Sunday, May 29, 2016

Chimes at Midnight (Campanadas a Medianoche)

Orson Welles waiting on the set

CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT (Campanadas a Medianoche)                 A                    
aka:  Falstaff
France  Spain  Switzerland  (119 mi)  1966  d:  Orson Welles

There live not three good men unhanged in England;
And one of them is fat and grows old.
Falstaff, from Act II, Henry IV Part 1

Welles’s quintessential work, a consolidation of 5 Shakespearian plays, including all references to Falstaff, Welles’s favorite literary character, from Henry IV Parts I and II, Henry V, Richard II, and The Merry Wives of Windsor, all somehow held together by narrated excerpts from Holinshed’s Chronicles, a comprehensive description of British history that was first published in 1577.  If ever there were a character Orson Welles was born to play, it is Shakespeare’s big, bold and bawdy rogue, Falstaff, a lover of wine, women, and song (“Come, sing me a bawdy song!”), also of spinning yarns of such exaggerated proportions into spontaneous works of art, while he was a jolly, fat old man, “a fool and a jester,” with a wit and gargantuan spirit that all but overshadowed his true cowardice.  He was the Prince of Wales’s drinking companion in bawdy houses until the prince would become a king, at which time Falstaff was banished from the kingdom, causing him to die of heartbreak right there on the spot.  His love interest was played by none other than Jeanne Moreau.  Chimes is notable for its famous Battle of Shrewsbury sequence, which combines extraordinary realism with humor, as Falstaff himself is hiding behind trees or wandering aimlessly alone in the middle of the battlefield which lays strewn with corpses, all the while taking credit for the dead, also for the beauty of its language, allowing John Gielgud as King Henry IV to rival Welles’s Falstaff for legendary monologues, also for a truly remarkable Mistress Quickly, the innkeeper, by Dame Margaret Rutherford, who despite being the butt of all his jokes, loves Falstaff as a kind of human wonderment, dazzled by his every living breath.  The film’s flaws, especially the poor sound synchronization, due to lack of funds, are among the worst ever experienced and remain intact even after a digital restoration (though archivists are at work in a full preservation and 4K restoration that could take years), and while irritatingly noticeable throughout, are overcome by the breadth of this film’s achievements, which finds Welles most at ease in any of his roles, by the extraordinary mix of sound and music with spectacular sets, superb imagery, and by the magnificence of the actor’s command of the language.  At times hilarious, breathtaking, and heartbreaking, it’s ultimately a tragic work that is one of the least seen in the Welles repertoire due to copyright issues and the shoddy quality of the prints available through the years.  However, it belongs in the pantheon as one of cinema’s crowning achievements.  

While Welles was fascinated by Shakespeare from an early age, playing Richard III in his own three and a half hour production of an amalgam of Shakespeare’s historical plays in high school, calling it The Winter of Our Discontent, playing Tybalt in a Broadway production of Romeo and Juliet at age 19, and he was hailed as a theatrical prodigy at the age of 20 with his all-black production of Macbeth in Harlem, which became known as Voodoo Macbeth, while at the same time adapting and performing Hamlet on CBS Radio’s Columbia Workshop, yet at age 22 he also directed, starred and produced his own adaptation of Julius Caesar that broke all Broadway performance records for the play.  At 23 his career was jump-started by the panic, controversy, and overall hysteria generated from his infamous Mercury Theatre radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds, where many listeners mistook the theatrics of radio theater for a real live alien invasion taking place in their midst, but the extent of the widespread panic was largely fabricated or greatly exaggerated, either way confirming his celebrity status.  By the time he was 25, he produced a Broadway stage adaptation of nine Shakespeare plays called Five Kings, though it was something of a flop, where according to the Welles biographer Charles Highman, Five Kings | Orson Welles, Welles was drinking heavily while also balancing his sexual exploits, opening without ever successfully completing a dress rehearsal.  As might be expected, the play was “long and unwieldy,” with Welles insisting upon two intermissions, so the three and a half hour play didn’t end until 1 am, well past the endurable limits of most patrons.  More than two decades later in 1960, Welles revived this play in Ireland, where it was his final onstage performance.  Playing Falstaff was not only his lifelong ambition (among so many other projects), so was turning this play into a film, writing an extraordinary screenplay, something of a major achievement by itself, taking sixteen hours of stage time and turning it into two hours of cinema, radically reinterpreting the source material by altering the time lines, shortening the scenes, and restructuring the plays, borrowing lines from different plays and placing them side by side, offering an entirely different context by thoroughly examining the plays through the perspective of a secondary character, Sir John “Jack” Falstaff, creating what is essentially a new story, one that is similar yet never existed in the annals of Shakespeare.  While struggling to get financing for the film, which was made for about $800,000, he lied to Spanish producer Emiliano Piedra, claiming they were instead shooting Robert Louis Stevenson’s action adventure Treasure Island in various Spanish locations throughout Spain in 1964-65, premiering at the Cannes Film Festival in 1966, where a jury led by Sophia Loren awarded a shared Grand Prize to Pietro Germi’s Italian sex comedy SIGNORE & SIGNORI and Claude Lelouche’s lushly photographed romance A MAN AND A WOMAN, handing Welles’s film two awards, a 20th Anniversary Prize and a Technical Grand Prize. 

Shallow:  Jesus, the days that we have seen.  Ha, Sir John?  Said I well? 

Falstaff:  We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Robert Shallow.

Shallow:  That we have, that we have, that we have.  In faith, Sir John, we have.  Jesus, the days we have seen. 

