CANNES, FRANCE -- Not having gotten into the press screening of Savage Grace, the new Julianne Moore film that represents director Tom Kalen's first film since 1992's Swoon, I hit the American Pavilion for lunch with some friends.The American Pavilion, the only one of the Pavilion's behind the Palais de Festivals which is not funded by a government agency, charges a membership fee, which you pay because AmPav, as they've rebranded themselves, has decent takeout coffee and the only frappuccino's in Cannes, Starbucks having yet to arrive on the Cote d'Azur. They also have a heavily exploited work force to go with their fair trade coffee - their waitstaff is comprised mostly of student interns who have actually paid for the privilege of slinging chicken caesars to grumpy film folk for 10 days. I better start tipping better, that's all I can say.
They also have a lot of press conferences and seminars and stuff, and today, apparently, Wong Kar Wai and Norah Jones are doing something. Well, my lunch companions and I pay no attention to this, until we try to leave and find the front door blocked because of something involving the paparazzi and the stars, though nothing is happening when we arrive a the front doors.
There is general grousing, and I say "I'll just post it in my blog. I couldn't get to the screening because I had to wait for Norah Jones to make an entrance. Then I hear a voice down and to the left say "I'm right here." And I look and my first thought is, "Hey, Norah Jones has a Mini-Me." But I was wrong.
Irony Free -- Television news being fairly irony free, this morning I watched CNN's anchors interview some Brit about "isn't Cannes just all glitz and glamour?" And, of course, the only clips they have are of Jude Law and Jake Gyllenhaal walking up the red carpet and Jerry Seinfeld's Bee stunt, which you can see at Reuters.
So, CNN talking heads, isn't it television news largely responsible, since all they cover are the big stars walking up the red carpet? It's like interviewing Jude Law every time he has a new movie out, which a couple of years ago was like every eight minutes, and then deciding he's overexposed.Haven't heard a lot of heavy-duty chin-wagging on the Eastern European presence in the Selection this year on CNN . (On the French chat shows, yes. We get so accustomed to the red carpet obsessions of TV news at home that it's always a bit gob-smacking to come to France and watch an hour talk show devoted to quite serious conversation about movies playing at the Cannes film festival.The Brit was pointing out that at the heart of all the glitter and glitz, there is in fact a very serious film festival. Well, in honor of that statement, here are some reviews of some very serious films.4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (Christian Mungiu) You could hear a palpable sigh of relief from the jury after this screening. "If nothing else comes along," you could hear them thinking, "we can give Anamaria Marinca the best actress prize."
Marinca, who won a BAFTA award for her work in Sex Traffic, plays a college student in late 80s Romania, where abortion is legal, it's impossible to find Kents on the black market and her roommate has a serious problem. And the abortionist is a real charmer.
This is a tough, thoughtful drama about people making bad choices and then being forced to make horrible choices, filmed largely handheld and on video, which makes the lighting even more depressing. It's not poorly lit - it's lit to make you feel like you're living in a communist dictatorship, 40-watt bulbs and flourescents under which everyone seems to have bad skin. This will turn up on the fall festival circuit, so make a note now.
L'Avocat de Terror (Barbet Schroeder) At 65, Barbet Schroeder isn't quite one of the grand old men of the Nouvelle Vague, but he's getting there -- he did producer Eric Rohmer's first films, after all. Over a 40-year career he's done everything from Hollywood hits (Reversal Of Fortune, Single White Female) and flops (Murder By Numbers), oddball anthropological dramas like More, and some great documentaries including Idi Amin Dada and Koko, A Talking Gorilla.
L'Avocat de Terror is being variously translated but should be most directly translated as The Terrorist's Lawyer - though the polylingual Schroeder is no doubt aware of the ambiguities of translation available between lawyer and advocate here. It's a documentary on Jacques Vergeres, 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 - Vergeres himself, now past 80 but still lethally smart, survivors of the Algerian War for 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 a little long and drags about an hour in, but it reasserts its narrative well. Really worth seeing as a look at the roots and branches of modern terror and 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.
The Banishment (Andrei Zviaguintsov) A pretty full theatre for a weirdly timed press screening - this year's screening schedule is screwing with the natural order of things -- 8:30 am in the Lumiere, early evening in the Debussy. The Banishment's press screening is at 4;30. It's two and a half hours long, it's bleakly depressing and, boy, does it have pacing problems.
Zviaguintsov developed a following with his debut film, The Return. Like The Return, The Banishment is magnificently photographed and narratively elliptical. Everyone takes 10 minutes to decide to do something, then they decide, don't announce their decision and we don't see what happens. Basically, it's all over but the brooding and Zviaguntsov is one broody slavic mother.
Check this synopsis and see if you can figure out what the hell it's about.
There's three brothers, all probably involved in criminal enterprises. The film is set in an indeterminate time. It's not present day - there are no computers, no cell phones, no widescreen TVs. Brother Mark drives around in the rain through a bleak countryside to a bleak city, where he arrives at his brother, Alexanders' place. He needs Alexander to take a bullet out of his arm.
Then it's off to Alexander's country place, which had belonged to his father. Things happen. Alexander's wife reveals a betrayal, possibly with Alexander's brother. About an hour later, after more bad things happen, we get to the point. Alexander is sitting with his brother Robert in Robert's kitchen, with a gun on the table. We've been waiting for this moment ever since the director planted the gun back in the first act.
Okay, here's the payoff. Boom, we're off on a 20-minute flashback that should be Robert's but can't be, because it has information Robert couldn't possibly have. Then Alexander drives away - it's the same road his brother was driving on in the first shot by the same tree. Pan right and we see Russian peasant women gathering up wheat or something with pitchforks while singing the Russian equivalent of Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen. Roll credits.
This picture could run 90 minutes and literally lose none of its actual narrative and keep most of of its mood. Of course, it would need to lose the gratuitous sheep shots and maybe 30 minutes of the brooding. Beautiful images - look at the long shadows in the outside shots and we can see the director making very canny use of the long magic hour in the northern summers.
But he really needs a story editor.