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Cannes 67 Wrap-Up

Saturday, May 24th, 2014

Cannes 67 – c’est fini.

After dozens of screenings, predictions, and an endless series of queue debates, we have a Palme d’Or.

Presented by a jury led by the inimitable Jane Campion (in terms of grace, eloquence, and the smile on her face, one of the best Presidents in recent memory), the film that receives the most prestigious prize in world cinema is Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep.

In my May 6 snapshot of Turkish director Ceylan, I wrote: “Ceylan is essentially three for four in his Cannes career… do not be surprised if 2014 marks Turkey’s second Palme d’Or win, after Yılmaz Güney and Şerif Gören’s golden The Way (1982).”

Both before and after the film screened early in the Competition slate, it was the critical (and bookie) favorite to win the Palme.

Ceylan’s long-form style is unapologetically his own, despite it leaving some audiences cold (in the same snapshot a commenter snarked Ceylan is “a horrible, pretentious director”). I don’t begrudge folks for feeling outright alienated by the auteur’s lengthy films, but to claim they are without merit is certainly misguided.

Tuck yourself in for Winter Sleep, which clocks in at 196 minutes. It’s a reflective, deliberately-paced meditation that is choreographed much like a piece of theatre (which I mention because of the film’s relevant subtexts). The sets look and feel like stages. Shakespeare is referenced (in the dialogue—but then again, a major locale is the Hotel Othello). Boundaries are stretched. You may take an intermission (read: nap).

It’s a major winner, and one that was probably overdue (2011’s Once Upon A Time In Anatolia is pretty great). While it didn’t do as much for me as some of the other films in Competition, there’s still plenty for me to admire here. But that’s the beauty of subjectivity: one person’s masterpiece is another person’s walk-out (or conk-out). Moving on.

Meet your 2014 Grand Prix winner: one of the unsung gems this festival is the enigmatic and beguiling Le Meraviglie (The Wonders), directed by sophomore filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher, who debuted 2011’s Corpo Celeste in the Director’s Fortnight. People don’t typically jump from that program immediately to the Palme d’Or Competition with their follow-up film, so expectations were high for The Wonders.

Based on some autobiographical elements from Rohrwacher’s life (the film also stars her sister Alba), The Wonders looks at a rural family of beekeepers in the sun-kissed Umbrian countryside who join an artisanal produce contest that has echoes of ancient Etruscan agriculture—emphasis on the culture. “I cried at the end,” jury member Nicholas Winding Refn said at the awards ceremony. The film has a conclusion that will have you talking—possibly also mystified, but talking just the same.

On to the Jury Prize, or Prizes. There are two this year, as Xavier Dolan shares the stage with an absent Jean-Luc Godard for Mommy and Adieu au Langage 3D, respectively.

Québécois auteur Dolan, only 25, is just killing it. He’ll return to the Cannes stage soon enough—hell, maybe in 365 days from now (he’s that prolific)—and when he does, he’ll come gunning once again for that Palme, which his home country of Canada has never won. Mommy, his 2014 entry, was as passionate as it was mature and thoughtful. The film portrays a difficult relationship a son has with his mother, shot in an intriguing (yet justified) 1:1 aspect ratio. It’s quite good—in fact, press booed when it only won the Jury Prize. There are a lot of people where who thought it should have won the gold, and it’s very likely you will too.

Godard is much older than Dolan, yet seems more playful than him. To get a sense of what Goodbye to Language is like, please read my oh-so-scholarly article that pays homage to this wonderfully funny essay film. Earlier today Cannes was one of the only major film festivals that hadn’t yet given one of the original modern auteurs a prize, but his 2014 Jury Prize rectifies that. Not that Godard gives a damn, mind you. Goodbye to Language is Godard at his most eccentric, and it’s a lot of fun.

Best Director went to the always solid Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher, the handsome, brilliantly-acted nonfiction dramatization led by Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, and Mark Ruffalo. Many press here claim it’s an Oscar prizefighter in the making (does this mean the race has begun? Oh god), but MCN’s very own David Poland thinks otherwise. For my money, however: a strong movie, proficiently told.

Winner of the Best Script award is Andrey Zvyagintsev’s massive Leviathan, a picture that gets bigger and bigger the more I ruminate on it. Except that this year that title seems like a throwaway: the masterful direction and cinematography of Leviathan are far more salient than its dialogue, but I suppose I’m happy that it got recognized in one way or another. It’s a superb picture; ironic and complex, capturing some knockout performances.

Speaking of the players: the Best Actor prize went to Mr. Turner’s Timothy Spall for his portrayal of the master British painter JMW Turner, an award that seem clinched in the opening days of the entire festival. Working with director Mike Leigh over three decades and surviving leukemia in the process, Spall ends his “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” streak with a well-deserved honor.

Finally, my favorite surprise of the night: Julianne Moore, Best Actress. Her screen time in David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars is an energizing highlight of the film (she ultimately steals the show). She plays the rude and crude Havana Segrand, a fading Hollywood star haunted by her past as she attempts a return to the business. Smart money was on French favorite Marion Cotillard, tipped to win for her expectedly strong turn in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s Two Days, One Night, but Moore’s role was far more memorable.

As always, thank you for reading. It’s a pleasure to come to this event and it’s a privilege to cover it.

À la prochaine!

 

On Jean-Luc Godard / ADIEU AU LANGAGE / GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE 3D

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

Jean-Luc Godard / ADIEU AU LANGAGE / GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE 3D

AH DIEUX // AH GOD(ARD)S

That is a pun

2014

Cannes Film Festival

But

Can film

Can film actually festival?

???

Godard was not present

To present his present film essay

Which I would call a present

Where am I going with this?

Here’s a .gif I made

adieu oh langage

The film is in 3D

There’s a dog also

3D dog’s life

Dog’s breakfast 3D

The dog is Godard’s dog

But it is our dog too. And there are people

The people are preoccupied with language

They talk a lot

The dog says nothing.

!!!

I like the dog the most

But yeah the people

One guy takes a dump with the door open

Also the dog takes a dump in the woods

I laughed at both of those moments.

///

The naked human body… in glorious 3D

Male gaze?

Female gaze?

There’s even a shower scene

Godard’s 3D Choose Your Own Adventure, where:

Closing an eye reveals more than both eyes open.

\\\

Things in 3D I’ve never seen before

Hyperbolelanguagerhetoric

Godard is more playful here

It is a very funny movie

As the French would say

C’est très drole

Hahahahahahahaha

As the French would say

Hahahahahahahaha

+++

I internalized much of the experience

Though it is an essay film, I listened to myself instead

I wrote thoughts to myself quietly

I found more meaning in these moments than other films at this Festival

In that sense

Can film?

It Cannes

Godard didn’t Cannes

But he still Cannes.

{}{}{}

Cannes Competition Review: Leviathan

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

Leviathan a“Canst thou draw out Leviathan with a fishhook? Or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down?”
—Job 41:1

Returning to the Palme d’Or race after a brief segue in Un Certain Regard (where 2011’s Elena won the Jury Prize), Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan is one of the finest, if not the finest film, in the 2014 Competition; other films may match it in terms of meaning, but the level of craftsmanship and the delicate form on display here is unrivaled. Described by its producer Alexander Rodnyansky as a “story of love and tragedy experienced by ordinary people,” Leviathan is one of the final titles here at Cannes 2014, and its utter immensity is proof that this Festival does indeed sometimes save the best for last.

leviathan1

The narrative—rapt in poignant beauty and steeped in true irony—is witnessed in the Euro-Arctic town of Kirovsk, a hilly, chilly locale exquisitely photographed by Mikhail Krichman, Zvyagintsev’s usual cinematographer. Penned by Zvyagintsev and regular writing partner Oleg Negin, the film was initially described as a contemporary retelling of the Book of Job (which certainly raised intrigue), but it’s simpler to dissect it as a story of one man’s Ahab-like struggle with broken family and municipal corruption. Set against the merciless Barents Sea, Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov) faces the loss of his house and business due to the shady practices of Vadim Sergeyich, the vodka-swilling, red-faced Gargantuan mayor who resorts to threats and violence to remain in power (with flashes of a certain crack-using Toronto politician). Trying his best to stay afloat, Kolya employs the help of Moscow lawyer Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) to navigate the legal situation, and it’s the trust he places in him that begins the collapse of everything, his family included, that Kolya knew (though outlooks are similarly bleak for most in this representation of Kirovsk).