With this opening prelude, Falstaff (Orson Welles) and his friend Justice Shallow (the high pitched voice of Alan Webb) make their way through a snowy landscape, arriving at the Boar’s Head Tavern where they warm themselves to a glowing fire and recount the tales of their lives (a scene that repeats itself later in the film, chatting about friends who are old or dead), leading into an unforgettable title sequence, with returning foot soldiers solemnly making their way back from distant battlefields in a long disheveled line, given an especially austere look, with an ill wind blowing the helmet off one soldier, revealing a chilling image of soldiers staring straight at the camera, bending over and laying down their weapons, while behind them hanged men dangle in the background on scaffolds built especially for the occasion.  This searing image speaks volumes, as public hangings are a cold reminder of the harsh consequences of the law under King Henry IV, where England is a police state ruled by terror, sending the military into foreign lands to levy justice, while quelling any unrest by summary executions.  Following the image of a towering castle, a narrator, none other than Sir Ralph Richardson (who was himself a legend at playing Falstaff onstage), concisely summarizes how we got to this point using Holinshed’s Chronicles, explaining Henry IV is a usurper who seized the throne, succeeding the reign of Richard II, who was murdered in the year 1400, while Richard’s rightful heir to the throne, Edmund Mortimer, was kidnapped and remains imprisoned by Welsh rebels.  Seeking immediate remedy, Mortimer’s cousins, Northumberland (José Nieto), Northumberland’s son Henry Percy, also known as Hotspur (Norman Rodway), and Worcester (Fernando Rey) call upon the king to have Mortimer released, where only Hotspur dares to raise his voice to King Henry IV (John Gielgud), seen sitting high atop the throne a good twenty feet above his subjects, with soldiers lining the walls in a cavernous, stone cathedral-like setting with light streaming through the windows illuminating the king, but they are instead callously turned away.  In anger at their rebuke, the three embark upon a plot to overthrow the king.  Given the circumstances described by the narrator, the viewer is quick to mistrust the actions of the king, placing a heavy burden of doubt on the legitimacy of Henry’s rule, setting the tone by providing a moral vacuum for everything that follows.  Who better to fill that void than Falstaff, who is quickly seen entertaining the drunken rabble at Boar’s Head, where the King’s son, Prince Hal (Keith Baxter), heir to the throne, spends his time under Falstaff’s patriarchal tutelage carousing with prostitutes, petty thieves, beggars, and other ne’er do wells, much to the dismay of the king. 

The Life Of William Shakespeare: The Classic Unabridged ...  Sidney Lee on The Life Of William Shakespeare: The Classic Unabridged Shakespeare Biography

The knight’s unfettered indulgence in sensual pleasures, his exuberant mendacity, and his love of his own ease, are purged of offence by his colossal wit and jollity, while the contrast between his old age and his unreverend way of life supplies that tinge of melancholy which is unseparable from the highest manifestations of humour. The Elizabethan public recognised the triumphant success of the effort, and many of Falstaff’s telling phrases, with the names of his foils, Justice Shallow and Silence, at once took root in popular speech. Shakespeare’s purely comic power culminated in Falstaff; he may be claimed as the most humorous figure in literature. 

No other literary figure provokes as much emotional range as Falstaff (whose only rival in Shakespeare is the much younger and more melancholic Hamlet), from his male bluster and moral transgressions to his comic wit, buffoonish pride, mastery of language, passion for living, displaying a cheerfulness that is endlessly contagious, where his one man theatrical show is endlessly engaging throughout the ages, never allowing himself to be outsmarted in verbal sparring, yet ultimately he becomes such a tragic figure.  To that end, a rotund and oversized Welles has a field day with this larger than life character, immortalized by his performance on celluloid, where every line is heavily saturated with comic satire, much of it spoken at breakneck speed, where the man rises to every insult and comic jab, never losing faith in either himself or his prowess for language, becoming a legendary figure before our appreciative eyes, where we can’t wait to hear what he says next.  Surrounding himself with a ragtag group of outcasts and moral derelicts, the leader of a dissolute crew, he is the king of his own castle at telling tall tales with hilarious barroom exaggerations that grow even greater after every drink, always crying poverty to Mistress Quickly (Dame Margaret Rutherford), while she continually reminds him of his outstanding debt before pouring him another round.  Prince Hal, on the other hand, is a magnificent straight man, matching him drink for drink, feeding him endless possibilities to outwit the rank and file, whose level-headed assuredness in himself is not lost to either Falstaff or the audience, as his dexterity with the English language shows supreme confidence in himself.  Considering the times, Falstaff was like a walking professor, as he was consumed by the barbarous treachery that exists in nobility, making a mockery of it whenever he could, where clearly virtue was a concept in name only, as there was none to be seen in British royalty.  Falstaff preferred the more commonplace pleasures of eating, sleeping, drinking, and fornication, along with any other indulgences to be found, where moral excess was his middle name.  Falstaff considered himself a free man, and was certainly able to speak freely, yet his real thrill was liberating himself from the wretched society of the times, the nobility from which Prince Hal was spawned.  Both despised the pretense and moral hypocrisy of the royal court, taking the high ground while undercutting any opposition at the knees, yet as we come to learn, Falstaff’s freedom was not absolute.  While he revels in his marvelous ability to hold Prince Hal’s rapt attention, loving him as he would his own son, he’s the real deal as a progenitor of ideas and knowledge, not an ounce of counterfeit, where he thrives on his grandiose personality, yet Hal remains a mirror image in concept only, as he warns Falstaff of what awaits him, that he will have to reject him and his lifestyle one day, as he is, after all, the prince in waiting, “I know you all, and will awhile uphold / The unyoked humor of your idleness.”  But these thoughts fall on deaf ears, producing only a sad smile from Falstaff, and not one of awareness or recognition, yet somehow we know these two are bound together, no matter what fate has in store for them. 

