Thursday, May 31, 2012

Headhunters (Hodejegerne)

HEADHUNTERS (Hodejegerne)          B             
Norway  Germany  (100 mi)  2011  ‘Scope  d:  Morten Tyldum           Official site

Another Scandinavian thriller, following the success of the 3-movie Dragon Tattoo adaptations of the highly popular Stieg Larsson Swedish Millennium Trilogy, all released in 2009, which raised heads in America for its contemporary slant on investigative journalism, a smart crime drama creating such vividly memorable lead characters, introducing the punkish computer hacker Lisbeth Salander with a near photographic memory, initially played by Noomi Rapace, but also Michael Nyqkvist playing the award winning journalist, where the unique interest in their personal interplay was at least as interesting as the historical backdrop of murders and atrocities they were exploring.  The Nordic crime fiction phenomenon has been gathering plenty of momentum over the last decade or so with a steadily increasing proportion of books from Scandinavia and Iceland.  Now that Larsson has passed away, Norwegian Jo Nesbø is being touted as the next big thing, where this film adaptation has the feel of filling a void in the marketplace, with Millennium's Swedish producer Yellow Bird also handling this production, where much of it rivals the cool veneer of murder mysteries behind the Iron Curtain, but HEADHUNTERS is a Norwegian take on the crime thriller, a slick, stylish, high octane screen version that may take a page out of Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn’s recent film Drive (2011), which is a highly entertaining mixture of commercial and art motif.  The past few years have featured several excellent Norwegian films, from the dark absurdity of Jens Lien’s THE BOTHERSOME MAN (2006), the amusing crime genre of Hans Petter Moland’s A SOMEWHAT GENTLE MAN (2010), Joachim Trier’s impressionistic portrait of blossoming and then fading youth in Reprise (2006), also his devastating portrait of existential anguish in Oslo, August 31 (2011), to a hilariously offbeat teen comedy of Jannicke Systad Jacobsen’s Turn Me On, Dammit! (Få meg på, for faen).  Those are all better films than this one, but one feature they all have in common is a core of excellent ensemble actors, many of whom are complete unknowns in America.  

Straightaway, a narrator offers a few acerbic and supposedly enlightened comments, where the subject is money and how it takes lots of it to maintain the girl of his dreams, living in a fabulously upscale Architecture Digest style modern home with glass windows all around.  The narrator is a diminutive Askel Hennie as Roger Brown, attempting to shed light on how he maintains his sanity, perhaps overcompensating for his lack of size, pretending to be a corporate headhunter in order to lead the life of luxury to which he’s accustomed, happily married to a gorgeous woman, a leggy blond ice princess, Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund), where he keeps his real profession a secret, as he’s a professional art thief.  Immediately Alfred Hitchcock’s TO CATCH A THIEF (1955) with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly comes to mind, where Roger even dons a similar all-black attire when he becomes a cat burglar, breaking into heavily guarded premises and exchanging indistinguishable looking facsimiles for original works of art, where the owners never even realize anything’s been stolen.  No sooner does the audience meet this fabulously rich and wealthy couple, who have a bit of a marital tiff, but Roger flies out the door in a hastily arranged meeting with his partner, having overheard his wife, the owner of a successful art gallery, mention the whereabouts of an original Rubens painting worth perhaps $100 million dollars that was supposedly stolen during the war.  Like catnip to a cat, Roger is immediately on the prowl, but his partner Ove (Eivind Sander), the crack security specialist with a weakness for guns and Russian prostitutes, can’t peel his eyes away from the tantalizingly voluptuous Natasha (Valentina Alexeeva), not even for an instant, and has to be dragged into the caper.  The contrast between the two women, both seemingly bought and paid for, is not lost on the viewer, though they each seem to come from opposite social classes.  Tying everything together, so to speak, is the owner of the painting, a ruggedly handsome Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, yes – that’s Dutch), a former special ops mercenary soldier whose specialty is tracking people down, whose suave and sophisticated manner makes him an ideal candidate to fill an open CEO position at Roger’s company, Pathfinder, an international firm that specializes in cutting edge GPS technology. 

Complicating matters even further, Roger is having an affair with Lotte (Julie Ølgaard), which he cuts off, realizing the havoc it could play on his now hanging by a thread marriage, and when he steals the painting, which supposedly goes off without a hitch, he discovers his wife’s phone in the bedroom, suggesting his wife is having an affair of her own.  Putting the clamps down on Greve’s ascension to head corporate honcho changes the playing field, as from this point on Roger the corporate headhunter suddenly finds himself alone and among the hunted, where Clas, the professional tracker, is perpetually on his tail.  Both are idealized representations of corporate masculinity, the kind of guys that always make the other guys sweat while they walk away holding all the power and a suitcase filled with money.  Roger’s pecking order in his overly controlled world is under constant threat, where seemingly nonstop action sends him spiralling into the depths of one disaster after another, where suddenly it’s his life that hangs on a thread, continually squirming out of near death experiences.  There are casualties along the way that he is being blamed for, as two can play this secret con game of falsifying evidence, sending him on a nightmarish journey with seemingly no one left that he can trust, as literally everyone’s been somehow tainted by Clas in this subterfuge operation, leaving him no way out.  The thrills and spills border on the ludicrous at times, but the sadistic joy with which this director apparently relishes shattering the illusion of a James Bond style competency, continually dispatching his protagonist to undergo a succession of the most extreme and awkwardly humiliating circumstances, where everything that can go wrong does go wrong, taking a slightly demented, almost Coen Brothers tone of sarcastic delight in his misery.  Conceiving this as a black comedy is perhaps the cleverest trick of the film, adding an underlying stylistic dimension of villainy even in the protagonist himself, where it’s not such an easy to understand black and white world, as we’re led to believe in advertising, but a ruthlessly hypocritical and amoral corporate con game of presenting a smooth surface in order to conceal the savage treachery going on underneath.  Tyldum chooses to delve under the surface at interior motives that have existed all along, but were all too quickly overlooked during the frantic pace of the action.  This doesn’t have the historical depth or the richness of character of the Millennium Trilogy, but is instead something of a breezy, lightweight entertainment vehicle designed to give the audience a highly charged thrill ride.     

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Where Do We Go Now? (Et maintenant on va où?)

WHERE DO WE GO NOW? (Et maintenant on va où?)          C                    
France  Lebanon  Italy  Egypt  (100 mi)  2011  ‘Scope  d:  Nadine Labaki

While this is a joint cultural exchange project, a feel good mix of East meets West, it’s largely a Lebanese version of MAMMA MIA! (2008), but with bouncy Lebanese music instead of ABBA, much like this:  Hashishit Albe Song's Clip –  YouTube (1:21).  The film attempts to make light of the stark historical rift between Lebanese Christians and Muslims, leaving out the root of the problem that was most exacerbated when Lebanese Christian militias committed massacres and other atrocities against Palestinian refugee camps in a long protracted Civil War between 1975 – 1990 that resulted in a quarter of a million fatalities, another million wounded in a country of only 4 million people, where there was a mass exodus of nearly one million people.  This film attempts to patch over the differences with humor and song, largely seen as a female empowerment fantasy, supposedly a feel good movie where they attempt to trick the men in order to stop the continual animosity between the two sides.  Unfortunately, the breezy, lighthearted vein makes everyone look stupid, especially the men, who are relentlessly browbeaten by the women, mocking the whole idea of cultural differences through a make believe battle of the sexes farce.  What it lacks is any subversive political element, so prevalent in the films of Elia Suleiman, whose Palestinian and Israeli border farce DIVINE INTERVENTION (2002) is drop dead hilarious, while The Time That Remains (2009) reflects a more autobiographical view on the insufferable losses that have mounted in the past half century, where chronic fatigue syndrome doesn’t begin to describe it.  Labaki, who co-writes and stars in the film, shoots at a gorgeous mountainside location where the fictitious Lebanese town is evenly divided between Christians and Muslims, yet despite the religious differences and occasional arguments that break out into fights, the women and children all seem to get along, where the hope is that when these children grow up they will as well.     

