Tuesday, June 02, 2009

THE CANNES AFTERGLOW



The Cannes Film Festival (CFF) wrapped 23 May. Scroll down for my post of the top winners, 24 May. Since then, there have been further discussions about them.

The world-wide economic slowdown impacted Cannes this year. There were far fewer yachts, stars, press, and attendees. In the U.S., film critics are considered a luxury, and many newspapers have cut then from their staff. That is not true in Europe. For example, a newspaper in France, even though it may be experiencing a financial slowdown, will not ever think of cutting its film critic.

Biggest disappointment among the films in competition was Ang Lee's, TAKING WOODSTOCK. John Powers says the movie is “dinky”. Others made comments such as, “. . . highly anticipated, yet underwhelming.” Powers feels it is not very good cinematically, and probably should not have been in the Festival. He says it is fun to watch, and thinks Cannes accepted it because the Festival turned down BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2006). Judging by the Jury picks, this could have been the Festival for Lee’s LUST, CAUTION (2007).

The biggest surprise about a film that did not get an award at the Festival is Jane Campion's BRIGHT STAR. It received great reviews by critics viewing the film at the Festival. Apparently, it did not impress the Jury. Powers dubbed this years Cannes Festival, a Festival of Violence and Extremes.

The most deliberately provocative movie is Lars von Trier’s ANTICHRIST. Entertainment Weekly’s critic pulled no punches when he wrote, “Scenes of sexual mutilation in this gruesome story of a couple in [marital] hell elicited involuntary groans and then boos.” Most of the other critics left out “involuntary,” adding jeers, foot pounding, and many leaving the theater.

It has been widely reported that Trier suffered a bout of deep depression before embarking on this film. Despite the huge outcry against the film, Austrian Charlotte Gainsbourg won Best Actress for her role.

There was much buzz about Heath Ledger’s final performance in Terry Gilliam’s THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS, which screened out of competition. As usual, the critics didn’t get the film at all. They seldom get a Gilliam movie, but many die-hard fans do. When Ledger died about halfway through the filming, the role was recast to have Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell portray "physically transformed versions" of Tony.

No one else has speculated on this but I am going to. Could the Joker role followed by the mysterious stranger Tony in this “the Devil will have his due, if I don’t undo my mistakes” movie, coupled with Ledger’s recent divorce, and drug use, all have united to seal Ledger’s fate? It is the Doctor’s daughter, Valentina, who is in peril because of what her father has done, and Ledger had a young daughter. Just speculating.

Most critics were kind to Pedro Almodóvar’s latest with Penélope Cruz, BROKEN EMBRACES, praising her performance, but lukewarm to the movie. Poor Penélope had a bad cold, or flu, and missed most of the festivities.

Almodóvar and Lee are losing their mojo, according to the majority of the critics. Perhaps, both need to take a break to unwind and recharge.

On the other hand, critics and viewers generally praised Quentin Tarantino’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, which is the name of a gang slaughtering Nazis. Powers calls it an amazing film because it takes us back to the 1960s WW II Nazi movies, with glimpses reminding one of the TV show, Hogan’s Heroes, but BASTERDS is 100 times more violent. Brad Pitt stars, but Australian Christopher Waltz as a "Jew hunter" in Nazi Germany, won Best Actor for the role, stealing Pitt’s thunder.



Michael Haneke ***** Christopher Waltz ***** Charlotte Gainsbourg

As to the winner, award-winning Austrian writer/director Michael Haneke's black and white drama, THE WHITE RIBBON (Das Weisse Band, Austria), basically little negative has been written about this stark film, which won both the FIPRESCI Prize and the Golden Palm. In an over-baring patriarchal society, strange and brutal things happen at a rural school in northern 1913 Germany just prior to WW I, which seem to be ritual punishments. How will this affect the school system, and will what happens at school and in the community sew the seeds for fascism?

Haneke's THE PIANO TEACHER (La pianiste, 2001) vaulted him onto the world cinema scene. That award-winner was followed by another critically acclaimed movie, HIDDEN (Caché, 2005), winning the FIPRESCI Prize, and a Best Director for Haneke.

At the Munich Film Festival on 3 July, Haneke will be honored by his peers with the CineMerit Award. Munich Festival kicks off on 26 June and runs until 4 July. I look for THE WHITE RIBBON to do extremely well in Munich, the beautiful city with a sinister past.

To help you wrap the afterglow of Cannes, here are some great links:
1. John Powers, "On the Ground at Cannes, " Part I - Fresh Air, PBS, Tuesday, 26 May.
2. John Powers, "On the Ground at Cannes, " Part II - Fresh Air, PBS, Wednesday, 27 May.
3. “Violence Reaps Rewards at Cannes Festival,” Manohla Dargis, The New York Times, 25 May.
4. ”The Ballyhooed, the Magical and All that Mutilation: Cannes ‘09 Winds Down,“ Eric Kohn, Indiwire, 24 May [The link is wrong, but works as 06].

I can hardly wait for next year.

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