Festival de Cannes
12-25 May, 2004

Wed 12

Bad Education (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain): 64
[Gratifyingly assured from start to finish, but Almodóvar isn't really temperamentally suited for noir -- he lacks the cynicism. Instead of getting sucked further and further into the narrative's byzantine maw, I found my empathy -- but not, significantly, my interest -- fading with each new lurid plot twist. Also, Fele Martinez is kind of a wet noodle, and keeps being blown off the screen (and on, ha ha) by Garcia Bernal, who proves remarkably convincing and charismatic even in drag. High point thus involves an extended film-within-the pairing GGB with Talk to Me's Javier Camara, who matches his partner swish for swish. Bonus points for not devolving, as I briefly feared it might, into a generic tale of childhood sexual abuse; indeed, the tortured ex-priest ultimately becomes the film's most moving character, though I doubt that'll assuage Victor Morton's concerns much. Still waiting for that perfect synthesis of early kitschy Almodóvar and late mature Almodóvar; this seems like a baby step in that direction.]

Nobody Knows (Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan): 48
[Actually, if anybody does know why Kore-eda felt this ripped-from-the-tabloids melodrama, about a family of small children abandoned by their terminally flaky sitcom mother, needed to be approximately 17 hours long, I'd appreciate a précis of his reasoning. First hour or so unfolds with well-judged deliberation and is impressively detailed in its depiction of the kids' hermetic universe -- in fact, with the exception of a handful of unfortunate musical cues, I can't really think offhand of any specific missteps anywhere. It's only in the second hour (and 20 minutes) that you start to realize that the film has never once budged from the slightly maudlin rut it carved midway through the opening reel. I know it's terribly jejune to say that a film is too long, but seriously, this movie is just way the hell too long. In the end, the thing just ground me down, eroding my goodwill. Pity.]

Thu 13

Primer (Shane Carruth, USA): 88 [market screening]
[Simply the best pure science-fiction movie in like a decade -- more or less In the Company of Men reimagined as a lost early Heinlein tale (although the setup is closer to prime Lewis Padgett). Narrative abstraction impeccably served by Carruth's gritty, lo-fi visual sensibility, in which every shot is somehow simultaneously striking and humdrum. What the hell actually happens isn't remotely clear after one viewing, admittedly, but that's exciting rather than frustrating. Best throwaway line in ages: "Are you hungry? I haven't eaten since later this afternoon."]

A tout de suite (Benoît Jacquot, France): 50
[Never would have guessed this was Jacquot, apart from its sympathetic but semi-detached observation of a young woman in distress. Here he shoots in grainy b&w (video? super-8? I was never quite sure) and employs a more jagged style than has been his custom -- not inappropriate, I guess, given this film's fairly conventional lovers-on-the-lam scenario. All too obviously based on someone's actual experience, with all the advantages (emotional specificity) and weaknesses (dramatic shapelessness) that implies; Isild Le Besco's fiery temperament serves her character well early on, but she overplays the catatonia in the second half, and the film kind of flatlines with her.]

10 on Ten (Abbas Kiarostami, Iran): 4
[What could be more exciting than a movie composed entirely of two fixed camera angles in a moving vehicle, focused on a series of conversations between driver and passenger? How about a movie composed almost entirely of one fixed camera angle in a moving vehicle, focused on the driver as he recites the most tedious director's-commentary track ever recorded? For that's all this "movie" is: Kiarostami driving endlessly around the location where Taste of Cherry was filmed, imparting scholarly lessons about the miracle of the digital video camera (people behave so naturally in its presence!), the superiority of non-professional actors (they don't act! they just be themselves!), and -- my personal favorite -- the inherent intrusiveness of non-diagetic music, intended only to manipulate the viewer's emotions...which is why, AK explains with a straight face, he uses music only at the very end of his films, as a means of signalling the audience that the picture is almost over. (I am not making this up.) Not everything he says is that resoundingly inane, but most of it is repetitive, banal and completely devoid of wit or insight...and all the while, save for a few interpolated clips from Ten (which suddenly looks riveting in this context), we've got nothing to look at but a middle-aged man steering and talking. That a major film festival would consider this worthy of attention is appalling; that other critics continue to pretend that Emperor Abbas is stylin', just plain sad.]

Mondovino (Jonathan Nossiter, USA/Argentina/Italy/France): 43
[More than you probably really wanted to know about the wine industry's movers and shakers, though those with a palette more refined than my own may thrill to Nossiter's endless interviews with high-priced consultants, recalcitrant French traditionalists, laid-back Napa Valley nouveau-snob entrepreneurs, pompous Italian aristocrats, and cute little doggies. (Well, he doesn't actually interview the dogs, but he sure seems obsessed by them.) Still, I really think this is mediocre filmmaking: self-indulgent, fatally disorganized, and repeatedly undercut by juvenile editorial inserts, like the weird repeated shots of one California family's automatic swimming-pool cleaner. And what's with all the gratuitous zooming, often in mid-sentence? Sip some overpriced Mondavi and calm the fuck down.]

