AMERICAN CINEMA PAPERS
THE 54TH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
by Harlan Kennedy
Once more unto the beach: it is
Cannes busies itself through the year processing triumphs past, fanfaring the selections to come, sending apparachiks to other fests, above all inscribing its name
on film posters. Amazing the number of
movies that wreath themselves in golden palmfronds
claiming top glory when all they won was, say, Best Gaffer or the Prix Superieur de Mattework. But
Meanwhile the stroboscopic alternation between reality and illusion –
between life outside the
Or that he (this writer) was there when Tarkovsky and Bresson – ou sont les auteurs d’antan? – shared a platform and a lifetime award ceremony. Or when Ingrid and Ingmar Bergman first met at a public party, a Trimalchian feast of champers and reindeer meat.
But the tuxes pass from generation to generation from old to young, expired to inspired. And some veterans never grow old at all; for them death shall have no run at the Dominion. Jean-Luc Godard is still annoying us at age 70 and has a film in this year’s fest, ELOGE DE L’AMOUR, said to be more mainstream than recent work. We will not expect the Amazon.
The ageless Ermanno Olmi
– no popped wooden clogs for him – contributes THE PROFESSION OF ARMS.
Hollywood, not being outdone, if not actually sending the Seventh
Fleet, nobly dispatched ex-Palm winners Francis Coppola, David Lynch and the Coens. Coppola’s
extended version of
APOCALYPSE NOW (“I love the smell of napalm in the morning, afternoon and
evening”) shows hors concours; Lynch’s
It isn’t just the main event at
My Gucci dinner jacket is back from the cleaners. My cameramen have theirs and their assigned places on the Palais steps so… Let’s go!
Dressing up to address the great questions of life and death. That’s what festivalgoers do: thousands spent on finery to confront the nakedness of the human condition. Yet don’t good movies perform the same sleight of self-manifestation? Isn’t art’s achievement to make despair gleam like a diamond, to make tragedy uplift and inspire?
Nanni Moretti’s LA
The triumph of the noncompetitive fest was another movie that looked into the abyss of human experience and found gleams in the darkness. ATANARJUAT THE FAST RUNNER is the first Inuit feature film and it wouldn’t matter if it was the last. This stunning 2 ¾-hour epic is based on an old Eskimo legend. Two brothers at war with a neighbor clan; one brother brutally slain; the other bounding naked over miles of ice to vanish (suppose his foes) forever; final showdown between survivor-hero and villains. Looking on are the community’s women – who kicked off the trouble with their overabundant charms (sex rivalry, dynastic feuding, climactic rape) – and the omni-wise oldies who have seen it all before and probably expect some repeat performances before closure.
Director Zacharias Kunuk films Paul Angilirq’s folklore-culled script in dazzling locations on digital Betacam. He is lavish with the widescreen vistas of snow, ice and water: no expanse is spared. Simultaneously giant close-ups catch each glimmer of thought and emotion in this make-believe pageant. (Only Werner Herzog found as much rogue humanity in the camera-wary primitives he filmed). The movie would be hailed as a classic if it spoke English and carried a known signature: Stroheim, Griffith, Ford. Instead we may have to wait till the west’s distributors decide that world audiences can take the strain of Olde Inuit with subtitles, though the film’s prospects must have been helped by winning the Camera d’Or for best feature film.
More of the best from the rest.
THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE. Wonderful. I go with the verdict ‘masterpiece’. Joel and Ethan Coen must have realized that their joint name rhymes with James M. Cain (almost). The mid-century sleaze auteur who put the ‘litter’ into literature clearly inspired this 40s-set sex-‘n’-murder plot in which reticent Santa Rosa barber Billy Bob Thornton kills store-owner James Gandolfini for making the two-backed beast with Billy Bob’s wife Frances McDormand.
