By David Poland email@example.com
My Cannes 2012: Episode Two
REALLY, REALLY GOOD
Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson’s latest is also the most Wes Anderson film yet. (Wes doesn’t quite see it that way, but people are bombarding him with the idea.) In much the way that Rushmore really focuses on its young lead and lets the adult be in service of his story, Moonrise accentuates this idea and with two kids in the center, has a cast of very strong adult supporting actors/characters who add color and insight, but never overwhelm the central story. The cast is uniformly brilliant and the Anderson inventions, like Edward Norton’s daily walk-n-talk through his Boy Scout camp, are as unreal as ever, but don’t feel as forced as they sometimes do. They really inform the rest of the characterization. If you enjoy Wes Anderson, this is an absolute must-see.
Killing Them Softly – I was a fan of Andrew Dominik’s Chopper and not so much of his beautiful but stilted The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward England Dan & John Ford Coley. With his latest film, he finds a sweet spot right in between his two earlier features, mixing style – but not so much style that it eats the story – and rough-hewn wisdom in a parade of memorable characters, dialogue, and a good story well told. The most controversial thing about the film, so far, is the inclusion of a lot of television news coverage of the 2008 banking crisis, as well as the less overt subtext of rebuilding New Orleans (where it’s set) post-Katrina. The notion is that the criminals in the film are not that different – perhaps more honorable – than the criminals in Washington and Wall Street. I though this was done in such a clear, straight-forward way that it works well. It’s another layer in a really good movie, which I expect to be quoted in future the way Donnie Brasco and Goodfellas are. This, too, is self-consciously handled in the film, with Ray Liotta and James Gandolfini amongst other mob-movie-associated actors. And Brad Pitt gives my favorite performance of his career. The balance of character role and movie star role is pitch perfect. This film has grown on me from the minute the lights went up.
Despues de Lucia (aka After Lucia) – Bullying was a hot topic this year, though talking to Michel Franco (writer and director) about his process for the film, the topic is not where he started, but where it naturally went. I haven’t seen a film about a painful subject involving teens that was this good or hurt this much since Tim Roth’s great The War Zone. This story of a father and daughter trying to overcome some kind of setback (avoiding spoilers), turns into a story about this young teen’s experience with a new school, where fast friends turn equally quickly into brutal, cruel enemies. What’s truly remarkable is that Franco pushes the story right to the edge of credulity, but never crosses. And the closer he gets, the more painful to know that this is an extreme tale, but not an unlikely one. Tessa Ia as The Girl is truly remarkable. This is a film that could not have been made in America, as Franco – who worked with Ia and her actress mother before – managed to get a group of teenagers to work with him without a lot of parental oversight, in spite of being “underage.” What do they say? Old enough to fight a war, old enough to…
Jagten (aka The Hunt) – For me, the best film of the Dogma 95 experiment/promotion was The Celebration, directed by Thomas Vinterberg. Since then, he has made a number of films that got indifferent distribution in the US and failed to live up to that remarkable achievement. Well, Jagten is pretty damned close. The story is not unfamiliar. A middle-aged divorcee works as a kindergarten teacher. He has a circle of close male friends, a new girlfriend, and a teen son from his failed marriage that he dotes on. And then, one of the kids at the school, says that he showed her his penis. That’s when the hunt begins. Panic, paranoia, good intentions, deflection, and a situation where every response, whether subtle or extreme, is used to prove a predetermined idea in the minds of others. The film is about as good as you can get on a subject like this. It reminds me of the old studio noirs, though much more modernly edgy, where you knew the field by knowing the actors, and were never quite sure whether the directors you expect from a film like this would end up going as anticipated. A strong story incredibly well told.