The film’s central dynamic is Falstaff’s relationship with Hal, who avoids service to his king by keeping company with Falstaff, who clearly loves him and lavishes him with affection, accepting him as he is, something his own father is incapable of doing.  Nonetheless this friendship will be challenged, as Hal seems incapable of reciprocating in kind, remaining non-committal, where a good deal of the early horseplay in the tavern is at the expense of Falstaff, playing jokes on him while eagerly waiting for his exaggerated reaction.  While there are moments of delightful comedy, there is also an undertone of cruelty behind much of the humor, making the aging and oversized Falstaff an easy target.  Insults are hurled at him not to elicit audience sympathy, but rather to have a laugh at Falstaff’s expense.  When they agree to disguise themselves to rob a group of traveling pilgrims known to be carrying cash in the nearby forest, Hal plays a trick on Falstaff and steals the loot from him in yet another disguise, causing him to run away in a panic.  But to hear Falstaff boast of his heroics in the tavern afterwards, supposedly fending off a handful of scoundrels with his sword, with the number growing by the minute, with Hal ultimately exposing his fabrication as a pathetic ruse, there’s a building feeling of making fun of the fat guy, where it’s easy to laugh at fools who have been stripped of all dignity and any ounce of self respect, and while there’s a lighthearted tone about it, there’s also something deeply flawed and tragic about the character that must have drawn Welles to playing this role, adding a kind of childlike innocence to his mirth.  While Falstaff cheats nearly everyone he encounters, offering bluff and bravado as a means of garnering his way into our hearts, yet there’s an inherent good nature behind his acts, as perhaps friendship, having a drink and a good laugh, was all he ever desired.  Unlike Hal, he never had designs on becoming a king.  Hal, on the other hand, leads a dual life, one drinking and carousing with Falstaff and his merry men, and another under the scathing watch of his father, the king, who continually chastises him for wasting his youth with villainous company.  The height of the comic fervor takes place when Falstaff and Hal engage in a bit of roleplaying, each one absurdly playing the king, creating a mad flourish of a play within a play, with Falstaff, wearing a pot on his head as the crown, lecturing Hal as only a father can, bringing the house down in laughter before ruminating on the many virtues of that fine fellow, Falstaff.  Yet when Hal assumes the role of king, he berates Falstaff, describing him as “That villainous abominable misleader of youth, Falstaff, that old white-bearded Satan,” accusing him of iniquities, even threatening him with banishment, with Falstaff (as Hal) pleading for his defense, suggesting he could get rid of anyone else but Falstaff, “Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.”  At some point, the laughs subside and seriousness takes hold, where the play stops being a play and becomes something else in earnest, as in this story, Falstaff, in all his enormity, is the entire universe, where he is a stand-in for all of humanity. 

The appeal of Falstaff is described by English literary scholar A. C. Bradley, from Harold Bloom’s book William Shakespeare, William Shakespeare - Page 142 - Google Books Result

The bliss of freedom gained in humour is the essence of Falstaff. His humour is not directed only or chiefly against obvious absurdities; he is the enemy of everything that would interfere with his ease, and therefore of anything serious, and especially of everything respectable and moral. For these things impose limits and obligations, and make us the subjects of old father antic the law, and the categorical imperative, and our station and its duties, and conscience, and reputation, and other people's opinions, and all sorts of nuisances. I say he is therefore their enemy; but I do him wrong; to say that he is their enemy implies that he regards them as serious and recognizes their power, when in truth he refuses to recognize them at all. They are to him absurd; and to reduce a thing ad absurdam is to reduce it to nothing and to walk about free and rejoicing. This is what Falstaff does with all the would-be serious things of life, sometimes only by his words, sometimes by his actions too. He will make truth appear absurd by solemn statements, which he utters with perfect gravity and which he expects nobody to believe; and honor, by demonstrating that it cannot set a leg, and that neither the living nor the dead can possess it; and law, by evading all the attacks of its highest representative and almost forcing him to laugh at his own defeat; and patriotism, by filling his pockets with the bribes offered by competent soldiers who want to escape service, while he takes in their stead the halt and maimed and jailbirds; and duty, by showing how he labours in his vocation—of thieving; and courage, alike by mocking at his own capture of Colevile and gravely claiming to have killed Hotspur; and war, by offering the Prince his bottle of sack when he is asked for a sword; and religion, by amusing himself with remorse at odd times when he has nothing else to do, and the fear of death, by maintaining perfectly untouched, in the face of imminent peril and even while he feels the fear of death, the very same power of dissolving it in persiflage that he shows when he sits at  ease in his inn. These are the wonderful achievements which he performs, not with the sourness of a cynic, but with the gaiety of a boy. And, therefore, we praise him, we laud him, for he offends none but the virtuous and denies that life is real or life is earnest, and delivers us from the oppression of such nightmares, and lifts us into the atmosphere of perfect freedom.

