Poetry (Competition), surprisingly reminiscent of last year’s Bong Joon-ho film Mother, Lee’s elegant film never lives up to the promise of its set-up. The film takes a look at a grandmother who, upon learning that she has Alzheimer’s disease, which is making her forget certain words, decides to take up learning how to write poetry. In a parallel plot, her grandson, who lives with her, has been named as one of six possible perpetrators of an unspeakable crime. The film is drawn-out with a leisurely pace that suits the proceedings rather well, but my main problem is that the two plots can’t find a way to wrap themselves together in any sort of meaningful or satisfactory way, remaining separate until a last-minute effort to tie the film together is as poorly written as it is extraneous and, ultimately, unnecessary. The poetry-writing, which could have been shown in any number of interesting ways given the protagonist’s disability, is rarely looked at with more than a 101 looking glass, and is not even noticeably hindered by the fact that the woman who is learning it is losing more and more words from her vocabulary every day. Perhaps I was too influenced, and thus disappointed, by my own hopes for how the intriguing scenario would materialize, but I have to say that, even with the deviation from my expectations, it offers little chew on after the credits start rolling.
Lights Out (Un Certain Regard), The name Agnes Godard showing up in the credits is the only reason I can come up with as to why something like this could end up in Cannes rather than living out a two or three-week run at the multiplex before gracefully disappearing into crap-movie oblivion. The movie centers around the disappearance of a high school student named Simon Werner (the French title for the film translates to the much more evocative title Simon Werner is Missing…), and focuses on 4 or 5 characters who were affiliated with Simon in some way. One by one, we follow each character leading up to Simon’s disappearance, and the climatic hunt for him one night during a party. Even though this vaguely intriguing premise has been done before, most recently in Elephant, the real trouble is that every character in the film is only a generic and superficial representation of a different high school stereotype. Pompous jock, check. Popular pretty girl, check. Artsy girl with dyed hair, Nerd with glasses and eccentric father, Submissive best friends to jocks, check, check, check. Not to mention that the supposed emotional pay-off for the film centers around a character who we only see briefly, being an asshole, and his five or so friends who also lead unsympathetic existences. Not far off from Dawson’s Creek.
The Joy (Directors’ Fortnight), This indescribable film got one of the worst receptions of the festival, which is too bad, because for all of its flaws, it was one of the more risk-taking and intriguingly experimental narratives that I’ve seen this year. I was often reminded of the Larrieu Bros.’ awesome Les Derniers jours du monde from last year’s Directors’ Fortnight, with its anarchic and viscerally dizzying portrayal of society on the brink of apocalypse. Much of the running time follows a handful of teenagers who run around an empty Brazil in animal or jungle costumes, or naked, sometimes acting like zombies, avoiding unseen armed forces who could shoot anything, at anytime. Because nothing very definitive ever actually happens, it’s clear that what is going on at any given moment is not as important as just absorbing the dystopian lives and carefree rhythms on display, which is often enough to satisfy. This is apparently the middle film in a trilogy, which is pretty annoying.
Picco (Directors’ Fortnight), The most provocative film I saw at Cannes this year, I wish this had been placed in Competition, if only to spice things up a bit over there. The film is a brutal representation of supposedly true events that took place in a German youth prison some years ago, in which two tough guys force one of their two cellmates to help them torture the other cellmate in an attempt to get him to commit suicide. While the first half of the film is a casual examination of life in the prison, complete with cigarette trading, chores, and rapings, the latter half sees the slow meltdown in this particular cell with the main four cellmates that is extremely difficult to watch at times. The film is painfully real and claustrophobic, but in the end, the more and more recurrent question with this kind of violent film is the lingering thought: How much is too much? With rapings, beatings, torturing become more and more common and gruesome in the cinema, can anything be justified? There is very little joy in watching something like this play out beyond technically admiration, and while I can’t say for sure that it brings something new to the discussion of violence in the cinema, I can vouch for a compelling and memorable viewing experience that is impossible to be indifferent toward.
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