'est un scandale!!!" volunteered the woman in the off-the-shoulder, about to be on-the-floor Pierre Cardin shawl.
Yup. The entire population of the
The festival poster, shining down from every palm on the Croisette, might
have tipped us off. In this miracle
of kitsch a sun-gilded baby,
clearly free of Kids-era drugs and AIDS, has been decanted onto the
sea's surface from a giant patch-quilt of floating movie history. The Technicolor baby – representing, said fest boss
Gilles Jacob, the future of cinema – has fallen
out of the
Would anyone have thought we'd still be watching large-screen movies at all in 1995: the age of video and satellite, cyberwebs, and infotainment highways? Would anyone have thought that Jeanne Moreau, a generation after Jules et Jim, would still be alive and ambulant and leading the festival jury? God bless her and all who sail in her. And
would anyone have guessed that
Yet here were Loach, Boorman, Davies, and
company bringing more pix to the
Competition – five – than any country
save the States. Our theory is that
Above all, Ken Loach does it.
Hitherto known for his sober control of the
Brit social drama, he has gone to war-wracked 1930s
Its hope-filled innocent from
That big drama is cleverly orchestrated as "noises off." What we see and hear are the human repercussions. The loud
debates in the dust of battle; the
Most of the Brit movies in
competition were about bottled-up or
bottle-necked emotions. The Madness of King George is about royals going barmy at
Emma Thompson is a mite jolly-hockey-sticks as Carrington, and first-time helmer Christopher Hampton has not quite learned to put his camera where his stage-reared imagination is. But the dialogue is deft and Jonathan Pryce is brilliant as Strachey, an over-wound wit behind a Birnam Wood beard. He copped the Best Actor prize.
As for Davies's The Neon Bible, it could be The Fallen Idol in the American South. A teenager's low-angle gaze at adult mysteries becomes the stuff of wacky mythopoeia. Dad (Denis Leary) has inexplicable rages and then dies. Mum (Diana Scarwid) is full of long silences and hot and cold running grief. And there is Aunt Mae the failed chantoose (Gena Rowlands), with her cracked singing voice, fading beauty, and death-of-vaudeville dresses.
The film, wonderful in patches, shows the risk in transposing genius. An autobiographical reality nourished the surrealism
And there is always Gena. Gena for Genius: an actress who does no wrong even when wrong is done around her. Anyone who says differently can roll up their sleeves, step into an alley, and prepare for fisticuffs.
film epitomized a trend at
The secret of these movies is: Use style as foreplay and guns as consummation. Kiss-kiss aesthetics climax in bang-bang plot dénouement. That you can't tell one plot from another hardly matters.
Did Chris Walken do his flaky supervillain act, plus hilariously unexplained
wheelchair, in Suspects or in
Then came Zhang Yimou's Shanghai Triad, putting all these other movies and their makers in the shade. "Just a gangster film" chorused some hacks, obviously suffering from noir overkill. But if this film is "just" anything, it is just a masterpiece.
The director of Red Sorghum and To Live has now dissolved the surface of the screen completely. The visuals are so molten in his hands that in this Thirties-set underworld saga they take any form commanded: from the giant-eyed closeups introducing the boy servant hired to attend the Godfather's songstress-mistress (Gong Li), to the watercolor longshots of the final act set on an idyllic but blood-absorbent island.
For a movie in the kiss-bang genre, Shanghai Triad has little of either, at least on screen. Love takes the form of Gong Li's infidelity with a young henchman: a series of snatched visions or furtive patterings seen or heard by the boy. Death takes its toll not in thumping bodies and spurting blood-pellets but in the reactive horror flickering across human faces.
Chief of these is the "heroine" herself. Gong Li's moll begins as a diva from hell, dishing out spite and self-adoration along with the nightly cabaret songs. (A gargling melodic voice; a scarlet dress like an overgrown Christmas cracker.) Then, as she realizes that her "power" has power to chop off heads, even on the Godfather's second-act getaway island containing one peasant mother and daughter, her shaken soul starts to jettison surplus frivolity.