As Leviathan is Zvyagintsev’s biggest production to date, the film weighs in with a populated cast that is uncharacteristic of the director’s previous work. While it is a trick at the top of the film to get a handle on all the names and family members amidst the exchanges, each character eventually receives the treatment that hints at a number of engrossing tales written into this diegesis; Zvyagintsev presents a universe that is established with sublime restraint, and the storytelling of the supporting players strikes a balance that adds to the emotional impact of Kolya’s situation, rather than distract from or muddle it.

Leviathan BSpeaking of Kolya: many reports out of this Festival have extolled Timothy Spall’s acting in Mr. Turner (myself included), but Aleksey Serebryakov owns, by far, the most compelling male role in this entire Competition. There’s never a scene where Kolya doesn’t have a myriad of issues weighing on his mind, and these are visible in Serebryakov’s pained, tired facial expressions and believable portrayal of alcoholism (to be sure, Leviathan is boozier than two or three Hong Sang-soo films combined). While the entire cast is assuredly great, we see a major range in Serebryakov’s exploration of Kolya, and it’s a deeply affecting performance.

Finally, Zvyagintsev’s construction (and eventual deconstruction) of visual space is really quite astonishing. Both indoors and out Krichman employs dolly tracks that often follow a curved trajectory, allowing the camera to turn corners in domestic scenes or capture a wider shot of the imposing landscapes. At all times the film looks gorgeous, often haunting; whether it is the poetic image of a half-buried whale skeleton or the frigid hillsides of northwest Russia, there are scenes in this film that are simply incredible. One unforgettable example: tracking back-to-front the length of a courtroom during one of Kolya’s hearings, in a single take the camera slowly approaches a woman speed-reading legalese as fast as she can, done so to make a point about the confusing, whirlwind bureaucracy that laymen like Kolya have no chance in besting. It’s this kind of artistry that makes Leviathan such a giant: modest, accessible, yet deeply complex and expertly accomplished.

 

Cannes Un Certain Regard Review: Lost River

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

Lost RiverIf Lost River is the film Ryan Gosling wanted to debut as his first film—and you only get one first film—then I’ll be the first to admit that I had him pegged (artistically speaking, anyway) as someone entirely different.

There are always one or two movies at Cannes that are prematurely tossed aside by critics immediately after the initial press screening, and it appears Gosling’s film is an example. It’s not the deepest picture at this festival by any stretch of the imagination—and it is self-indulgent to a fault—but this film is certainly an experience, albeit an avant-garde one; while I didn’t gain anything meaningful from the narrative aspect of Gosling’s fable, there’s no denying Lost River is primarily a strong visual offering, replete with striking compositions, arresting images, and a nuanced color palette.

One part urban fantasy, one part body horror “macabaret,” and two parts the hipster fringes of Instagram, Gosling’s film is a fairytale of sorts set in the ghostly ruins of Detroit. Billy (Christina Hendricks), single mother of two sons—a toddler named Franky and a teenager named Bones (Iain De Caestecker)—live in a house they can’t afford for much longer, and to make ends meet Billy begins working in a decadent sex club that offers a “bloody good time.” The family lives next to Rat (Saoirse Ronan), essentially a quiet, rodent-carrying manic pixie dream girl for Bones to admire; outside of this narrative bubble is the rampant anarchy spread by Bully (Matt Smith), the self-proclaimed king of town. Bully scours the nightscapes with his disfigured crony looking to bury Bones, and it’s a race to see who will end the other first.

Lost RIverIf you go into an avant-garde film expecting a cohesive narrative, there is little to do but remind yourself that this is experimental work and continue from there. Elliptical editing, filtered lighting, unusual camera angles—hell, even different modes of camerawork (Gosling takes a GoPro for a spin)—this is what you can look forward to (or dread) in Lost River, and it’s juxtaposed against a soundtrack that sounds similar to the atmospheric, thumping, generally crepuscular music the Chromatics did for Drive (but of course). Yes, Drive. And even Only God Forgives. These films come to mind not simply because of Gosling’s lead performances in them, but because of director Nicolas Winding Refn’s distinctively electric aesthetic that Gosling is certainly inspired by here. But countless filmmakers pay shameless homage to the auteurs they admire, so this is par for the course, and it’s critically inconsistent to criticize Gosling for doing so himself.

Lost River boasts some memorable pictures (burning buildings, sunken highway lamps, a faceless woman), and though they may have come from Gosling’s pen, these images owe much to cinematographer Benoît Debie, the lens-genius behind Spring Breakers and Enter the Void. The same is also applicable to production designer Beth Mickle (who also worked on Drive), and to his credit, Gosling lists their names and many more with massively-sized font flair at the top of the film. Lost River has a remarkably strong artistic department, so while the plot may be a little too metaphorical to mean much of anything (and remember, Gosling isn’t actually in the movie), this is an admirable outing—and an intriguing first feature—nonetheless. Hell, it’s better than anything James Franco’s ever churned out.

 

Cannes Review: The Salvation

Monday, May 19th, 2014

MadsMikkelsen__2__S_929301mKnown as a member of  Dogme 95, Danish director Kristian Levring (2000’s The King is Alive) returns to the Croisette with out-of-Competition title The Salvation, a film Levring calls a “tribute to the classic American Western.” And it is: Levring’s directorial repeater shoots at all the marks and repeatedly hits the bulls-eye, nailing the tone and tropes of the genre. It’s one of the slickest, most entertaining entries in recent memory.

The tagline for The Salvation: “bad men will bleed.” That’s a fairly basic, epitaph-sounding plot summary for films in the Western canon; here, it summarizes a revenge narrative that pits Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) against a posse of villains who are terrorizing the fictional town of Black Creek. Acting more with his eyes and less with his lines (not a criticism), Mikkelsen as quiet immigrant Jon recalls Viggo Mortensen’s Tom Stall in A History of Violence, David Cronenberg’s 2005 portrayal of a man hoping to move on from his vicious past. As for The Salvation, the Great Dane’s Jon, an ex-soldier, is a gunslinger first and a family man second, and when tragedy befalls his wife and son, so begins the gritty elimination of the men responsible. Word gets to the odious outlaw Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) that Jon has killed his brother, and the scene is set for a showdown that is pitch-perfect from beginning to end.

It isn’t a Western without the West looking its very best, and Levring’s trusted cinematographer Jens Schlosser frames visually stunning images here. The film looks and feels remarkably like Monument Valley, where Black Creek is ostensibly set (with its looming sandstone buttes as the backdrop), yet the production was shot on location in South Africa—an accomplishment that reminds of The Salvation’s dead-on design. But of all the visual elements that make this a outstanding oater, most important is to mention that the color contrast here has been cranked way, way up: Sin City and other graphic novel reference points immediately come to mind, with deep grainy shadows and vivid reds boasting beautifully through the action. Surprisingly, these crimsons rarely come from blood and brains, and in terms of the gun violence there’s less gore than expected (oh, but there’s so many deaths). Rather, the costumes, environments, and lived-in sets are wet with glorious color, and this aesthetic richness works wonderfully for the homage pastiche Levring is going for.

