Thierry’s Cannes, Olivier’s Quinzaine

THIERRY’S CANNES, OLIVIER’S QUINZAINE

By ROBERT KOEHLER

If you happen to be at a film festival in March or April–as I was this year in Guadalajara (March) and Buenos Aires (April) (sorry, Film Journey readers, no BAFICI blog this year, but I promise a soon-to-come rehash/overview)–the conversation inevitably turns to what films can be expected to appear in Cannes (May). It’s part of the seasonal spring chatter/gossip/speculation/informed insider talk, and it’s partly generated by the fact that in pre-Cannes festivals, “The Cannes Effect” is fully felt. This is especially true in festivals in emerging market countries like Argentina and Mexico, but also the case in first-world economy zones like Hong Kong: Post-Berlin festivals from Mexico City’s FICCO to Guadalajara to Hong Kong to BAFICI no longer can cherry-pick new work by filmmakers in their regions. During much of the Gilles Jacob era of Cannes, regions such as Latin America and Southeast Asia were usually ignored, allowing new films to premiere at festivals near where the filmmakers lived and worked, and if they sparked interest, would send out ripples to the rest of the world. In Gilles’ Cannes, there was also no hard-and-fast rule that a Croisette screening had to be the world premiere.

Now, it’s Thierry Fremaux’s Cannes–the 2008 edition will be his first in which he has full rein over all aspects of the program–and, as we’ve seen during recent Cannes festivals, programming seeks to reflect the reality that filmmaking is exploding on every continent. (Whether the programming succeeds in this is another matter.) Bullish for Thierry’s Cannes, but bearish for the BAFICIs of the world, now denied many of the very filmmakers they helped discover and foster. Call it being victimized by one’s own success. Even more, as Rotterdam festival programmer Gerwin Tamsma has noted, filmmakers worldwide are now gearing their production and post-production schedules with an eye toward submitting to and competing in Cannes; festivals landing in March and April may lust for the new Johnny To or Amat Escalante or Lisandro Alonso film, but they just may not get them any more for the hard fact that they’re not ready. (Even true for some select Americans, such as Steven Soderbergh, madly rushing as I write to finish his two-part Che in time to be shown together–as he demands it to be shown–in Cannes.) Just as Hollywood film production geared for awards-season films now targets Toronto as their fall deadline, Cannes is the spring deadline for the vast world beyond Hollywood.

So, what’s the result, now that Olivier Pere yesterday (Friday) announced the full Quinzaine lineup? (It may be Thierry’s Cannes, but it’s Olivier’s Quinzaine.)

First, as those of us huddled around breakfast and cafe tables in Guadalajara and Buenos Aires predicted, Olivier’s Quinzaine, celebrating its fortieth year as the Croisette upstart, looks to be a whole lot more interesting than Gilles’ Cannes. Just look at some of the filmmakers in the roster, and you’re looking at a window on the future of cinema: Alonso and his Thierry del Fuego-set Liverpool, Albert Serra and his Three Wise Men odyssey El Cant dels ocells, Claire Simon’s Les Bureaux de Dieu, Raya Martin and his five-hour Now Showing and the best Romanian you haven’t heard of–Radu (The Paper Will Be Blue) Muntean and Boogie.

I’m suspending comment on Liverpool here until my Variety review appears, but I can already declare that few other films anywhere in the beach town will galvanize audiences and stir discussion more than the meaty round-the-horn combo of Alonso-to-Serra-to-Martin. Few younger filmmakers matter more than these three, and any program that contains all of them unveiling major new work is an event of the highest magnitude. Quinzaine goers will find that Alonso has built and expanded on La libertad and Los muertos but in unexpected directions; that Serra has found an even more exalted and stunning sky-and-earth atmosphere (the rocky, volcanic heights of the Canary Islands substituting for the Mid-East desert) than he did for Honor de cavalleria; that Martin–if his accompanying film to Now Showing titled Box Office: Next Attraction is any indicator–has expanded the syntax by which a film can be simultaneously a documentary and a narrative. Muntean made the kind of film with The Paper Will Be Blue that signals a world-class director–why has this, of all of the recent ballyhooed Romanian work, been by far the most ignored?–and that anything he makes is automatically essential viewing. And Simon–France’s other fascinating Claire–should be expected to forge something new and unsettling, based on her previous film Ca brule.

Then there are the extra goodies, especially the extraordinary surprise of a new–brand-new!–Jerzy Skolimowski film (Four Nights With Anna), double-Straub (Straub’s solo work, Le Genou d’Artemide and what is likely the final Straub-Huillet film, Itineraire de Jean Bricard), the unveiling of the restored print of Robert Kramer’s legendary 1975 Milestones and an Olivier Jahan tribute film for the Quinzaine birthday, 40X15. Not bad.

The Quinzaine, as well, is littered with the unknowns, barely-knowns and sure-to-be-discovereds. (Who’s Josh Safdie, and what’s his new American film The Pleasure of Being Robbed?) I hear excellent things about Miguel Gomes’ Portuguese film, Aquele querido mes de agosto/Beloved August), Federico Veiroj’s Uruguayan Acne, and Lichuan Yin’s Knitting from China. There will be more. Olivier appears to have out-done himself.

