Rossy de Palma
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Jury member Kristen Dunst
Jury member Vanessa Paradis
Cannes Film Festival 2016: Arthouse Cinema on the Riviera Stephen Garrett from The Observer, May 17, 2016
Now that Woody and Steven have left the Riviera, Cannes chatter can get back to its raison d’être: hardcore arthouse cinema. The festival’s programmers certainly expect their international journalists to feast on candied confections with Hollywood-friendly casts and splashy budgets; but they also demand an equally ravenous appetite for fiber-rich filmmaking. What better way to follow Mr. Allen’s sentimental soufflé Café Society than with the high-colonic of Christi Puiu’s 173-minute familial reunion Sieranevada? That caustic slice of Romanian miserablism unspooled for the press on the very first night of the fest, a sadistic face slap to jet-lagged travelers and a sober reminder that bright-eyed movie stars and breezy plots have no place in the upper echelons of the Seventh Art.
An Eastern European domestic epic with shrill players and an infatuation for verbal diarrhea, Sieranevada (the title remains a mystery) is a raucous morass of internecine conflict among relatives gathered for a burial ritual. Grappling equally with nobly profound ideas and gratingly self-aware camerawork, Sieranevada is ultimately sunk by its own lofty pretentions, an undisciplined hodge-podge by a talented director who was clearly given too much creative freedom and not enough challenging debate about his cinematic vision.
Maybe Puiu’s kitchen-sink realism was just too mundane compared with the French auteurs. Want to see a young stud performing euthanasia-tinged geriatric sodomy while early Pink Floyd plays on a turntable? Or a moonlit baby left out as nocturnal bait to attract wolves? How about a man stripped naked by a mob of homeless beggars? Alain Guiraudie’s Staying Vertical has all three scenes, plus a slew of other quasi-dreamlike moments that lurch this tonally eccentric modern fable from reality to fantasy and back again. It’s a laudable, though erratic, look at one man’s resistance to conformity—social, sexual, vocational—and the disorderly epiphanies he leaves in his wake.
But Staying Vertical has nothing on Bruno Dumont’s wildly grotesque comedy Slack Bay, an almost avant-garde slapstick send-up of class warfare set 100 years ago on the coast of Northern France. A family of wealthy vacationers, including a maniacal Juliette Binoche, delight in the earthy squalor of the underclass who later reveal themselves to be murdering cannibals.
Among the lighter moments: mussel-combing children scoop out loose fingers and ears from a pot of bloody body parts while their mother vainly tries to get them to eat a freshly butchered human foot. Hilarious! Most famous for his severely stern humanist dramas, Mr. Dumont has produced such an oddly mannered approach to humor that it’s both inherently funny as well as a studied critique of what it means to be funny. Ultimately exhausting at two hours, Slack Bay is still riddled with enough bizarre behavior to make it unsettlingly delightful.
Even one of this year’s prestige pictures is surprisingly louche. (Consider it bespoke kink.) Park Chan-wook’s sumptuous, handsomely mounted period piece The Handmaiden, a wicked, noir-infused lesbian thriller, starts out as 1930s story of a con man who uses an orphaned young Korean woman to infiltrate the staff of a wealthy Japanese heiress and help bankrupt her. But the twists and turns start to build as the two women develop an undeniable attraction. Cue the erotic literature, BDSM devices, Ben Wa balls, and—naturally to represent the spectrum of Asian sex fantasies—the inevitable octopus tank.
Surprisingly enough, and in stark contrast to the other competition films, this week’s English-language selections have been unabashedly tame if not downright decent-minded. Ken Loach’s trademark liberal politics inform the gut-punch tearkerjerker I, Daniel Blake, which follows a widowed carpenter with a heart condition trying to stay on the dole (per doctor’s orders) but meets chronic resistance in Britain’s welfare system (civil servant drones keep making ominous referrals to a never-seen “decision-maker”). Aside from a few unfortunate plot points that could have been just at home in a silent-film melodrama, Mr. Loach’s bittersweet morality tale showcases the true heroism of small gestures among average people helping each other fight for their own dignity in the face of a chillingly indifferent social system.