The centerpiece, however, and the turning point in the film, is the Battle of Shrewsbury, the only battle sequence ever staged by Welles throughout his entire career, and the moment when Henry and Hotspur’s quarrel comes to a head.  Though it starts out amusingly enough, with pomp and a parade of soldiers marched through the middle of town, including Falstaff, who is bid a tearful farewell from Doll Tearsheet (Jeanne Moreau) waving from the window, as they round up all able-bodied men ready for war, with Falstaff immediately securing bribes from draft dodgers, where knights clad in armor are lowered by ropes from tree branches and placed directly onto horses, except for Falstaff, who is too heavy, despite a team of men pulling on the ropes, and unfortunately crashes to the ground, content apparently to walk into battle, seen raising his sword in the direction of the enemy.  The prelude to battle is given an ominous tone, where there is an exchange of last minute demands that are angrily refused, with two sides at opposite ends of a barren field with hovering fog looming between them.  Technically innovative and brilliantly edited, arguably the greatest sequence he ever filmed, rousing music plays as troops charge at one another, where there is a combination of archers, knights on horseback, and warriors on foot all clashing at once, where the moment blows are exchanged, the thundering sound of hooves give way to the brutal sounds of clanking armor, with men being pulled off their horses and bludgeoned, with spears flying through the air continually targeting enemy foes, where it’s impossible to tell one side from the other, as the result is utter chaos.  Placed directly into the center of the carnage, with a soundtrack turned mournful and elegiac, with the cries of men contrasted against a wailing woman’s chorus, Welles produces a six-minute sequence of tracking shots, quick cuts, and hand-held cameras as the warring armies tumble over one another in the mud, relentlessly beating and stabbing one another, slowed to slow motion, where we see legs and boots sunk in the mire along with countless bodies strewn along the wayside.  Throughout it all Falstaff is seen aimlessly running from side to side, avoiding all contact, always scurrying to find refuge behind available shrubbery, where he witnesses the climactic swordfight between Hal and Hotspur, a valiant duel where Hal redeems himself with his courage on the battlefield, where the battle ends with the death of Hotspur, so shocked at the result that he can’t even finish his final speech before he dies.  True to his character, a lying Falstaff takes credit for slaying Hotspur, and doing so before the king, no less, stealing the young prince’s moment of glory, creating resentment by leaving lingering doubts about his son’s valor in the mind of the king.  This intentional deception, added to the senseless brutality of war, have a way of overshadowing any notion of supposed honor, leaving us to ponder the level of gravity of each offense.  While there are a series of eloquent speeches at the end, with Gielgud rivalling Welles at every turn, the king’s health deteriorates, bringing about a last minute father and son reconciliation before he passes the crown to Henry V, but instead of that jubilant moment Falstaff always hoped and dreamed for with Hal suddenly anointed king, the severity with which he cuts his ties with Falstaff is quick and decisive, ultimately becoming a sad tale of rejection and betrayal, leaving him alone to wander the wastelands.  Heartbroke and losing all will to live, Falstaff fades away overnight, leaving his young page (played by none other than his own daughter Beatrice Welles) to announce his death, where in a remarkably grim final shot, his coffin is pushed back out into that barren wasteland.        

Monday, May 23, 2016

Cannes 2016 Day 12

Ken Loach  

Loach with longtime producer Rebecca O’Brien  

Xavier Dolan  

French-Canadian producer Nancy Grant and Xavier Dolan  

Loach and Dolan, the oldest and youngest directors in competition  

directors are joined by actress Jaclyn Jose  

Andrea Arnold  

Olivier Assayas  

Olivier Assayas and Cristian Mungiu  

Cristian Mungiu and Maria Dragus  

Jaclyn Jose  

director Brillante Mendoza with Jaclyn Jose and her daughter Andi Eigenmann  

Shahab Hosseini

Shahab Hosseini with director Ashgar Farhadi 

best screenwriter Ashgar Farhadi
Iranian actors Farid Sajjadihosseini, Babak Karimi, Taraneh Alidoosti, director Ashgar Farhadi, actor Shahab Hosseini and French producer Alexandre Mallet-Guy

Red carpet shots from The Hollywood Reporter:

A collection of pieces from The Hollywood Reporter:

Red carpet photos from PopSugar:

A French site that lists daily galleries of red carpet photos:

Celebrities arrive for the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, from The NY Daily News:

Daily list of best dressed at Cannes from Blouin Art Info:            

Jury member Kirsten Dunst

Jury members Kirsten Dunst and Mads Mikkelsen

Jury member Mads Mikkelsen and his wife Hanne Jacobsen

Jury member Donald Sutherland

Jury members Donald Sutherland and Vanessa Paradis

Jury members Valeria Golino and Vanessa Paradis

Jury members Katayoon Shahabi and Vanessa Paradis

Jury members Kirsten Dunst and Vanessa Paradis

one last look at the Cannes jury

Un Certain Regard jury, Céline Sallette, Diego Luna, president Marthe Keller, Ruben Östlund and Jessica Hausner

Cannes 2016: Ken Loach's I, Daniel Blake wins the Palme d'Or - as it happened  Benjamin Lee live blog of the awards ceremony from The Guardian, May 22, 2016  Cannes festival site video of the jury press conference following the awards ceremony, where Hungarian director László Nemes acknowledged that the Dolan film being shown on 35mm gave it an entirely different look than the other films in competition, which only made him appreciate the film even more, as well as the risk taken by the director in projecting such a painful and uniquely personal journey.  Donald Sutherland, in particular, is especially eloquent, claiming he would miss the intensity of the experience.  “It was passion fuelled by exquisite consideration for everybody else in the room,” he said.  “It was beautiful.  It was an association of people that you want to see again and again for the rest of your life.”

Certainly one thing to take from their collective comments is that we give critics entirely too much power and influence in determining the value of films, a power they often abuse and misjudge, as if they are the overriding authority.  We forget that it’s a collaboration of artists, not journalists, that create what we see onscreen.  Film critics historically ignore many of the best films and cutting edge directors out there, equating quality with commercial success, as if it’s a business decision, often missing the obvious.  What this festival gets right is to return cinema to the artists that help shape the industry, where the jury deliberations are not so much a critical appraisal, but an examination of the essence of cinema, evaluating not whether it’s good or bad, but whether it has the power to move hearts and souls.  Jury president George Miller compared how impersonal it is to cast a vote for the Academy Awards by checking off a box on a ballot as compared to the intimate setting of sitting down in a room for a week with a small group of cordial artists, each of whom likely has a different opinion, all coming from different life experiences, where listening to what everone has to say helps render a better collective judgment.  The intimacy of the process rewards not only the diversity of the films being seen, but also the other jury members in the room, as finding common ground, much like a jury deliberation in a trial, is not so easy, where the time and effort is usually worth it, producing a better and more responsible decision than one that might be whipped up by a single writer hours after viewing a film, often rushed by an imposed deadline.  While there will be articles excoriorating what the jury got wrong, if you listen to the press conference, where they intentionally avoided all the press reviews in order to render a more impartial verdict, they actually take pride in finding what for them were the most impactful and meaningful films.   Whether we agree or not, let’s at least honor the process, as those voices coming out of the jury are more resoundingly poignant than anything the critics have to say.   