Levring and his co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen (who won an Oscar in 1999 for his short film Valgaften) make no bones about their revenge narrative. There’s a very minor subplot of the West’s history with oil and how that affects man’s inner greed, but it’s woven around 100 minutes of Winchester headshots, stagecoaches, and thousand-yard stares. This is an unpretentious, straight-up blast of frontier fighting, and while I wasn’t able to discern a bonafide Wilhelm scream, The Salvation does, of course, come complete with the requisite Searchers shot. Yeah, this film rocks.

Cannes Competition Review: Maps To The Stars

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

Mapstothestars“I infect my work with madness, then let it settle,” Bruce Wagner told LA Weekly in 2005 when his satirical Hollywood novel “Dead Stars” was released. “The story is infected by something, like in David Cronenberg’s films.”

As a screenwriter and a relatively prolific novelist, Wagner has built his career on taking shots at the ironies and hypocrisies of Hollywood and popular culture, and he continues to ply his trade in Maps to the Stars. Wagner’s searing script is sick,  twisted and also very funny, driving a knife deep into the ugly side of the entertainment industry and the Western world at large.

Enter Cronenberg.

The Baron of Blood’s ever-evolving canon is in the middle of his latest phase: discursive, cerebral, nihilistic cinema that has moved away from the body horror for which his earliest work was notorious. This isn’t a bad thing; it’s interesting to see masters explore different facets of their inspirations. Scholars already connect A Dangerous Method, Cosmopolis and Maps to the Stars as a sort of series, and it would be an appropriate link; if you hated Cosmopolis or found it cold and distant, there’s little reason for you to unfurl Maps to the Stars expecting something wholly different. That said, this is easily more entertaining than Cronenberg’s previous two features, as Wagner’s script is a work of brilliant cartography; this is a film where we watch Julianne Moore’s character take a dump and wipe her ass, simultaneously cracking jokes about all the pills she’s taking. (“I’m all blocked up from the Vicodin.”)

cusack map to the starsMaps to the Stars charts the stereotypically-Hollywood Weiss family, where mother (Olivia Williams), father (John Cusack), and child actor Benjie (Evan Bird) have cut their teeth on the serrated edge that is show business. For reasons we learn later, estranged Weiss daughter Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) rejoins the family in Los Angeles after taking a personal assistant job under Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), a wilting actress in denial, and supernatural chaos begins to ensue. Literal ghosts from the past are returning uninvited, and it’s almost Shakespearean (“Oh, my prophetic soul!”) to see them haunt these fame-obsessed, narcotic-addled characters, driving them to insanity.

Cronenberg is an outspoken proponent of the new digital era, and his perennial cinematographer Peter Suschitzky has done an excellent job in capturing the beauty of Los Angeles (and the exquisite interior design of LA mansions), despite the festering hideousness that lies beneath the city. His slow dollies capture the Cronenbergian creepshow perfectly.

Because Wagner’s script calls for actors to do and say depraved things with a straight face, the film couldn’t have been made—in this current form, anyway—without Cronenberg’s history of directing violence and dissecting the psycho-bizarre. Every player, especially Julianne Moore, surprises with their eagerness to go with the flow of debauchery. Mia Wasikowska is crazier here than she was in Stoker, and that’s saying something. Robert Pattinson, Cronenberg’s oddly appropriate muse, no longer needs to prove his authenticity as a proper actor. Finally, we need to see more of Evan Bird, witnessed here in his breakout role as a hilarious asshole narcissist. To be sure, Cronenberg’s navigation combined with Wagner’s pen (“it’s a fucking art film!”) make Maps to the Stars both a standout of Cannes 2014, and the best film the director has made since 2005.

Cannes Competition Review: Wild Tales

Saturday, May 17th, 2014

relatos_salvajesWhen Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux first brought Damián Szifrón’s Competition title Relatos Salvajes (Wild Tales) to our attention, he described it as “very unique, personal and different cinema that should wake up the Croisette.”

While this may have been a cheeky joke (Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s 196-minute Winter Sleep had screened just a day prior), Frémaux’s sentiments are accurate: lively and engaging, Wild Tales—a title that’s plural for good reason—is one of the most broadly funny films the Festival has programmed in Competition in recent memory, albeit a little uneven.

Argentine Szifrón, known for his career in comedy television, aims high with his biggest budget to date: Wild Tales intertwines six separate narratives, and the film is primarily successful in finding humor in its theme of ordinary people pushed to their limit. All of these stories include common banalities that grow into fantastic scenarios of violence and revenge, and as the film’s summary relates, these characters “cross the thin line that divides civilization from brutality.” The large ensemble cast that includes some of Argentina’s biggest actors—including Ricardo Darin, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Dario Grandinetti, and Erica Rivas—have fun with the material, and there’s not a dud amongst the performers. Szifrón’s bold use of color, too, fuels the energy in his multiple canvasses.

relatos_salvajes_1It would be unfair to explain each of these stories outright (going in blind is probably the best way to experience these vignettes), but the general consensus here at Cannes is that the film bats four for six. While your mileage may vary, at least two of these episodes (possibly more, possibly less) are too long, overstay their premise, or simply don’t get to the punchline on time; that said, all of these sketches are unique and most importantly creative, showing off Szifrón’s dark and cunning satire.

Pedro and Agustin Almodóvar’s El Deseo is a coproducer, appropriate because the campy, over-the-top comedy here is totally within Pedro’s purview. There’s also flashes of social commentary that are comparable to Larry David (and other comedians of the everyday frustration), but Szifrón’s background in crime comedy keeps things visceral, explosive, and surreal.

The film also features a great opening credits sequence. Staying in the theme of “wild,” each cast and crewmember receives a sort of “spirit animal” image that coincides with their title, with the Almodóvars as the proud lions and writer-director Szifrón as the sly fox. With the image of the fox in my head, I continued to imagine Szifrón’s creative process as such; slinking and winking with lots to say, but keeping cool while saying it. Wild Tales is distributed by Warner Bros. on home ground, and Sony Pictures Classics in the U.S. So while this should be a Spanish-language winner (and box-office grosser), the script’s ambitious creativity and the largely successful execution are auspicious signs for future projects.

Cannes Competition Review: The Captive

Friday, May 16th, 2014

TheFilmFarm_TheCaptive_2013_01Because this is the likely the first question on many minds, here’s the good news: Atom Egoyan’s The Captive has very little in common with Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners, 2013′s $61-million-grossing kidnapping thriller that sounded similar on the page. Nope, it’s its own film.

The bad news: The Captive is yet another major misstep for Egoyan, who so desperately needed a successful debut here at Cannes following his just-released, poorly-received Devil’s Knot.

Flashing across a timeline of eight years, The Captive depicts the abduction of the young Cassandra (Alexia Fast) and the efforts made by her loose cannon father Matthew (Ryan Reynolds) and bitter mother Tina (Mireille Enos) to find her (the parallels to Prisoners end here). To add a bit of intrigue to the mix, Egoyan and co-writer David Fraser play with the chronology of their plot structure, moving back and forth from the kidnapping to the present-day aftermath, where Cassandra’s parents are still looking for her. Also in the present: the twisted pedophile Mika (Kevin Durand), who over eight years has established a strange and curious relationship with the now-teenaged Cassandra, locked in his basement. Rosario Dawson and Scott Speedman play good cop, bad cop, respectively, in their hunt to end child pornography rings on the internet. Mika, obsessed with hidden cameras, films his subjects to entertain subscribers to his sick “reality” show.

The blurring of truth and fiction is a fairly standard theme throughout the director’s filmography, and much of Egoyan’s career is recalled in The Captive (even his recent attachment to Mozart finds a cinematic home here). In terms of narrative ambiguity, though, this frostbitten script has a blizzard of silly inconsistencies, like asking Scott Speedman’s cowboy detective to incessantly and needlessly question the motives of Matthew. Is Matthew lying, or was his daughter actually stolen from him? This is just one of the many failed attempts to artificially heighten The Captive’s tension, and when Matthew eventually pops Speedman’s character in the face for being so ceaselessly obnoxious, it’s as if the script is apologizing for allowing this character to waste so much screen time. Thematically, the title of the film doesn’t just apply to abducted Cassandra—these characters are all held captive by something, tangible or otherwise—but this idea was better explored in Prisoners, and here it is far too on the nose to work again.