She becomes human, but too late: the Zhang Yimou tragedy machine is whirring into action. If the film's first half is a gold-filtered paean to the sickly glories of ill-gotten wealth – kaleidoscopic mirror-trick visuals and effulgent backlighting – the second half opens the world and the heroine to the elements. Every shudder of wind in grass, every clattering curtain of rain becomes part of the character's own seismic self-discovery. And the film's Parthian "shot" tramples even on the triumphalism of tragedy. The closeup of coins dropping into the sea from the boy's pocket – he is hanging upside down from a ship's mast – is tender for the evaporation of his dreams and the vanity of his mistress's own last gift to a future she cannot control.
"Just a gangster film"? Hardly.
After Zhang, the two most ambitious and overt political epics at
Portentousness, never far from Angelopoulos pix, comes in with a wallop when a giant statue of Lenin is maneuvered through one long sequence. Inert and heraldic, the statue seems to stand – as much as any intended signification – for this director's petrified way with metaphor and meaning. Still, the jury liked it.
first gloriously, then tediously
mad. We begin with runaway bravura à la Time
of the Gypsies. Animals have
escaped from the zoo after the
first bombing raid of World War II. So
we peer past elephants or over the shoulders
of tigers to meet the two scam-artist
heroes who will grow up, sort of, during
the film's sixty years of Yugoslavian
history. Blitzed by brass bands and giddied by Unsteadicams,
we perversely enjoy the first
hour. Then the hangover sets in. By
the time we reach modern-day
Excess, though, is born into
Cinema gazing in its own mirror – but what do you expect in Year 100? It explains the fashionable self-reflexiveness of all those films noirs; of Sam Raimi's Competition-closing gun opera The Quick and the Dead, out-pastiching Leone as it counts off the mickey-taken tropes; and of movies like Robert Lepage's Le Confessional, opening the Quinzaine, that mused stylishly on the conceit of a parallel priestly conscience-crisis happening in Quebec while Hitch was shooting 1 Confess (scenes of Monty Clift agonistes are cut into the all-color modern story).
The oddest pic of
the fest also used film-commenting-on-film to add
dimension to its story. But it was
totally free of dandyism. Hou
Hsiao-hsien's haunting Good Men, Good Women is a three-pack of stories from Taiwanese life, each leaking into the others. A troubled actress is at the heart of the modern story
(anomie, anonymous telephone aggro) and of a
flashbacked love story. This character also plays the truth-based heroine in the third segment: a monochrome
film-within-a-film about Taiwanese volunteers in
The film is as opaque as it sounds. Shot like Hou's last effort, The Puppet-master, with a scarce-moving camera in engulfing shadows, it is about as viewer-friendly as a blindfold. But unlike the playboy directors who use film buffery as a boutonnière – sometimes a joke one that squirts you in the eye – Hou's multilayered structure of illusion and reality is deadly serious. It explores that literal shadow area between national myth and national history; between reality and (self) dramatization; between the pliant past and the unyielding, uncommunicating present.
In short, the
Gratitude as much as real admiration probably accorded the Iranian film The White Balloon its sleeper-of-the-festival status. It won the Camera d'Or for best first film and shared the International Critics' Prize (with Loach and Angelopoulos). Plot: a little girl loses, chases, and finally recovers a banknote in the streets of
The hell with it. Let's just go see the two fastest, dizziest flicks in the test. One was Mathieu (Best Director) Kassovitz's La Haine: drugs, street
feuds, and Mach-2 dialogue in
Then let's go and see Sharon Stone present the prizes. Or we could get it all on the computer. For yes, reader, the silicon superhighway has reached the South of
COURTESY T.P. MOVIE NEWS.
THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN THE JULY-AUGUST 1995 ISSUE OF FILM COMMENT.
©HARLAN KENNEDY. All rights reserved.