Who gets sent to Death Row? By a dodgy slip of fate, McDormand. Which divers characters get called in to solve problems or multiply them? Jon Politi in a hilarious wiggy cameo as the inventor of dry cleaning – or an inventor of dry cleaning – who dies before he can get rich on his patent. (Give this actor the Akim Tamiroff Award for excelling at fat, sweaty exotics). Tony Shalhoub as an edgy top lawyer bathed in searing celestial light. (Cinematography by that great Coen regular Roger Deakins). And talking of searing celestiality, our hero falls platonically for a piano-playing girl, a neighbors daughter whose renditions of Beethoven’s Apassionata sonata seem like a ticket to salvation until that climactic, fellatio-interrupted car crash….
What a story. Yet it moves
unlike any thriller, more like a Camus novel with serie noir trimmings. Shot in black-and-white so shiny you could
see your face in it, the film moves hypnotically. The dialogue exchanges about the
uncertainty principle, positing inter alia
that perception changes the nature and composition of what you perceive, slyly enrich
the tale of a man for whom Nothing Adds Up.
(The hero ends up in jail himself, but for the wrong murder). And Thornton himself is a wonderfully doomy Coen hero: the taciturn
barber haunted by his own fundamentalist thoughts (especially about the life,
afterlife and growing patterns of hair) and by a yearning-for-beauty that
feeds on its own unfulfilment. The Coens in
press conference poked fun against the movie’s philosophical sonorities: “Our
distributor told us not to call it a film noir because it would be difficult
to market. But I really think
‘existential dread’ may help us sell some tickets, at least in
Michael Haneke’s THE PIANIST (not to be
confused with soon-to-arrive Roman Polanski’s THE
PIANIST, postered all over the
MOULIN ROUGE, SHREK and TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER. Please lift your glasses – those on your nose – to focus your eyes in disbelief. This is what digivisuals can do today. In the new world of campy-populist nostalgism Baz STRICTLY BALLROOM Luhrmann discovering Disneyworld in fin de a hosiecle Paris is closely related to Dreamworks discovering that fairytales are really a giant theme park. In both cases postmodernism simultaneously confers ironic distance and burlesque energy. In both cases, too, computer visuals provide an architectural/kinetic richness undreamt by previous musicals or pre-TOY STORY animation features. Luhrmann throws everything at the screen, including a frightened-looking Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman, in a homage to the belle époque that encompasses Can-Can girls. Toulouse-Lautrec, Puccinian consumption… you name it, the pixellated palette can handle it.
The only question was whether the audience could. Cannes-goers tended to prefer SHREK’s gentler way with folklore makeover. The 3D contouring we loved in TOY STORY has become even more sculptural and chromatically lifelike: the human characters look like real people. Then there are the kindly ogres and funny donkeys (Eddie MULAN Murphy re-doing the vocal rent-a-shtik) and an entire refugee population from fairytale literature. (Loved the breakdancing Three Pigs). The movie has an initially overanxious PC agenda, requiring the ex-sleeping-beauty heroine to be a feisty martial artist, the ugly ogre to have a heart, soul and love life etc. But even this breaks down, endearingly if contentiously. Short people will be offended – let them grow by ignoring or overriding it – by the jokes about the staturally challenged villainous Prince, though if Dreamworks cartoon chief Jeffrey Katzenberg (5 feet nothing much on good days) can take it, presumably anyone can.
In TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER first-time-officially-invited Thailand blew
the roof off the Salle Bazin, home from home for
world critics (for months we wake up thinking we are still in this airless
mauve hangar going blind for art), with this Vancouver-Filmfest-prizewinning
high camp actioner cum love story. Young helmer Wisit Sasatanieng must have
grown up on TV matinees of old Tyrone Power movies. How else explain the ecstasy felt and
conveyed in a pinup bandit, with hair oil and wash-and-shine charisma, who
rides through ersatz-handtinted landscapes or
across Expressionist Yellow sunsets to court the governor’s daughter, whose
hobby is pining in a magenta-hued gazebo in the middle of an eye-ravishing
lotus-filled lake? Digital
colorization has reached
Ermanno Olmi’s THE PROFESSION OF ARMS (IL MESTIERE
DELLE ARMI) is a pre-nuclear parable of Armageddon: 16th century history rendered as
both truth and teaching fable. ‘Brechtian’ is the parola justa for
Signor Wooden-Clogs’s fearless determination here
to Address the Audience. The main aristos and warriors enacting the 1526 conflict between
Time is a big thing at film festivals. We don’t just jump about in it in the movies, vaulting between weeks, years, centuries. We clockwatch for real every day, wondering how to pack in, say, Godard at 2, Rivette at 4, Tsai Ming-Liang at 6, and still find time to scream between each. (The mark of a true film critic).