It’s clear the film wants to obfuscate the truth (is it the past, or is it the present?) and fool us off the scent (how will these dozen loose ends be tied up?) but these mechanisms are unintentionally more confusing than they should be, because they rarely make a lick of sense. Obsessed with peppering in small details that aren’t at all necessary, the script features a myriad of minor characters, like an assistant detective who has the almost supernatural ability to piece together intricate images in his head (we see this for a single scene). Clichés abound: everyone has a dark past or a criminal record, background notes that are hinted at with expository dialogue that is the epitome of unsubtle.

The Captive isn’t dreadful. Reynolds can and does hold his own here—he’s the best thing about this film—and Enos is equally strong. A car chase late in the film is also well-choreographed, and Egoyan’s go-to cinematographer Paul Sarossy captures the snowy Niagara Falls backdrop effectively. Tapping into many of his previous tropes—voyeurism being one of the most prevalent in this film—Egoyan could have had a successful marriage of thriller intrigue and artistic complexity, but on the icy highways of this story, the screenwriting fishtails out of control and never regains it.

Cannes Competition Review: Mr. Turner

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

mr turner“I wanted to make a film about [J. M. W.] Turner, the personality,” director Mike Leigh said in a recent interview commissioned by the Tate Modern. And that is  what he did with Mr. Turner, writing and directing the second film in Competition at Cannes 2014, one that kicks off what will likely be a tight race for the festival’s Best Actor prize.

Joining Leigh for the sixth time is Timothy Spall as the beloved British artist, and as seen in 1996’s Secrets & Lies, the Spall/Leigh combination is a great one. Spall’s nuanced performance as the grunting, guttural Mr. Turner carries the film throughout its hefty, noticeable 149-minute running time. “He is so complex, and there’s so much of him to get your head around,” Leigh said of the painter, and his film is certainly a testament to that; the same is abundantly true for Spall’s ability to really tap into the character.

Looking at the final decades of Turner’s life, the film compresses a quarter-century of narrative  to create a portrait of the artist as complex as he truly was. A survey of the events: Turner paints, he travels, he loves, and he counsels with members of the Royal Academy of Arts (played to perfection by a cast of Leigh regulars, including Lesley Manville as Scottish polymath Mary Somerville). By his side is the pitiable Hannah Danby (Dorothy Atkinson), Turner’s housekeeper who is utterly ignored by the man despite loving him unrequitedly. Jumping late into his life, we see what makes the artist tick, what inspires him, and what eventually kills him. There’s also an interesting intersection between art and technology here, as the science of light and optics is introduced to the artist in the twilight of his years (a thoughtful scene depicting Turner’s first self-daguerreotype is just one example).

The film’s art department, and Leigh’s trusted cinematographer Dick Pope, are to be commended. The mise-en-scène and dramatic blocking of Mr. Turner are inarguably exquisite; the latter of which being typical of Leigh, whose  background in theatre is confidently called to play here. In populated scenes, we always see the faces of each actor in frame; their angles and positions relative to each other are classic to the stage but work brilliantly here, too. Long takes and deliberate dollies allow us to pore over what is definitively inspired set design, with many of the tableaux directly adapted from Turner’s catalog. It may take a trip to the Tate and a second viewing of the film to catch all of these visual references—some of them more obvious than others—but this homage is a subtle yet excellent use of the medium, and deepens the film thematically.

Though much of the film is immaculate, the sum total lacks an emotional weight to lift the biography off the canvas. A whining score and Turner’s grouchy disposition add to the difficulty to feel “moved” by his life’s events, of which there are a lot of. The artist is aging and that is a sad reality, but there’s nothing truly affecting about this inevitability; moreover, certain threads are harped on more than once, generally overstaying their welcome.

Turner’s relationship—or lack thereof—with his housekeeper is an exception, and I found myself more interested in this character than Turner himself. His sexually abusive behavior towards her leaves Hannah miserable and confused, and it’s one of the only emotionally compelling aspects to the entirety of this biography. Her character is a reminder that Mr. Turner is primarily a well-acted, well-shot dramatization of non-events, though that truth doesn’t necessarily detract from what remains an accomplished tribute to the painter of light’s mastery—or, for that matter, Spall’s proficient portrayal.

Countdown To Cannes: Mike Leigh

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

mr turnerThe last in a series of snapshots outlining the nineteen directors in the 67th Palme d’Or Competition.

Background: English; born Salford, Greater Manchester, England 1943.

Known for / style: Naked (1993), Secrets & Lies (1996), All or Nothing (2002), Vera Drake (2004), Happy-Go-Lucky (2008), Another Year (2010); a playwright in addition to writing and directing films; improvised and / or organic approaches to character creation; unassuming realism; regularly and repeatedly working with some of the United Kingdom’s greatest actors; depicting London on film.

Mike leigh secrets and liesNotable accolades: Winner of the Palme d’Or in 1996 (Secrets & Lies), Leigh has been nominated for a total of seven Oscars (five times for his writing, two for directing). He’s won a handful of BAFTAs, a British Film Institute Fellowship, and also Best Director at Cannes (Naked, 1993). Also at Cannes are two Ecumenical Jury wins (Another Year, 2010 and Secrets & Lies). Leigh, who has been lauded by film societies the world over, also won Venice’s Golden Lion in 2004 for Vera Drake.

Film he’s bringing to Cannes: Mr. Turner, a biographical depiction of J.M.W. Turner, a British artist. Joining Leigh for a sixth time is Timothy Spall as the title protagonist, and the film looks at the “last quarter century of the great if eccentric” painter. From the Cannes program book: “Profoundly affected by the death of his father, loved by a housekeeper he takes for granted and occasionally exploits sexually, he forms a close relationship with a seaside landlady with whom he eventually lives incognito in Chelsea, where he dies. Throughout this, he travels, paints, stays with the country aristocracy, visits brothels, is a popular if anarchic member of the Royal Academy of Arts, has himself strapped to the mast of a ship so that he can paint a snowstorm, and is both celebrated and reviled by the public and by royalty.” Leigh’s again hired his go-to cinematographer Dick Pope to shoot the film. The cast is filled out with Dorothy Atkinson and frequent Leigh collaborators Marion Bailey, Paul Jesson, Lesley Manville, Martin Savage, and Ruth Sheen.

Could it win the Palme? Mike Leigh will be competing against his British realist contemporary Ken Loach—also a fellow Palme d’Or winner—and if either of these directors are to double-dip in gold, it’s Leigh. The cast is stacked with a host of classically trained actors and Leigh’s patient, sensitive approach to drama just might hold the ticket. Timothy Spall and Mike Leigh are also a golden combination at Cannes, with the Spall-led Secrets & Lies winning the Palme in 1996.

Why you should care: “I wanted to make a film about Turner, the personality,” Leigh said in a clip commissioned by the Tate Modern. “He is so complex, and there’s so much of him to get your head around. Turner was a compulsive artist. Turner had to paint, had to draw, all the time. It was an obsession.” What’s more, Leigh has also gone to lengths to recreate certain Turner paintings for the picture, with certain in-film tableaus inspired by real works from the artist’s catalogue.

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Countdown To Cannes: Damián Szifron

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

wild-talesThe penultimate in a series of snapshots outlining the nineteen directors in the 67th Palme d’Or Competition.

Background: Argentinean; born Ramos Mejía, Buenos Aires Province 1975.

