PART TWO - THE NON-WINNERS
Alexandra dir. Alexander Sokourov (Russia)
What if a grandmother were allowed to visit her grandson on active operations at a military base in Chechnya? This is the premise of Alexander Sokourov’s latest Cannes entry. The director of “The Russian Ark” has offered a more traditional film than the technically-proficient exercise of “Ark”. Manohla Dargis of the New York Times calls the film “conceptually outrageous, uncharacteristically straightforward and enthralling story”. In general critics gave top marks for Sokourov for delivering a unique and fresh take on a modern war, without the technical obstructions of his previous work.
Les Chansons D'amour dir. Christophe Honoré (France)
A musical about the lives and loves of two Parisian twenty-somethings. Timeout UK calls this film, “poorly conceived and weak”, and for a musical, the worst criticism, “The songs are dreadful too.” It’s also been described as a shameful “Umbrellas of Cherbourg”-wannabe, which is a huge mountain to climb considering “Umbrellas” was a Palme D’Or winner in 1964.
Promise Me This dir. Emir Kusturica (Bosnia)
Set outside Belgrade, an old man prays for his grandson to go to the city and bring back a wife. Mike Collett of Reuters says, “Two-time Cannes winner Emir Kusturica brought a happy ending to the film festival on Saturday with a boisterous Balkan romp, breaking the mould for a competition full of dark tales." “Promise Me This” has a unique whimsical quality to it, and as Cinematical describes it as “a mix of fairy-tale elements, crackpot inventions, gunplay and violence and hyper-stylized slapstick.”
My Blueberry Nights dir. Wong Kar Wai (U.S.)
The opening film and one of the hottest buzz films on the planet, “My Blueberry Nights” is WKW’s first English language feature starring Norah Jones. The traditional road trip film under whelmed most critics. Todd McCarthy (Variety) says, “while the actors' dialogue delivery is perfectly natural, the aphoristic philosophical nuggets Wong favors sound banal and clunky in this context, leaving the film thematically in the shallow end of the pool.” Visually WKW is a genius, and the consensus is he smartly adapts his love for burning cigarettes, hallways, door frames to America, both in the Manhattan setting and on the road. Whether it’s a score or not, the film is universally agreed that it fits into the dreamlike nature of WKW’s Hong Kong work and is worthy of a visit. Expect a fall/winter release from the Weinsteins.
Import Export dir. Ulrich Seidl (Austria)
A nurse from the Ukraine searches for a better life in the West, while an unemployed security guard from Austria heads East for the same reason. The Hollywood Reporter was scathing on the film, saying, “with an aimless script inadequately filmed, the picture is unlikely to make it much farther than its inexplicable inclusion In Competition here at Cannes.” AO Scott of the N.Y. Times is mixed, calling it “disturbing and sometimes brilliant”. The controversy revolves around its graphic depiction of the degradation of the displaced people of former Communist countries.
Death Proof dir. Quentin Tarantino (U.S.)
Quentin Tarantino’s half of “The Grindhouse” was expanded by 25 mins or so. The major difference is the inclusion of the ‘missing reel” – Vanessa Ferlito’s lap dance sequence, and some fleshing out of the second half characters played by Zoe Bell, Tracie Thoms, Rosario Dawson and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. It’s generally agreed, that the film isn’t necessarily improved. The problems with pace are still present.
Breath dir. Kim Ki-duk (South Korea)
Kim Ki-Duk’s latest effort, according to Derek Elley of Variety, “will play best to Kim's existing fan club rather than enroll many new members.” It’s typically quirky and oddly funny, though the subject of a man on death row who falls in love. Eux TV raves and calls the film riveting. It’s interesting to note the film was shot in only 9 days, for the equivalent of $500,000.
Tehilim dir. Raphaël Nadjari (Israel)
A family in Jerusalem is torn apart by the mysterious disappearance of their father after a tragic a car accident. Nadjari’s film is possibly another depressing meditation on loss and tragedy. Lisa Nesselson of Variety describes it as “disturbing tale will prove more frustrating than enlightening for many viewers, despite its conversation-sparking premise.”
The Man From London dir. Bela Tarr (Hungary)
A lowly train switcher witnesses an exchange of stolen money. After a fight between the criminals the money ends up the switcher’s hands which will change the course of his life. Bela Tarr is a filmmaker with a sparse but internationally acclaimed series of films. “The Man From London” is told in the same patient manner as his other films – stark black and white with long, slow, fluid steadycam shots. Though magnificent technically it seems to have turned most people off. Kirk Honeycutt believes the visual storytelling “grows agonizingly tedious and repetitive.” One irksome note from virtually every critic is the poorly dubbed voice of Tilda Swinton into Hungarian.
Une Vieille Maîtresse dir. Catherine Breillat (France)
Secrets, rumors and betrayals surround the upcoming marriage between a young dissolute man and virtuous woman of the French aristocracy. Much has been made of the pairing of female l’enfant terrible, Catherine Breillat, and the euro-temptress extraordinaire Asia Argento. And though it’s sexy, it’s one of the more straight-forward films of Breillat’s career. Manohla Dargis says “The witty, often exuberantly funny screenplay keeps you laughing amid the couple’s pain and drama, while Ms. Breillat and Ms. Argento occasionally make you gasp with their own equally epic amour fou.” Lisa Nesselson of Variety was positive but not exactly glowing, “Tapping into a universal strain of yearning, Cannes competition entry gives arthouse a good name.” Regardless of the success, the fact that the movie was made is a miracle. Mr. Breillat suffered a brain hemorrhage in 2004 that left her paralyzed for many months.
We Own the Night dir. James Gray (U.S.)
James Gray’s last film, “The Yards”, was the minor critical hit, which unfortunately was unceremoniously dumped into the market by Miramax. It took seven years for Gray to pick himself back up again and produce this Cannes entry, albeit with much thanks due to Mark Cuban’s enviable 2929 Productions. Starring Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix, it’s the story of a New York nightclub manager who tries to save his brother and father from Russian mafia hit men.
Patrick Goldstein of the LA Times writes, “We Own the Night is a big breakthrough. It's a searing family drama as well as a cops-versus-criminals thriller with the same sticky web of loyalty and rivalry seen in Martin Scorsese's best work.” Whoa… slow down Mr. Goldstein. Bold words. Variety sees the film as more conventional than innovative or inspired like Scorsese and cites a number of “dramatic implausibilities, plot loopholes, emotional cliches and period anachronisms” and goes on to say, “it plays like little more than an OK television movie, which is hardly enough after years of "The Sopranos" and "The Wire”. Comparisons to Scorsese are tough to live up to. Let’s leave the hype-machine alone and let his film do the talking when it’s released. Good luck Mr. Gray.
BTW: Columbia Pictures nabbed the American distribution rights for tidy $11.5million. Expect a major “Departed”-like Oscar push for this film.
Click the photo to link to the trailer
Zodiac dir. David Fincher (U.S.)
“Zodiac” is old news here in North America. So the Cannes entry is a little surprising. Fincher’s never been to Cannes before and this is one of his best films, so the surprise is welcomed. I reviewed “Zodiac” in an earlier entry. Click here to read. But the foreign consensus doesn’t seem as enthusiastic as the Americans a couple months earlier: Jonathan Romney of the UK Independent writes, “Zodiac may finally be too obsessively overwrought and self-conscious for greatness, but it's compelling, grown-up entertainment.” Bah! I love the film! Find it wherever you are.
Here’s the International Trailer:
Click here to read Part One