No – For me, this film has become dangerously overrated by critics. It’s a very solid piece, reminiscent of the HBO political films. It’s shot in the style of 80′s Chilean television, real footage mixed with what was produced for the film, and covers the 1988 Chilean election that finally knocked Augusto Pinochet out of power. Gael Garcia Bernal is the young ad exec who takes on the “No” campaign. (The advertising for the election, Yes vs No, was 30 minutes a night for each on national television for one month. Boy, that sounds good in this year of the first multi-billion Presidential campaign.) The film is basic “hero’s journey” stuff. It’s got lovely comic moments and plenty of drama, as the danger of going against the Pinochet government is never far from home. Strong movie.
Anton Corbijn Inside Out (market only) – I love smart insider docs and this one is a fairly intimate portrait of one of our most interesting visual artists. Apparently made just before Corbijn shot The American (one of my underappreciated beloveds), the film gets into his photographic work, his video efforts, and his two feature films. We also get a glimpse of him and his family, including a look back at his very influential father.
GOOD, WITH RESERVATIONS
This is the toughest category for me. I like most of these films and I see clear value for audiences in every one of them. But I have reservations. In a media world that leans to black & white, this feels like I am smacking these films. I am not.
Reality – Matteo Garrone is at the start of a long, productive film-making career. His tastes are eclectic and so are his movies. His new film is, really, not like Gommorah, which made him an instant arthouse icon in the US. This film is more like Visconti by way of Sturges. No… it’s not a match for the best work of either director. But after you take a breath and get over all that it is not, it is a fascinating, funny, smart look at how closely people can straddle the line between real-life and reality tv. It’s not just about reality television at all. It’s mostly about the desire to be something other than what you are. The central character, Luciano, is a good man, a hard worker, and a bit of a show-off. Everyone tells him he should be more than he is. And as the real possibility of being part of Big Brother Italy – which seems to be more like being cast on Jersey Shore than on Big Brother, in terms of being a life changer – becomes closer, Luciano allows himself to dream… and starts to lose his mind. It’s not Network. It’s not Meet John Doe. But it’s really quite good, in its own space.
Paradise – Ulrich Seidl is not a shy filmmaker. And a movie whose dominant images are naked 50ish overweight German women and the penises of tall, young pitch-black African men is as bracing as it sounds. But Seidl, by making these images ubiquitous, forces the audience to get used to these not-unusual human bodies and, eventually, allows us to see past the imagery. Seidl, at that point, has even greater nerve, taking us into a world that very, very few films dare, but which represents a significant chunk of the world’s populace. None of it is conventional. But for me, the journey was rewarding, if exhausting.
Lawless – I am a big John Hillcoat fan. (By the way… why hasn’t someone picked up US Home Ent rights to Ghosts… of the Civil Dead?) But I wish he had done, as he has in the past, perfect casting on this film. My complaints are minor for the most part. I’d look at thinning out the 2nd act a little, as the film repeats some themes, almost as though it’s trying to avoid rushing into the memorable, but somewhat conventionally genre third act. But my big problem is at the center of the film. Shia LaBeouf, whose work I generally like, is just out of his depth here are as the weak brother of three, who grows up in a hurry in the course of this story. Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke are, in the tradition of Hillcoat’s films, epic. And in the real story, third brother was physically smaller and not as imposing. I get that. But the character – also the narrator – controls the story and his coming of age is the center of the movie. Was Joseph Gordon-Levitt the better answer? Andrew Garfield (perhaps to tall)? Has Jamie Bell aged out? Or did Shia get the money deal closed? Anyway, there is a lot of great stuff in here, including a restrained Gary Oldman and a vamp-y Guy Pearce. It reminds me a little of Matthew McConaughey, who is having a GREAT year in movies, as the religious intellectual in Contact. These kinds of miscasts can really hurt some great material.
(MORE TO COME)
The We and The I (market only)
Beasts of the Southern Wild
The Legend of Love & Sincerity (aka Ai to makoto)
PAINFULLY WELL INTENDED
Baad El Mawakeaa (aka After The Battle)
Depa Dealuri (aka Beyond The Hills)
Dracula 3D (market only)