Known for / style: El Fondo del Mar (English: The Bottom of the Sea) (2003), Tiempo de Valientes (English: On Probation) (2005), TV series Los simuladores (2006), TV series Hermanos y detectives (2009); writing and directing television series in addition to feature films; buddy-cop comedies that focus on crime and investigating criminality.

Notable accolades: Mainstream comedies don’t typically translate to art-house festival success, despite Szifrón’s impressive local box-office numbers. Still, San Sebastian honored him with a Horizons Award (special mention) in 2003 for The Bottom of the Sea, a film that also took the French Critics’ Discovery Award at the Toulous Latin America Film Festival. At the 2006 Peñíscola Comedy Film Festival, On Probation snagged Best Film and Best Director.

Film he’s bringing to Cannes: Relatos Salvajes (English: Wild Tales), an action-packed Spanish-language comedy thriller. Described by festival head Thierry Fremaux as “very unique, personal and different cinema that should wake up the Croisette,” the film is comprised of six stories and is Szifrón’s largest budget film to date (the film is distributed by Warner Bros.). From the official program guide: “Vulnerable before a reality that can suddenly be modified and become unpredictable, the characters cross the thin line that divides civilization from brutality. A story about love deception, the return of the past, a tragedy, or even the violence contained in an everyday detail, appear themselves to push them towards the abyss, into the undeniable pleasure of losing control.” The film stars Ricardo Darin (The Secret in Their Eyes) and other high-profile Argentinean actors (Rita Cortese, Oscar Martinez, Dario Grandinetti, and others). Oscar-winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla (Brokeback Mountain) scored.

relatos_salvajesCould it win the Palme? Judging by the distributor (Warner), the trailer (which dropped summer 2013), and the fact that the film has a tagline (”all can lose control”), it’s safe to say this is primarily a commercial piece of cinema. While Wild Tales looks to be a more thoughtful picture (and there’s a place at Cannes for films that both excite and inspire), the most likely prize is something like the Prix du Scénario—not a Palme—if Szifrón’s multi-pronged narrative is strong. A directing nod would also seem appropriate, especially if each of his six stories are distinctly worthwhile.

Why you should care: Though it’s a Spanish co-production, this Argentinean film is the only South American work in Competition. Known primarily for his work in television, Szifrón’s latest film is certainly ambitious, given its budget, scope, and well-known cast. If Wild Tales is good—hell, if it does well internationally—his projects may simply continue to grow bigger and bigger.

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Countdown To Cannes: Olivier Assayas

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

CLOUDS-OF-SILS-MARIA-Photo-©-Carole-Béthuel_IMG_9419The sixteenth in a series of snapshots outlining the nineteen directors in the 67th Palme d’Or Competition.

Background: French; born Paris, France 1955.

olivier2Known for / style: Demonlover (2002), Clean (2004), Summer Hours (2008), Carlos (2010); accomplished film criticism in addition to screenwriting; a narrative filmography that includes a number of documentaries; a wide-ranging catalogue that ranges a spread of both genres and modes of storytelling; themes of youth and self-exploration; works that are steeped in autobiography; working with and writing for Juliette Binoche; notably strong female characters; collaborating, most recently, with cinematographer Yorick Le Saux.

Notable accolades: A major component of his career, Assayas’ screenwriting is formidable; his script for Something in the Air took home Venice’s Golden Osella in 2012. His miniseries Carlos also did very well, winning LAFCA’s Best Director and Best Foreign Film awards. Carlos was also a second place runner-up at the National Society of Film Critics awards (Best Director).

Previous Cannes appearances: Attending the Festival first as a journalist and later as a filmmaker, Assayas debuted his first film Laisse Inachevé a Tokyo in 1983. His screenwriting later brought him to the Festival with André Techine films Rendez-vous (1985) and Le Lieu du Crime; he joined the festival’s Un Certain Regard program with 1996’s Irma Vep. He was invited to the Competition in 2000 with Les Destinees Sentimentales, following up with 2002’s Demonlover and 2004’s Clean in the same slot. Assayas has also debuted Boarding Gate, Chacun son Cinéma (both 2007) and 2010’s Carlos out of Competition. 2014 sees his fourth Competition title.

 Film he’s bringing to Cannes: Clouds of Sils Maria, one of the starriest debuts in the 2014 competition. The plot summary, from the distributor’s website: “At the peak of her international career, Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is asked to perform in a revival of the play that made her famous twenty years ago. But back then she played the role of Sigrid, an alluring young girl who disarms and eventually drives her boss Helena to suicide. Now she is being asked to step into the other role, that of the older Helena. She departs with her assistant (Kristen Stewart) to rehearse in Sils Maria; a remote region of the Alps. A young Hollywood starlet with a penchant for scandal (Chloë Grace Moretz) is to take on the role of Sigrid, and Maria finds herself on the other side of the mirror, face to face with an ambiguously charming woman who is, in essence, an unsettling reflection of herself.” Rounding out the cast are Lars Eidinger, Johnny Flynn, and Brady Corbet.

CLOUDS-OF-SILS-MARIA-Photo-©-Carole-Béthuel_IMG_4763Could it win the Palme? While Assayas is due for a major win at any festival, it’s foggy on whether or not Clouds of Sils Maria is one of the heaviest hitters at Cannes 2014. It’s star-studded, there’s no doubt about that; also positive is the film’s strong female characters, a truth that’s sure to play well to Jane Campion’s jury. Juliette Binoche, meanwhile, is an acting powerhouse on the Croisette, which may translate into a prize for her performance. That being said, the Competition is incredibly strong this year, and there are other films—on paper, of course—that seem more likely.

Why you should care: “Technique is dangerous, that’s the way I’ve always seen it,” Assayas said in 2013 in an interview with Black Book. “I always try to break it.” Whatever cinematic skies Clouds of Sils Maria is hiding, it’s assuredly going to be worthy of a conversation. Stewart, in need of a refreshing role, may have something here with Assayas, who is known for his strong female protagonists. Binoche agrees, saying the following about the director at a recent Q&A: “When we were shooting [Clouds of Sils Maria], I was thinking: I’m just living my dream. [Assayas] is really daring, he’s been writing for women, he’s been beyond what I expected. It gives me so much satisfaction.”

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Countdown to Cannes: Alice Rohrwacher

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

the-wonders

The fiftheen in a series of snapshots outlining the nineteen directors in the 67th Palme d’Or Competition.

Background: Italian; born Fiesole, Tuscany 1980.

Known for / style: Corpo Celeste (2011); a filmmaking career that began with editing, shooting, and directing documentaries, both shorts and features; autobiographical tendencies; handheld camera work; natural or realist approaches to direction.

Notable accolades: Relatively fresh on the scene, Rohrwacher has yet to pick up anything major. At Italy’s David di Donatello awards, she was nominated for the Best New Director prize. The Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists, on the other hand, opted to laud her as such.

Previous Cannes appearances: Rohrwacher’s debut film, Corpo Celeste, played in the 2011 Director’s Fortnight program.

Film she’s bringing to Cannes: Le Meraviglie (English: The Wonders), an Italian-language family drama. From the official website: “Fourteen-year-old Gelsomina lives in the Umbrian countryside with her sweetly dysfunctional family. Her secluded microcosm is shattered by the arrival of Martin, a young German criminal on a rehab program. Le Meraviglie tells a small but cruel love story between a father and daughter, their torments, jealousy and shyness. They give abundantly, and betray each other painfully. It tells of the ties that bind one family together, and a land undergoing a profound transformation. It is also the story of a great failure, through which they all gather strength.” The film stars Monica Bellucci, Alba Rohrwacher (the director’s sister), André Hennicke, Margarete Tiesel, Sam Louwyck, and Sabine Timoteo.

