A dispatch from the New York Film Festival on the latest from Diao Yinan, Pedro Costa, Albert Serra and more.
Power is rarely discussed at Cannes, and it’s ostensibly all about art, although careers can hang on critics’ approval, and whether films are sold here, and to how many regions of the world. The annual jury press conference on the opening day is the first and foremost love-fest in which the concept of competition is downplayed and jurors find novel ways to sidestep the question of comparing one film to another in order to award the Palme d’Or in ten days.
The 65th Cannes Film Festival's eleven days of prediction, wild speculation and gossip, some of it centering on the notoriously cranky personality of this year's jury president Nanni Moretti, came to an end Sunday evening in festival's business-like awards ceremony (or Soiree de Palmares, as the French call it) that traditionally lacks the extended let's-put-on-a-show aspect of the Oscars. The jury was seated onstage in a solemn group, and the awards given with a modest amount of fancy-dress formality, a bit of unrehearsed fumbling, and acceptance speeches that were short, dignified and to the point.
The foul weather that has marred the usually sunny festival continued to the end, and elite guests and movie stars alike walked a red carpet tented by a plastic roof as the rain fell on the multi-colored umbrellas of the surrounding crowds. Festival director Thierry Fremoux personally held an umbrella for Audrey Tautou, star of Claude Miller's closing night film, "Therese Desqueyroux," as she headed up the famous steps in a calf-length ivory lace gown with a bodice heavily embroidered in gold.
Actress Berenice Bejo, an international sensation since her starring role and subsequent Oscar nomination for "The Artist," performed mistress of ceremonies duties in a white, bridal-looking strapless sheath with long train, her only jewel an enormous heart-shaped emerald ring. Just about the only prediction this year that turned out to be accurate was the one that advised that all was unpredictable under the jurisdiction of the pensive and often-scowling Moretti.
The sun is finally shining, and Cannes becomes a resort town once again. Aside from the thousands of film industry visitors, this place is clogged with tourists of all nations and in all manner of beach attire, many of them senior citizens. As far as I can tell, the main thing they do is promenade.
They stroll up and down the Croisette on the waterfront side and then the window-shopping side. They walk up and down the town's main drag, the Rue d'Antibes. They eat ice cream cones; they buy red, caramelized peanuts hot from the vendors' pans, and gummi bears and licorice; they watch costumed mimes perform under the palm trees; and they walk their little ankle-biter dogs, of which there are hundreds. It's a people-watching festival in itself.
Another invitation appeared in my mailbox. This one was on heavy cream-colored paper with fancy gilt lettering. As a result, I went to "East Meets West," an afternoon conversation between Hong Kong director Stanley Kwan, best known for "Rouge" and "Center Stage," and Cannes jury member Alexander Payne, recent Oscar winner for "The Descendants." Sponsored by The Film Foundation, it took place in a pavilion at the beach of the Majestic Hotel, where the sound of waves lapping at the sand in the background was a constant reminder of the setting.
In just a week the French Riviera will come alive with the hoopla of the 65th Cannes International Film Festival, running this year from May 16 through 27. Despite the international proliferation of film festivals, like it or not, Cannes remains the biggest, most hyped, glitziest and most diverse event the world of film has to offer, the envy of every other festival.
As if the world at large also trembled at the import of the approaching festivities, previous Cannes festivals have been prefaced by volcanic eruptions, hurricane-force storms, national strikes, and bomb threats. What can we expect this year, when the festival officially becomes a senior citizen? Don't look for any rocking chairs along the Croisette, for one thing. Judging by the lineup of major directors represented in the Competition and other official sections, it's more likely that major revelations will be rocking the Palais. And if it's like other years, we can expect the festival will manage to rock a headline-grabbing major controversy or two as well.
For the fourth year in a row, Cannes will open with an American production, Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom," guaranteeing that name stars including Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton will be gracing the red carpet on Wednesday, May 16 for a glamorous kick-off. Judging by the trailer available online, the real stars may be the large cast of kids in a comedy/drama that looks to be strong on surreal wackiness.
Even a quick glance at the list of films in competition yields an eye-popping number of famous names, including David Cronenberg (Canada), Michael Haneke (Austria), Abbas Kiarostami (Iran), Ken Loach (UK), Cristian Mungiu (Romania), Alain Resnais France), Carlos Reygadas (Mexico), Walter Salles (Brazil), and many more. This competition could be a veritable Olympics of the cinema gods...or not, as sometimes happen, because even world-class filmmakers and certified masters can disappoint.
Critical polls conducted by Film Comment, indieWIRE, the Village Voice/LA Weekly, Cahiers du Cinéma and now the Los Angeles Film Critics Association have all chosen David Lynch's 2001 "Mulholland Dr." as the best movie of the decade.
UPDATE 2/12/10: The Muriels and Slant Magazine also choose "Mulholland Dr." as best of the Aughts.
Full list below...
Justin Chang writes at LAFCA.net:
Call us provincial -- David Lynch's psychoerotic noir is one of the essential L.A. movies -- but the more significant reason for the film's enduring critical favor may be its deconstruction of the toxic allure of the Dream Factory. "Mulholland Dr." projects an ambivalence toward Hollywood with which almost any critic can identify: Moving images have the power to seduce and move us, but many of them are the products of a system that routinely turns dreams into nightmares and artists into meat. Famously salvaged from a rejected TV pilot, Lynch's film stands as both a cautionary tale and a mascot for the triumph of art and personal vision in an industry that, from where we sit, often seems actively devoted to the suppression of both. [...]
