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Cannes 2019 Video #4: Pain and Glory, A Hidden Life, Portrait of a Lady on Fire and More

Here is Chaz Ebert's fourth video dispatch from the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, followed by a transcript of the video ...


We’re at the midway point of the 2019 Cannes Film Festival and while it’s been rainy and cold, that hasn’t dampened any enthusiasm on the red carpet. It’s been buzzing with directors, actors, and other movie moguls and even a political protest calling for women’s rights.

There's a feeling of nostalgia among some of the best films here, and one of my favorites in competition is Pedro Almodóvar's  "Dolor and Gloria," or "Pain & Glory." We don't know how autobiographical the film is, but we assume that Antonio Banderas is standing in for Almodóvar himself looking back on his life's failures, successes and relationships. This is not the young handsome Banderas we are used to seeing in films, but rather a grizzled one with grey hair and beard--a fused back that makes it painful for him to sit or sleep, and a pocketful of other pains and neuroses he tries to cope with through medication. When one of his classic films is being restored they ask him to appear with the main actor who he hasn't seen for 32 years when they fell out during the making of the movie. Asier Etxeandia, plays him as a washed up actor who spends his days chasing the dragon by smoking heroin. Surprisingly, the Banderas character joins him. During the press conference, Almodóvar told us not to take every detail literally.

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While Almodóvar is usually a feminist filmmaker, what I appreciate about this film is the exploration of male relationships that take place in a subtly sensual, not overtly sexual, manner. To be sure, the film opens with a beautiful scene of women in the village washing clothes at the lake with the young precocious  stand-in for Almodóvar looking on contently. His mother is played by Penelope Cruz. This film, like all of Almodóvar's, is gorgeous with colors, including red, that provide emotional and aesthetic impact. What moves the plot forward is the question about whether the director will ever make another movie. What is the artist without his art?  Fortunately, I don't think Almodóvar is at that point.    

While Almodóvar is famous for using the color red for symbolic meaning in his collection of films, another film in competition this year also uses that color to great effect - Jessica Hausner’s "Little Joe." Emily Beecham stars as a high-tech botanist who creates a bright red flowering plant designed to emit a scent that makes it’s owners happy. But we soon start to suspect that the plant’s effect on people isn’t all happy and harmless. The visual style and jarring soundtrack of the film are engaging, and reminds me of David Cronenberg. The acting is good and the film introduces very interesting ideas, but overall the story just left me a bit cold, like the sterile greenhouses the plants are grown in.

Terrence Malick returned to Cannes this year, his first time since winning the Palme d’Or with "The Tree of Life" in 2011. Of course, when I say returned, that doesn’t mean that the famously reclusive director actually appeared at the red carpet or at the press conference, although he did manage to make a sneak appearance at the screening. I love Malick' films because he has the courage to take on questions about why we are here and where we are going and why we must resist evil even when others do not. "A Hidden Life," tells the story of Franz Jagerstatter, conscientious objector in 1930’s Austria who refuses to sign a loyalty oath to Hitler and is subsequently imprisoned. Despite a story that contains few plot surprises and has a nearly three-hour running time, "A Hidden LIfe" is the kind of visual feast that Malick is known for. And his ability to capture genuine, spontaneous moments of pain or joy lend it authenticity. The physicality he shows of the farmer characters cutting wheat with a scythe, or tending the animals feels just right. It’s message of doing the right thing regardless of the consequences is heartfelt and touching, and needed more today than ever.

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Not all stories in Cannes this year are being told through short or feature-length films. A contingent of virtual reality companies set up a demo and meeting area in this year’s Marché. 

Intel has created an Immersive Cinema experience, with original stories and even creations of scenes from famous films like "Grease" and "First Man" or the original story that provides perfumes that you can now experience in a completely 360-degree environment.

Other companies like Blackthorn Media are creating original adventures that allow you to choose your path through fantastical environments.

Keep in mind these are not video-games. They are real stories created by talented artists. And while the technology might not be quite there to rival the experience of a great movie on a big screen, never count out the progress of technological advances and what they can achieve.

A few other interesting films debuted in competition over the weekend including the Chinese film "Wild Goose Lake." It tries hard to deliver a modern-day, stylish film noir, but for me it didn’t quite hit the mark.

Another genre picture in competition was the Romanian entry, "The Whistlers," by director Corneliu Porumboiu. It’s the story of crooked cops and more crooked criminals, all looking to get their hands on $30 million Romanian dollars worth of stolen cash. To that end, a police detective working with the thieves is brought to the Canary Islands to learn a local secret language based just on whistling, a code they can use to keep their communications from being intercepted by the authorities. It’s a fun ride with multiple twists and turns, actually almost too many to keep up with. I'm pretty sure it won't win the Palme D'or, but the lead actress may be in the running for a prize.

Finally, "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" also screened in competition. Directed by Celine Sciamma, it’s a costume drama set in 1770 France about two women brought together when one is hired to paint the other’s portrait. During the time they spend together, they begin to fall in love. There is another plot about the housekeeper who becomes pregnant, and I won't reveal what happens except it's the last thing you would think of in a film that takes place in the 1700's. The direction and screenwriting is exquisite.

That’s all for now, but we have more films coming up to share with you along with an exclusive interview with director Werner Herzog.

In the meantime, continue to follow us at RogerEbert.com/Cannes for our daily written reports from Barbara Scharres, Ben Kenigsberg, and others, along with our regular video reports.  

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