Could it win the Palme? As is the case with Naomi Kawase, Jane Campion may be looking to celebrate Rohrwacher as the second woman to ever win the Palme d’Or. Realistically, though, filmmakers don’t typically jump from Director’s Fortnight into the Competition straightaway (especially if they are women), so Rohrwacher may very well have something seriously strong here. In other words: the Cannes programmers have slotted the rising Italian director in the Palme race for a reason, and it’s a waiting game to see what The Wonders has in store. Regardless, the inclusion of the iconic Monica Bellucci makes the film a must-see.

Why you should care: Given that Alice Rohrwacher has only one narrative feature to her name, there’s a certain sense of anticipation in catching her sophomore effort. 2011’s Corpo Celeste was critically quite successful, and the trailer for The Wonders hints at something akin to the sun-kissed countryside narratives of the Italian neo-realists.

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Countdown To Cannes: Abderrahmane Sissako

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

timbuktuThe fourteenth in a series of snapshots outlining the nineteen directors in the 67th Palme d’Or Competition.

Background: Mauritanian; born Kiffa, Mauritania 1961.

Known for / style: Life on Earth (1998), Waiting for Happiness (2002), Bamako (2006); themes of alienation, foreignness, rejection, or displacement; experimenting with improvisation; working with cinematographer Jacques Besse; shooting in Mali; the use of non-actors; narratives of immigration, colonialism, and globalization.

Notable accolades: Despite the challenges African filmmakers face getting their work screened, Sissako has done  well: at Cannes, Waiting for Happiness took a FIPRESCI prize and won Sissako the “Foreign Cineaste of the Year” title; at FESPACO, the film won the fest’s Grand Prize. Also at FESPACO, Life on Earth snagged a special mention, the Air Afrique award, the TELCIPRO award, and the NALCO award. 2006’s Bamako won Sissako the Lumiere Award for Best French-language film.

Previous Cannes appearances: Sissako joins the Competition for the first time in 2014. Prior, he’s screened twice in Un Certain Regard (his short Octobre and feature Waiting for Happiness), once in a parallel section (Life on Earth), and once out of Competition (Bamako). He’s also sat on three separate Cannes juries: short film (2000, member), Un Certain Regard (2003, President), and the Competition (2007, member).

Film he’s bringing to Cannes: Le Chagrin des Oiseaux (English title: Timbuktu), a French-Mauritanian drama. Actors Abel Jafri and Hichem Yacoubi are joined by a cast of unknown performers. Timbuktu’s plot summary, found on the distributor’s website, is a doozy: “Not far from Timbuktu, now ruled by the religious fundamentalists, Kidane lives peacefully in the dunes with his wife Satima, his daughter Toya, and Issan, their twelve-year-old shepherd. In town, the people suffer, powerless, from the regime of terror imposed by the Jihadists determined to control their faith. Music, laughter, cigarettes, even soccer have been banned. The women have become shadows but resist with dignity. Every day, the new improvised courts issue tragic and absurd sentences. Kidane and his family are being spared the chaos that prevails in Timbuktu. But their destiny changes when Kidane accidentally kills Amadou, the fisherman who slaughtered ‘GPS,’ his beloved cow. He now has to face the new laws of the foreign occupants.”

Could it win the Palme? While he has no continental compatriots on the jury, Sissako’s pedigree has brought him to a boiling point: he’s a Competition newcomer for a reason, and his film sounds incredibly heavy. It may pack the emotional punch needed to lift the gold, and if it does, Timbuktu would be Mauritania’s first Palme d’Or. Outside of that, Campion and Co. could very likely go for something equally prestigious, like a directing or Grand Jury prize.

Why you should care: At Cannes 2014 Abderrahmane Sissako is representing oft-neglected African cinema on a world stage, and he’s typically considered one of the most important filmmakers of the entire continent. His latest film also features a location he’s shot before, if you’ll recall the Danny Glover spaghetti western “Death in Timbuktu” featured as a film-within-a-film in Bamako (titled as such to call attention to the tragedies happening daily there). Timbuktu is sure to be an important work, regardless of the prizes it may take home.

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Countdown To Cannes: Andrey Zvyagintsev

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

Leviathan aThe thirteenth in a series of snapshots outlining the nineteen directors in the 67th Palme d’Or Competition.

Background: Russian; born Novosibirsk, Siberia 1964.

ZvyagintsevKnown for / style: The Return (2003), The Banishment (2007), Elena (2011); working with cinematographer Mikhail Krichman, actors Konstantin Lavronenko and Elena Lyadova, and screenwriter Oleg Negin; smaller productions with minimal characters; dazzling on-location images; water motifs; films that dissect social issues of the Russian working class; narratives of family and domestic drama.

Notable accolades: Zvyagintsev (approximately pronounced zvah-geent-sev)’s first film The Return sparked a major rash of awards, but none as big as the Venice’s Golden Lion (also at Venice: the Luigi de Laurentiis Award, SIGNIS award, Sergio Trasatti Award, and the CinemAvvenire award). Heralded by the European Film Awards as “Discovery of the Year” in 2003, the director went on to pick up a Jury Prize at Cannes for his Un Certain Regard film Elena (2011), with many critics claiming it should have played in Competition. He’s won three FIPRESCI prizes, snagged a “high commendation” for directing at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, and secured even more prizes at local and smaller European festivals.

Previous Cannes appearances: In 2007, Zyvagintsev moved on from the Lido and debuted Competition title The Banishment on the Croisette, where it was received with mixed reviews. Perhaps as a result, Cannes slotted his follow-up Elena into Un Certain Regard. 2014 will mark his second film in Competition.

Leviathan BFilm he’s bringing to Cannes: Leviathan, a Russian-language drama. From IMDb: “Spanning multiple characters about the human insecurity in a “new country,” [Leviathan] gradually unwinds to a mythological scale concerning the human condition on earth entirely.” According to Leviathan producer Alexander Rodnyansky, the film is “a story of love and tragedy experienced by ordinary people.” Rejoining Zvyagintsev for his fourth feature are scriptwriter Olen Negin, cinematographer Mikhail Krichman, actress Elena Lyadova, and Elena sound designer Andrey Dergachev. The film is a contemporary spin on the Book of Job, meaning Zvyagintsev’s typically small cast size has been ramped up considerably to tell a larger story.

Could it win the Palme? Leviathan is sure to be a major front-runner, despite screening on the very last day of the Festival (something Zvyagintsev should be used to, with Elena closing Un Certain Regard in 2011). Given the scope and intention of the production, there is a possibility the film grew too large (this is the director’s biggest budget to date), but nevertheless this is a keenly anticipated Competition title; one that is tipped to be an awards giant.

Why you should care: Called a “sophomore slump” by some, The Banishment is the director’s least successful film as far as critics were concerned; outside of that, Zvyagintsev’s first and third features are compared to work by Russian film heroes like Tarkovsky. It’s also the only Russian film in Competition, and given how many films are made there locally per year, you can bet this hand-picked title is likely very strong.

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Countdown To Cannes: Bertrand Bonello

Friday, May 9th, 2014

Saint Laurent 1The eleventh in a series of snapshots outlining the nineteen directors in the 67th Palme d’Or Competition.

Background: French; born Nice, France 1968.

Known for / style: The Pornographer (2001), Tiresia (2003), House of Tolerance (2011); films that depict sex and sexuality openly or explicitly; an accomplished background in music; works that are typically associated with New French Extremism; a filmography that includes several shorts; working with actors Laurent Lucas and Jérémie Renier and collaborating with cinematographer Josée Deshaies; screenwriting in addition to directing.

bertrand-bonelloNotable accolades: In terms of trophies, Bonello has been quiet on the festival circuit; he picked up a lone FIPRESCI prize in 2001 for his Critics’ Week film The Pornographer. House of Tolerance was thrice-nominated for France’s local Prix Lumière (Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay) but did not win. In 2009, Bonello snagged Miami’s “Cutting the Edge” award for his film De la Guerre (2008).