Since Moses brought the tablets down from the mountain, lists have come in tens, not that we couldn't have done with several more commandments. Who says a year has Ten Best Films, anyway? Nobody but readers, editors, and most other movie critics. There was hell to pay last year when I published my list of Twenty Best. You'd have thought I belched at a funeral. So this year I have devoutly limited myself to exactly ten films.
When Sydney Pollack was making "Out of Africa" in 1985, he considered the problem of how to film Meryl Streep and Robert Redford in love scenes that were not explicit, yet were erotic. "When I have Streep and Redford together," he told me, "I don't want to see them strip naked and writhe around in bed together. The challenge was to find love scenes that would have emotion and passion and yet not violate a certain place where we want to see them. There are two really sensual love scenes. One of them is the undressing scene. I always like scenes like that. I think they're sexy. I tried to make a sort of passionate dance out of them undressing each other. The second scene consists of three absolutely terrific lines I took out of a screenplay that was written in 1973 when Nicholas Roeg was going to direct this project. It's only three lines, but what lines: "Don't move. I want to move. Don't move."
“Silent Light” by Mexican director Carlos Reygadas won the Gold Hugo for best feature film at the 43rd Chicago International Film Festival, festival artistic director Michael Kutza announced Sunday.
UPDATED 10/16: Here are brief reviews of all the Chicago Film Festival movies we have seen, in alphabetical order, written by Bill Stamets and Roger Ebert. More will be added as we view them. For a full CIFF schedule, go to www.chicagofilmfestival.com or call (312) 332-FILM.
View image "Stellet Licht," Heilige Licht.
From Paul Clark at ScreenGrab.com:
Despite the sensational buzz for Carlos Reygadas’ "Silent Light" at Cannes, I approached the film with a bit of trepidation when I got a chance to see it in Toronto. I didn’t much care for Reygadas’ previous features, Japon and Battle in Heaven. I could see that he was a talented director, but his attention-grabbing tactics and leaden symbolism made it feel like he was trying too hard. A director who films a shot of a man writhing in agony next to a horse’s corpse is just aching to be taken seriously as an artist.
But all of my doubts melted away during the glorious opening shot of "Silent Light." The film begins with an image of a starry sky, with nothing but chirping crickets on the soundtrack. The camera then tilts slowly downward until we see the horizon in the distance. After this, the sun slowly rises, and we begin to make out the rolling hills, and a few trees. As the sun continues to rise, the soundtrack begins to teem with life- chickens, cows, and the like- and we see a farm. All the while, the camera ever-so-slowly pushes forward toward the horizon, as the sun rises higher and higher above the hills.
If I wasn’t sure before whether Reygadas was worth taking seriously, this shot put my misgivings to rest. Simply put, it’s a stunner, partly because Reygadas makes it feel so effortless. It’s an extremely patient shot, taking at least five minutes, and in this time he acclimatizes us to the deliberateness of the film’s world. "Silent Light" is set in a Mennonite community in Mexico, far removed from fast-paced modern life, where people speak slowly and aren’t prone to snap decisions. The film’s opening shot prepares us for this beautifully.
View image "Zabriskie Point" -- an Antonioni movie on the cover of LOOK magazine in 1969: "Had he violated the Mann Act when he staged a nude love-in in a national park? Does the film show an "anti-American" bias? As a member of the movie Establishment, is he distorting the aims of the young people's 'revolution'?"
Watching Ingmar Bergman's "Shame" (1968) over the weekend (which I was pleased to find that I had not seen before -- after 20 or 30 years, I sometimes forget), I recalled something that happened around 1982. Through the University of Washington Cinema Studies program, we brought the now-famous (then not-so-) story structure guru Robert McKee to campus to conduct a weekend screenwriting seminar. McKee, played by Brian Cox in Spike Jonze's and Charlie Kaufman's "Adapation." as the ultimate authority on how to write a salable screenplay, has probably been the single-most dominant influence in American screenwriting -- "Hollywood" and "independent" -- over the last two decades. Many would say "pernicious influence." (Syd Field is another.)
It's not necessarily McKee's fault that so many aspiring screenwriters and studio development executives have chosen to emphasize a cogent, three-act structure over all other aspects of the script, including things like character, ideas, and even coherent narrative. Structure, after all, is supposed to be merely the backbone of storytelling, not the be-all, end-all of screenwriting. But people focus on the things that are easiest to fix, that make something feel like a movie, moving from beat to beat, even if the finished product is just a waste of time.
The film McKee chose to illustrate the principles of a well-structured story that time was Ingmar Bergman's "The Virgin Spring."
"Shame" is another reminder that Bergman's movies weren't solely aimed at "art" -- they were made to appeal to an audience. Right up to its bleak ending, "Shame" is a rip-roaring story, with plenty of action, plot-twists, big emotional scenes for actors to play, gorgeously meticulous cinematography, explosive special effects and flat-out absurdist comedy. I don't know how "arty" it seemed in 1968, but it plays almost like classical mainstream moviemaking today. (And remember: Downbeat, nihilistic or inconclusive finales were very fashionable and popular in mainstream cinema in the late 1960's: "Bonnie and Clyde," "Blow-Up," "Easy Rider," "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry"...),
It's important to remember that Bergman and his fellow Euro-titan Michelangelo Antonioni, who both died on the same day last week, were big-name commercial directors -- who also helped moviegoers worldwide see the relatively young, originally low-brow, populist medium in a new light: as a (potential) art form. (The Beatles, who in 1964-'65 were the most popular youth phenomenon on the planet, even wanted Antonioni to direct their second feature, after "A Hard Day's Night"!) And if they hadn't been so popular and famous, they would not have been so influential. These guys won plenty of high-falutin' awards at film festivals, but they were also nominated for Oscars in glitzy Hollywood.