Canada's Xavier Dolan wins Grand Prix at Cannes for It's Only the End of the World  Peter Howell from The Toronto Star, May 22, 2016

CANNES—Canada’s Xavier Dolan has won the Grand Prix, the second-place prize at the Cannes Film Festival, for his dysfunctional family dramaIt’s Only the End of the World.

It ties with Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter, which won the Grand Prix in 1997, for the highest honour ever won for a Canadian feature film at Cannes‎.

The top prize, the Palme d’Or, at the close of the 69th Cannes fest went to ‎Britain’s Ken Loach for his social realism drama, I, Daniel Blake. It’s the second Palme win for Loach, 79, a Cannes veteran, who won the Palme in 2006 for the Irish conflict drama The Wind That Shakes the Barley.

He dedicated the award to the poor and homeless Britons the film compassionately depicts, and called for social change the world over.

“We must give a message of hope,” Loach said, his voice filled with emotion.

“We must say another world is possible — and necessary.”

And it’s the second big Cannes win for Dolan, 27, as the Montreal filmmaker looks to be making slow but steady ‎progress towards eventually winning the Palme.

He won the third place Jury Prize in 2014 for his maternal drama Mommy, a prize he shared with a film by French auteur Jean-Luc Godard.

This time, the award was all his own. And Dolan wept on the stage as he accepted his trophy from a fellow Canadian, actor Donald Sutherland, a member of Mad Max director George Miller’s nine-person Palme jury.

“Thank you for feeling the emotion of the film,” Dolan told the jury.

He was doubly glad the jury appreciated his film, based on a French stage play about a gay man returning home with news of terminal illness, because it had been largely slammed by critics here for its high-intensity acting‎ and relentless use of close-ups. The film stars an A-list‎ cast of French actors, including Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel and Léa Seydoux.

Dolan said the past few days of first having his film ravaged by critics and then seeing it saluted by the Palme jury taught him something about his work and himself.

“You have to remain true to yourself, no matter what people think,” he said. “It is an unoriginal thing to say, but it is what it is. So that’s how I feel, right here, right now.”

Dolan’s film also took the top prize of the Ecumenical Jury, an independent panel at Cannes, which recognizes works of human spiritual merit. It praised Dolan’s film for “filming in a transcendental way.”

To call Dolan’s win a surprise would be an understatement.

Most pundits predicted Dolan‎ would go home empty-handed, with the Palme going to Germany’s Maren Ade for her father-daughter comedy Toni Erdmann. But Ade and her film were shut out of the winner’s circle.

“We avoided looking at what other people were saying,” Miller said at the press conference following the awards.

He also said the jury felt no pressure to give the Palme to a female director, something that has happened just once in Cannes history: Jane Campion’s The Piano in 1993.

“We judged each film on its merits . . . it really didn’t come up,” he said‎.

‎This year’s Jury Prize went to Britain’s Andrea Arnold for her U.S. road drama American Honey, another film pipped for the Palme.

Best Director was shared by Romania’s Christian Mungiu for morality drama Graduation and France’s Olivier Assayas for supernatural thriller Personal Shopper.

Best Actor went to Iran’s Shahab Hosseini for The Salesman, another morality story, which also won writer/director Asghar Farhadi the Best Screenplay prize.

Best Actress went to Jaclyn Jose, who plays an impoverished mother forced to sell drugs in Ma’Rosa, by Filipino director ‎Brillante Mendoza. This also caught the critics by surprise.

“I think the critics were wrong,” Sutherland said. “But there were a lot of great performances by women.”

‎There was some physical humour from Sutherland at the press conference, who sported a head scarf apparently given to him by a journalist. He’d complained at the opening day press conference that he was freezing because the air conditioning was turned up too high.

“Movies resonate in your heart and soul,” Sutherland said, saying they’d make such an impression regardless of whether they’re viewed by a Cannes jury or by regular moviegoers throughout the world.

George Miller’s jury awarded a mixed bag of prizes that ignored some of the most exciting films at this year’s Cannes film festival. Still, this was an extraordinary year

Cannes jury decisions often baffle both outsiders and the jury members themselves. They have had to argue, shout, horse-trade — and then, as the clock runs down, and with festival director Thierry Frémaux frowningly entering the jury room pointing at his watch, finally come up with a compromise decision that satisfies no-one.

The prizes this year were a surprise and a mixed bag which somehow missed out many of the films which were generally found to be exciting and successful. Nothing for Maren Ade’s brilliant comedy Toni Erdmann. Nothing for Jim Jarmusch’s wonderful Paterson and nothing for Paul Verhoeven’s outrageously enjoyable thriller Elle. And it was incidentally exasperating to see that film’s star Isabelle Huppert overlooked for the Best Actress award — along with Kristen Stewart, Ruth Negga and Sonia Braga — in favour of Jaclyn Jose as the Manila drug-dealer in Brillante Mendoza’s Ma’Rosa. A good performance, but not exceptional.

But in my view no bad films were given prizes and it was very satisfying to see Ken Loach pick up his second Palme D’Or for I, Daniel Blake —a coldly angry indictment of food-bank Britain, scripted by his longtime screenwriter Paul Laverty. It was the only film of the festival which moved me to tears; the heart-wrenching and frightening scene in the food-bank itself has enormous power. This was a film of almost radical plainness, with a great performance from Dave Johns (as so often in the past, Loach has got great serious work from a comic — he has cast John Bishop and George Lopez in the past). Loach is, as I have written before, the John Bunyan of contemporary cinema. Or to use another comparison, he has directed a film which repudiates frills and nuances as firmly as a medieval mystery play. It may well be that his heartfelt idealism and Amish simplicity became a sort of Esperanto for the international jury. It was something they could all understand and endorse in each other’s company.