One prevailing theme anywhere in the Arab world is the communal funeral processions, where all dressed in black, friends, family, and neighbors share in the burial and mourning process.  Labaki uses an opening music video effect as all-female mourners walk in a choreographed manner set to music, where they all move in unison, suggesting their common bond.  Despite their overbearing demeanor to keep their men in line, on their own, petty disputes between the men lead to a neverending cycle of escalated altercations, where friends quickly turn to foes, usually separated by their wives who have to keep the peace.  In the manner of many Arabic films, Youssef Chahine for instance, especially CAIRO STATION (1958) or DESTINY (1997), it is not uncommon for films to break out into a musical number right in the heart of the dramatic action, but while Chahine’s choreography rival Bollywood, often providing the manic energy for the storyline, Labaki’s are utterly lackluster, using songs without dance numbers, instead attempting to incorporate the music as an element of the storyline, like the thoughts of the characters.  In this manner, Labaki loses an opportunity to enhance her films with more depth, but instead keeps it airy and superficially lightheaded, where characters often yell hysterically at one another in an over-the-top, melodramatic manner.  Labaki herself stars as one of the central characters, and is probably onscreen as much as anyone else, yet none of the characters stand out or are ever really developed, which is one of the central problems of the film.  If all the characters are forgettable, then so is the film, as this kind of film experience has no weight or sustenance and is instantly forgettable.  Supposedly the People’s Choice winner at the Toronto Film Festival in 2011, it’s hard to fathom film-wise, though the film certainly meets the thematic brotherhood (or sisterhood) of man criteria.

While many may love the premise of the central scene, where the women of the town conspire to literally drug and trick the men, concocting a secret formula in their food while bringing in a horribly out of place group of bored Ukrainian strippers (aka:  belly dancers) to aid them in their scheme, this is supposedly the climactic high point of the film, yet it never materializes, as it doesn’t go far enough in the satirical exaggeration, where the food bit barely registers, perhaps afraid to offend censors, and the film shows little choreographic or dramatic involvement in the undeveloped dance sequences.  So the director really mishandles her opportunity here, as she spends almost half the film setting up this sequence with the wayward Ukrainian girls, but rather than use them as a feature attraction, their sequence actually becomes a set-up for yet another plot device.  So it’s a bit confusing that the most melodic musical number in the film, written and composed by none other than the director’s husband, Khaled Mouzanar, heard when all of the women in town happily conspire against the men, leads to a crescendo that gets undermined and lost as a lead-in to something else.  The song itself is wonderful, but the way it’s eventually used is unfortunately anticlimactic.  Many may just be happy with the air of blissful ignorance that is so prevalent throughout this film, where character development or lack of dramatic tension may be the least of their concerns.  It delights in showing empowered Muslim women, a group in real life routinely denied basic rights, taking matters into their own hands by resorting to deception of their husbands in an attempt to stabilize the region.  If only life were this simple—where in this film, women routinely perform fake religious miracles.  Perhaps because of the preposterous nature of the movie itself, the entire film is framed by a narrator as a bedtime story.   

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

An Encounter With Simone Weil

AN ENCOUNTER WITH SIMONE WEIL               B+                       
USA  Italy  Sweden  (85 mi)  2010  d:  Julia Haslett                  Official site

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.                  —Simone Weil

This is perhaps the quietest film you’ll see all year, as it’s intentionally made with such low volume that it actually forces the viewer to listen more intently to what is a profoundly sad but deeply moving experience, an introduction into the life of a prolific writer, teacher, social activist and French philosopher, Simone Weil, a woman Albert Camus described as “the only great spirit of our times,” who died at age 34 while trying to help liberate France from the Nazi’s during World War II.  Most likely little known except for college theology students, where she might be heralded as something of a rebel in Catholic circles, and perhaps a mystic by others.  Her obscurity is part of the beauty of this film, as the entire tone of the film is literary and quietly respectful, where the audience can expect to engage with the mind of what is likely a previously unknown historical figure, where her life story parallels that of the person telling the story, the filmmaker Julia Haslett, who also writes, edits, narrates, and produces her first film.  Early on we discover the narrator was confounded at a young age when her father committed suicide when she was just 17, where she felt a terrible responsibility for his loss, also her brother’s life-long mental health issues, plagued by the torment of unending headaches.  “My father's death taught me that if I don't pay attention, someone might die.”  But her outlook changed when she ran across a quote, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity,” which she eventually attributed to Simone Weil.  These few words seemed to answer what was missing in her own personal turmoil with her family’s suffering, urging her, literally, to become more empathetic and a better listener, where sometimes just being present offers a kind of hope that would otherwise be missing if she weren’t there.  Learning more about Weil, she discovered a near saintly life, one zealously dedicated to improving the human condition, exhibiting a near incomprehensible compassion for the suffering of others, where she similarly led such an austere and frugal existence, all of which she felt was necessary in order to truly understand the needs of others.  

Weil grew up a Marxist Jew from the 30’s, a teacher who frowned upon the use of textbooks, preferring to translate the texts herself from the original ancient Greek, Latin, German and English, quitting her job once she began to idealize the automation of the working class, where machinery and assembly lines increased productivity and maximized human potential, taking a job working the line in a Renault car factory in France, thinking this would enlighten her understanding of working class consciousness.  However, she was forced to conclude that rather than incite the proletariat to revolution, oppressive working conditions instead drove workers into submission, creating a working force of capitulating slaves.  Weil eventually renounced Marxism and Communism and became a pacifist, yet also started leaning toward the transcension of religious faith, becoming a devout follower of the Catholic church, visiting the Benedictine Abbey of Solesmes in France, yet still joined the fight against the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War, believing freedom empowered people against oppressive forces, but she accidentally injured herself early in the campaign.  When Fascism spread across Europe, her Jewish family had to flee to the safety of United States when Hitler occupied the nation, but Weil returned to London to help organize the French resistance.  During the First World War, she refused to eat sugar at age 6, as soldiers had to go without, and during the Second World War she would not heat her home so she could experience the cold that soldiers suffered while sleeping on the battlefield, while also refusing to eat anything more than minimal war rations, attempting to subsist on onions and tomatoes, even after contracting tuberculosis, eventually perishing from malnutrition, suggesting extreme fatalism in her beliefs.  Her approach to human goodness resembles that of the country priest in Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest (Journal d'un curé de ca... (1951), who tried to subsist on a diet of stale bread and wine, continually struggling against the weakness of his own human limitations, where both seem inclined to ask the moral question posed by this film:  “What response does seeing human suffering demand of us?”  Weil and the priest associate God’s love in their own actions, which are not so much moral choices as human necessities, believing faith is passed to others in the highly committed way we choose to lead our lives. 

Haslett not only respects the social commitment of Weil, but her literary acumen, which is explored throughout the film, though the filmmaker has difficulties accepting a religious conversion, not being religious herself.  However she expressed her admiration for Susan Sontag, who unfortunately died before the filmmaker could meet her, herself a professor of philosophy and theology, in a 1963 book review, Simone Weil by Susan Sontag | The New York Review of Books, “such writers as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Genet—and Simone Weil—have their authority with us because of their air of unhealthiness. Their unhealthiness is their soundness, and is what carries conviction.”  When De Gaulle heard about Weil’s proposal to send nurses to the front lines along with the soldiers, believing they could develop a form of shared mental communion, bordering on spirituality, he considered her a “madwoman.”  Sontag acknowledges as much, where Weil’s insistence upon self-denial and “her contempt for pleasure and for happiness” would not be an example for anyone else to emulate (as her family in France readily acknowledges), where her martyrdom is what places her outside all human understanding, much like Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, where the unnatural endurance of so much pain and suffering is Christ-like, continually bearing the sins of others.  Lest anyone think this film is an excursion into the formulation of religious doctrine, it’s not, but it carefully takes us through Weil’s own personal transformation and the impact her life had on the development of a human conscious, as the director evolves in her own life through her intimate understanding of Weil.  None of this feels like a documentary, more like a personal revelation, where the tenderness exhibited is reverential, yet the intensity displayed in the director’s need to know and understand through Weil is startling, exhibiting an experimental, personal essay style approach, not through any inventive camera techniques or montages, but simply through a thoughtful invocation of her language.  Haslett uses a look-alike actress to assume the part of Weil and asks questions she might have wanted to ask, but this simulation all feels like part of the director’s imagination.  When most of the leftists of the era were toying with atheism, Weil embraced religious views of transcendance, bordering on a kind of mysticism, perhaps similar to that of Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky, where ascending above the misery and suffering imposed by war was the only option.    