Representing the first wave of Oscar-bait “issue movies” this year is Jeff Nichol’s Loving, a muted but poised portrait of Richard and Mildred Loving and their successful U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit Loving v. Virginia, which legalized interracial marriage in 1967. Don’t expect scenes with strident speechifying or fervent crowds erupting into applause amid rallying swells of orchestral treacle: Mr. Nichols plays the film’s emotional cards close to his vest, celebrating the quotidian moments of marital life while stressing how Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga), both quietly defiant but clearly intimidated by the law, were far from crusaders. Mr. Edgerton and Ms. Negga, respectively Australian and Irish-Ethiopean, do a superb job nailing their rugged Southern accents, and deliver the kind of performances that Oscar voters adore.
But the most modest movie by far is Paterson, Jim Jarmusch’s still-water meditation on the creative inner worlds of everyday people. Simple but never simplistic, the site-specific story follows a week in the life of a New Jersey Transit bus driver named Paterson (Adam Driver) who writes poetry in his down time and enjoys domestic bliss with quirky wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). The Patersons reside in Paterson (naturally) and subsist on his modest salary. Not much happens, except that life happens, which is more than enough: Mr. Jarmusch’s mastery of human rhythms reveals the profundity within an unassuming moment. The film is a tiny miracle, a multifaceted gem that’s the perfect refutation of the festival’s carnivorous carnival atmosphere—as well as the perfect cinematic definition of what Cannes, at its best, truly does showcase.
Sonia Braga and the Brazil contingency
'Brazil is divided': Aquarius star Sonia Braga and director address Cannes protests Nigel M. Smith from The Guardian, May 18, 2016
A day after staging a demonstration against what they believe to be a coup in their country, Aquarius writer-director Kleber Mendonça Filho and actor Braga explain why they are concerned for Brazil’s future
“Brazil is divided,” declared writer-director Kleber Mendonça Filho at the Cannes film festival on Wednesday, where his new film, Aquarius, is competing for the Palme d’Or.
His comments, made to the Guardian at a press conference for the drama on Wednesday, come a day after the film’s premiere, where the cast and crew used the opportunity to mount a protest against what they describe as a coup.
Filho and his team are angered about the the recent impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff, the country’s first female president, who was forced from office, as well as interim president Michel Temer’s controversial decision to abolish Brazil’s culture ministry. Temer has since sought to tamp down the criticism by appointing a culture secretary, but four potential candidates have reported refusing the job.
“They picked the wrong month to extinguish the ministry of culture, because a movie made with very public funds is currently competing in Cannes,” Filho said.
The film-maker added that the “dramatic divide” Rousseff’s impeachment has brought to Brazil is “terrible”. “It’s bringing out the worst in both sides - particularly the right side,” he said. “People in congress saying women shouldn’t work because they get pregnant - shocking ideas like that.”
“All this transition is going to be very hurtful for our democracy – that was hard to get in the first place,” added Sonia Braga, Aquarius’ lead actor. “It’s not easy to lose.”
The film features Braga as a fiercely resilient aging music critic eager to remain in her apartment despite developers’ pressure. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw called it a “a densely observed and superbly acted portrait of a woman of a certain age.”
“It was very important to take this international platform here to expose what’s happening in Brazil,” Braga said of the red-carpet protest, echoing what Filho said. “Because of the biased media [in Brazil], and because of what people are feeling, Brazil is divided.”
Filho said the demonstration came together following discussions with fellow Brazilian film-makers and producers at the festival.
“We liked the idea of doing something,” he said. “I didn’t want to do something noisy, or something that would be in some way inadequate. So the idea that we decided to go for was: A4 pieces of paper with really short sentences, which expressed what is happening in Brazil. Cannes has many cameras and powerful long lenses, and it worked very beautifully.”
Banners, held by cast and crew on the steps of the Palais, and inside the theater by audience members, bore messages such as “Brazil is not a democracy” and “The world cannot accept this illegitimate government”. The overtly political act was met with loud applause inside the venue.
Asked if the seaside town Recife in north-east Brazil, where Aquarius takes place, was meant to come across as a crumbling location, Filho said he’s “not into apocalyptic portraits.”
Said the film-maker: “I think when you’re critical of something, you also have to show its normality and beauty in some way. The city is where I live. It’s far from perfect, but so is Paris.”
