As I write this, the 2008 Cannes Film Festival has been underway for just six days, with six more to go. I have seen 24 films. I have interviewed the lovely and talented Julianne Moore. I have attended screenings in the presence of Mike Tyson and Catherine Deneuve – on the same stage, though sadly not at the same time.
And I have thrown back something like 40 cups of coffee, nearly all of them supplied by Nespresso™, the source of all coffee consumed upon the official Cannes grounds.
When you’re watching this many movies in rapid succession, starting at 8:30 am local time, and continuing until as late as 2 am on some days, the urge to divine a trend is almost irresistible, whether or not such a trend exists.
A considerable proportion of the films I’ve seen have been concerned in some way or another with decay.
There are collapsing government facilities in Fernando Meirelles’s Blindness, Pablo Trapero’s prison-mama drama Leonera and Steve McQueen’s brilliant, impressionistic take on IRA martyr Bobby Sands’s starvation strike, Hunger. The rot is institutional; two of these films are literally drenched in human waste by the halfway mark.
Indeed, Blindness practically revels in the accumulation of shit and filth in the corners of the crumbling mental institution that houses the film’s key characters during a mysterious epidemic of sightlessness – waste that’s photographed as artfully, and frustratingly, as everything else in Meirelles’s vivid but misguided film of José Saramago’s evocative novel.
Screenwriter and co-star Don McKellar makes an admirable run at extracting dialogue and character development from Saramago’s dense, digressive text, and Julianne Moore finds yet another new spin on the stalwart sufferer people keep asking her to play. But the film is hobbled by its central metaphor, which simply doesn’t translate to the screen. (Word is that Meirelles and producers Rhombus Media are going back to the editing bays following its unfriendly reception here, but I can’t see how they’ll be able to fix it.)
Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo experience Blindness.
Still more filth can be found in the anthology film Tokyo!, which taps Michel Gondry, Leos Carax and Bong Joon-ho for a trio of shorts about the Japanese city. Carax’s contribution, Merde, finds a bug-eyed, green-suited maniac (played by Denis Lavant with the enthusiasm and bearing of a veteran circus clown) emerging from the sewers to terrorize the locals, at one point lobbing grenades (left over from the invasion of Nanking) into traffic.
In Brillante Mendoza’s film Service, set in a family-run movie theatre that’s a hot spot for illicit sex acts, things are falling apart in every possible way: the theatre is crumbling around its patrons and staff, the parents of the squabbling clan that runs it are in the middle of a contentious divorce, and their projectionist son is obsessed with bursting a massive boil on his ass. This one’s in the Official Competition, which means jury members Sean Penn and Natalie Portman had to sit through the whole thing. Cannes is fun that way.
Familial decay is also an essential element of Arnaud Desplechin’s marvellous Une Conte De Noël, a typically assured epic starring Mathieu Amalric, Catherine Deneuve and Anne Consigny as members of a fractured family coping with years of resentments, manipulations and secrets.
More relationships crumble in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Three Monkeys, an intense domestic study that finds the Turkish director adjusting his stark approach to the style of the Romanian new wave.
Then there’s the married 60-something seamstress (Ursula Werner) who enters into a torrid affair with an older client (Horst Rehberg) in Andreas Dresen’s Cloud 9, and Arta Dobroshi as the young immigrant wife of Jérémie Renier’s clinging junkie in Lorna’s Silence, the latest intimate social drama from the magnificent Dardenne brothers. This one’s even more accessible than, if just as difficult a sales job as, L’Enfant, 2006’s Palme d’Or winner.
Accessible but uninteresting is Woody Allen’s latest, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, another step in the filmmaker’s long decline from unique dramatic voice to self-parodic echo. Quite a few people here are calling it a comeback, but they’re the same people who thought Match Point was brilliant and original instead of a transplanted reworking of Crimes And Misdemeanors.
Oh, and that much-buzzed clinch between Scarlett Johansson and Penélope Cruz? It’s precisely as detailed as any other sex scene from an Allen movie. The man is not known for his erotic imagination, and in fact his insights into sex and love seem downright musty these days; when was the last time you heard a 20-something use the phrase “make love” without irony?
For some actual ruins, one can watch 24 City, Jia Zhangke’s bleak look at a metaphorically rich redevelopment project in the Chinese factory town of Chengdu, or Je Veux Voir, the one where Catherine Deneuve, playing herself, is driven through Lebanon and witnesses the remains of buildings on that country’s southern border being trucked onto the beach to make way for some as-yet-unscheduled reconstruction.
Ari Folman’s intriguing animated memoir, Waltz With Bashir, looks at an earlier point in that country’s devastation – during the early 1980s, when Israeli forces (of which Folman was a member) went in the first time. It’s being talked up as “This year’s Persepolis!” by people who don’t understand either film.
Speaking of not understanding things, if you were to view James Toback’s remarkable docu-monologue Tyson from the right angle, you might see the deterioration of the infamous boxer’s soul over the course of his unique career. Both director and subject were present for the premiere and received an ecstatic reception from a public apparently untroubled by Tyson’s rape conviction and professional disgraces. That said, the guy’s still built like a tractor-trailer; it’s not like anyone was going to boo him.
Among the dozens of titles to be screened after press time: Clint Eastwood’s newly retitled The Exchange; Steven Soderbergh’s four-and-a-half-hour double bill of Che Guevara movies, starring Benicio Del Toro; Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York; and Laurent Cantet’s Entre Les Murs, which has been building some excellent advance buzz.
Oh, and as you may have heard, Atom Egoyan’s Adoration has its premiere tonight in the Competition. I’d call it his best movie since The Sweet Hereafter, but that’s a compliment so backhanded I’m afraid I’d dislocate my shoulder in the process of delivering it. Five euros says it ends up on a poster by Sunday, just the same.