If you’re a Canadian at Cannes, I have learned, there are two questions you’re asked more or less daily. The first is why your French isn’t better, which is a reasonable question. The second is whether the Atom Egoyan movie is any good.
I’ve been giving a rather disingenuous answer: I tell people it’s probably his best feature since The Sweet Hereafter. That’s a polite way to say it’s better than Felicia’s Journey, Ararat and Where the Truth Lies. And it’s still not very good.
For my money, Egoyan has one truly great film to his credit – Exotica – and one reasonably good one, The Sweet Hereafter. Everything else is arch, suffocating gamesmanship, and with Adoration, the well is running dry. It’s just more of the same – the same time-jumping editing, the same stiff acting and pompous dialogue, the same inability to build believable human motivations around the weighty metaphor with which he thinks he’s working.
I’ll have a lot more to say about Adoration in the fall, when the movie lands the inevitable opening-night gala slot at TIFF; for now, I’ll just shake my head sadly and wonder why people still feel the need to treat him like some inscrutable genius when he’s been flagrantly repeating himself for more than a decade. Yeah, I know, you can say the same thing about Woody Allen or David Lynch. But you’d be just as right.
I’d really rather talk about Kelly Reichardt’s new film, Wendy and Lucy, which screened in Un Certain Regard tonight. The film fulfills the promise of Reichardt’s marvellous debut, Old Joy, and does so in a way that’ll be much easier to sell to mainstream audiences.
Michelle Williams is Wendy, a woman driving through Oregon on her way to Alaska with a few possessions, a dwindling supply of cash and her enthusiastic dog Lucy. Unexpected car trouble and an empty bag of dog food trigger a cascade of unpleasant events that send the increasingly desperate Wendy racing back and forth across the little town, bleeding cash and seeing her options dwindle away before her eyes.
I freely admit this movie pushed just about every button I have; I spent most of the 80-minute running time grinding my teeth with mounting tension and silently begging the movie not to end up where I feared it would. (It didn’t, though the ending Reichardt came up with is just as devastating.) My own issues aside, Williams gives an incredible performance, and Wendy and Lucy works powerfully as both a wrenching character study and a mournful commentary on the economic desperation of small-town Americans. It’s just terrific.
Also screened today was Il Divo, Paolo Sorrentino’s hyperactive drama about the life of Giulio Andreotti, a member of the Christian Democrat party who served three terms as Italy’s prime minister and was, if the movie is to be believed, a brilliant equivocator who somehow managed to get the Mafia to do his bidding – intimidating, brutalizing or outright murdering anyone who stood between him and the further consolidation of power, up to and including the kidnapping and murder of prime minister Aldo Moro – while remaining entirely unconnected to those unsavoury activities.
At least, that’s what I think the story is; Sorrentino’s blustery, overblown direction turns every second into a vanity shot, throwing every trick in the book at the viewer – swirling cameras, digital effects, cutting-edge titles, a blasting pop soundtrack – to bludgeon us into accepting his screen genius. Seriously, a character can’t cross a room without the screen exploding into a flurry of cross-cutting, overhead shots, and two closeups of an electric fan that happens to be in close proximity.
It’s like watching a student film made by the kid in the class with the richest parents; thing is, all the state-of-the-art equipment and top-flight technical assistance money can buy won’t somehow make the end product anything more than a noisy, expensive mess. But I did enjoy Tony Servillo’s deadpan performance as Andreotti; he manages to generate real laughs, and even some tension, just by standing still as the movie freaks out around him.
Similarly composed was the morning’s Competition entry, Philippe Garrel’s La Frontiére de l’Aube, another film from the director of J’Entends Plus La Guitare (which screened earlier this month at Cinematheque Ontario) about a conflicted young artist who falls in love with a crazy, self-destructive woman.
This time around, it’s in grainy black and white and the artist is a brooding photographer (the director’s son, Louis) and the woman is a mercurial actress (Laura Smet) who alternates between insouciant passion and drunken misery.
The usual amour-fou ensues until the movie takes a radical left turn at the one-hour mark with a magic-realist conceit that alienated a large chunk of the audience. I’ve heard movies booed here before, but this was a different experience; when the movie ended, half of the Lumiere exploded in boos and whistles, after which the other half of the audience responded with applause in support of the film. And then the booing started again. And then there was more applause. It went back and forth like that for a couple of minutes, eventually dying down when the house lights came up. Say what you will about Cannes audiences, they let their positions be known.
Cannes fun fact: To enter any festival venue, one must pass through a three-stage security clearance – a badge check, a bag search and a swipe with a handheld metal detector. The only thing that seems to reliably set off the metal detectors is the two-Euro coin.
It takes a while to clear security.