Cannes Review: Sonia Braga Gives a Brilliant Performance in 'Aquarius' Eric Kohn from indieWIRE, May 18, 2016
The "Kiss of the Spider Woman" star provides a powerful center to Kleber Mendonça Filho's absorbing drama.
"When you like it, it's vintage. When you don't like it, it's old." That observation epitomizes the struggle facing the 65-year-old widow Clara in Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho's absorbing drama "Aquarius," and she's played by the great Sonia Braga in a fiery performance that's all about vintage appeal. Thirty years after "Kiss of the Spider Woman" first brought her international acclaim, the actress delivers an extraordinary performance as the resident of an old Recife apartment building standing her ground in the face of avaricious developers looking to kick her to the curb. It's the ultimate tough cookie role: Shrewd, domineering and confident against daunting odds, she turns an ageist threat into an opportunity to reclaim her youth.
Braga's powerful screen presence energizes Mendonça's otherwise meditative filmmaking, a style familiar to anyone who caught his first narrative feature, 2012's "Neighboring Sounds." While that movie captured the daily rituals of a middle-class neighborhood threatened by an outside force, "Aquarius" reiterates that challenge for a single individual, in the home she's claimed for decades. Though Braga's performance sometimes outshines Mendonça's leisurely two-and-a-half hour narrative, in its better moments the two work in marvelous harmony.
The story unfolds across three chapters, the first of which begins in 1980, when Clara enjoys her youthful lifestyle as a music critic already living in the elegant building that shares the movie's title; in modern times, she remains a free-spirited partier even though her world has grown much smaller. With vinyl strewn throughout her apartment and a wine glass never too far away, Clara seems content with the way her lifestyle consolidates the past and present; an average day finds her thumbing through old photographs and enjoying the occasional visits from her grown offspring.
Though troubled by her bout with breast cancer, she's still nimble enough to visit the local pub to engage in hookups, drink with friends and relax in her hammock. But her humble routine faces an existential threat in the form of young real estate hustler Diego (Humberto Carrão), who runs a merciless development company with his father and dreams of transforming the forties-era building into a luxury condo. The other residents have already moved out; Clara won't have any of it.
The tension between Clara and Diego doesn't mount so much as it gradually simmers over the course of Mendonça's wandering plot, which fixates on quiet scenes in which the retired scribe converses with family and friends, pours over old photographs and generally just tries to relax. There are shades of Sebastian Lelio's "Gloria" to Braga's embodiment of a woman pushing past assumptions about her physical state; she simultaneously confronts the perception of her aging body and defies it, at one point drunk-dialing a younger man for a late night tryst after blasting "Fat Bottom Girls" to drown out the orgy taking place upstairs. She's the consistent center of the film, even when it drags, by simply commanding every moment of her screen time.
Mendonça's loose storytelling eventually catches up to her in the bracing final act, when Diego kicks up efforts to push Clara out the door and the stage is set for a final showdown riddled with meaning. Mendonça's fixation on the analog quality of Clara's surroundings is tinged with melancholic desire that seeps into the pace itself. Like Clara, "Aquarius" stakes a claim to the lasting value of a patient approach. In her case, it's an attempt to wear down her would-be oppressor until he gives up. Mendonça may not intend the same effect, but it works a gentle spell that should justify its heft to even the least patient viewer. The filmmaker offers the ultimate rejoinder to fast-paced age of developmental progress by romanticizes a tactile setting and letting the engaging atmosphere reflect Clara's commitment. In a broader sense, "Aquarius" also engages with the paradox of a society so keen on building its future that it steamrolls the past. As one character states in a later scene, once the company resorts to dirty tricks, "this is so Brazil."
No matter its specific geographical resonance, however, "Aquarius" works just as well on more universal terms, particularly in its expertly crafted finale, which is rich with the spirit of defiance. Above all else, "Aquarius" celebrates the prospects of growing stronger with age, with Braga's resilience providing more than a vessel for that concern — she's a sharp weapon of resistance, both as the character and in her rousing capacity to give it life.
director Brillante Mendoza
Cannes 2016: "Julieta," "Aquarius," "Ma' Rosa" Barbara Scharres from The Ebert site, May 17, 2016
“Ma’ Rosa,” the competition entry by Filipino director Brillante Mendoza (“Thy Womb,” “Kinatay”), is less a look at the life of the wife and mother of the title than a portrait of a society in which corruption and poverty-driven betrayal run up and down the social scale. It’s shot largely at night in a cinema verité style and in muted color, and punctuated by a sparing score of electronic effects and percussion.
