CANNES FILM FESTIVAL May 16 to 27, Cannes, France. Rating: NNNNN
Cannes -- This festival habitually loads the glitz into the first weekend and saves the stronger films for later, but so far this year even the weak films aren't that bad.
Wong Kar Wai 's My Blueberry Nights won't erase anyone's memories of In The Mood For Love or Chungking Express, but the Romanian abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days gives us a dark-horse best actress candidate in Anamaria Marinca, the Coen brothers' Cormac McCarthy adaptation, No Country For Old Men , is a spare, picaresque nightmare, and there's early buzz on the awards front for David Fincher as best director on Zodiac .
There are a lot of directors here who could pick up their second Palme d'Or, and Emir Kusturica (Underground) could pick up an unprecedented third for Promise Me This . Someday I'm going to sit down with the DVDs and give some serious study to why Kusturica is such a pet of festival juries.
I think my favourite is the Coens' film, a return to form after the disappointments of The Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruelty. Set in 1980 far enough back for the hero ( Josh Brolin ) to be a Vietnam veteran and for everyone to be operating in a world without cellphones or computers No Country For Old Men uses the bleak Southwestern landscape as a moral arena in an essentially amoral world. It may be too faithful to the source novel; the audience waits for the three main characters to finally collide, but they never do, and the key lethal confrontation happens off screen.
Still, it's a nervy piece of work in which the Coen brothers make a really daring choice. About 70 minutes in, a rude burst of mariachi music issues from an onscreen band. (The location is Mexico.) You suddenly realize it's the first music you've heard so far, and I believe the last until the credits roll. The Coens have made a film that's in part a highly suspenseful thriller without resorting to music.
The English title of Daniele Lucchetti 's My Brother Is An Only Child makes no sense. Its Italian title is Mio Fratello E Figlio Unico, My Brother Is An Only Son. There is, after all, a sister involved. Screening in Un Certain Regard, it's about two brothers coming of age in the political turmoil of 1968. One's a Communist, the other a Fascist, which turns out to be more schematic in description than execution, because if every Italian with a Fascist in their family got all upset, well, there'd be a lot of distraught families in Italy
Well structured as drama/comedy/political thriller/romance, it's got a little bit of everything going on, yet never feels fragmentary or episodic a highly entertaining picture. And I must say I didn't see the ending coming, that's for sure. Thinkfilm has it, so it will probably open in North America after a turn on the festival circuit.
I don't think Gus Van Sant will pick up his second Palme d'Or for Paranoid Park . First, it's too much like Elephant, without the sociological resonance that made Elephant seem a lot more important at the time than it turned out to be. It's also in that latter-day Van Sant style that regards the broody protagonists of Robert Bresson's films (especially Four Nights Of A Dreamer) with the long, long takes of Béla Tarr. (I'm not making this up. When I interviewed Van Sant after Gerry, he talked about how much he loved Tarr's Sátántang&oactue;.)
There is a slight switch here, which is that when Van Sant shoots the long takes of his young protagonist in the school corridors, the camera leads rather than follows, suggesting that the director has realized that faces are more interesting than the backs of heads. Good performances, especially given that Van Sant cast the film out of MySpace rather than going to L.A. and hunting down the next Joseph-Gordon Levitt.
At 65, Barbet Schroeder isn't quite one of the grand old men of the Nouvelle Vague, but he's getting there. Over the course of a 40-year career, he's done everything from Hollywood hits (Reversal Of Fortune, Single White Female) and flops (Murder By Numbers), to oddball anthropological dramas like More and some great documentaries, including Idi Amin Dada and Koko, A Talking Gorilla.
His L'Avocat De La Terreur is most directly translated as The Terrorist's Lawyer, but the polylingual Schroeder is no doubt aware of the ambiguities of translation here between "lawyer" and "advocate." It's a documentary about Jacques Vergès, the French lawyer whose clients included various Palestinian hijackers, Carlos the Jackal, members of the Algerian FLN and, most improbably, Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie.
Schroeder spent more than two and a half years on what is, in essence a talking-heads documentary and the heads are fairly interesting: Vergès himself, now past 80 but still lethally smart, survivors of the Algerian war of independence, members of the Red Army Faction, Pol Pot. (When a lawyer gets an endorsement from Pol Pot, hey, you can't buy that sort of pub.)
It's worth seeing as an examination of the roots and branches of modern terror and of how one man seems to be a part of it without ever getting his hands dirty though you really need an interest in the labyrinthine map of the subject. This is not a casual look at anything.
Andrei Zvyagintsev 's The Banishment is magnificently photographed and narratively elliptical. Everyone takes 10 minutes to decide to do something, then decides, doesn't announce his or her decision and we don't see what happens. Basically, it's all over but the brooding, and Zvyagintsev is one broody Slavic mother.
Read John Harkness' Cannes Festival Blog