Cannes Film Festival, Entry 2


The Mourning Forest

By Robert Koehler

First, a bit of housekeeping…..The challenges–and near-impossibilities (technical, logistical, and otherwise)–of regularly
posting from Cannes have proven nearly insurmountable during the
first year that we’re attempting this. I hope that the following
postings will help fill in the gap of time since the previous post.
Given that I was reporting on Cannes for the Christian Science
Monitor
, reviewing films for Variety, and prepping material for
upcoming writing in Cinema Scope magazine, the blogging thing got a
bit overshadowed. I’ll try to manage this better next year, for
Cannes’ 61st edition.

Speaking of my previous post: if a whiff of dejection could be
gleaned from it, that was because too many films in the first days of
the festival were either poor or disappointing or a little bit of
both. I can’t say that matters improved over the following days and
on to the end of the competition. On this, I have to say that I’m
parting company with a number of my friends and colleagues here (such
as Tony Scott in the New York Times) who have declared the 60th
edition one of the best of recent years. I would argue that this is
wrong on a few counts:

NO COLOSSAL YOUTH

There was no film in the competition that approached the heights of
Pedro Costa’s masterpiece in last year’s competition, Colossal
Youth
. Only Naomi Kawase’s highly controversial The Mourning
Forest
strove to do something new with cinema, while Silent Light
showed Carlos Reygadas being yet again a man who follows his own
rules and precepts, this time training his expansive eyes on a love
triangle in a Mennonite community in Mexico. Just as the Kawase
marked a stark departure from her previous feature, Shara, (but
don’t tell this to some of my Cannes buddies, who fled for the exits
long before a stunning ending that suggested Taste of Cherry remade
by a Buddhist), so the Reygadas contained a rhythm and visual
language that was hugely different from his last film, Battle in
Heaven
. In fact, the only thing that conjured up Colossal Youth
was a short by Costa, made for the omnibus film in Directors
Fortnight, O Estado do mundo, titled Tarrafal. Ventura, the star
of Youth, is back, surrounded by other emigres from Cape Verde–
ghosts one and all. There’s even a sighting of a rabbit hunter, whom
Ventura and his ghost pals think has no chance of making a kill;
this, in turn, points to Costa’s other new short film, titled
naturally The Rabbit Hunters, shown recently in the Jeonju film
festival.

PROMISES WEREN’T KEPT

Where or where do we start with the disappointments?
As if My Blueberry Nights wasn’t enough to kick off the party with
a crushingly minor doodle of a movie–even the hardest of hardcore
Wong Kar-wai-ites couldn’t stir a defense–the previously noted The
Banishment
and Psalms/Tehilim kept the disappointment train
rolling. Tarantino’s expanded Death Proof was surely no improvement
on his shorter form edition for Grindhouse…..it was just longer,
but with that where’d-it-go? lap dance reinserted.

For admirers of Fatih Akin’s Head-On, his new The Edge of Heaven
exposed a director who has little-to-no idea how to create an
interesting shot, and whose tortured manner of storytelling (the
death of not one but two characters is foretold in title cards) was
one of Cannes ’07’s major embarrassments. In ways even more
depressing, the great Bela Tarr returned to Cannes seven years after
his masterpiece,Werckmeister Harmonies, with a misbegotten
adaptation of an obscure George Simenon novel, The Man From London,
that never found visual or thematic traction, and revealed once and
for all that Tarr is an artist who finds fullest expression when he
liberates himself from plot.

Marjane Satrapi’s charming and bracing autobiographical graphic
novels, Persepolis 1 and 2, have been faithfully adapted by her
and co-director Vincent Paronaud into an animated film version, but
the emotional impact has been significantly diminished by the
narrative compression, and the books’ chapter-based episodes make
for an awfully episodic movie. In this all-French film, people in
Tehran and Vienna alike speak in Francais; I await the English-
language version (care of Sony Classics) with a certain horror, given
that Catherine Deneuve reprises her role as Satrapi’s mom–this even
though Deneuve’s Engljsh is notoriously impenetrable.

TOO MANY BAD MOVIES BY BAD DIRECTORS

The Competition lineup alone was stuffed with ’em. There’s our old
bugaboo, Kim Ki-duk (see my Buenos Aires postings for the full Kim
hoe-down), who surprised no one–except perhaps Derek Elley–with
Breath, which was screened and mercifully forgotten. Christophe
Honore is clearly mad, having shifted from his unwatchable Bataille
workout, Ma Mere, to the dreadful Dans Paris, and now to Love
Songs
. I avoided this like the plague; having seen how he butchered
the French chanson tradition at the end of Dans Paris, a feature
full of chansons a la Honore sounded like a long night in Hell. From
nearly every account (except many French critics), it was.

Julian Schnabel, who should stick to painting, is credited with
“directing” The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (based on Jean-
Dominique Bauby’s autobiographical account of his own debilitating
stroke, written with a code system to spell words in which he blinked
his one operable eye for his therapist), but the film is really made
by his genius cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski. It is a purely
Hollywood account (which will be the official French film this year
lapped up by Hollywood) of an arrogant man made humble and thoughtful
by infirmity, and reduces the great French actor Mathieu Almaric
(whose real performance of the festival was in the fascinating and
brave Nicolas Klotz Fortnight film, La question humaine) to a few
expressions and voice-over narration. James Gray, who continues to
spin his wheels about New York Russians on both sides of the law in
the ultra-straight and stupefyingly boring We Own the Night–those
watching who think they’re in some kind of Little Odessa/The Yards
timeloop-cum-flashback will be forgiven–has lost all artistic
credibility.

Denys Arcand, who hasn’t made a good film since Jesus of Montreal,
closed Cannes with L’age des tenebres, furthering Cannes’ tradition
of concluding with a film with no comers. (Nobody, I mean, nobody,
had the slightest urge to see it.) And taking up the rear with an
odorous work that many were comparing to the worst Cannes titles ever
screened–and in which the Ontario Cinematheque’s James Quandt left
during opening credits when the film’s broad, grotesque acting was
already amply in evidence–Emir Kusturica’s Promise Me This did as
much to permanently destroy any remaining shreds of a filmmaker’s
reputation as any film could. If no film was as good this year as
Colossal Youth, no film in last year’s lineup was as unendurable as Promise Me This.

Even after the Palmares (just handed out during this posting, and
which I will write about in the next post), I continued to hear
praise for this year’s lineup. This Pollyannish view reached the
point of extreme absurdity in the bar of the Gray d’Albion Hotel
(where I saw best actress winner Jeon Do-yeon, for Lee Chang-dong’s
exceptionally rich and risk-taking drama Secret Sunshine, arrive
triumphantly from her press conference and tearfully hug a proud and
moved Lee) when Dutch critic Peter van Buren claimed this to be the
best Cannes in 25 years, even though he had seen only four films.

Next–the Palmares, good, bad and ugly. Plus, the worthy films.

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