Previous Cannes appearances: Not part of the Official Selection yet still on the Croisette, The Pornographer debuted at the 2001 Critics’ Week. Bonello has since played twice in Competition (Tiresia, 2003; House of Tolerance, 2011) and once out of Competition (the 2005 short film Cindy, The Doll is Mine).

Film he’s bringing to Cannes: Saint Laurent, Bonello’s biographical depiction of iconic fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. Not to be confused with Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent (released earlier this year), the title role is played by Gaspard Ulliel and features Léa Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Color), Louis Garrel (seen last at Cannes last year for A Castle in Italy), Jérémie Renier, and Helmut Berger. Seydoux plays Loulou de la Falaise, YSL’s close friend and fellow designer, while Renier plays Pierre Bergé, his former partner. The film is co-written by Jacques Audiard’s go-to scribe Thomas Bidegain, who helped pen A Prophet (2009) and Rust and Bone (2012).

Could it win the Palme? Trailing the pack of French-language films in the 2014 Competition is Saint Laurent, a film that faces the unfortunate reality of being screened in the wake of Berlin-bowing Yves Saint Laurent. Bonello’s critical success isn’t as established as his contemporary Competition (House of Tolerance was hit-or-miss at the Salle Debussy), so while his cast is certainly formidable, this is a film that will likely live or die on Gaspard Ulliel’s performance. That means we could see an acting prize for Ulliel if he pulls it off, as is usually the case with biopics; otherwise, this film seems an unlikely winner, and one that was initially questioned by some for being included in Competition at all.

Why you should care: Not that anyone was asking for two films on Yves Saint Laurent in the same year, but Lespert’s attempt wasn’t exactly a blockbusting success. Judging from his previous works it appears Bonello’s taken a more commercial approach (Saint Laurent is likely his most distributable), and if his attempt at the designer is stronger than Lespert’s, then so be it—we’ll take it. The film will also check in on 2013 Competition alumni Léa Seydoux and Louis Garrel, and damned if Garrel can’t do better than A Castle in Italy.

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Countdown To Cannes: Jean-Pierre And Luc Dardenne

Friday, May 9th, 2014

marion-cotillard deux dardenneThe eleventh in a series of snapshots outlining the nineteen directors in the 67th Palme d’Or Competition.

Background: Belgian; born Liège, Belgium 1951 (Jean-Pierre) and 1954 (Luc).

Luc Dardenne © Ray PrideKnown for / style: La Promesse (1996), Rosetta (1999), L’enfant (2005), The Kid with a Bike (2011); slice-of-life films made with naturalist (handheld) and social realist approaches to filmmaking; narratives that focus on the downtrodden; minimal use of score; explorations of family (sometimes dysfunctional) dynamics; working with actors Jérémie Renier, Fabrizio Rongione, and Olivier Gourmet; working with cinematographer Alain Marcoen; working with non-actors and lesser-known players.

Notable accolades: The Dardenne brothers are two of only eight filmmakers who have won the Palme d’Or twice (first for Rosetta, again for L’enfant). Other Cannes wins include the Grand Prix (The Kid with a Bike) Best Screenplay (Lorna’s Silence, 2008), and two Ecumenical Jury prizes (Le fils, 2002 and Rosetta). Their films routinely pick up awards at European film festivals, and they’ve won three Lumiere Awards for Best French Film (Le fils, L’enfant, and Lorna’s Silence).

Previous Cannes appearances: The frères first appeared at Cannes in 1987, debuting Falsch in a parallel section. They later followed up with La Promesse in 1996, also playing parallel to the Competition. Since then, they’ve regularly been slated as veterans of the big leagues, including Rosetta, Le fils, L’enfant, Lorna’s Silence, and The Kid with a Bike (2014 will mark their sixth slot in Competition). They also participated in 2007’s anthology film Chacun son Cinéma.

Film they’re bringing to Cannes: Deux jours, une nuit (Two Days, One Night), a French-language film starring Marion Cotillard and Fabrizio Rongione (Rongione being a regular Dardenne player, Cotillard a newcomer). From IMDb: “The film follows Sandra, a young woman assisted by her husband, who has only one weekend to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses so that she can keep her job.” Described as a “Belgian Western” by Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux, the film also features Catherine Salée, last seen in 2013 Palme winner Blue is the Warmest Color.

Could it win the Palme? As was the case in 2012 with Michael Haneke, the question is not “if” the Dardennes will win but “what” they will win. When Rosetta won the Palme in 1999, it was a controversial move by David Cronenberg’s jury; the Dardennes second Palme in 2005 was a vindication for everyone who believed Rosetta was a worthy winner. In 2014 their auteur status is no longer questioned, with their latest Cannes debut riding off with the Grand Prix. While no one in history has three Golden Palms to their name, you can be sure Two Days, One Night is not walking away empty-handed, from acting awards (Marion Cotillard, darling of French-language cinema? Come on) to any of the Festival’s major prizes.

Why you should care: Fabrizio Rongione’s roles in the Dardenne filmography have primarily been minor, so it should prove intriguing to see him play a lead here in Two Days, One Night. Of course, the casting of Marion Cotillard brings a certain must-see quality to the Dardennes’ work (which has typically avoided star power), and if the brothers do inevitably take home something big, well…

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Countdown To Cannes: Jean-Luc Godard

Friday, May 9th, 2014

d1095a57-21c3-466d-9aae-c40d0dee4780-800x600The tenth in a series of snapshots outlining the nineteen directors in the 67th Palme d’Or Competition.

Background: French-Swiss; born Paris, France 1930.

Known for / style: Breathless (1960), Pierrot le Fou (1965), Alphaville (1965); Film Socialisme (2010); a founding member of the nouvelle vague; accomplished film criticism in addition to screenwriting; an incredibly prolific output that has moved on from narrative filmmaking and transitioned more into experimental documents, short films, and video commentaries on art, life, and love; a blatant dismissal of institutions and traditions; elliptical editing; avant-garde tendencies; politically and philosophically-charged cinema.

jlgNotable accolades: Cannes is one of the only major festivals that hasn’t presented one of the original modern auteurs with a prize—not that Godard thinks twice about this, mind you. At the top of his awards shelf are his two Golden Lions from Venice (a career award and one for Prénom Carmen, 1983), the Golden Bear from Berlin (Alphaville), and an honorary Oscar at the 83rd Academy Awards. In true Godardian fashion, he was not present for that award.

Previous Cannes appearances: Godard has attended the Festival for over five decades. He began his journeys there acting in the Agnès Varda Competition title Cleo de 5 a 7 (1962), later bringing his films to parallel sections (Vent d’Est, 1970; Comment ca va, 1976; Ici et Ailleurs, 1977) and then finally in Competiton (Sauve qui Peut / La Vie, 1980; Passion, 1982; Détective, 1985; Aria, 1987; Nouvelle Vague, 1990; Eloge de L’amour, 2001). He’s also played Un Certain Regard a number of times, including Lettre a Freddy Buache (1982), Histoire(s) du Cinéma (1997), and Film Socialisme (2010). Out of Competiton, he’s premiered Histoires du Cinéma (1988) and Notre Musique (2004). Cannes’ Classics program has also showed a few selections from his catalogue. Godard will also be bringing a Special Screening of his 2014 documentary Bridges of Sarajevo to the Croisette.

fd77063f-a6b8-4da4-83d7-72683badccef-800x600Film he’s bringing to Cannes: Adieu au Langage 3D (Goodbye to Language), an expectedly experimental film shot natively in 3D. The newly-released trailer features a Godardian aesthetic most recently seen in Film Socialisme (2010), including white text overlays, ambiguous storytelling, video and handheld camerawork, and avant-garde color palettes. The synopsis, found on the distributor’s website: “The idea is simple: A married woman and a single man meet. They love, they argue, fists fly. A dog strays between town and country. The seasons pass. The man and woman meet again. The dog finds itself between them. The other is in one, the one is in the other.”



