AMERICAN CINEMA PAPERS
CANNES 2012 –
WHEN WORLDS CONFIDE
by Harlan Kennedy
It was the year of the talkies at Cannes. They talked to each other. No one, in 65 years of festival history, had known anything like it. The first true moment of audience recognition – a gasp, a giggle, a theaterwide oh-my-goodness – came quite late. In David Cronenberg’s COSMOPOLIS the chauffeured billionaire hero played by Robert Pattinson muses, while being driven across Manhattan, “I wonder where all the limos go at night.”
“Holy moley,” we all thought at once. We had only just seen Leos Carax’s French film HOLY MOTORS, and that ends with a scene of garaged limos settling in, anthropomorphically, for the night. They have, as kids do in dormitories, a last few moments of chat before midnight. Winking their lights, each limo takes its turn to pitch in a spoken thought. Then they yawn, sigh, go to sleep…
So. Cars speak together. We learned that on one day in Cannes. The next day we learned, essentially, that movies speak together.
And if there was a collusion of thought and a collision of talk between COSMOPOLIS and HOLY MOTORS, how many other pairs of films were nattering? Had we had missed out on other dialogues between other interlocutors?....
On behalf of criticism, a posse of us critics agreed to investigate.
I learned soon that our suspicion was correct. There was an entire network of intercommunicating movies at Cannes: a social network, a ‘Framebook’ culture if you like, in the making or indeed already made.
It seems impossible to set this out without following, to a degree, the famous website model and charting the relevant films, each with its relevant background, interests and circle of ‘friends’.
Fascinatingly, the greater the impact and reputation of the film at the 2012 festival, the greater – up to a number of two, or in one case (peruse to the end) three – the number of its close friends. Coincidence? Or karma?
AMOUR. The Golden Palm winner was parented by an Austrian, Michael Haneke, and raised in France. Main interests: old age, reminiscing, terminal illness, and chasing pigeons across hallways. Close friends: two. The Korean film IN ANOTHER COUNTRY, with which AMOUR shares a star, Isabelle Huppert, who majorly mood-influences both movies. And the fellow Austrian film PARADISE: LOVE, with which it shared both a nationality and, by quirky coincidence, a (half-)title.
**Very important note: the pigeon-chasing scenes in AMOUR are not only key to understanding the film – two darkly comical vignettes in which Trintignant’s character, a man devotedly loving a dying wife, tragicomically rehearses his and Haneke’s concepts of fate and mercy – but will play a crucial role in this article.
HOLY MOTORS. The much-praised Leos Carax film was born and raised in France. Main interests: multiple disguise, murder, leprechauns and Kylie Minogue. Close friends, two: KILLING THEM SOFTLY and COSMOPOLIS. Carax’s hero (Denis Lavant), sometimes called Vogan, becomes a hit-man in remarkable and rhyming similitude to Brad Pitt’s Cogan in the first movie, a US hit-man thriller. The conversation thus created between the two films becomes a free-verse poem in eerie noir. And – see above – the chauffeured hero and talking limousines in HOLY MOTORS reprise themselves in Cronenberg’s homonymous adaptation of the Don De Lillo novel.
BEYOND THE HILLS. Born and raised in Romania, Cristian Mungiu’s film won the Best Screenplay prize and shared the Best Actress prize between its two leads, Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur. Main interests: passionate female friendship, religious heresy, exorcism and death. Close friends, two: POST TENEBRAS LUX and LAWLESS. The role of the Devil in Mungiu’s film is replicated – and made luridly, memorably manifest – in Carlos Reygadas’s Latin-titled essay in Latin American expressionism, where he takes shape as a naked red demon. And the climactic snowfall in BEYOND THE HILLS, epiphanic and symbolic, has its kissing cousin in John Hillcoat’s US Prohibition thriller, shown in Cannes on the day. Mungiu’s movie kept up a chatter with both rival Competition works, mainly a propos the Melvillian link (Herman not Jean-Pierre) between pristine innocence and putative evil.
Special case: VOUS N’AVEZ ENCORE RIEN VU (YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHING YET). Alain Resnais’s film, ancestored by Jean Anouilh, was born and raised in France. Main interests: old French actors, reality/illusion, and bringing people back from the dead. Close friends: several, but all incestuously within the same film. The Orpheus-Eurydice coupling is shared between no less than three sets of actors. Lambert Wilson, Sabine Azema (Mrs Resnais) and Pierre Arditi among the distinguished thespian multi-taskers. A film that ‘talks to itself’, but with much to say.
These were the main friend-sharing or intercommunicating movies at Cannes. Mention must be made, too, of a remarkable year for actor-sharing at both stellar and supporting level. Two late-showing dramas set in the Deep South, THE PAPERBOY and MUD, both starred Matthew McConaughey. (By the end of the second movie, audience brains were weltering in McConaughey mannerism. Some male festivalgoers stripped to their torsos, flashed their teeth and oil-shiny pectorals, and began to talk with Mississippi accents). Sam Shepard had two good mini-turns in MUD and KILLING THEM SOFTLY. And Huppert notched up no less than four roles in the Competition. As well as AMOUR, she appeared as three different characters in Korea’s IN ANOTHER COUNTRY….
The French have a word for it. Correspondances. Those near-secret echoes and kinships, those near-mystical mirrorings of motifs, those Baudelairian repetitions and replications, that give art its subterranean life and poetic patterning.
I was left in no doubt that these forces were at work on the Cote d’Azur when a moment out of filmgoing – though there is no such moment, of course, in the holistic cinemania that is the Cannes experience – gave that ‘third friend’ to AMOUR that clinched Haneke’s movie as the festival’s major work.
I was talking to Isabelle Huppert (we go back a long way) at an outside café table near the Palais. A pigeon landed on the table and the actress set about, as elegantly as only she can, shooing it away. “ Va t’en! Va!”, she said, with a simple yet complex gesture that reminded me of the similar one she made in the pie scene of Cimino’s HEAVEN’S GATE. “This is an uncanny re-enactment,” I instantly observed to her, “of that motivic bird-chasing scene in your film AMOUR which defines the drama’s tragicomical tone as the curtains begin to close around the characters.
“That is in fact,” I continued thoughtfully with a progressive passion, “it. That is the ‘third friend’. The one that ensures AMOUR will win the Golden Palm.”
She said, a little mystified, yet as elegantly as only she can, “What on earth are you talking about?”
She soon found out. So did everyone. On Sunday 27th May 2012, AMOUR won the 65th Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or. The Framebook theory of cinema – that there is a social network of movies engaged in a ceaseless mutual chatter and a subtle accumulation of ‘friends’ and that critics and commentators ignore it at their peril – passed into fact, history and legend.
There was a second theory, that this posse of critics should disband and get a life.
COURTESY T.P. MOVIE NEWS.
WITH THANKS TO THE AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE FOR THEIR CONTINUING INTEREST IN WORLD CINEMA.
©HARLAN KENNEDY. All rights reserved