Fri 14

Samaritan Girl (Kim Ki-duk, South Korea): 44 [market screening]
[Couldn't make emotional sense of this one, I'm afraid. First chapter is the most compelling, but by the third chapter Jae-young's fate seems almost irrelevant, and that actress' cheerful lasciviousness is badly missed. Father and daughter seem locked in a silent, morose struggle to determine who can behave in the most luridly inexplicable fashion, and while the ending is rather poignant, I'd long since checked out. If Le Chuck cackles his way through this one, I'm at a loss.]

Undertow (David Gordon Green, USA): 59 [market screening]
[Weird to see Green applying his super-hits-of-the-'70s aesthetic -- this one even features the copyright date on the same card as the main title, a Hollywood convention that died out sometime during the Ford administration -- to such hackneyed, conventional material. A wealth of arresting, occasionally twee detail, as usual; once Josh Lucas turns up as a generic white-trash bogeyman, however, such niceties are increasingly shunted aside by the requirements of the routine thriller plot, which sometimes threatens to turn into The Return as it might have been directed by Ron Howard. Very watchable nonetheless, and I never would have guessed Jamie Bell is British had I not known it beforehand. That kid can act. Dylan McDermott Mulroney, on the other hand...]

Old Boy (Chanwook Park, South Korea): 65
[Okay, this is fun, but it's kind of silly, no? Nothing but style and plot, with the former consistently impressive and the latter increasingly baroque; I didn't really imagine the rest of the film would match that knockout Kafkaesque prologue, but neither was I prepared for the endless series of "ho ho ho!s that make up the expository third act. Ultimately, Old Boy adds up to less than the sum of its set pieces, the most memorable of which finds our vengeful hero battling his way through an endless corridor of thugs armed only with a hammer -- it's not the fight choreography that impresses so much as the sheer attenuation, which makes both the Burly Brawl and the House of Blue Leaves look like massage-with-release by comparison.]

Sat 15

Kontroll (Nimrod Antal, Hungary): W/O
[Painfully unfunny comedy-thriller about a group of allegedly lovable losers working as conductors in the Budapest subway system. With its forced banter, nonstop mugging and endless chase sequences set to bad techno, it resembles nothing so much as an attempt to go Hollywood made by someone who grew up watching TV broadcasts of Running Scared.] [Addendum: I now discover that Antal was actually born and raised in the U.S. This explains a lot.]

Tomorrow We Move (Chantal Akerman, Belgium/France): 45 [market screening]
[Interesting mostly as further evidence of my beloved Sylvie's immense range -- almost impossible to believe this is the same woman who played the enigmatic object of desire in Akerman's La Captive. Here, she demonstrates comic timing far superior to that of her director, who on the basis of this and A Couch in New York should henceforth avoid making anything that could possibly be likened to a soufflé. Springs to life briefly in the middle section, when the apartment teems with potential buyers; otherwise ponderously cute.]

The Holy Girl (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina): 62

The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things (Asia Argento, USA): 33

Sun 16

Look at Me (Agnès Jaoui, France): 51

The Consequences of Love (Paolo Sorrentino, Italy): 56

L'esquive (Abdellatif Kechiche, France): 52 [market screening]

Woman Is the Future of Man (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea/France): 44

Don't Move (Sergio Castellitto, Italy/Spain/UK): W/O

Mon 17

The Edukators (Hans Weingartner, Germany/Austria): 55

Fahrenheit 9/11 (Michael Moore, USA): 40

Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, France/Thailand): 80

Tue 18

Marseille (Angela Schanalec, Germany): W/O

Exiles (Tony Gatlif, France): 43

Our Music (Jean-Luc Godard, Switzerland/France): 39

Somersault (Cate Shortland, Australia): W/O

Wed 19

The Motorcycle Diaries (Walter Salles, Argentina/Brazil/Chile/Peru/USA): 47

House of Flying Daggers (Zhang Yimou, China): 54

Los Muertos (Lisandro Alonso, Argentina/France): 12

Innocence (Mamoru Oshii, Japan): 39

Thu 20

Clean (Olivier Assayas, France): 60

Tarnation (Jonathan Caouette, USA): 57

Breaking News (Johnnie To, Hong Kong/China): 40

2046 (Wong Kar-wai, China): 51

Fri 21

The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (Stephen Hopkins, USA): 25