By David Poland firstname.lastname@example.org
Cannes You Dig It?: Episode 3
It’s odd to leave Cannes not having fallen fully in love… with a movie.
I have one more shot this morning before heading to the airport… Sorrentino’s Youth, which is already part of the Searchlight family. I will miss the Gaspar Noe as well as Michel Franco’s Chronic, for which I have hopes. There’s also a Hou Hsiao-Hsien. And no doubt, there will be fireworks in the Fassbender/Cotillard Macbeth, though placement as the closer is almost always bad news.
I really liked a lot of films this year. And really didn’t suffer through dogs. My most “what is this doing in competition?” experience (Maryland) was still a pretty good film for what it was.
We may have seen the Best Foreign Language Oscar winner in Son of Saul, which is about the Jewish Holocaust, is well made, and isn’t going to embarrass anyone giving it their vote. What it stirred in me was a consciousness that there are classes of film that, currently, require something truly new in meaning for me to be seriously interested. Holocaust film is one of those. Son of Saul delivers a new look and feel, but the content, for me, was nothing new. As a Jew, I have seen pretty much every Jewish Holocaust movie made in America or Europe in my 50 years (and from before) and the bar is high. Shoah remains the most profound Holocaust film experience for me. Tim Blake Nelson’s The Grey Zone, which in 2001 more directly addressed the issue of Jews participating in killing Jews in the camps, is flawed, but underrated.
Son of Saul touches on the issue of how what humans are capable of doing when they have a certain distance and how that can change instantly when that distance is erased. But without a more complete explanation of that key theme, the film has the feel of a thankfully blurry tour of Nazi death camp operations, the sounds and blurry images allowing audience imagination to run free. That part of the film didn’t touch me. The emotional depth of the film for me was when a survivor of the shower room gassing is then finished off, requiring an autopsy so more can be learned about how to kill efficiently. That said more to me than an oven and the attendant horrible noises.
I have no ill words for anyone who loves Son of Saul. How people connect to content like this is profoundly personal. And unless another film rises, I will not be unhappy with this film winning the Oscar. The director is clearly a real talent. And anything that makes people think and feel in a deep way is of great value.
Brillante Mendoza’s Taklub is also, really, a holocaust drama. The holocaust here starts with a specific family, but this becomes a symbol of the massive tragedy of typhoons in the Philippines. Wonderful, understated performance by Nora Aunor. Slow. Painful. Real.
I quite like and respect Carol from Todd Haynes. Blanchett is great, but the story here is Rooney Mara, who walks a very difficult tightrope, having to play a bit of a blank slate while also blossoming in the process without the script making a big deal out of her evolution. Beautiful. What the film doesn’t deliver is explosions… which is why it is so good… but is also why I am not head over heels. It is a film of the moment, even though it is wonderful in that it isn’t trying to be that. It is just a human story, reflecting one shade in a complex human matter.
There is so much I loved about Sicario. Unfortunately, the problems I have with it are embodied by its central character. It just so happens that the role is that of a woman – in a genre slot usually played by men – played by the great Emily Blunt. My issues have nothing to do with the gender of the character or Ms. Blunt’s performance. For me, there were just too many – one is too many – “She only did that because it’s a story point” moments. Of course, the character is the audience surrogate in a world she doesn’t quite understand or agree with in principle. But when the character does things that the audiences already understands to be stupid, you lose the audience… or at least me.
There are some mysteries, but I basically understood two of the main characters from the moments of their introductions in the film. And the secrets of their specific goals, as unveiled through the film, made sense and were exhilarating. Great performances by Josh Brolin, as the film’s whip, and Benicio del Toro, as the seething id. And a tremendous performance by Blunt… but her motivations are explained to her repeatedly. BZZT! And she is set up in the script as one kind of character (the first one in the door that she just kicked down) who has little experience “working cases,” but is then, suddenly, the uptight rules-pusher in her new surroundings. I’m not asking for by-the-book character without complexity. What works about the character is that she has to confront her ideas about the morality of the work she has chosen. But for much of the movie, her moral compass is inflexible and I didn’t believe that for a second. And she is just such a fuck-up. She gets a couple of moments of competence with a weapon, but mostly, she is a pawn whose dumb choices are somehow counted on to be wrong by The Boys. And there is no real payoff, unlike, say, a movie like To Live And Die In LA, in which the sidekick becomes the master. Again, maybe that is now a cliche. But it is better than what I saw on that screen… that is, aside from the stuff in the film that I LOVED. (Did I mention Roger Deakins’ spectacular work in grades of brown?)