So: to the decision which outraged almost everyone, but which caused me to rise briefly from my laptop and shout: “Ha! Yes!” and then subside chuckling to my seat. The Grand Prix went to Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only The End Of The World. Now, there were films I liked better at Cannes, sure, and films which I thought more deserving of this particular award. But it was really good, a provocation made with uncompromising attack and flair, a film driven with authorial personality and a film which has been mocked and misunderstood by the majority of critics. It is an absurdist drama of confrontation and hysteria, which conveys in stylised and dreamlike form the horror experienced by a young man who must return to his hometown and tell his family he is dying. (He is a successful dramatist: the movie is based on an autobiographical play by Jean-Luc Lagarce, who died of Aids in 1995.) The result is a non-stop screaming match: a cinematic death-metal opera. It’s not for everyone, but it is fascinatingly created and intended. Perhaps this prize will persuade the detractors to give it another go.

Again, it is satisfying to see two really excellent films being distinguished. In my view, Cristian Mungui’s Graduation and Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper were the two best films in competition. Graduation was my (incorrect) tip for the Palme. As it turned out, Mungiu and Assayas shared the director’s prize, and that will have to do. Graduation is an utterly absorbing film of masterly compositional flair which is a very persuasive character-study of a doctor whose muddy moral choices infect his daughter’s worldview — and also a resoundingly authoritative picture of Romania, and the Eastern Europe which now has a generational perspective on the escape from communism.

Personal Shopper is a tremendously exciting and bizarre picture which mischievously messes with genre. Along with Paul Verhoeven’s Elle and Nicolas Winding Refn’s LA horror-shocker The Neon Demon (both ignored), it was a film which caused festival-goers to become slightly delirious and skittish. This was down partly to a really excellent, downbeat performance from Kristen Stewart whose contribution to this festival was very substantial. She plays a troubled young woman who has two things to do: she is a personal assistant to a demanding fashionista, but she is also a medium, trying to contact the spirit of her dead twin brother. It was utterly intriguing, with audacious flourishes of suspense. And it was very well directed.

Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman was a serious and valuable movie, though its pattern of opaque implications were beginning to look like a mannerism for this director, and not as subtle as his previous movies. But it was widely admired at the festival and now gets both the screenplay prize (a valid award, I concede, considering the subtle intricacy of its structure) but also the Best Actor prize for Shahab Hosseini, as a teacher and actor in a semi-professional theatre group, playing Willy Loman in a production of Death Of A Salesman. As the run begins, his wife is attacked in mysterious circumstances. Hosseini does a perfectly good job in the role and his underplaying is exactly right. But to return to the scandalous neglect of Maren Ade’s comedy Toni Erdmann, I would have much preferred to see the prize go its star, Peter Simonischek, or indeed to Adam Driver for his wonderfully sympathetic, humble performance in Jarmusch’s Paterson as the poet who drives a bus.

The Jury Prize for Andrea Arnold’s American Honey is pleasing: an American-realist study in the style of Van Sant and Korine, with something of Malick’s reverence for epiphanic detail, all about a bunch of kids on a bus touring around the US, selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door and living and partying in hotel rooms at night. It was a film which I felt did not have the brilliance and natural idiom of her other films, and I also felt that Shia LaBeouf could have been directed and controlled more. But it had Arnold’s habitual, superb confidence in her own ability to create ambient cinema, to summon up the mood and moment. She just puts you on the tour bus, or in the hotels, or in the K-Marts, or the streets around which the kids were trudging, and lets you stay there. We talk about films being immersive. You were marinaded in this one. I was always keen to see this a second time, and the Jury Prize has only whetted my appetite more.

Cannes 2016 was an exceptionally good year, and the competition list was a virtually uninterrupted hot-streak of talent, only rarely interrupted by disappointments. The prize list being an anti-climax is becoming a bit of a tradition, but needn’t lessen any satisfaction at this festival. 2016 is a great vintage.

Cannes 2016: Palme de Whiskers   Barbara Scharres from The Ebert site, May 22, 2016 

After twelve exhausting Cannes Film Festival days, in which jury cats padded silently and undetected through the Palais des Festivals and whisked around all the hidden corners of the Marché du Film, it’s time for the festival’s most glorious event. Yes, it’s the awarding of my fantasy prize, the coveted Palme de Whiskers for Best Feline Performance. In a better world, this would be real.

Cats representing every nation are arriving at this moment at the Palais des Kittycats on the Cannes seafront.  Exquisitely appointed swinging cat-doors at every entrance assure that only feline celebrities will sashay down this exclusive catnip-scented red carpet. This year’s security regulations dictate that guests must come in their birthday suits, causing a momentary howl of protest among those who had brought new, jeweled collars for the occasion, and had promised celebrity endorsements to Chopard and Bulgari. 

As an additional security measure, the FFFA (Feline Film Festivals Authority) made an unprecedented alliance with selected members of the canine species for guard dog duty around the Palais des Kittycats. Volunteers include Policia, the feral-looking German Shepherd from the Romanian film “Dogs.” She’s actually quite sweet, despite having to appear disemboweled in the film. Stepping up for duty also is Marvin, the long-faced bulldog from “Paterson,” who confessed to artistic differences with director Jim Jarmusch, who callously rejected his suggestion to feature him in the act of destroying the film’s notebook of cringe-worthy poetry.

The jury deliberations are top secret, but let’s creep behind the scenes and see what’s going on. Hailing from Los Angeles are longtime jury members Nico and Chubbs, representing Vogue critic John Powers and novelist Sandi Tan. Nico, a Siamese, had a fit when her owners didn’t plan to take her to Cannes this year. She tapped out the ticket purchase online with a pointy claw when they weren’t looking. Poor Chubbs had to stuff his stripy bulk into a coach seat, but of course she got first class for herself because she’s a purebred. 

