MCN Columnists

By Jake Howell jake.howell@utoronto.ca

Countdown to Cannes: Loznitsa, Mungiu

The fourth in a series of snapshots of the twenty-two filmmakers in Competition for the Palme d’Or at the sixty-fifth Festival de Cannes.


SERGEI LOZNITSA

Background: Ukrainian; born in Baranovitchi, Belarus 1964.

Known for / style: My Joy; a career that has primarily (until recently), consisted of documentaries; director of the first Ukrainian film to debut in Competition; extremely long takes with minimal cutting

Film he’s bringing to CannesV tumane (In the Fog), a Russian-language period drama that takes place in 1942, on the German-occupied frontiers of the Western USSR. Sushenya (newcomer Vladimir Svirski) is wrongly accused of collaboration, and in order to save his dignity, he must resolve a difficult moral quandary. The largely-unknown cast also includes Vlad Ivanov, who was in Cristian Mungiu’s Palme-winning 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days.

Notable accolades: The majority of Loznitsa’s awards are from his documentary work. Loznitsa is a three-time winner of Leipzig DOK’s Silver Dove (2002’sPortrait and The Settlement; 2000’s The Halt), and has won Cracow’s Golden Horn (2008’s Revue) and Golden Dragon (2006’s Blockade). Loznitsa’s fictional debut, 2010’s My Joy, won top prize at two small Eastern-European film festivals.

Previous Cannes appearances: 2010’s My Joy was Loznitsa’s first film at the Festival, playing in Competition. It was the first-ever Ukrainian film to debut in Competition.

Sergei Loznitsa, by Ray Pride.

Could it win the Palme? In the Fog is Loznitsa’s second narrative film, but at this point his golden prospects aren’t great. My Joy’s reception at the 2010 Festival was decent at best, falling off the awards radar almost instantly. And while Loznitsa is an accomplished documentarian, fiction-features are a different beast entirely. Therefore, in order for Loznitsa to win the hearts of the international press (and solidify his new career as a fiction director), In the Fog has a lot of catching up to do. Luckily, the casting of Ivanov should prove helpful in the long run.

Why you should care: Loznitsa was a mathematician by trade before he was a filmmaker, and this translates in his art: his camera is a dedicated, calculated window into his mise-en-scène. His framing of fictional violence is uniquely disturbing, and as a result, My Joy was dubbed controversial by the Russian media who perceived the film as being anti-Russian, or “Russophobic.” So while Loznitsa is still growing as a fiction director, everybody loves a good World War II film, despite the oversaturation of the genre. Loznitsa’s stark approach should be well-suited to the bleak reality of violence, and will likely leave audiences with their stomachs effectively churned. (I usually expect no less from a film depicting one of the darkest eras in humanity.)

CRISTIAN MUNGIU

Background: Romanian; born in Iași, Romania 1968.

Known for / style: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and Occident; realist tendencies; being the first Romanian filmmaker to win the Palme d’Or

Film he’s bringing to CannesDupă dealuri (Beyond the Hills), a Romanian-language drama that looks at the relationship of two young women who lived in the same orphanage, but have drifted apart to two very different places (an Orthodox convent in Romania and Germany, respectively). Conflict erupts when the girls reunite at the convent, eventually leading to an exorcism. Beyond the Hills is based on two non-fiction books (Deadly Confession and Judges’ Book) written by journalist Tatiana Niculescu Bran.

Notable accolades: Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days was his break-out hit, placing the director on international film radars for winning the 2007 Palme d’Or. 4 Months also won a number of other prizes, including Best Film and Best Director at the 2007 European Film Awards and Best Foreign Film from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.

Previous Cannes appearancesBeyond the Hills will be Mungiu’s second film in Competition. Mungiu’s Tales from the Golden Age was screened in the 2009 Un Certain Regard program, and Occident played in the 2002 Director’s Fortnight.

Cristian Mungiu

Could it win the Palme? It’s possible, but not likely. Cannes has only given a second Palme to seven filmmakers (six, if you count the Dardenne duo as a single entity), and Mungiu’s pedigree is, quite frankly, overshadowed by some of the huge names at this year’s Festival. Also complicating Mungiu’s shot at another win in 2012 is his completely no-name cast. While unknown actors aren’t necessarily a bad thing, the level of known talent hitting the red carpet this May is extremely formidable. At the end of the day, Mungiu will have to pull a rabbit out of his hat a second time in his relatively short directing career of (approximately) 10 years.

Why you should careBeyond the Hills was picked up earlier this year by Sundance Selects, a Robert Redford-affiliated film label whose mandate is to showcase excellence in independent film. Their titles are hand-picked to feature strong new voices in world cinema, making it clear that Mungiu fits the criteria. Plus, on a narrative level, it’s always fun to see exorcisms when they are done well, especially when they’re found in art-house movies.

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“One of my favorite things in watching any performance on film is when there isn’t a lot of cutting going on and when you get a chance to become really absorbed in the artist in hand. The same way we do, hopefully, at a concert, when we get a chance to really trip in to something that’s happening on stage. Whether the singer’s singing, or one of the other musicians is playing, we sort of stay there instead of cutting round with our eyes a lot.”
~ Jonathan Demme

“We’ve talked about this before in the past, my obsession with the Shakespearean histories having the ideal combination of the sweet and the sour. In ‘Henry IV, Part II’ which we’ve discussed before, in the end of that story it’s very complex and haunting because Prince Hal becomes Henry the King, and he has transcended his hoodlum days and at the ceremony is Falstaff, his good friend with whom he has really fucked around and been a loser with, and Falstaff comes up to him and says, ‘Now that you’re king we can really party,’ and the king famously says, ‘I know thee not, old man.’ It becomes Henry IV’s anointment and Falstaff’s catastrophe. That’s life. I have experienced very little unfettered triumph. There are moments, such as when my children are born, but even that comes with new fears and anxieties. In a sense the better you can communicate that life is both at once, the more powerful over time something becomes. One strives for something where the threads are there because it lasts in way that is very palpable. The idea of a tragedy is powerful in literature and theater, but in cinema it doesn’t work, certainly not commercially, and less so critically. Why is that? I think it has to do with how movies are so close to us.”
~ James Gray