Two large men: Former boxer Mike Tyson and director James Toback
Mike Tyson is a very large man. I know this because he walked right past me on the way on and off the stage of the Salle Debussy, twice, for the premiere of James Toback’s first-person documentary Tyson, which played tonight in Un Certain Regard.
Toback’s movie – essentially a feature-length monologue from the former champ, who tells the story of his life directly to the camera – is a fascinating accomplishment. The director has known Tyson since the late 1980s, and gave him a slightly self-mocking cameo in Black And White that ended with the boxer throttling a giddy Robert Downey Jr.
Toback’s long friendship with Tyson gives the movie an intimate, unmanaged tone; the director is never seen or heard, but he’s clearly being supportive and encouraging of his subject. He’s also able to illustrate Tyson’s stories with a remarkable range of archival footage, dating all the way back to Tyson’s earliest sparring sessions with trainer Cus D’Amato, and doesn’t shy away from including clips where Tyson comes off looking like a raging psychotic.
But as engrossing as the film may be, it’s nothing compared to the experience of seeing Tyson take the stage, even if he spends most of his time smiling politely and letting Toback have the spotlight. The audience goes completely crazy for him; I think the event may turn out to be one of the highlights of the festival.
Less high, I’m sorry to say, is the debut of Woody Allen’s latest, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. The audience is nothing if not polite, but it’s another minor effort from an increasingly uninteresting filmmaker who’s still writing scripts as if it was 1973 outside his window.
Tout le monde was buzzing with the news that this film -- about two vacationing Americans (Scarlett Johansson and The Prestige’s Rebecca Hall) who fall into the orbit of a painter (Javier Bardem) and his crazy ex-wife (Penélope Cruz) – includes a love scene between Johansson and Cruz. It does, and 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 twentysomething use the phrase “make love” without irony?
At least, thanks to Bardem and Cruz’s lusty scene-chewing, this one is funny on purpose, as opposed to last year’s execrable Cassandra’s Dream, still unreleased in Canada.
Far more satisfying is Arnaud Desplechin’s Une Conte De Noel, another richly detailed, perfectly cast seriocomedy from the director of the brilliant Kings And Queen. That film’s stars, Emmanuelle Devos and Mathieu Amalric, are reunited here as lovers; Catherine Deneuve gets a meaty role as Amalric’s ailing mother, and Jean-Paul Roussillon, Anne Consigny, Hippolyte Girardot and Deneuve’s real-life daughter Chiara Mastroianni deliver fine supporting work. Someone really should pick this up. It’s a lovely, lovely film.
I also manage to catch up with the very buzzy Waltz With Bashir, which you could describe as “the Israeli Persepolis” if you wanted to demonstrate your total lack of understanding of either movie. Yes, it’s an animated memoir set in the Middle East. But this one is the wrenching story of one man – specifically, filmmaker Ari Folman – trying to come to terms with his experiences as an Israeli soldier in occupied Lebanon in the early 1980s.
Folman’s choice to tell his story – and the stories of several other veterans – through stylized digital animation is both visually striking and dramatically inspired; the medium lets him plug us directly into the mindset of his 19-year-old self, all bright colors and loud noise, while also allowing him to present a number of stunning sequences that would be entirely unwatchable if they were presented in live action.
Cannes fun fact: Each of Mike Tyson’s hands is the size of a whole brisket. Which could explain all those first-round knockouts, when you think about it.