Recommended Reading:
Waiting for God, a collection of letters and essays that reveal Weil's spiritual autobiography, and her essay The Love of God and Affliction

Monday, May 28, 2012

Cannes Day 12 Finale

Another shot at French model and actress, and soon-to-be-Bond-Girl, Berenice Marlohe

Christa Theret at Cannes for Jeff Nichols new film, Mud

Reese Witherspoon, pregnant, and looking more radiant than ever, at Cannes for Mud

and the Cannes awards, in photos:

photos from The London Telegraph:

A repeat of the Final Awards, in reverse order of presentation:

Palme D'Or (1st)
Michael Haneke, Amour

Grand Prix (2nd)
Matteo Garrone, Reality

Best Actress
Cosmina Straten and Cristina Flutur, for Cristian Mungiu, Beyond the Hills

Best Actor
Mads Mikkelsen, for Thomas Vinterberg's Jagten (The Hunt)

Best Director
Carlos Reygadas, Post Tenebras Lux

Best Screenplay
Cristian Mungiu, Beyond the Hills

Jury Prize (3rd)
Ken Loach, The Angel's Share

Camera D’Or (First Time Directors)
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Best Short Film
L Rezan Yesilbas, Sessiz-Be Deng

Some big surprises, especially the nearly forgotten Loach, which supposedly had the jurors in stitches, and the critically despised (except for George) Carlos Reygadas film which wins Best Direction. 

Matteo Garrone's Reality is a stunner - - certainly an unpopular choice, and one that raises questions about Moretti's credibility as Jury President, as had he not been in that position, this film would likely never have seen an award. 
While I'm happy for the Haneke film, as it was praised from the moment it was shown and appears the be a throwback to a kind of art film rarely made anymore, using premiere actors that haven't really been seen in ages, as who writes for the octogenarian set? I'm a bit disappointed they didn't win anything, as sight unseen, I'm absolutely positive they are superb in this film. 

I'm astounded at Carax going home emptyhanded, and find this a real blow.  Carax won the Cannes Youth Award in 1984 with Boy Meets Girl, then made the spectacular Mauvais Sang (1986) before going bankrupt several times making the over adventurous The Lovers on the Bridge (1991), which was another spectacular risk, where Holy Motors may be his biggest crap shoot of all.  It would have been nice to see that rewarded.  I hope he doesn't go home and shoot himself from depression, as he obviously laid it on the line with this film and came away with nothing.  That's a stunner, as from all the films  at Cannes, his is the one I'm most interested in.  Let's hope others feel much the same way. 

And while I was worried that it would be an all French finale - - not a single French film or actor won an award, though Austrian filmmaker Haneke shot his film in French with French actors, so he is beloved in France. 

Gong Li presented the best actor award, where thrilled screams (from the Danish contingent?) ran out at the name Mads Mikkelsen.  That had to have been a moment. 

Sort of polite applause for all the other choices. No real enthusiasm or emotion displayed, according to the Guardian blog, which I was attuned to. 

All in all, it sounds like films were all over the place this year, where critics were obviously divided, but I'd have to say I'm looking forward to seeing most all of the films presented, as it's been something of a provocative year, where filmmakers took a few chances. 

Even Jeff Nichols Mud may not be as good as earlier efforts, but it sounds tremendous, where there was a return to Southern subjects in American films, which I find interesting, but these filmmakers are from the South.   

And yes, I have to admit being happy at the Sundance choice Beasts of the Southern Wild, where I've only seen the trailer in theaters, but it just bleeds early David Gordon Green, which I can't get enough of, especially if it's well done.  That film should find theaters very shortly, while the rest we'll have to wait for. 

Todd McCarthy's take in the award winners from The Hollywood Reporter:

Cannes jury got it pretty right with Palm d'Or winner "Amour," from Michael Haneke.

Eschewing the extreme for the humanistic, the Cannes Film Festival jury headed by Nanni Moretti got it pretty right this year, distributing awards around to several of the deserving films and, by general consent, making the spot-on choice for the Palme d’Or with Michael Haneke’s Amour.

In fact, it’s been a while since the ovation for the final award of the evening in the Grand Theatre Lumiere has seemed quite so intense and prolonged. Partly this was due to the general feeling on behalf of a film that so lucidly and penetratingly examines the final stages of life, but also because the award was seen to be shared by the Austrian director’s two superb leading players, Jean-Louis Trintingnant and Emmanuelle Riva, who had startlingly been denied acting prizes some minutes before but then took the stage with Haneke and spoke to the crowd after he did.

This makes for two Palmes for Haneke within a relatively short period of time and also places the film, which co-stars Isabelle Huppert, at the front of the pack of European films heading into the fall season.

The other big winner was Cristian Mungiu’s equally serious, more demanding and somewhat less fulfilling Beyond the Hills honored for screenplay and its two young actresses, Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur. For what it’s worth, this and the Haneke film led the critics’ polls in Cannes, while the winner of the Grand Prix, Matteo Garrone’s Reality from Italy, ranked near the bottom.

Mads Mikkelsen’s victory as best actor for Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt was momentarily shocking, as everyone assumed Trintignant in this category was the biggest shoe-in of the evening. But after all was said and done, the Danish actor’s triumph was viewed as a way to honor a film that seems to have been better received by Europeans than by American critics.

The most audience friendly title in the competition, Ken Loach’s The Angels' Share, happily won the Prix du Jury, while it was thrilling to see Benh Zeitlin, director of the superb Sundance discovery Beasts of the Southern Wild, take the stage to accept the Camera d’Or for best first film in any Cannes section. French critics are often reluctant to embrace films they don’t discover themselves, so the Cannes reaction to this film has been encouraging.

The most out-there winner was Carlos Reygadas’s initially staggering, ultimately perplexing Post Tenebras Lux. Embraced to varying degrees by critics, it’s a film of extraordinary images and ideas, even if its meanings remain elusive and arguable. But it’s far from a bad thing for the jury to have taken note of this ever-more adventurous Mexican auteur.

The big loser, if there is one, was Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, the provocation of the festival and the film that divided partisans and naysayers more sharply than any other film; this is not a work to inspire compromise among critics or jurors. It undoubtedly provided the festival with a much-needed jolt and created more debate than any other film here, but a major prize for it would have created a small furor.

Also going home empty handed were Alain Resnais, Jacques Audiard and the makers of the much-touted North American entries, On the Road, Cosmopolis, Lawless, Mud, The Paperboy and Killing Them Softly. None set the town on fire and clearly can’t count upon widespread critical support down the line. The feeling of letdown about these films running from vague to severe created the feeling of a mixed-bag festival, but it was still a lively Cannes, with plenty of spirited debate, no nasty Lars von Trier-type controversy and an upbeat feeling at the end that the right film won.

Andrew Pulver offers a few comments on the Awards from The Guardian:

The 65th Cannes film festival drew to a close with the director Michael Haneke being awarded the Palme d'Or for Amour.

His victory was greeted with acclaim but an understandable lack of surprise: Amour had been hotly tipped ever since it unspooled on the fifth day of the festival.

The jury, presided over by former Palme d'Or winner Nanni Moretti, gave the chief award to Haneke, saying the jury was not unanimous on any of the awards, but that many of the contending films were "more in love with their style than their characters"; this, presumably, was where Haneke differed.

Amour, which stars French veterans Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva as well as Isabelle Huppert, describes the relationship between an elderly married couple when one of them is incapacitated by a stroke.

The Palme d'Or is Haneke's second; his last was only three years ago for The White Ribbon. In this he joins a select company, including Emir Kusturica and the Dardenne brothers.

The Austrian director accepted the award in his characteristically low-key way, saying: "It's a harsh thing to have to contend with. It's something I had to contend with in my own family, and that's why I started to make this film."

Haneke also mentioned his own wife: "This film is an illustration of the promise we made to each other, if either one of us finds ourselves in the situation that is described in the film."

The Grand Jury prize, Cannes' second most prestigious award, was given to Matteo Garrone, the Italian director whose film Reality explored the effect of reality TV. Garrone's award was genuinely unexpected, perhaps reflecting the common cultural ground between him and the jury president.