All three movies were, in different ways, about time, especially the Taiwanese trinket. The director of VIVE L’AMOUR and THE HOLE is an enigmatist with a silent-comedy style and a loyalty to the same fictive family, featuring in each film. Here the son (Ming-Liang’s house star Chen Shiang-Chyi) copes with a freshly widowed mother going loonier by the day, and with his own obsessional urge to change all Taipei’s clocks to conform with time in Paris, whither has departed a girl he met too briefly to fall for but still fell for. (That’s love. Vive l’amour). Imagine Samuel Becket mixed with Lao Tzu, then double the schizophrenia you first thought of. Small but entertaining.
New Wavers Godard and Rivette
defied time – 40 years of it – by bringing films as idiosyncratic as in their
heyday. But hey, couldn’t you say Rivette’s heyday was today? The Frenchperson
recently did the all-hailed LA BELLE NOISEUSE, seen
by more bums on seats even than his halcyon
The winds blowing from Iran brought three fine screen samizdats: fiction poised on the edge of fact from Mohsen Makhmalbaf (KANDAHAR), fact poised on the edge of fiction by Abbas Kiarostami (ABC AFRICA), fable balanced on faction(alism) from Reza Mir-Karimi. She won the Critics Week prize with her UNDER THE MOONLIGHT. Man on quest meets outcasts railing at fate; they join forces in a talky last act too much like a Persian LOWER DEPTHS. Many a flicker, though, of quirky character fire. KANDAHAR points a tragic lens at the halt, lame and dispossessed on the Afghan border, alternating between unsparing docu-observation and reality as surreality. We can scarcely believe the airdrops of artificial legs billowing Magritte-like from a blue sky. A mere continent away Kiarostami combs the Aids crisis in Uganda, determined to find joy’s survival in the waves of HIV-orphaned kids smiling at the camera or singing – in one scene oceanically – for the sound-mike.
Was it my fancy or did the new
The final movie-herding was Oriental.
Taiwan’s MILLENNIUM MAMBO and Japan’s DESERT MOON, AVALON and LUKEWARM WATER UNDER A
Imamura could have won a third Fronde d’Or to judge from the applause for his latest pic. The red bridge is where the lovers meet: the lukewarm water – hold on to your credulity – is what geysers from the heroine’s private parts, by the gallon rather than the liter, whenever she makes love. Filling up with H2O between sessions, she mirror-flashes a lust SOS to the fisherman hero who promptly downs nets, jumps to land and outraces the local Afro-American Olympic trainee (don’t ask) to get to the lady in time. Is this a tale of fountaining amour fou a metaphor for something Japanese? Goodness knows. (Goodness has nothing to do with it”. M. West). We only know that is this weirdly wondrous comedy gets western distribution, it will surely need a catchier title. MEMOIRS OF A GUSHER?
Cannes was not all triumph, though the stratospheric scorings for
Competition films in the trade-mag critics charts –
an annual guide and helper in Palm prediction – make nonsense of some hacks’
complaints that this was a dud festival.
We did have to stay alive through rubbish like TAURUS (Lenin dying by
the minute in a swirl of fog from Russian auteur Alexsandr
Sokurov) and DESERT MOON (klunky
anti-capitalist tract from
But at the end of every day – such is
COURTESY T.P. MOVIE NEWS
WITH THANKS TO THE AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE FOR THEIR CONTINUING INTEREST IN WORLD FILM.
©HARLAN KENNEDY. All rights reserved.