Ma’ Rosa (Jaclyn Jose) and her husband Nestor (Julio Diaz) run a tiny, makeshift neighborhood convenience store on the ground floor of their home off a narrow alley. The store is such a homemade operation that Rosa buys her stock at a regular supermarket and hauls it home in a taxi with the help of one of her four kids. She also deals small amounts of “ice” on the side. One night the police make a drug raid on the store and take the couple in, where they are shaken down and threatened.
The film becomes a process more than a story, with the chain of bribery and barter extending from the police station to the neighborhood, and to the family itself, with violence, promises, and lies becoming the currency that assures day-to-day subsistence. Rosa is forced to turn in her drug supplier, a young addict who is beaten and kicked unconscious when the money the cops confiscate from him is not sufficient to cover the bribe they demand. They jubilantly use some of the cash to order out two roast chickens and a case of beer for themselves. Of the drugs, one of them says, “We’ll try some of that later.”
The police demand that Rosa and Nestor make up the difference in the payoff, even though she had been promised their release in return for ratting out her source. The amount needed is the equivalent of about $1000. The four kids spread out into the streets looking for the cash. The eldest son attempts to peddle the family TV, and the younger resorts to prostitution. The girls throw themselves on the mercy of relatives, who have little themselves.
Mendoza is one of a generation of Filipino directors working in the socially conscious tradition of the great Filipino filmmaker Lino Brocka (1939-1991). “Ma’ Rosa” is a relentlessly pessimistic film, and yet it is one in which grim beauty is paradoxically evident in the tropical downpours in the night market, in the teeming chaos of the streets, and in the sweating faces of people who will give, take, or be taken in order to survive.
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Cannes critics ratings, a composite of 7 different critic scores:
The Cannes Criterion Forum is up and running:
Screendaily Jury Grid (Page 24 from Digital edition from Day 8), where Toni Erdmann, one of the few films that appeals to both French and American critics, has been bought by Sony pictures, setting records for high scores, Cannes: 'Toni Erdmann' sets Screen Jury Grid record:
Ioncinema Critics Panel:
Les Etoiles de la critiques is up and running as well (click on image to obtain a full screen):
While Neil Young from Jigsaw Lounge maintains the odds for winners:
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The round-up of various links covering Cannes:
Screendaily still has paywalls, but if you click on the reviews, they are at least temporarily open to the public:
The Hollywood Reporter at Cannes:
David Hudson does all the links for each review at Fandor:
The Film Center’s Barbara Scharres, Ben Kenigsberg and Chaz Ebert at Cannes from the Roger Ebert blog:
a round-up of Cannes news and reviews from indieWIRE:
The Guardian collection of reviews:
Mike D’Angelo back at The Onion A.V. Club:
Sophie Monks Kaufman and David Jenkins from Little White Lies:
Daniel Kasman, Adam Cook, and likely others at Mubi Notebook:
Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa:
Sukhdev Sandhu and Robbie Collins from The Daily Telegraph:
Slant magazine at Cannes:
Eric Lavallee and Nicholas Bell from Ioncinema:
Various writers at Twitch:
And, of course, George is back at Cannes this year, where he finds off the beaten track film fare:
There may be a dearth of films directed by women with only three of the twenty-one films in Competition, but there is no shortage of films that are stories of women. If this continues it will be the men protesting.
“The Unknown Girl” by the Dardenne brothers is the compelling story of a young woman physician searching for the identity of a young African woman who died after she refused to open her clinic door to her when she came knocking after closing time. She seems burdened by the demands of her profession to begin with, having no life outside her work, but even more so with her issues of guilt. Only once is her perpetual frown broken by a smile, when she receives a phone regarding another matter. She is in a continual state of anguish, but totally committed to being a responsible doctor. She lives and works in Seraing, a run-down industrial city outside of Liege that has been a Ville Étape twice in my years of following The Tour de France. Social issues aren’t as dominant of a focus as the Dardennes usually make them, but they aren’t much below the surface. The plot has its facile contrivances, but it serves its purpose.