British cinema scored a pleasant surprise as the bronze-medal Jury Prize went to Ken Loach's The Angels' Share, a whisky heist comedy set in Scotland. Loach, who is held in high esteem on the European festival circuit, took the opportunity to affirm his opposition to Europe-wide austerity economic policies when accepting his award; he elaborated on the issue afterwards in the winners' press conference.

"The characters in the film have no work, and the world tells them they have no worth," Loach said. "We are reminded of the situation in Europe where people are told they have to stay out of work, and stay of no value. So we are in solidarity with those against austerity – another world is possible."

A rare moment of levity was provided by Mexican director Carlos Reygadas, whose best director award was probably the biggest surprise of the night, after a string of negative reviews for his film Post Tenebras Lux. Reygadas bounced into the winners' press conference, punching the air, and stood balancing his award certificate on his head. British jury member Andrea Arnold had earlier defended his film to the hilt, saying it had "dared to fail".

Probably the most disappointed director on the night was Leos Carax, whose Holy Motors looked likely to scoop at least one award. Moretti said: "Opinions were divided within the jury over several films; some won awards, some did not."

But one popular winner was the young American, Benh Zeitlin, whose surreal coming of age film Beasts of the Southern Wild won the Camera d'Or for best first film. Zeitlin, the only American to win a major prize, explained that nearly all his cast and crew were first-timers too: "We were a lot of inexperienced people running fast into the unknown."

Former Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen also drew loud cheers when his best actor award was announced for the child-abuse-accusation drama The Hunt. Jury member Ewan McGregor said: "The wonder was in the subtlety."

A few observations from Jason Solomons for The Observer:

Michael Haneke is too good. Whenever the Austrian director shows one of his films in Cannes, I always come out thinking the others might as well just pack up and go home because they'll never reach his awesome heights of control and precision. It's like the days when Beethoven was around and everyone else gave up composing. Haneke's Amour, about an elderly man looking after his frail wife (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, both utterly captivating) when a stroke confines her to their Paris apartment, was by some stretch the finest film at Cannes. It was the only piece to be exquisitely acted, composed, paced and pitched, as well as addressing vital human themes and drawing a swell of emotion from its viewers. Nothing else came close to ticking all those boxes.

But cinema needs different voices and styles on which to feed, and Cannes 2012 welcomed them all in. This year's Palme d'Or selection – much criticised for not including any films made by women – still managed a startling breadth of subject, quality and genre, and the jury often rewards artistic risk rather than polish.

Best comeback news Jean-Luc Godard isn't à bout de souffle yet. He's begun a new film, called Goodbye to Language, and is shooting in 3D.

Best credit Sax consultant, On the Road; dresseur de pigeon, Amour.

Best dressed Actress and jury member Diane Kruger in Balmain; actress Paz Vega hot latina on red carpet for Madagascar 3, though that's really not important.

Best music Rust and Bone; The Paperboy.

Best actress Marion Cotillard, for Rust and Bone.

Best couple Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva in Amour, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian aboard a yacht.

Best actor Denis Lavant, Holy Motors.

Best actor in captivity Ariello Arena, star of Reality, currently serving a life sentence.

Best opening sequence Moonrise Kingdom.

Best shot Family day out scene at waterpark in Reality.

Best rediscovery Jazz documentary A Great Day in Harlem (1994) by Jean Bach.

Silliest outfit Jeremy Irons donning fedora, silk scarf, boots and pantaloons to wander round rubbish dumps in Trashed.

Best non-film celeb spot Didier Drogba, swaggering like a winner into lunch on the Nikki Beach rooftop, coolest dude in town.

Best celeb snub Killing Them Softly is Andrew Dominik's second film directing Brad Pitt. So, he must be round Brangelina Mansions for dinner all the time? "Er, no, never been," he told me, clearly just realising the snub. "We've been out to dinner together, me and Brad. Does that count? Actually, I'm not even sure where Brad lives these days."

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how about Best Passing Quote:
“You have to know that each adaptation will be different. What you’ve done before will not help you on the next one. I’ve said before you have to betray the book in order to be faithful to the book. You have to recognize that literature is not cinema: they both do different things well, and there are certain things they cannot do that they other one can. I’m pretty ruthless about discarding things from a book that will not work cinematically. One the first things Don and I talked about–he had just read my script and he said, “I was wondering how you would handle Benno’s journal.” Don said, “The way you handled it was you left it out.” Which he did not mean as a criticism. It was totally noncinematic, and to me it would be an admission of failure to do a voiceover with somebody reading the book. What I do give you in place of Benno’s journal is Paul Giammati [who plays the character in the film], his face, his eyes, he way he moves, that’s my swap.”  ~ David Cronenberg On Adapting Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis

George mentioned the Master Class with Normon Lloyd, an actor, producer, and director who worked with  Charlie Chaplin, Bertolt Brecht, Orson Welles, Jean Renoir, Elia Kazan— and at a vital 97, may have given the best show at Cannes 2012, coverage by Richard Corliss from Time magazine: 

Jason Solomons interviews actress Isabelle Huppert for The Observer:

By the way, interested in going to film school?  Here's a ranking of the Top 25 schools around the world. 

And, of course, a huge debt of thanks must be given to George the Cyclist, back at Cannes for something like the 9th year in a row, without which our take on the whole experience would be decidedly less interesting:

Though Carlos Reygadas didn't win the Palme d'Or, he won the next best thing, the best director award, an award that often goes to the best film from a divided jury.  This jury wasn't brave enough to go that far and went with the very safe choice of Haneke's "Amour" a very average film that any film-maker could have made. Reygadas could have been given the best director award here for his second film "Battle in Heaven" seven years ago, but he was too young and unknown for that jury to make such a choice.  But this nine-person jersey, spearheaded by three most accomplished directors, Nanni Moretti, Alexander Payne and Andrea Arnold, clearly recognized the brilliance of  "Post Tenebras Lux," the most distinguished directing of any of the films here.

Both Ralph and I watched it for a second time earlier in the day and appreciated it even more.  It is a film that isn't so easy to piece together on the first viewing, though one can't help but be impressed by its great cinematic flair.  There is much more of a narrative to the film than we had at first detected.  And we will both be happy to see it again, hopefully at Telluride over Labor Day weekend.

It seems as if no jury at Cannes can get all seven of the awards it doles out right.  There is always at least one big surprise.  At first it looked as if it was going to be giving Ken Loach's "The Angels Share" the Jury Prize for the third best film, the first award given out.  Although it was a fine film, it was basically just entertainment.  That is a very arbitrary choice.  There were a handful of other equally entertaining films that could please multiplex audiences as well as those of the art house--"Rust and Bones," "Mud," and "Killing Them Softly," none of which were given awards.  The biggest surprise of those three was "Rust and Bones" being overlooked, especially with Emmanuelle Devos on the jury, who had starred in two of "Rust and Bones" director Jacques Audiard's films. "Rust and Bones" could have been given any of several awards--best actor, best actress, best screenplay or any of the three best films.

One can not deny jury favoritism.  That explains the Italian feature "Reality" being given the Grand Prix award for the second best film, a real shocker, from his fellow Italian jury president Moretti.  It certainly wasn't.  Its director Matteo Garrone was the beneficiary of similar national favoritism with his last film at Cannes, "Gomorrah," which also won the Grand Prix.  There was a very strong-willed Italian director on that jury who saw to it that the two Italian films in Competition that year won awards, that and Sorrentino's "Il Divo."  In the press conference after the award ceremony Payne was asked how he could overlook the seven films in Competition that had a North America influence, none of which won an award.  Payne shook his head in despair at the question, not wishing to accept the insinuation that he had a responsibility to award a film from his country.  National favoritism also is obvious in the reviews from Screen magazine's panel of ten international journalists.  The Brazilian was the only one to give fellow countryman Walter Salles's "On the Road" a four star review, with just about everyone else giving it two stars or less.  Lars Von Trier was similarly blessed with a four star review from the Danish representative a few years ago for the much reviled "Antichrist," everyone else hating it.