Could it win the Palme? Godard hasn’t won anything from Cannes, and he certainly doesn’t care either way: he’s already far more canonized than some current Palme d’Or owners, which is to say awards are technically irrelevant. That’s not to say he couldn’t win the top prize in 2014, but we’ll have to see if he even shows up to the Festival in the first place. Goodbye to Language might seem impenetrable or an otherwise difficult sit, but the jury has some notably excellent fans of video that may enjoy Godard’s latest (Jia Zhangke, for one). A career Palme d’Or, if anything, seems the most likely.

Why you should care: Godard hasn’t screened in Competition in over a decade, and many of the filmmakers he’ll be competing against were inspired by his work. While he was hilariously absent for his scheduled Film Socialisme appearance, you can be sure that if he does attend Cannes 2014, the press conference for Goodbye to Language will be assuredly great: Godard will smoke his cigarettes, answer questions with brutal honesty, and act as if none of this matters at all. If nothing else, expect his latest film to be an interesting commentary on rhetoric and the mode of 3D-filmmaking.

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Follow Jake Howell on Twitter: @Jake_Howell

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Tommy Lee Jones

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Michel Hazanavicius

Countdown To Cannes: Michel Hazanavicius

Friday, May 9th, 2014

searchThe ninth in a series of snapshots outlining the nineteen directors in the 67th Palme d’Or Competition.

Background: French; born Paris, France 1967.

Known for / style: The Artist (2011) and the spy parody series OSS 117; working with Jean Dujardin and his wife Bérénice Bejo; comedic capers and light-hearted narratives; a filmography that began in television series and TV movies; writing in addition to directing.

Notable accolades: Aside from the Best Picture Oscar, Hazanavicius’ biggest accolade is assuredly his Best Director Oscar for The Artist at the 84th Academy Awards. At the same ceremony, The Artist took home a total of five trophies out of ten nominated categories, three of which were for Hazanavicius’ work (Best Editing, Best Director, Best Screenplay). The Artist also won the director two BAFTA awards (Director, Screenplay), two Césars (Director, Best Film), and countless other prizes from around the world.

06Previous Cannes appearances: The Artist is the only film Hazanavicius has brought to the Festival, and it was an unexpected (read: late) addition to the Competition. He’s likely attended the Festival a number of times, however, as his wife Bérénice Bejo is a regular on the red carpet.

Film he’s bringing to Cannes: The Search, which stars Bérénice Bejo and Annette Bening. From the IMDb summary: “A woman who works for a non-governmental organization forms a special relationship with a young boy in war-torn Chechnya.” The film is actually a remake of the Academy Award-winning 1948 Fred Zinnemann film of the same name, but wait: Hazanavicius has flipped some of the genders around, though, and updated things to a more contemporary context. Child actor Maksim Emelyanov will play the role that Ivan Jandl won his Juvenile Oscar for.

Could it win the Palme? The major narrative here: could Hazanavicius really follow up his Best Picture Oscar with a Palme d’Or? It’s doubtful at best, especially if the jury wants to share the wealth (or feels that it isn’t prudent to laud the recently lauded). In other words, the odds of back-to-back wins for the biggest prizes in cinema seems incredibly unlikely. His spy spoofs aside, Hazavanicius has only essentially one major contender to his name (The Artist), which went down easy and played into a delicious type of nostalgia. That’s simply not the case this time, and the tone of The Search means the director’s buoyant sense of humor will be completely missing. The film is a must-see (the casting of Bejo and Bening solidifies that), but in terms of Palme prospects, we’re in uncharted territory here.

Why you should care: There’s a lot on the line for Hazanavicius, who faces the tricky task of following up a massive success with something unexpected. What lies in store with this film? Details are scant, despite this being a remake of a known quantity. If The Search is a failure, you can be sure that some critics will be chomping at the bit to call The Artist a fluke. But if Hazanavicius can pull off this drastic departure, we’ll witness the confirmation of a major auteur.

Follow Jake Howell on Twitter: @Jake_Howell

Previous Entries:

Tommy Lee Jones

Atom Egoyan

Bennett Miller

Xavier Dolan

David Cronenberg

Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Naomi Kawase

Ken Loach

Michel Hazanavicius

Countdown To Cannes: Ken Loach

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

The eighth in a series of snapshots outlining the nineteen directors in the 67th Palme d’Or Competition.

Background: English; born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England 1936.

STILL-2Known for / style: My Name Is Joe (1998), Sweet Sixteen (2002), The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006), The Angels’ Share (2012); a narrative filmography that also includes television miniseries, documentaries, and docudramas; works that sympathize with leftist ideals; collaborating largely with Scottish lawyer-turned-scriptwriter Paul Laverty; stories featuring controversial figures and/or political activists; a naturalist approach to filmmaking that includes a tendency towards kitchen sink or social realism; improvisation; a noted rejection of institutions like the British monarchy and the patronage they represent.

Notable accolades: Winner of the Palme d’Or for The Wind the Shakes the Barley (2006), Loach is one of nine directors from the United Kingdom to have done so. He’s long been a favorite at Cannes, having won three Jury Prizes (Hidden Agenda, 1990; Raining Stones, 1993; The Angels’ Share, 2012), a lifetime achievement award from the 2004 Cannes Ecumenical Jury, and three other special mentions from Ecumenical Juries (Looks and Smiles, 1981; Hidden Agenda, 1990; Land and Freedom, 1995). Loach is also the winner of seven FIPRESCI prizes, and he has an honorary Golden Bear from Berlin (2014), as well as being a two-time BAFTA winner.

Previous Cannes appearances: Loach has a storied past with the Festival, debuting a total of eleven films in Competition: Looks and Smiles (1981), Hidden Agenda (1993), Raining Stones (1993), Land and Freedom (1995), My Name is Joe (1998), Bread & Roses (2000), Sweet Sixteen (2002), The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006), Looking for Eric (2009), Route Irish (2010), and The Angels’ Share (2012). Loach has also played Un Certain Regard (1980’s The Gamekeeper), Out of Competition (2007’s Chacun son Cinéma), and other parallel selections (Kes, 1970; Family Life, 1972; Black Jack, 1979; Riff-Raff, 1991).

jimmys-hall-1

Film he’s bringing to Cannes: Jimmy’s Hall, marking the tenth feature-length collaboration between Loach and  Laverty. Based on a true story, Loach once again highlights a figure of political activism in Jimmy Gralton, an Irish communist. In the 1930s, Gralton opened a center for free thought and expression against the church and local authorities, later persecuted for his practices. Lesser-known British actor Barry Ward plays the title role, while Simone Kirby, Andrwe Scott, Jim Norton, and Brían F. O’Byrne join him.

Could it win the Palme? We have here a period drama that features the director’s signature righteous indignation (perhaps conspicuously so), and the trailer for Jimmy’s Hall does showcase what looks like some strong performances. At this point, however, Loach’s films play at Cannes regardless of their quality. Admittedly, initial Palme prospects seemed very low for Loach’s 2012 comedy The Angels’ Share (the film nevertheless went on to win a Jury Prize). It’s a tough call. We’ll see if the Jury wants to bestow a second Palme to the veteran filmmaker, but gut impressions—and a survey of the other heavyweight films in Competition—make this an unlikely winner.

Why you should care: When it was rumored that Jimmy’s Hall was going to be Ken Loach’s fiction film swansong, bets on a lifetime achievement Palme d’Or could easily have been made. That’s no longer the case, however, and we’re now looking forward to an entry that’s released days after the Festival ends (May 30), with more Loach/Laverty joints to come, if on a less sweeping scale. Gralton is an interesting character in history, and Loach is certainly the man to tell his story.

Follow Jake Howell on Twitter: @Jake_Howell
Previous Entries:
Tommy Lee Jones
Atom Egoyan
Bennett Miller
Xavier Dolan
David Cronenberg
Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Naomi Kawase