The first Brazilian film in Competition in years, “Aquarius,” is the story of a 65-year woman who refuses to move from her large apartment building that is being renovated by a young developer who has just completed business school in the US. She is the lone resident of the complex that overlooks the vast beaches of the large city of Recife. Her children encourage her to accept the large offer to move, but she refuses. This film didn’t need to be two-and-a-half hours long other than to indulge in directorial art capturing the beauty of Brazil and the vitality of its people. It lapses into rousing musical interludes that don’t have much to do with the story. I could hardly object though when the woman pulls out Queen’s “Jazz” album and puts it on her turntable. I was hoping for the “Bicycle Race” cut, but “Fat Bottomed Girls” was fine too.
A woman is also the center of the Iranian film “Inversion.” Tehran is smothered by pollution, an inversion, and an elderly woman is advised by her doctor to leave the city immediately. Her daughter is being pressured by her older brother and other family members to go with her since she is unmarried and has no children, though she runs a small sewing shop. She’s not so happy about giving up her life in the city and continually ordered about by her brother. This continues a long line of socially realistic films from Iran and continues the string of fine films in Un Certain Regard. There hasn’t been a fizzle yet.
My day’s documentary also featured a woman—“Bernadette Lafont, And God Created the Free Woman.” Commentary from this French New Wave actress, who appeared in more than 120 films and died in 2013, provides a voice-over for this film recounting her legendary career that began with Chabrol and Truffaut. She took a break when she was still in her prime to have three children, among her many acts of independence that made her career so exemplary.
My lone Market screening was a virtual one-man performance by the prolific Gerard Depardieu. He ventures off into the forest with his dog and a rifle in “The End.” He loses them both and himself as well. He becomes frantic trying to find his way out. He comes upon a barefoot woman who remains mute. The eventually encounter a pair of hikers who lead them back to his car. This might have been inspired by Gus Van Sant, but it was no more successful than his effort to plumb the essence of a lost soul.
The day of cinema was highlighted by the festival’s annual “Master Class,”--a nearly two-hour conversation between William Friedkin and Michel Ciment accompanied by clips from Friedkin’s oeuvre. After the two were introduced by Festival director Thierry Fremaux, Friedkin said, “Before we start I’d like to say what a great pleasure it is to be here with Michel Ciment, the greatest living film writer and critic.” Friedkin remained gracious and enthusiastic, like a perfect guest. Ciment didn’t have to ask many questions, as Friedkin had much to say.
Much like a previous Master Class subject of Ciment, Philip Kaufman, Friedkin also came out of Chicago. His first film was a documentary of someone on death row in Chicago. Kaufman had gotten his start in television and made this film to try to save his life. He didn’t attend film school, but gained his skills from “Citizen Kane,” the French New Wave and Hitchcock.
The first clip was from “The Birthday Party,” a Pinter Play. The next was from “The Boys in the Band,” an early representation of gays in cinema. It was Friedkin’s fourth film and as Ciment pointed out, his fourth commercial failure. “Why did you bring that up?” Friedkin joked. “I didn’t come here to be insulted.”
Ciment brought it up because his next film was the monumental “The French Connection,” followed by the equally momentous “The Exorcist.” Until then it took a considerable effort for him to make a film. Every studio turned town “The French Connection,” some twice. But it was the same with “Forest Gump” and “Star Wars.” After “The French Connection” he said he could have made a movie of his son’s bar mitzvah.
Friedkin also set the record straight on Howard Hawks. Hawks claimed that he urged Friedkin to make “The French Connection.” Hawks daughter, Kitty, was Friedkin’s girlfriend at the time he made “The Boys in the Band.” Hawks wasn’t surprised that the film made no money. He told Friedkin that the public wants action movies. That wasn’t what made Friedkin make “The French Connection,” though Hawks wanted to think so. Friedkin’s stories on Brando and Hackman and others were so lengthy that Ciment couldn’t play all the clips he wanted to, but no one could be disappointed. When they finally had to end their talk, many in the audience rushed the stage to ask Friedkin questions of their own. Any film festival would be lucky to have him as a guest. It’d be a great treat to have him at Telluride.