Five of the seven award winners had all won previously at Cannes.  Only the best actor and actresses were first time winners, as is usually the case.   It was most thrilling to see the two young Romanian actresses from "Beyond the Hills" being awarded.  The jury really had to like that film to violate the taboo of giving a film two awards, as its director Cristian Mungiu was given the award for best screenplay as well.  It was the second award of the evening given out.  Mungiu was clearly disappointed in having to accept it, as he was hoping he had been invited back for the awards ceremony for another "Palme d'Or" to go along with his for "Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days."  Pedro Almodovar had a similar reaction with "Volver," another film that won for its cast of actresses as well as screenplay.  That year "Volver" had the highest rating from the critics.  Rarely does the film with the highest rating win the Palme d'Or.  This year is an exception, though "Amour" was tied with "Beyond the Hills" with 3.3 out of 4.

The biggest relief of the evening was that the jury did not give "Holy Motors" an award or pull a real surprise and give "On the Road" or Kiarostami's film something.  But I had faith in Payne to get things right and Moretti too.  Moretti had previously served on the jury in 1996.  Gilles Jacob, the festival's long-time director, wrote in his memoirs published a year ago, "Citizen Cannes," that Moretti stood up for a film that year that deserved the Palme d'Or against the initial wishes of the rest of the jury.  Jacob, who admitted he sits in on the jury deliberations, though tries to keep his mouth shut, was very grateful for Moretti's strength and good sense.

When it came down to the last two awards to be given for the two best pictures we knew that Haneke was going to get one of them as he was most evident sitting in the audience. Since "Rust and Bones" had yet to receive an award, there was the possibility that this jury might right the wrong of several years ago when Haneke's "White Ribbon" was given the Palme d'Or over Audiard's "A Prophet."  But that was not to be.

When "Reality" won it meant I would have to skip the closing night film "Therese Desqueyroux" by Claude Miller starring Audrey Tatou, as "Reality was coincidentally screening an hour later and I had yet to see it, just one of the two Competition films I had missed.  The other was the Opening Night film "Moonrise Kingdom."  I came within two minutes of seeing it earlier in the day.  People were still trickling into the Bazin Theater for its 4:30 pm screening when I arrived 15 minutes earlier.  I quickly ducked into the bathroom next door.  When I came out the "Complet" sign had been posted.  I wasn't overly upset as it meant I could go upstairs to the Bunuel Theater and see the Reygadas film again.  Intuitively I knew that is what I should have wanted to do anyway.  As always, I do not get upset when I am turned away from a film, rather accepting it as an opportunity to see something else.

Though I saw 73 films this year, including 21 of the 22  Competition films and 10 of the 20 in Un Certain Regard, there were a few I regretted missing.  One was "7 Days in Havana" a compilation film by seven directors including Gaspar Noe.  Ralph saw it, as he is an ardent Noe fan as well, but he couldn't recognize which of the seven segments was Noe's, so it didn't seem as if I missed anything of significance.  He said the only segment he could identify who had directed it was the one by Emir Kusturica, as he starred in his.  He played himself attending the Havana film festival and not wishing to fully participate in it. 

I was also sorry to miss an animated feature with Werner Herzog as the voiceover and also a documentary on the foremost editor of film trailers narrated by Jeff Bridges.  But one can't see everything, though I certainly give it a good effort.  I had more seven film days this year than any year before, largely thanks to a more conveniently located internet outlet for my daily postings. If I didn't have that obligation I would have watched "Amour" for a second time today giving it another chance to impress me.  As it was, it was only a four film day, the only day of less than six. 

"Amour" was one of four films scheduled to play in the 1,068 seat Debussy Theater on repeat Sunday, the largest of the four theaters for the repeats.  The others have seating of 400; 350 and 300.  The top-seeded films were "The Angel's Share," "Holy Motors," "Amour" and "The Hunt."  Keller attended "The Hunt" screening.  He said there was a riot among those waiting to get in and horse-mounted police were called in and people were arrested. 

The lowest seeded films, the films the festival directors thought had the least  interest, playing in the 300 seat Bunuel were "On the Road," "Like Someone to Love," "Mud," "Post Tenebras Lux," and "In the Fog."

I began the day with "Beyond the Hills," one of the three films I was most looking forward to seeing when the festival schedule had been announced a month ago along the Reygadas film and Dolan's film.  This true story of a young girl who comes to a small monastery to visit a friend of hers and take her away was not as powerful as the director's Palme d'Or winner, a near impossibility, but it was still a most impressive film. 

It was only fifteen minutes between the end of this film and Kiarostami's "Like Someone in Love."  If I didn't get in I had no back-up film.  I would go fulfill my internet duties and then see Haneke's film.  But there were barely 100 people who cared to see it.  This story of a Japanese student who moonlights as a hooker was very slight and dull.  It has an element of mistaken identity similar to "Certified Copy," but is a pale imitation.

I had been turned away from "Reality" three times early in the festival.  It was the third of the Competition films to be screened after "Rust and Bones" and the Egyptian film "After the Battle" and was given very mediocre reviews.  I didn't think I had missed much. It was actually more enjoyable than I thought it would be, though still not worthy of the Grand Prix. It was my second film of the day of someone who goes slightly mad.  One of the girls in "Beyond the Hills," frustrated at not being able to pry her friend from the monastery, goes into such fits that she is hospitalized. In "Reality" a guy with great personality who sells fish from a stand in a town square and is the father of two girls has high hopes of being selected for a reality television that will make him rich and famous.  He has an hour-long audition that goes very well.  He's so confident of being selected he convinces his wife that he should sell his fish stand.  When he isn't selected he suffers a great downward spiral.   It is an entertaining comedy-drama, but not as fine a film as "Rust and Bones" and a few others.  That is a subjective opinion, though appears to be the prevailing sentiment.

Once again Cannes was a great twelve days of cinema.  Even Keller came to agree that it was a privilege to be here.  This year did not have the greatness of last year, but still it was a reassuring testimony to the state of cinema.  There were a remarkable number of very fine films.  I'll be back and so will Ralph.  Not so sure about Keller though.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Cannes Day 11 Awards

The glitz and glamor, Phạm Băng Băng, and the impatience from the inevitable waiting, at Cannes

Who says the Chinese haven't picked up on international sign language? 

What would a Cannes festival be without an Asia Argento sighting, appearing in Dario Argento's Dracula 3D

Cannes photos from The Guardian:

and more:

Cannes photos from The Hollywood Reporter:

The Un Certain regards Awards at Cannes have been announced.  For those in the know, Le Grand Soir filmmakers Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kervern were the ones that made the Kaurismäki style miserablist comedy Aaltra (2004).  Also, glad to see Dolan's film, likely strong enough to be In Competition, come away with something. 

Kevin Jagernauth at the indieWIRE Playlist:

The Cannes Film Festival wraps up today. Awards are starting to be handed out and first up are the prizes for the festival's Un Certain Regard category, which tends to feature newer, lesser known directors and slightly edgier fare than the main competition lineup.

The jury presided over by Tim Roth (who also starred in the Critics' Week opening film "Broken") has given the Prize Of Un Certain Regard to Mexico's "Después de Lucía." To be honest, we heard very little about this one on the grounds of the fest, but the film directed by Michael Franco follows a father and daughter who are starting their lives over in a new town. This should give a nice boost to the film which doesn't have domestic distribution yet, but for the buyers left in town hoping to make one last deal, this one looks like a smart bet.

In a rather interesting change, the jury awarded two Best Actress prizes this year -- that's not right, no one took Best Actor. First up, Suzanne Clement earned recognition for her great turn in Xavier Dolan's ambitious and beautiful (read our review here) "Laurence Anyways." She plays the girlfriend of the titular Laurence whose decision to become a woman finds her admirably standing by her man, but suffering some tremendous emotional fallout as a result. It's a great performance, and we're glad she (and the film) got some some love. Also taking an acting trophy is Emilie Dequenne for her role in Joachim Lafosse's "La Pedre La Raison" another film that didn't quite land on our radar at the fest, but follows a romance that becomes tested by marriage and children.

Finally, the Jury Prize went to "Le Grand Soir" a story of two brothers who couldn't be more different while the Special Distinction Of The Jury was awarded to Aida Begic's "Djeca" ("Children Of Sarajevo"), about two orphans following the Bosnian war. We had heard some good word about the film, so we'll see if it lands stateside. 

Winners recap below.



