DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: CANNES 2008 REPORT Part 1

Tuesday, 20 May 2008


We’re about half way through this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Even though I can't afford the ticket to Cannes myself, I feel as connected as ever through Skype's video calling association with the American Pavilion. Cannes has never been more accessible.

There hasn’t been any resounding or unanimous Palme D’Or buzz yet. Of course some of the higher profile entries such as Steven Soderbergh’s “Che” or Clint Eastwood’s “The Changling” hasn’t screened yet.

Here's a recap of the critical response to the first half of films screened:

BLINDNESS dir. Fernando Meirelles

Unfortunately “Blindness” didn’t receive the resounding unanimous acclaim that “The Constant Gardner” or “City of God” got. It’s a bold venture, filming the once thought unfilmable book by Jose Saramago about a future epidemic that blinds the entire population of the world, but Meirelles has higher expectations than most filmmakers. Cinematical’s James Rocchi sums up the film, as “a clear case of a film, and filmmaker, failing to hit the mark occasionally only because they've set the bar so high for themselves. Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, is more curt, referring to it as a “bad movie” in the tradition of bad Cannes opening films. Variety's Justin Chang finds it "an intermittently harrowing but diluted take on José Saramago's shattering novel. Rocchi also likens it to “a curious mix of highbrow literary aspirations and lowbrow genre fiction.” Blindness doesn’t appear to be a favourite for the weekend’s awards ceremony, but it’s still a highly anticipated fall/winter North American and international release.

LEONERA dir. Pablo Trapero

Argentine Pablo’s Trapero’s ‘women in prison’ film is causing a stir. “Leonera” is no exploitation film though. When a woman wakes up next to the dead body of her husband, she’s convicted and sent to prison. The twist is that she’s pregnant and locked up in a special ward with other new mothers. The prison doesn’t turn out to be camp cupcake though as we get to see the gritty horrors of a different kind of Third World jail. Deborah Young’s (Hollywood Reporter) bottom line reads, “powerful, emotional filmmaking and acting give a lift to the familiar women-in-prison film” and “… a blend of police procedural, documentary realism and engrossing drama.” The Guardian’s Xan Brooks is less enthusiastic, saying, “It wasn't bad: steroided social-realism with much rattling of bars, tooth-and-claw survival techniques and cat-fights aplenty.”


After the success of “Persepolis” Cannesunveils another edgy political animated film from the Middle East. Ari Folman’s “Waltz With Bashir” is an Israeli film about a 1982 slaughter of Palestinian civilians in Lebanon. It’s a harrowing unconventional documentary told in “Waking Life”-style rotoscoped animation. Leslie Felperin at Variety says, “Although less immediately accessible than “Persepolis,” another mature-aud-skewed cartoon with which this is bound to be compared, “Bashir” could dance nimbly round arthouse niches offshore.” Dan Fainaru from Screen Daily, says, “it could easily turn out to be one of the most powerful statements of this Cannes.”

UN CONTE DE NOËL (A CHRISTMAS TALE) dir. Arnaud Desplechin

Arnaud Desplechin’s latest is a darkly comic film about a dysfunctional family reuniting years after the tragic death of their 4 year old child. Though it’s difficult to find humour in such seemingly depressing material, Kim Voynar of Cinematical says “Desplechin keeps the tone light, infusing the drama with humor in the most unexpected places.” Derek Elley of Variety is less enthused, saying, “Performances and direction, rather than the yards of inconclusive dialogue, are what keep Arnaud Desplechin’s ‘A Christmas Tale’ from curdling in its own juices.” But Andrew O’Hehir of Salon calls it “a marvelously rich visual, intellectual and emotional experience, one that I expect will grow deeper with repeat viewings.”

ÜÇ MAYMUN (THREE MONKEYS) dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Winner of Best Director

“Three Monkeys” is creating some major buzz after the first weekend. This Turkish film from Nuri Bilge Ceylan (“Uzak” and “Climate”) sounds like one of those trainwreck dramas about ordinary people caught making bad decisions under extreme duress. The film starts when a politician commits a hit and run. He makes a deal with his longtime driver to take the fall for the crime in exchange for a lot of money plus paying his salary to his wife and child while in prison. This bad decision leads to a downward spiral of consequential actions. “Three Monkeys” reminded Jeffrey Wells (Hollywood Elsewhere) of last year’s Palm D’Or winner “Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days.” Wells isn’t sure it’s a masterpiece, but was clear saw “an exceptional, very powerful, high-end thing.” Wells says, in terms of a potential award winner, “Moral fortitude, razor-sharp vision and stylistic sure-footedness of this calibre are impossible to ignore.” Jonathan Romney of Screen Daily says “standard pulp-thriller tropes are tantalisingly spun out for the first hour, but the slyness of the narrative approach only becomes fully apparent after that.”

