Marie writes: I was looking for something to make Roger laugh, when the phone rang. It was a bad connection, but this much I did hear: "Roger has died." That's how I learned he was gone, and my first thought was of the cruel and unfair timing of it. He'd been on the verge of realizing a life long dream: to be the captain of his own ship.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
• Chaz Ebert in Cannes
The Cannes 2012 Palme D'Or was indeed won Sunday by Michael Haneke for "Amour," the best film in the festival. And what an emotional moment to see its two stars, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuel Riva walk up on stage with Haneke to accept the award. A juror, Jean-Paul Gaultier said they gave the most emotionally real performances of any film in the festival. He said he bawled his eyes out. This was the second time in three years that Hakeke won the Palme, after "The White Ribbon" in 2009.
And surprisingly, three out of four of my award speculations also won prizes. However, if you listened carefully to the reasoning of the Jury you can conclude that actually all four of the lineup would have won.
Above: Bill Murray, madras paparazzo. (AP photo)
The pizza they make in Cannes is unique: a less-is-more creation that is flat and crispy, thoroughly Mediterranean and packed with Riviera flavor. Alleged "European-style" pizzas peddled in the U. S. never seem to achieve that micron-thin crust covered by the faintest wash of tomato sauce, a mere garnish of cheese, and earthy ingredients that can include artichokes or thinly sliced eggplant, generous oregano, and tiny Cannes-grown olives (complete with pits). It's seared in an oven at an impossibly high temperature so that that everything melds into a glorious crackly flatbread that has nothing in common with the doughy excess of American pizza.
The opening day of the 65th Cannes Film Festival is a little like that local pizza, tasty and unique, providing a full range of experiences with just a few carefully chosen ingredients. The various competition events will be in full swing starting tomorrow morning, so today functions as a bit of an appetizer.
Even as festival workers were putting the final touches on the red carpet covering the famed steps up to the Grand Theater Lumiere for tonight's gala festival opening, the opening film, Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom," was previewing for the international press at the Debussy Theater next door. Although Anderson is the darling of many critics, the only film of his that I've previously warmed up to was his droll animated feature "Fantastic Mr. Fox." "Moonrise Kingdom" had me enthralled from the first frame, and made me think that I need to take another look at his earlier work.
Ever since David Thomson's "A Biographical Dictionary of Film" was published in 1975, browsers have said that they love to hate Thomson's contrarian arguments -- against John Ford or Frank Capra, Coppola or Kubrick, for example.¹ Fans and critics can cite favorite passages of resonant beauty, mystifyingly vague and dismissive summary judgements, and entire entries in which the man appears to have gone off his rocker. And that's the fun of it.
To be fair, Thomson broke faith with (or has been suffering a crisis of faith in) American movies at least far back as "Overexposures: The Crisis in American Filmmaking" (1981), and he's been writing about his crisis ever since. To put it in a sentence that could serve as the ending of one of his entries: I am willing to believe that he loves (or once loved) movies even if he doesn't like them very much. (Wait -- how does he conclude the Katharine Hepburn piece? "She loved movies, while disapproving of them.")
When I encountered the first edition of this book, the year I entered college, I immediately fell in love with it because it was not a standard reference. It was personal, cranky, eloquent, pretentious, pithy, petty, ambitious... It was, as I think Thomson himself suggested in the foreword to the first or second edition (this is the fifth), more accurately titled "An Autobiographical Dictionary of Film." Many times over the years I have implored my employers or partners to license digital rights to Thomson's book so that it could augment and be integrated with other movie databases and references (at Cinemania, FilmPix, Reel.com, RogerEbert.com)... but we've never done it. What, they would ask, is the "value-add"? (Really. Some people used to talk that way.) As a reference, its coverage is too spotty (Ephraim Katz's Film Encyclopedia is much more comprehensive but also has loads of incomplete filmographies), as criticism it's wildly idiosyncratic (nothing wrong with that) and as biography it's whimsically selective and uneven, leaving as many holes as it fills.
May 22, 2009--One of the trade papers on Thursday was touting the French film "A Prophet" by Jacques Audiard, which received excellent reviews early in the festival, as a hot contender for the Palme d'Or. Rumors of this sort seldom mean anything here, but to me this was one of those scratch-my-head moments. "The Prophet" is a well-crafted, well-acted prison movie, but I feel like of seen variations on this story and its predictable trajectory too many times in too many other movies.
Malik, a young, vulnerable Arab-French man arrives at prison to serve a six-year sentence and is immediately targeted by the ruthless Corsican gang that controls virtually everything in the establishment, including who lives and who dies. Forced under threat of death to do the gang's dirty work, including a murder, he waits and learns to better his oppressors at their own game.
Tahar Rahim, star of "Un prophète"
As good and mainstream as this film is, there were few variations on the expected details: the body searches and humiliations of prisoners; the cruel intimidation of the weak by the strong; and Malikís inevitable rise to power as a force within the prison and as a drug lord on the outside. I guess I always hope that films in competition will be extraordinary in some way, and "A Prophet" just didn't seem to have that quality.
I think I may have just seen the 2010 Oscar winner for best foreign film. Whether it will win the Palme d'Or here at Cannes is another matter. It may be too much of a movie movie. It's named "A l'origine," by Xavier Giannoli, and is one of several titles I want to discuss in a little festival catch-up. Based on an incredible true story, it involves an insignificant thief, just released from prison, who becomes involved in an impromptu con game that results in the actual construction of a stretch of highway. At the beginning he has no plans to build a highway. He simply sees a way to swindle a contractor out of 15,000 euros. He is sad, defeated, unwanted, apart from his wife and child, sleeping on a pal's sofa. What happens is not caused by him nor desired by him. It simply happens to him.
This is one of those movies that catches you in its spell. It's a hell of a story. There's a difference between caring what happens in a movie, and merely waiting to see what will happen. The hero, who calls himself Phillip, ends by bringing about an enterprise involving millions of euros, hundreds of workers and tons of massive earth-moving machinery, falling in love with the lady mayor, and becoming a good man, all without ever saying very much. I was reminded of Chance the Gardener In "Being There." Phillip is shy, socially unskilled, inarticulate, apparently the opposite of a con man. To repeat: There is a true story involved here. Some facts are offered at the end. The highway, which which the workers essentially built on their own, with the con man as "management," was completed on time, under budget and up to code.