Cannes 2010: Day 4

Le Quattro Volte (Directors’ Fortnight), while this is really just a refined take on what Frammartino was doing with his previous film The Gift, it is nonetheless a stronger, tighter film that is often an utterly riveting viewing experience. Frammartino’s camera grazes a rural Italian village, first following an old sheep herder around, capturing his chores and mannerisms. While much of the ‘action’ and camera framing feels like it was well-thought out and precisely placed (staged, even), the stronger moments that appear in the film are serendipitous in nature, like the spontaneous approach of a wild animal or the brakes of a parked car giving out, triggering an environmental domino effect that is so well-timed you would think that what is happening on the screen is impossible. That most of these serendipitous moments somehow fit into the loose narrative structure of the film – a Hukkle-esque circle-of-life outlook on the purpose of all persons, animals, and manufactured objects – feels so fresh that it invites a new cinematic genre for itself, a kind of ‘nature-fiction’ (nat-fi?). I was initially put off by Le Quattro Volte‘s proximity in sensibiility and themes to Pálfi’s debut, but it eclipses that film in perhaps every way, if only because it doesn’t fake it with actors and CGI. I still wish it had a more complex statement than it ends up with, but its monolithic simplicity is too compelling and original to shrug off.

Adrienn Pál (Un Certain Regard), this would make an appropriate, if tonally redundant, double-bill with last year’s Lourdes. Both films feature near-catatonic female leads in sterile environments, progressing through their sedated lives, searching for something to uplift them. While Jessica Hausner’s film details the search for a miracle, Ágnes Kocsis’ protagonist searches for a friend. Not just any friend, but a childhood best friend named Adrienn Pál, who she’d all but forgotten until a deceased woman showed up at her ward (she is a nurse in a ward for the terminally ill) with the exact same name. This kicks off an investigation with past teachers, friends, and bullies to see if someone knows where this Adrienn girl is. The film develops quite a bit of intrigue when almost every person we meet has conflicting memories of this girl, casting doubt in our protags’ memories (sorry, again, for not knowing the character’s name), eluding to the possibility that this girl might not even exist. The manipulability of memory, and the severe importance of having a close companion in one’s life, are big ideas that the film handles reasonably well, though it draws them out so long that it can’t help but finally explicitly state, and then debunk, most of them. There is also a superfluous thread of the film which involves the rather significant obesity of the lead, who takes breaks to seclude herself in closed quarters to indulge in excessive portions of delicious looking sweets. This never really goes anywhere, and is only drawn with uninteresting cliches. In the end, Adrienn Pál doesn’t satisfy or sustain the paranoia that it so successfully spends over an hour building up, which was too bad, but there is obvious talent involved.

R U There? (Un Certain Regard), for a movie about a video game expert who has a crisis of reality, this was a surprisingly calm and stable viewing experience, although it is still mostly ridiculous and meanders hopelessly away from comprehension or purpose. The leader of a team of first-person shooter gamers, who are assembled for an important international competition, threatens his team’s chances when he unknowingly injures his arm in his sleep. He is forced to take a break from the team’s contests after he has a lapse in concentration during play, and uses his time off to fall in love with a prostitute who gives him massages (a lot of massages), and shows him the ways of the virtual reality sim world, “Second Life.” Most of the film from this point is saturated in computer graphics and fairies, disappearing into non-sensical dream worlds that progress neither the guys’ take on video game violence, his relationship with this prostitute, nor its central theme of the blending of realities. If Verbeek was actually trying to lull the audience into a trance so that we’d ignore that his film wasn’t going anywhere, he almost pulled it off (or maybe he did?).

I Wish I Knew (Un Certain Regard), grand, epic, and, after the dust has settled, quite a hollow experience, I was initially pulled in by Jia’s mega tribute to Shanghai. Composed mostly of interviews, some with filmmakers and actors I recognize (including Hou Hsaio-hsien), but mostly with people unfamiliar to me, it’s 24 City without boundaries, and editing. The subjects talk about whatever comes to mind, it seems, when they are asked to think about Shanghai. Naturally, Jia inserts a fictional element, in which a young woman walks around pensively, awkwardly, perhaps visiting/re-enacting bits that correspond with what the interviewees are talking about. Also relaying back to the interviews are clips from older films that relate to the locale, many, if not all, are made by the interviewees. The film looks spectacular, feels almost encyclopedic, and there is this epic, growling anthem that plays several times throughout the film that is really stirring and moving in itself. Like most of Jia’s films, for me, the end result is too aimless for me, or I can’t sense anything to grab onto and think about after the film is over. Most of the viewing is enrapturing, though, because the filmmaking is so assured.

The Silent House (Directors’ Fortnight), despite the Bazinian orgasm of a premise – a haunted house film done in a single take via the technological allowances of digital filmmaking – this obnoxious film is devoid of even a single interesting or original contribution to the genre, save for a promisingly drawn out opening few minutes in which the lead female walks to the house. Any cliche of mainstream horror films from the last 15 years (excluding torture) are applied here: creepy little girl w/ long hair appearing out of nowhere, polaroid sounds, good guy saves the day then revealed to be psycho, et al. Also, I don’t think it is enough to claim that your film is done in one take; you have to prove it. That means that long stretches in total darkness break the illusion, and instill doubt into the very gimmick that is the film’s raison d’être. Though, to be fair, no heightened sense of space, meaningful passages of time, nor any other illusions of ‘realism’ would benefit the content of this film anyway. Lame, overused ideas are bad, no matter how they are filmed.

More Cannes Coverage:

Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, Day 9, Day 10, Day 11