LINHA DE PASSE dir. Walter Salles, Daniela Thomas
Winner of Best Actress - Sandra Corveloni

With “Linha de Passe” Walter Salles (and his co-director Daniela Thomas) return to a familiar urban Brazilian story which continues their earlier saga “Foreign Land” 12 years ago. “Passe” takes place in the overpopulated outskirts of Sao Paulo, and depicts in neo-realist style, a summer in the life of a pregnant mother and her three kids. Child actor Kaique de Jesus Santos has apparently put in a remarkable performance. Deborah Young of the Hollywood Reporter says, it won’t get the broad audience of “The Motorcycle Diaries”, but “it has a great deal of strength and sincerity going for it, which should attract the kind of audiences who admired the sociological line of Salles' "Central Station.” Todd McCarthy (Variety) concurs and says Salles/Thomas’ “engrossing if not gripping effort possesses the quality and seriousness to make limited inroads on the international art circuit.” Some are on the fence though, like Anthony Kaufman (IndieWire), calling it “an accomplished, though unremarkable competition film that never rises above its familiar tale of a poverty-stricken family.”

ER SHI SI CHENG JI (24 CITY) dir. Zhangke Jia

“24 City” is a documentary/drama hybrid which tells the story of a dying Chinese aeronautics factory and how it’s demise changes the fortunes of its workers. It’s an unconventional doc and drama. Maggie Lee says ”through talking heads and wordless images exclusively, the documentary strain prevails to simple, yet emotionally reverberating effect. IndieWire’s Anthony Kaufman concurs saying, “Jia's masterful aesthetic remains consistent, mixing documentary and fiction with intriguing results.” With the recent tragic earthquakes in China Jia’s film seems to provide tragic timeliness and should put the film into a greater historical context.”

GOMORRA dir. Matteo Garrone
Winner of the Grand Prix

Garrone’s new film “Gomorra” is a film about Italian organized crime that, according to Natasha Senjanovic of the Hollywood Reporter, “goes beyond Tarantino's gratuitous violence and even Scorsese's Hollywood sensibility in depicting the everyday reality of organized crime's foot soldiers.” The film centres around five stories within the Neopolitan mafia organization. Lee Marshall at Green Cine writes, “it’s probably the most authentic and unsentimental mafia movie ever to come out of Italy… a courageous, bruising and harrowing ride.” Andrew O’Hehir (Salon) offers more praise, “a dynamite reinvention of the Italian Mafioso movie as both a multileveled social melodrama and an Antonioni-style nihilistic contemplation.” With the genre elements familiar to North American audiences watch for this film to make a late-Oscar season splash.

SERBIS dir. Brillante Mendoza

One of the films generating a lot of talk is this Filipino film about a family living in a porn movie theatre. “Serbis” looks a bit edgier than “Cinema Paradiso” though, Jay Weissberg of Variety writes, “Explicit fellatio, blocked toilets and a crudely exploded ass-cheek boil form some of the more unsavory elements of “Serbis,” Brillante Mendoza’s latest opus that revels in shock value.” Kim Voynar of Cinematical walked out of the theatre calling the film “gratuitous yuckiness”.

Winner of Best Screenplay - Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne

Les Bros Dardennes (two-time Palm D’Or winners) are back with another film about the urban Belgian underclass. This time we observe a story about an arranged marriage of an illegal immigrant from Albania to a drug addict in order to obtain Belgian citizenship. It’s hit and miss for Mike Goodridge of Screen Daily, “’Lorna’s Silence’ starts as rivetingly as any of their films and then, an hour in, spins into an unexpected and unsatisfying direction.” Justin Chang doesn’t mind the change of pace, saying, “Dardenne brothers make some slight adjustments to their formula but maintain their unblinking commitment to human nature and the possibility of grace in lowly circumstances…” Jeffrey Wells over at Hollywood Elsewhere hated it, saying, “I felt strongly irked by the Dardenne brothers' screenplay. Which means, despite the feeling and focus that went into it, that I didn't care for the film. At all.”

Watch for Part II this time next week...

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