Suzanne CLÉMENT for her performance in LAURENCE ANYWAYS directed by Xavier DOLAN

Emilie DEQUENNE for her performance in À PERDRE LA RAISON directed by Joachim LAFOSSE

(Children of Sarajevo)

David Hudson at Fandor:

Jury President Tim Roth and his fellow Jury members (Leïla Bekhti, Tonie Marshall, Luciano Monteagudo and Sylvie Pras) have awarded the Prix Un Certain Regard to Michel Franco’s After Lucia.

On Thursday, James Quandt wrote in the National Post that “Franco has studied the art film tropes of contemporary cinema, and the elliptical, quietly modulated first half of his film reveals a mastery of suggestive storytelling. A chef and his teenaged daughter move from Puerto Vallarta to Mexico City after their wife/mother is killed in a car accident. These facts emerge slowly, with great indirection, so stating them this bluntly seems like a misrepresentation of the film’s initial moderation.” The “daughter’s popularity at school quickly turns into its opposite when a cellphone video turns viral, and she is labelled a whore. Intent on protecting her father in his grief, she reports nothing of the campaign of degradation—bullying is too mild a term for it—directed against her…. Franco’s narrative and visual control renders the facts of brutality as indisputable, though his restraint unfortunately falters in the final half hour, when the film becomes a revenge drama, betraying its previous abstention.” More from Emissions in the Dark, Charles Gant (Variety) and, in the Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney: “The film is of a piece stylistically with Franco’s debut, Daniel & Ana, which premiered in the Directors Fortnight at Cannes in 2009. Austerity and rigorous control are his signature notes, with an unflinching realism marked by extended silences and a distinct preference for conveying information via oblique glimpses rather than in dialogue.”

The Special Jury Prize goes to Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kervern’s Le Grand Soir, which, as David Fear writes for Time Out New York, “follows the misadventures of two brothers—one an aging gutter punk (Man Bites Dog’s Benoît Poelvoorde), the other a yuppie mattress salesman (Albert Dupontel). While the former runs around a middle-class strip mall causing mayhem, the latter teeters on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Not to worry: His punk brother will be there to give him a mohawk, tattoo the word ‘Dead’ on his forehead and empower his sibling to join the imaginary resistance. The longer the film’s anarchic last act goes on, the more its tweaked tribute to family really flips the bird to the notion of conformity. It climaxes with an epic gesture of futility and a flaming bale of hay rolling right toward the camera.” More from Megan Lehmann (Hollywood Reporter; “scabrous but still kind of sweet”) and, at Cineuropa, Fabien Lemercier: “Their latest opus confirms a path without concessions, on which they are refining their cinematographic skills but also allowing themselves a few excesses, without however deviating from what is essential: an innate sense of revolt and derision.”

Instead of a Best Actor award, the Jury’s going with two for Best Actress: Suzanne Clément for her performance in Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways (see our roundup) and Emilie Dequenne for hers in Our Children, “another tightly wound study of domestic malaise from Belgian auteur Joachim Lafosse,” according to Jordan Mintzer in the Hollywood Reporter. And he highlights, too, the “riveting lead turn from Emilie Dequenne as a young mother caught between two men (A Prophet stars Tahar Rahim and Niels Arestrup) in a claustrophobic nightmare… Inspired by events which took place in a distant suburb of Brussels in 2007, the script—co-written with Thomas Bidegain (Rust & Bone) and Matthieu Reynaert—sticks to many of the facts in the case of Genevieve Lhermitte, who turned herself into the police after coldly and clinically murdering her five kids with a kitchen knife (the film reduces the number to four, but who’s counting?). While such an act may ultimately be inexplicable, the various reasons posited by Our Children very much fit in with the oeuvre of the 37-year-old Lafosse, whose previous films (Private Property, Private Lessons) explored the effects of perversely close-knit relationships on a handful of characters.” More from Peter Debruge (Variety), Fionnuala Halligan (Screen) and Boyd van Hoeij (Cineuropa).

Special Mention goes to Children of Sarajevo. Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian: “The 38-year-old Aida Begić is the Bosnian film-maker who won the Grand Prix at the Critics Week in Cannes four years ago for her debut feature, Snow…. Children of Sarajevo—the original title, Djeca, means ‘children’—is set in the present-day city, in which the ghosts of a terrible past loom all around. The movie does not entirely tie up its narrative threads, but the strange, potent atmosphere makes up for this.” More from Mark Adams (Screen), Megan Lehmann (THR), and Alissa Simon (Variety).

Filmmaker‘s Scott Macaulay takes note of the day’s other awards: “Earlier today, Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild picked up the FIPRESCI prize, given by an international jury of film critics, as the best film in the Un Certain Regard section of the main selection. Sergei Loznitsa’s In the Fog picked up the FIPRESCI prize in the Competition, while the jury gave the Director’s Fortnight prize to Rachad Djaidani’s Hold Back. The Cannes Ecumenical Jury gave its prize to Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt, with Beasts of the Southern Wild receiving a mention.”

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For the last Competition film to screen at Cannes, the American film Mud by Jeff Nichols, Mike Goodridge offers comments from Screendaily:

A conventional narrative may be a rarity in Cannes competition this year, but Jeff Nichols’ Mud makes no apologies for its classic storytelling. A confident, nuanced, richly satisfying coming-of-age story which is part Huckleberry Finn, part Badlands, the film is another illustration that Nichols is becoming one of the most assured US auteurs at work today.

A long running time and a slow-burning pace might be considered commercial restrictions here, but the critical response and word-of-mouth should be strong and the name cast led by Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon will only enhance box office chances. It’s a film for adults, and yet, like Twain or To Kill A Mockingbird, it is devoid of bad language or excessive violence and could, one day, become a family perennial

Nichols doesn’t break much new ground here and the themes and situations feel familiar from countless stories and previous movies. But he tells his particular story with elegance, wit and poignancy and never condescends to the boys who are both spunky and smart. He also elicits a fine performance from Tye Sheridan as Ellis whose confusion with the realities of adult romance and the world of girls rings painfully true.

The adult cast is also terrific from the increasingly impressive McConaughey to Witherspoon in a touching role as the complicated Juniper, and the always reliable Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon and Joe Don Baker.

The influence of Terrence Malick is writ large in Mud and there are parallels to Badlands and Days Of Heaven as well as David Gordon Green’s Undertow, which Malick produced. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Malick’s producer Sarah Green is also a producer on Mud.

more praise from Jason Solomons from The Guardian:

Screening right at the end of the festival, Jeff Nichols's film Mud made an urgent late bid for the Palme d'Or. An atmospheric thriller and coming-of-age tale set on a slow bend in the Mississippi river, Mud has the look and feel of an American indie classic. It is a surefire best picture nominee at next year's Oscars and likely to win some kind of award at Cannes, receiving the warmest applause of the festival at its morning press screening.

Mud takes its name from its lead character, played by Matthew McConaughey, delivering the best performance of his career (and his second at the festival, after The Paperboy) as a fugitive holed up on an island in the Mississippi after murdering a rival for his lover Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). Mud is wanted by the police and bounty hunters hired by the murdered man's family. He is discovered, however, by two 14-year-old boys, Ellis and Neckbone, who live in houseboats along one of the river's swampy tributaries. They fall under Mud's charismatic spell and are talked into helping him rebuild an old motor boat stranded in a treetop – dumped there, one assumes, years before by a flood or a tornado.

The boys are beautifully played by Tye Sheridan (who starred as one of Brad Pitt's sons in last year's Palme d'Or winner, The Tree of Life) and Jacob Lofland. The teenagers' thrill and adventure in secretly aiding Mud gives the film a Huckleberry Finn-ish flavour that blends with something akin to Rob Reiner's 1986 classic Stand By Me and Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter. For such an American film, there are also clear echoes of British classics such as Great Expectations and Whistle Down the Wind.

Writer-director Nichols, working with cinematographer Adam Stone, succeeds in capturing the life and the geography of his locale, its beauty and its dangers, as venomous snakes crawl in the swirling, brown water and local divers fish for oysters and crabs in their own nets. Mud, which also stars Sam Shepard and Michael Shannon, is a very fine film about innocence, father figures and love, a work that manages to be thrilling, unsentimental and emotionally rewarding. This is, sadly, an all too rare combination in so many films, particularly the other American ones that showed in this year's Cannes competition, making Mud all the more worth the wait.

