Chongqing Blues (Competition), a sappy, poorly directed Competition entry that was bumped up from Un Certain Regard late in the game, proving that quality is not the sole criterion for admittance into the Cannes spotlight. The premise – in which an absent father returns home to find out why his son took a grocery store hostage, resulting in his death – has enough of a hook that it sustained my interest through the melodrama and unpleasantness of all of the characters, namely the dead son’s mother, who makes it very well known that she is not happy, ever. When, late in the film, the father (sorry, I won’t remember most of the characters’ names for any of these films, and I’m too lazy to look them all up right now) interrogates the police officer who shot and killed his son; the point of it all, and this is the best I could do, is that sons need their fathers, and being away from one’s family for too long makes one despondent, irrational, and generally submissive. Unfortunately, for these characters, I didn’t give a damn.
The Strange Case of Angelica (Un Certain Regard), Manoel de Oliveira will never make an uninteresting film, if only because of how much depth they gain just from one’s knowledge of his age, lending each progressive film a complexity that they perhaps wouldn’t inherently have. What the film does have, though: lush, deep focus photography; peculiar detached acting and speech patterns of the characters; and strange scenarios that only get stranger as the film progresses. de Oliveira has always made, and will make, solid films. But I often have trouble with them in the same way that I have trouble with most filmmakers with his level of prolificacy; the work feels like well-made sketches rather than fully formed, genuinely complex ideas. The set-up for Angelica is certainly intriguing. Accompanied by gorgeous long-takes and a sensuous piano score, there is a magic realist occurrence that sets the plot into play, and gives the film its title. There are wonderful scenes of artists at work, nature at play, and grand, celestial discussions. In fact, I love most things about the content of this film, but have a hard time recommending it based off of one viewing, where it leaves me with small moments rather than the operatic whole like Benilde did. It will be one of a very small handful that I’ll probably check out again in Toronto, as I anticipate the pieces coming together on repeat viewings.
Tuesday, After Christmas (Un Certain Regard), a pleasant early surprise. Somehow Radu Muntean has stayed in the background of the Romanian wave, or is simply just a late-comer. Continuing the Romanian tradition of drawing out a mundane set of events in an extremely compelling and well-drawn realism, Tuesday has perhaps the most banal premise yet: a married man has an affair. While it is completely riveting, this banality initially had me dismissing the film as a minor entry from a group of filmmakers who know how to make compelling naturalism, but few films at the festival stayed with me the way this one did. While the description, “an extramartial affair, Romanian style,” will actually give someone a remarkably accurate description of what this film looks like and how the events unfold, it’s the unexpected gestures and emotional discoveries that make it a must-see. (possibly minor spoilers) The three central characters – the cheating father, his wife and his mistress – are refreshingly dynamic and multi-dimensional for the roles they have: the father manages to remain sympathetic despite ‘ruining’ the life of a seemingly nice and put-together wife, who herself maintains an iciness before and after the revelation of the affair. When she is taken completely by surprise, recalling earlier moments that are actually quite fucked up in retrospect, there is still a balance in the scenario that can only be attributed to how human they feel to the viewer. Similarly, the woman who the father has fallen in love with is neither portrayed as the beast who tore the loving family apart, nor the seductive savior for an unhappy man; she is, while younger, just another woman who makes this guy happy, not mature-for-her-age, nor obviously more compatible. The drama in the film almost stems from this kind of surreal ordinariness, its lack of an unusual situation (this is not to say that extramarital affairs are a ‘usual situation,’ just that among the ways that this type of affair can manifest itself, it doesn’t get any more straight-forward than this). The closing scene is likely the exception to this, in which the couple try to preserve the final moments of their daughter’s fantasy world of happy families and Santa Claus. It’s a stellar finale, simultaneously graceful and heartbreakingly pessimistic.
It’s also notable the way that the current Romanian big shots use their titles as a type of mapping. 4 Months…, 12:08, and Tuesday suggest intriguing temporal charts that, while simple, strip the drama away from the key events that takes place at their specific moments in time, and stress the time both before and after the titular moments (this is certainly also true of Lazarescu, whose death is always inevitable, and the least dramatic moment of that film).
Benda Bilili! (Directors’ Fortnight), essentially the same film as this directing duo’s previous doc Jupiter’s Dance, only with a more interesting and more talented group of musicians as the subject. The film finds a nice balance between harsh politicial criticism, depressing slum life, vibrant jam sessions, and DIY creative processes. It’s certainly a feel-good movie, one that I didn’t object to feeling good for. But, given that this film took 5 years to make, I would have hoped for a more thorough and balanced look at this disabled musical collective, as well as something that amounted to more than a triumph-over-poverty message that films like this so typically settle on. Whatever, though, I had a good time with it.
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