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David Poland

By David Poland

Cannes You Dig It?: Episode 3

Taklub 0c

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?)

7 Responses to “Cannes You Dig It?: Episode 3”

  1. leahnz says:

    not many comments in these cannes threads (i guess when so few people have seen the films being reviewed and likely won’t for a while yet there’s not a lot to say) but i dig Villeneuve thus far so i’m keen to see what he does on ‘sicario’. my girl-crush on blunt is unabashed and the others in the cast seem like good people so i’m hopeful. (the mere idea of a ‘blade runner’ sequel has a sphincter-tightening factor of 9.5 but if villeneuve sticks with it maybe there’s room for something fresh and unique, good lord)
    from a link on the MCN main page i just read this little interview with him, this bit was so depressing re emily’s role: “Q: Was her part always written for a woman? DV: In the past, some distributor or some producer wanted a man. When he said that to me, I felt it was a very strong, beautiful part for a woman, and that is something that doesn’t exist very often, so the fact that she’s a woman is important. They didn’t ask me to change the part. But I knew if I kept her character as a woman, I would probably have less money [to work with].” just mind-boggling that the mere presence of a vagina in a major role means less money, but good on him for doing it anyway – i kind of wish the interviewer had asked him a follow-up ‘why?’ (re less money for having a woman’s role) just to hear his perspective since villeneuve seems like a thoughtful, switched on dude, but it probably would have just depressed me more

  2. MAGGA says:

    Wait, what, a new Gaspar Noe? How did that pass me by? Admittedly I have never loved any of his work, but he seems like one of the few directors reaching for the impossible, even if it’s frustrating to see how far out of his reach his ideas are. Enter The Void was, on one level, mind-blowing, but I’m old-fashioned enough to wish he just made it a ninety minute movie of the floating spirit finding out who shot him and why, which would have given it some semblance of structure rather than the floating obsession with his sister. I always look forward to being frustrated by his movies

  3. EtGuild2 says:

    Love ENTER THE VOID. His new one revolves around a threesome…in 3D!

    Sad to hear “Sicario” was slight letdown.

  4. Smith says:

    David, did you see Cemetary of Splendor or Mountains May Depart?

  5. Stella's Boy says:

    All of the reviews for Sicario that I’ve read have ranged from positive to overwhelmingly positive. It’s a must-see for the cast alone. So pleased that it’s apparently a great role for Benicio.

  6. The Pope says:

    @ Mr. Poland (but no criticism intended).
    Expense aside, why do so many journalists bail early on the festival? It is almost a tradition amongst American/British correspondents in Cannes.

  7. Vora says:

    what can you say about Taklub not winning any single UCR Award.. And Nora Aunors performance, as what you had stated was wonderful, understated.

    Dont you think they (UCR Jury) should have given ger recognition for her performance?

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