As for Thierry, it looked bad up until a week ago. His group, for example, had yet to see Jia Zhang-ke’s 24 City, leading some of my colleagues like Variety critic Todd McCarthy to conclude that China may be a no-show this year. Turns out that didn’t happen–Jia is back on the Croisette for the first time since his sublime Unknown Pleasures, and he has to automatically be considered a major Palme d’Or contender. Some may wrongly conclude that a fix may be in though, what with Sean Penn as prez and Clint Eastwood’s period drama Changeling a headline-grabbing, stop-the-presses, hold-the-phone entry in the competition. (Think about it: How can Clint not win? Of course, it wasn’t that long ago that he made Blood Work.) The aforementioned Mr. Soderbergh will be huffing and puffing to get from the Nice airport on time with his wetter-than-Wong Kar-wai-prints of Che Squared–and those, too, may in fact suck. (Wild Bunch has been happily leaking word out for months that it’s genius, but take that with a grain of salt.) Expect horrors from some other Palm contenders like Atom Egoyan (Adoration) and Wim Wenders (the Euro-pudding sounding The Palermo Shooting), and–who knows?–probably Paolo Sorrentino with Il Divo.

Now, it’s not all bad. Thierry did, in fact, nab the following. For starters, my favorite French director, Arnaud Desplechin, with Un Conte de noel/Christmas Story, his first biggie since Kings and Queen. Another Gaul great, Philippe Garrel and his La Frontiere de l’aube. (Garrel on the red carpet. Now, for that alone, the host country should be proud of itself.) He also has my favorite Belgians–the Dardennes–with The Silence of Lorna, instantly generating water-cooler talk of the outlandish possibility that Jean-Pierre and Luc could actually win a third Palm. There’s, as well, my favorite Turk: the bountiful and masterly Nuri Bilge Ceylan, with Three Monkeys. Pablo Trapero has reportedly made an extremely fine film with Leonera, which programmers and others saw in Buenos Aires during the festival, and were quite buzzed about. Argentina should throw a party: Lucrecia Martel joins Trapero with La Mujer sin cabeza. (This is what I mean about the “Cannes Effect”—Alonso, Trapero and Martel, in the old days, would have been able to officially screen first in BAFICI, but not now.) Young Asia is nicely represented–well, younger than the early 40-ish Jia–with the terrific Eric Khoo (My Magic) and Brilliante Mendoza (Serbis, following his highly accomplished Slingshot). For many mainstream and middlebrow critics attending Palais press screenings, this will be their virgin viewings of filmmakers like Khoo and Mendoza. Good for Thierry.

Predictions? You’d have to be an idiot to bet much against Clint. The Palm is his to lose. But, like Hillary, nothing’s for certain. A third win for the Dardenne brothers seems unlikely. Lefty Penn, who may or may not still buy into the ridiculous romanticization of Che Guevara (a Stalinist thug of the first order, which, hopefully, Soderbergh’s film underlines), might push Che down the throats of his fellow jurors; if he does, don’t expect such colleagues as Apitchatpong Weerasethakul and Sergio Castellito to swallow it. Garrel seems a tad outside, and younger directors like Martel, Khoo, Mendoza and Trapero are likely too young. (Youth hasn’t stopped past juries, but again, unlikely.) Matteo Garrone’s adaptation of the best-selling book on contemporary Mafia families, Gomorra, would probably have much more impact if Cannes were moved about 25 miles east of the Italian border.

That leaves, in no particular order, Desplechin, Jia and Ceylan. All are masters, inching toward mid-career, with past work that suggests a definite Palm-ish trajectory. Keep an eye on them. Sight unseen, their films could win the day.

Outside of the competition, indefatigable Cannes watchers might do well to attend the screenings of Terence Davies’ Of Time and the City, if for no other reason than it is Davies’ first film in nearly a decade. (Maybe Kim Jee-woon’s The Good, the Bad, the Weird, which could be all three.) Lynchians may or may not have a treat with daughter Jennifer Lynch’s Surveillance.

Un Certain Regard, as usual, looks blah, but don’t forget Kelly Reichardt’s post-Old Joy Wendy and Lucy, as well as Amat (Sangre) Escalante’s Southern California-shot Los bastardos (early word is strong) and Kurosawa Kiyoshi’s Tokyo Sonata. Another Tokyo movie, originally titled Tokyo!, might be a less essential item, since it’s an omnibus film–a formula which rarely works–by Bong Joon-ho, Leos Carax and Michel Gondry.

Finally, we’ll leave you with a mystery: Although Abbas Kiarostami’s Shirin was expanded into a feature based on the short he contributed to Cannes’ Chacun son cinema and Kiarostami, is, well, Kiarostami, he’s nowhere to be found in the lineup. Any lineup. Why isn’t it in Cannes? What happened?

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