Fluffing his enormous tail with pride, even though he’s not really a Maine Coon Cat, first-time jury member Prince represents Toronto Film Festival’s Programs Manager Magali Simard. Layla, a luscious calico diva representing Amy Taubin of Film Comment, follows Prince into the jury room. Layla immediately protests with a snarl that there are no mirrors in the room. None of them is sure what to make of Gus, in his black-and-white tuxedo, representing Art Basel’s film curator Marian Masone, because he’s already taking a catnap in paper bag. “Jet lag,” he murmurs contentedly.

Bob, the big tabby sent by Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, pads in on his great white paws, sighing that he’s sore all over. His housemate Bill, who served on last year’s Palme de Whiskers jury, was so angry to be passed over this time around that he bit Bob’s neck in rage. Finally, Dali, the lovely jury president, slinks in, having just arrived from Croatia. Last year, as winner of the first-ever Kittycat Peace Prize for her role in “The High Sun,” she was just a shy barn cat. The Cannes experince infused her with a new sophistication, as evidenced by the high gloss of her orange-and-white coat.

Time to get down to business. Layla tore herself away from looking at her own reflection in a water bowl to declare that human females and cats have something in common in this year’s Cannes film selection. “They’re always being manhandled and dragged around,” she complained. “Like that nice little tabby in ‘American Honey,’ who was dangled from the arm of a careless kid.” Prince dips his paw in the water bowl to test the temperature, as he pipes up in his squeaky voice: “What about that big grey cat in the Israeli film “Personal Affairs?” He gave a great purr-formance after he was yanked out from behind a couch.” 

“That hulking tomcat in Paul Verhoeven’s ‘Elle’ made it through unscathed, and had a hefty speaking part too,” remarks Chubbs helpfully, “He had to watch a lot of bad stuff that the humans were up to, as well as jump on Isabelle Huppert’s chest.” “Yeah, and he almost got to eat a bird, except that Isabelle took it away from him,” adds Nico, smacking her lips at the thought.

“At least we cats weren’t being bloodied up and killed all the time, like the human females,” snorts Bob, his white whiskers quivering. “True, some cats were even treated quite nicely,” says Gus sleepily, referring to the marmalade cat who sat on the heroine’s bed in Spielberg’s “The BFG.” "Not CGI again,” howls Layla; “I’ve had it with virtual cats; aren’t there enough of us of every shape, size and color to do the job for real?”

Prince, whose sympathies lie with realistic street-cat performances, owing to the fact that he was abandoned on the street as a newborn, brings the jury’s attention to the lively ensemble of black-and-white strays scuttling through the Brazilian film “Aquarius.” “Not much going on there,” sniffs Bob. “Big deal: they ran around a garage and up and down some stairs!”

Nico and Chubbs helpfully suggest that the jury is overlooking the gems to be found in the Marché du Film. Despite being distracted by the mice scampering around in the recycling bins, they wandered silently among the market stands searching for cat colleagues. Nico champions the brown-coated star of the German film “Tomcat.”  “What a hunk,” she mews, casting a baleful green eye at out-of-shape Chubbs lounging on the next blanket. 

“Well I found one too, “ chortles Chubbs.  “Who could resist a little female kitty dying of cancer in a romantic comedy?” he says, referring to the trailer for “How to Break Up with My Cat,” seen at a Korean film stand. “No fair,” protests Gus, “That film is still in production.” And so it goes until the secret ballot is taken and the jury members strut out onto the stage before the feline world’s high society, where they take their seats on velvet cushions playfully emblazoned with a mouse motif.

My own Miss Kitty, her red-tinged tabby fur gleaming, is once again Mistress of Ceremonies. “Have you reached a decision, Madam President?” she squeaks throatily to Dali. Amid a hush, in which not even the lowest purr can be heard, Dali pads up to the mic. “The 2016 Palme de Whiskers goes to Rocky, of Chlöe Sevigny’s short film 'Kitty,' for his female-impersonating role as the cat a little girl transforms herself into." The gathered cats love it, and appreciative purring roars through the hall!

A compact grey mackerel tabby with thick plush fur and yellow eyes, Rocky jumps to the stage and gives Dali a lick on the cheek, clutching to his broad chest with a sturdy paw the trophy, with its elegant spray of 18K gold whiskers on a crystal base. Thanking director Sevigny, he credits his moving performance to being a highly trained method actor. “Given the sensitivity of my role, I made sure my rear end was never turned to the camera,” he confides.

There’s one more award this year, announces Dali. It’s the second annual Kittycat Peace Prize. It goes to the stray-cat ensemble from Asghar Farhadi’s “The Salesman.” What a surprise! Having just arrived in the nick of time straight from Tehran, Mrow, a handsome white tom with startling black ears, leaps to the stage and humbly accepts on behalf of his colleagues, who include an adorably fluffy kitten. “It’s the first time Iranian felines have been recognized at Cannes,” he acknowledges, “Especially those of us from the lowest social order.” Mrow hopes it won’t be the last.

Pungent whiffs of the buffet of assorted local fish are wafting through the Palais des Kittycats, and the audience is getting restless. Meanwhile, romance looks to be in the offing. Prince sidles up to Dali with the line that he too knows what it means to suffer, even if he didn’t live in a war zone. Chubbs sneaks away from Nico and heads in Miss Kitty’s direction. It’s another fine year at Cannes!

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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

Ioncinema Critics Panel:

The final version of 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:

As the minutes passed and the jury had yet to arrive for its post-Awards Ceremony press conference speculation ran rampant that they'd been abducted by Germans upset with their total disregard of “Toni Erdmann” or had fled town to avoid having to explain their shocking choices. The press corps was so bored awaiting the arrival of the jury they turned their cameras on Ralph and me asking our opinion of the awards.  