Director Jeff Nichols talks about his desire to make this film for over a decade in an interview with Nigel M. Smith from indieWIRE:

It was an idea I had in college, around the same time I was going to Cannes. I found this book in a public library in Little Rock, Arkansas. It was photographs from the Mississippi river. I was inspired by it. I got this idea of these boys finding this man hiding out on a little island in the Mississippi River. Once I said that to myself, I knew it was a good idea. I spent the next eight, nine years slowly building the story up and building these characters up.

Every film I've made, I've tried to approach from two tracks: One of them's the plot, the other's from some kind of emotion. With "Shotgun Stories," it was the thought of something bad happening to one of my brothers -- that was such a tangible feeling for me to write from. With "Take Shelter," it was obviously anxiety. And with this, I was reaching back into high school, thinking of when I got my heart broken for the first time. I know lots has been written on that, but why not throw one more on the pile?

So it's really close to me, because it's all about the heartbreak and stuff that you experience with young love and our ability to bounce back from it and push through. They're all personal.

Eugene Hernandez talks to Nichols about portrayals of the American South in films from Film Comment:

Jeff Nichols' Take Shelter won the Critics Week sidebar Grand Prize last year, but he told Indiewire that his inaugural visit was actually as a Kodak intern twelve years ago, waiting tables at the American Pavilion. At centerstage in Cannes here this year, Nichols drew immediate praise this morning for a film that has had little buzz. It lacks U.S. distribution, wasn't on Cannes hit lists earlier this year, and the film screened today after a lot of press and industry had already gone home.

Tye Sheridan, last seen as one of the young boys in the Palme d'Or winning Tree of Life here a year ago, is at the center of Mud, a Mississippi River story set in Arkansas. The child of a troubled home finds a reckless role model in a reclusive man with a questionable past (Matthew McConaughey). The teen maintains a brotherly bond with a compatriot his own age even as his interest is piqued by an older girl at school.

"It was really about this boy searching for a version of love that works," filmmaker Jeff Nichols explained at a press conference in Cannes this morning. You get banged up by love, Nichols elaborated. "For some reason we go pull ourselves together and go after it again."

Critics and journalists who watched the film this morning drew immediate comparisons to Rob Reiner's Stand By Me and Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

The American South has been broadly represented here at the 65th Cannes Film Festival, particularly as seen through the eyes of young people. In addition to Mud, Cannes showcased the fantastical survival story in Benh Zeitlin's Beasts of the Southern Wild and the steamy murder mystery in Florida in Lee Daniels' The Paperboy.

"There are very few movies about the American South that are accurate. This is one of them," praised actress Reese Witherspoon, who appears in Mud in a rare supporting role. The Southern actress credited the kids in the film and Nichols' script as her reasons for wanting to make this movie.

Jeff Nichols, who was born in Little Rock, Arkansas and studied film at the public North Carolina School of the Arts, expressed pride in the South at this morning's press conference.

"It's a dying way of life, it's a dying accent," he said, when asked by a journalist to talk about what the South means to him. "I wanted to capture a snapshot of a place that won't be there. The South is a precious place and it's easy for it to get lost. The South is fleeting."

He paused for a moment noting that his comments sound depressing. Putting a positive spin on the remarks he added, "you always seem to find it again."

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How about an interview with Ashim Ahluwalia, director of Miss Lovely, who insists this is *not* Bollywood, from The Hollywood Reporter:

Ashim Ahluwalia: If you talk about indie cinema, it's really these guys working in the underbelly that are the indie players even if sometimes their films are terrible. They shoot films with no resources in five days. They use whatever they have, kitchen utensils – everything - and make films and recover their money. They are confident and are saying “F--- you” to Bollywood (the mainstream Hindi film industry). For 20 to 30 years these kind of films have been watched not just in remote rural cinemas but also in cities. Audiences are watching cheap sex-horror films with titles like Maut Ka Chehra (The Face of Death). So these kind of filmmakers are quite ballsy. They are not intimidated by Bollywood stars. I could identify with their rebellion. Also, this film is not a parody. (While researching for this subject initially as a documentary), hanging out with these guys I knew that I was not going to make fun of them. Miss Lovely is a very Indian film and yet it is not typical Bollywood or so-called parallel cinema.

THR: What do you want international audiences to take away from Miss Lovely?
Ahluwalia: The primary thing I want them to take away is that Indian cinema is not all Bollywood. That's the misconcepetion. My film wants to break that perception that we are under-educated about films. We are actually the laughing stock in terms of cinema internationally. It's important for us to have the language and vocabulary of cinema and be very confident. And that is what Cannes seems to have picked on (with respect to the Un Certain Regard selection of Miss Lovely). I am already getting international feedback from observers who are now seeing that we are getting to be more confident about a new kind of cinema.

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And finally a stark admission from Festival President Gilles Jacob:
Cannes chief admits: we must search harder for films directed by women

Festival president says it was a mistake to raise expectations by picking so many women last year

After suffering two weeks of fierce criticism, the organisers of the Cannes film festival admitted that they needed to make a concerted effort to increase the number of female film-makers competing for the Palme d'Or.

Festival president Gilles Jacob said: "I am sure that next year the chief selector, Thierry Frémaux, will look more carefully to find films by women."

Jacob also said it was a "shame" that only one female director, Jane Campion, had ever won the festival's top prize. He lists the film-maker among his proudest "discoveries".

"Cinema is dominated by men," he said, "and Cannes is just a reflection of cinema." However, Jacob also defended the actions of Frémaux, whom he appointed his successor in 2001 when he was made president. He said: "The selector has said it is not his intention to take a film made by a woman because it is made by a woman but because it has the necessary quality."

Eighty-one-year-old Jacob, who has attended every festival since 1964 and became its chief selector in 1978, added: "The job of feminists and of people like me who like the work of female film-makers is to say to him: 'Are you sure there isn't somewhere a film by a woman that deserves to be competing?' That is always the conversation we have here."

Speaking in an exclusive interview with the Observer to be broadcast tonight on the Variety Live@Cannes internet TV show, Jacob said the festival set a tough precedent in picking four films by female directors in 2011, including Lynne Ramsay's We Need To Talk About Kevin.

"That was maybe a wrong move," he said. "Now everyone this year was expecting five films, then six, then seven. In France nowadays, they speak of parity. They want parity in government, parity everywhere, so why not at the Cannes film festival?"

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There is an online Criterion Forum discussion on the films at Cannes:

A big thank you shoutout to George the Cyclists's West coast friend Matt Langdon ( and for mentioning the Cannes coverage at this blog on the Mubi Forum:

Les étoiles de la critique is a scorecard of French critics, completed through Sunday's edition, where Audiard's Rust and Bone and Haneke's Amour still remain the best reviewed films so far:  Interestingly, despite the alleged critical acclaim, Holy Motors is rated five 4 stars, three 3 stars, two 2 stars, four 1 stars, and one less than 1 star on the French critic vote.

Over at Screendaily, the highest scores are Mungiu's Beyond the Hills, rated 3.3, and Haneke's Amour, rated the same, with Audiard's Rust and Bone, Dominick's Killing Them Softly, Vinterberg's The Hunt, and Loznitsa's Into the Fog rated 2.9.  After that, Loach's The Angel's Share and Jeff Nichols' Mud are rated 2.8, Walter Salles On the Road is 2.7, while the Resnais You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet and Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom are both rated at 2.6, while the Kiarostami scores 2.4.  Holy Motors, interesting enough, only averages a 2. For the completed Digital Jury Grid Ratings:  Click here for full grid pdf. 

