Cannes 2010: Day 3

Shit Year (Directors’ Fortnight), Cam Archer (who I’d always assumed was a woman, for whatever that’s worth) makes well-produced, indie, lowercase-‘a’ art films about people who are confronting getting older. His Wild Tigers I Have Known was an angst-filled, cliche-ridden look at a little gay boy who’s hot for a dim-witted douche bag, using wild tigers as metaphor for the ‘scary’ adult world. In that film and this new one, Archer never shies away from indulgent, textured, psychadelic flourishes that take our focus away from his lame script and directing abilities toward some insubstantial mega-style. Where Shit Year wins over his previous film, though, is in his casting of Ellen Barkin, who really owns this role. She’s often either completely great and hilarious as a bitter retiring actress, or struggling to elevate poorly written material. A filmmaker not so focused on making the Coolest and Best Art Movie Ever would have made a really great film with this topic and actress. In fact, if I say that there are significant similarities to early, awful Jim Jarmusch films, it will do a pretty good job of illustrating what this film is like.

The City Below (Un Certain Regard), one of the least classifiable films of the festival, Christoph Hochhäusler’s film always feels like just a generic feuding corporations thriller, and yet it also gives an impression that there is something deeper and more chilling than that going on. The plot of two merging banks is hardly important, nor, I think, is the extramarital affair between a new employee’s wife and a bank CEO. One of these two plot points may or may not trigger some kind of societal meltdown or apocalypse, fitting right in with the icy blues and silvers of the commercial buildings and monochrome suits that construct the business world. Hochhäusler has the film edited to never really let viewers know what is going on, plot-wise nor with the characters’ psyches. Striking images and moments appear and disappear without explanation, though, to the filmmaker’s credit, these moments don’t come across as pointless or random just for the sake of it. One senses a potent and important commentary on banks, and the broader financial and corporate world in general, but any clear thesis is almost impossible to discern from a single viewing. This, of course, is hardly a complaint.

Heartbeats (Un Certain Regard), I’m assuming that the official English title ‘Heartbeats,’ replacing the superior ‘Imaginary Loves,’ was chosen because it is the title of a Knife song; one that doesn’t appear in this film, although two of the most memorable sequences are set to ‘Pass This On’ and ‘Keep the Streets Empty.’ Memorable, though, does not equal good, and especially not original, in these instances. Unfortunately, Dolan’s film is stripped of the engaging plot that his I Killed My Mother had, which supported his stylistic flourishes, masking the derivative style with some substance. Dolan reportedly wrote the screenplay for this film on the 5 hour train ride from Montreal to Toronto for his debut’s screening at TIFF last September. Not Shocking. Heartbeats is a thin and translucent film that is infuriating because of the obvious talent and ambition that is required to make something like it, but which was under-utilized and altogether wasted for pretty pictures of pretty people set to pretty music, broken up with a tired story. Good imitations of Wong Kar-wai and Almodóvar do not make a good film, even if the result is entirely watchable. The plot of this film is inexcusably lame, with two ‘best friends’ going gaga over the same androgynous, ambiguously gay young man who they befriend. When the two first lay eyes on the guy, right off the bat, they are backstabbing each other to spend time alone with him, getting pouty and going into jealous rages when the other wins some time with him. In-between these melodramatic fits, we get plenty of *poetic* and *sleek* moments of our three leads walking, talking, and dancing in slow motion, all set to hip, Pitchfork-approved grooves. Also important to not forget the attempts at depth, such as the two friends’ stares at ‘the desired one,’ montaged with flashes of Greek statues and childrens drawing that he apparently resembles. It’s all shamelessly narcissistic for all three actors, and exactly the type of film a 21-year old filmmaker with an overpraised debut would make. So why all of the messianic praise? I think it is good that Dolan seems to be so prolific in his younger years so that he can get these hipster and derivative obsessions out of his system and start making some films with more thought, and, more importantly, with his own voice. He’s obviously willing to make films about themes and characters that are personal to him, so I still have faith that he’ll develop into someone who is actually worth following.

The Light Thief (Directors’ Fortnight), programmers bestowing such high praise on a filmmaker right before his film’s screening, such as, in this case, “Tati-esque,” is setting some pretty lofty expectations, all of which are not at all met in this overly silly film about a kind-hearted electrician who tries his hardest to protect his small town from the imposing leaders who want to sell off the town. The protagonist – the electrician nicknamed Mr. Light who is always trying to develop and provide means of cheaper and more efficient electricity – is, on paper, both topically relevant and charming, but the tone and performances are too haphazardly shaped and presented to give the proceedings any drama or genuine humor. A disappointment.

We Are What We Are (Directors’ Fortnight), a family of cannibals loses its patriarch – who was their sole means of acquiring food – to a freak poisoning accident while he was out ‘hunting,’ and now must fend for themselves. It’s an intriguing premise that is very refreshing among recent horror films, but, in the end, ties itself too closely to the zombie genre to fully leapfrog the pitfalls that it inevitably stumbles into. The surviving family, consisting of a neurotic mother, two sons, and a daughter, realizes their doomed fate the moment the dad is confirmed dead, but the two sons won’t have it, and set out to get some grub. While the film never attempts to explain why this family can only eat human flesh (nor does it need to, for the sake of maintaining its intriguing metaphors), it doesn’t do a very good job of addressing the inherent themes and questions that this scenario would seem to do well in exploring. Instead, the second half of the film is basically chase scene after chase scene, failed attempt after failed attempt to get some food, with bizarre, conservative humor stemming from the sons’ meal selections. Catchy premise and late startling moments aside, it’s just another Romero imitator.

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