Arguments raged over which was the most bewildering of their choices.  Was it Dolan’s film receiving the Grand Prix or Erdmann receiving nothing or the Iranian film receiving two awards or Assayas being given the best director award or the choice of the Palme d’Or or the choice of the best actress or Jarmusch being ignored.  The jury had made such a mess of the awards it was being compared to the Sean Penn catastrophe.  Had Cannes fallen into a black hole or Lars Von Trier inflicted it with a curse that had sent it spiraling totally out of its orbit as the most respected film festival on the planet?

When the jury finally strolled in to the press room nearly half an hour late it was all smiles as if unaware of the maelstrom they had generated.  They all gushed at what a fantastic experience it had been being on the jury.  President George Miller called it one of the best experiences one could have.  Donald Sutherland said when he got on the plane tomorrow he’d miss it.  As for their choices, they said they had all been vigorously and rigorously arrived at and felt proud of them all.  “Nothing was left unsaid,” Miller said.  

But what about Erdmann someone asked.  Miller pled confidentiality.  He didn’t wish to get into specifics on why any film didn’t win an award, saying there are twenty-one films in Competition all of which thought they deserved recognition with an award of some sort and they were only seven on offer .   That didn’t explain why they gave “The Salesman” two awards, other than there was an Iranian on the jury who must have been a force to be reckoned with similar to Salma Hayek on the jury that gave Tommie Lee Jones’ “Three Burials” two awards.  Shahab Hosseini was certainly worthy of the best actor award, but the screenplay could have gone to any number of the overlooked films. It seemed to have been given more on reputation than merit to the film’s director Ashgar Farhadi.

I watched the film a second time today after the awards ceremony as I had been perplexed by some inexplicable elements in the story.  They seemed even more blatantly false on a second viewing.  The husband’s rage at a feeble, old man who inadvertently startled his wife seems even more misplaced.  It was inexplicable that he never used a police contact to trace the license plate of the man he was seeking, instead just hoping he’d return for his truck, though he didn’t even have a continual watch on it, so when it does disappear he only finds the owner by a miraculous stroke of luck.  It was inexplicable too that the old man would have left his keys and phone in their apartment and didn’t immediately return for his truck with another set of keys, especially since his future son-in-law needed the truck for his job delivering bread.  And there is a lot more.

The two awards to “The Salesman” didn’t irk people though as much as Xavier Dolan winning the Grand Prix for “Its Only the End of the World.”   Manohla Dargis had written in the New York Times earlier in the day that it was among three films she deemed so bad they didn’t deserve to be in Competition.  They others were Sean Penn’s “The Last Face” and “The Neon Demon.”  I had an opportunity to see Dolan’s film a second time before the Awards Ceremony and enjoyed it much more than I had the first time.  I had stood in line two hours to see it the first time at the end of the day and was too fatigued to fully focus on its barrage of dialogue.  I could much more appreciate Dolan’s camera work and what was being said.  Jury member László Nemes, who won the Grand Prix last year for “Son of Saul,” said he could feel the distinctive voice of Dolan from the very start of the film.  

Nemes too might have been a strong supporter of the Philippine film “Ma’ Rosa” that I saw for the first time today, the only Competition film that I had missed.  I was so awed by the cinema verité by the veteran Brillante Mendoza of this story of a husband and wife who run a small store in the ghettos of Manila selling drugs on the side that it could win the Palm d’Or or at least best director award.  It was a more powerful and heartrending tale of institutional corruption than the Romanian “Graduation” that had been my favorite for the top prize.  The performances of the entire cast were breathtakingly exceptional.  None stood out above another, so it was a shock that it was given the best actress award.  The actress herself was utterly stunned.  Her acceptance speech was a continual refrain of “I can’t believe this,” and a string of thank yous, interrupted by another “I can’t believe this.”  It was one of the all-time great acceptance speeches comparable to the best at the Oscars.

Ken Loach gave a heartfelt speech as well, half in French and half in English, lamenting these times of forced austerity that are bringing the world to near catastrophe after accepting his second Palme d’Or for “I, Daniel Blake.” He castigated the “tiny few with grotesque wealth” and the right taking advantage of hard times to inflict even more pain on the have-nots.  I stood in line today with a young man who saw his movie earlier in the day.  He said it was the first film he had seen in the festival that touched him and brought him to tears.  It was a sentiment shared by many.

Cristian Mungiu didn’t seem happy at all with his best director award for “Graduation” having hopes of becoming a rare two-time Palme d’Or winner.  He has served on the Cannes jury.  He turned to them during his speech and said, “I know it’s difficult to make a fair decision, so I thank you for doing your best.”  He shared the award with Olivier Assayas, whose supernatural thriller “Personnel Shopper” turned off many, especially among the panel of fifteen French critics who rate the films.  Eight of them gave it zero stars, the most of any film other than Penn’s, a near unanimous zero star movie.

I’ve mentioned all the awards except the Jury Prize, won by Andrea Arnold for the third time for “American Honey.” I was hoping she might be acknowledged with a Best Director award for her extraordinary handling of a cast of non- actors galvanating about the American west selling magazine subscriptions, but it was a delight that she received anything as opinion was divided on this movie as well.  I could take small satisfaction too that the jury agreed with my view of “Toni Erdmann” and Jarmsuch’s “Patterson” that they were not fully realized films and more audience pleasers than substantial fare.  They had been the two highest rated films by the Screen panel, but as is frequently the case, did not stand up to the scrutiny of the jury.

Now I will begin movie-withdrawal as I return to the bike as I begin training for The Tour de France five weeks away.  I won’t see another movie for two months, but the sixty-six movies I’ve seen in the past twelve days will be rattling around in my thought for days to come.