While at Jigsaw Lounge, Neil Young finally removed Kiarostami as the favorite to win the Palme D'Or prize, changing to 3rd prize, recommending Haneke's Amour as the favorite. Young's predictions seem to be erratic and are in a constant state of flux, but these are his final odds at Jigsaw Lounge: 

7-2 : AMOUR - Haneke
{prediction : Palme d’Or and festival’s 65th Anniversary Award for the actors}
9-2 : IN THE FOG - Loznitsa {Grand Prix}
6-1 : RUST AND BONE - Audiard {Best Director}
7-1 : HOLY MOTORS – Carax {Best Actor}
8-1 : LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE  - Kiarostami {Jury Prize}
10-1 : BEYOND THE HILLS - Mungiu {Best Actress, ex-aequo}
- – - – - – - – - -
16-1 : COSMOPOLIS - Cronenberg
16-1 : YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHIN’ YET! - Resnais {Best Screenplay}
22-1 : THE HUNT – Vinterberg
25-1 : PARADISE : LOVE – Seidl
25-1 : POST TENEBRAS LUX - Reygadas
25-1 : KILLING THEM SOFTLY - Dominik
25-1 : MUD - Nichols
25-1 : MOONRISE KINGDOM – Anderson
33-1 : REALITY - Garrone
40-1 : ON THE ROAD - Salles
100-1 : AFTER THE BATTLE - Nasrallah
100-1 : THE ANGELS’ SHARE - Loach
100-1 : LAWLESS – Hillcoat
150-1 : THE PAPERBOY – Daniels

Nanni Moretti in a Christ-like pose believes his work on this earth is done, as his disciples look on in awe

Final Awards, in the order of presentation:

Palme D'Or (1st)
Michael Haneke, Amour

Grand Prix (2nd)
Matteo Garrone, Reality

Best Actress
Cosmina Straten and Cristina Flutur, for Cristian Mungiu, Beyond the Hills

Best Actor
Mads Mikkelsen, for Thomas Vinterberg's Jagten (The Hunt)

Best Director
Carlos Reygadas, Post Tenebras Lux

Best Screenplay
Cristian Mungiu, Beyond the Hills

Jury Prize (3rd)
Ken Loach, The Angel's Share

Camera D’Or (First Time Directors)
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Best Short Film
L Rezan Yesilbas, Sessiz-Be Deng

Some big surprises, especially the nearly forgotten Loach and the critically despised (except for George) Carlos Reygadas film which wins Best Direction. 

Romanian Cristian Mungiu was reportedly not looking too happy (do Romanians ever look happy?) when his name was called for Best Screenplay, but then his set of actresses won as well, in something of a surprise. 

Matteo Garrone is a stunner - - certainly an unpopular choice.   

Also some notable omissions - - films that got completely shut out:

Léos Carax, Holy Motors
Sergei Loznitsa, In the Fog
Jacques Audiard, Rust and Bone
David Cronenberg, Cosmopolis
Abbas Kiarostami, Like Someone to Love
Ulrich Seidl, Paradise: Love
Alain Resnais, You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet

Screendaily still has paywalls, but they are open to the public, though some still remain mysteriously unavailable: 

or even better:

The Hollywood Reporter at Cannes:

David Hudson (formerly of Mubi) does all the links for each review at Fandor:

Variety at Cannes:

Matt Zoller Seitz and Kevin B. Lee at Press Play from indieWIRE

the indieWIRE Playlist:

indieWIRE reviews, with grades listed:

At this late date, I'm adding yet another link to Cannes reviews, this time from Pop Matters:

Robert Koehler from Filmjourney:

Daniel Kasman at Mubi:

The House Next Door at Cannes:

Drew McSweeny and Guy Lodge from HitFix:

Mike D'Angelo at The Onion AV Club:

The Film Center's Barbara Scharres from the Roger Ebert blog:

Richard Corliss from Time Magazine:

Karina Longworth at LA Weekly:

Cannes Fest at Time Out London:

Cannes Diary from Film Comment:

The Guardian Cannes commentary:

And, of course, George is back at Cannes this year, where he finds off the beaten track film fare:

All went as planned with no excess crowds or unexpected circumstances preventing me from knocking off four Competition films in a row, two that received their premieres today and the two that premiered yesterday.  It was a risk to skip Cronenberg's "Cosmopolis" yesterday and hope I could see its repeated screening today, but I got away with it.  If I had seen it yesterday though, it would have made for a pair of Competition films centered around a guy driving around a big city in a stretch white limo in a dream sequence of a movie.  Yesterday it was in Paris, today in New York.  I didn't much care for yesterday's drive, nor today's either.  The script might have been sitting in Cronenberg's drawer for fifty years, dating back to the era of Ionseco and the Theater of the Absurd.

A young big-time executive wishes to drive across a traffic-clogged, not so safe New York to get a hair cut.  He has security guards jogging alongside his car.  Rats are on the verge of becoming a unit of currency replacing the gold standard.  The guy stops a couple of times to have breakfast and then lunch in a small diner with his young wife who isn't as interested in sex as he is.  When he takes off his sun glasses she comments, "I didn't know you had blue eyes."  She asks him to tell her something.  He says, "When I was four I figured out how much I would weigh on each of the planets."  Several times during the movie  he comments on having an asymmetrical prostrate.

Keller and Ralph were awaiting me at the day's first screening of "Mud" by the winner of Critic's Weekly last year, Jeff Nichols, with "Take Shelter.".  I hadn't seen Keller in several days.  It was good to see he had stuck it out, rather than leaving early in frustration as he thought he would.  "Has Cannes won you over?" I eagerly asked.  "No, but I've made my peace with it," he said.  He had been spoiled by the ease of Telluride, the only other festival he has attended, and the quality of its films, with such a limited schedule compared to most festivals.  After ten days he had figured things out here but wasn't willing to admit to being a full-fledged devotee such as Ralph and I.

"Mud" offered up remarkable performances by a pair of teen-aged boys who befriend a man wanted for murder played by Matthew McConaughey who is hiding out at a secret spot of theirs on an island in the Mississippi.  He is awaiting the arrival of his girl friend played by Reese Witherspoon.  He murdered her husband, rescuing her from a marriage gone bad.  Along with the police a group of Texas vigilante friends of the murder victim are in pursuit as well.  The dialogue is crackling and the plot gripping.  Various sub plots are all cautionary tales on idolizing women.  This could win the award for the best screen play.

My two other Competition films were genre pieces from Russia and South Korea.  "In the Fog" took place on the Western front during WWII amongst Russian peasants. One of them is arrested by the Nazis.  They threaten to hang him unless he agrees to a confession.  Against his better judgment he decides to live, but then is ostracized by his community for seeming to be a collaborator.  This is another of the character in Deep Shit films that have come to dominate the festival.

A young administrative assistant/executive in "The Taste of Money" wallows in at least shallow shit after he allows himself to be seduced/raped by the 70-year old woman who runs a huge family corporation.  Corruption and sex dominate this slick, but irrelevant film.

Ralph, Keller and I slipped into the awards ceremony for Un Certain Regard before dashing to the Director Fortnight's Award winner.  Jury president Tim Roth lamented the impossibility of selecting the winners because the films were all so good.  They always say that, but it was quite true in this instance.  The three of us were rooting for the Mexican film "After Lucia,"  which won.  Roth gave an extra award to "Le Grand Soir" the French black comedy.  He thanked Thierry Fremaux for including a comedy in the schedule as they were so many heavy dramas.

The Director Fortnight's jury must have had a similar reaction, as its winner was the French light-hearted comedy "Camille Rewinds."   It started out like an all too-typical French film on a film set, but then veered off into slightly original territory when the lead actress, a 40-year old, returns to her parents home and slips into a time warp going back to being a 16-year old.  She goes to school as her 40-year old self and connects with her classmates who are still themselves.  She doesn't want to have anything to do with her old boy friend and tells him she doesn't want to have him leave her accusing her of being his ball-and-chain.   This was a refreshing dose of lightness after the many heavy films, but not necessarily exceptional cinema worthy of an award.  At least she rides her old bicycle on occasion, but my enjoyment of the movie was deflated by a couple of crashes, once hitting a car and another time just having the bike slip out from under her, giving me a start and a gasp each time.

The traditional final screening of the festival before Sunday's repeat of all the Competition films and the Closing Night film was a Director Fortnight's film at the Arcades at 10:30 pm.  "Fogo" was a largely dialogue-less documentary on a mostly barren, rugged  island with just a few residents and their dogs. This was a very questionable example of minimalism with very little explanation of what the movie was about.

We were all eager for Sunday's schedule of Competition films.  I was most lucky that the four I have not seen are all playing in different time slots allowing me to see them all.  Ralph was not so lucky. Two of his three are playing at the same time and at the same time as the Reygadas film, which he wanted to see again.  And that will be his choice.  Its hard to believe the festival is drawing to a close.  It flew by faster than ever.  As Ralph and I walked along Antibes after "Fogo" Ralph commented on how much he loves this experience, every aspect of it, and will most certainly be back next year for his third time;  I will be celebrating my tenth.  Yes it has been another fabulous immersion in the world of cinema.