Holy Motors (Leos Carax) – So singularly weird and exhilaratingly cinematic that, really, it doesn’t even need to mean anything (though it clearly does mean many things). It’s captial ‘S’ Surrealism as it pertains to the disappearance of cinema and humanity as we know them. Very telling anecdote: Carax hates digital cinema, and this film was shot digitally (among other things, Holy Motors may be the only Cannes Main Competition film that will ever have the screen intentionally datamosh). But there’s so much more, relating to online avatars, Georges Franju, as well as the confusion of our own personas and identities in the face of virtual existences (video games, cinema, the internet). The fact that all of these broad themes are packed into such an entertaining, euphoric presentation is just icing. Had the film walloped me the way I think it should have at the end, I might already be calling it one of the greatest films ever made.
Beyond the Hills (Cristian Mungiu) – I was no lover of 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, but this all but cleaned the floor with me; had it had a less Romanian ending (think Aurora), I’d have probably needed to ask for tissues when it ended. It details the tragic rejection of compromise between three parties that is so intense I often could not believe what I was seeing. The second half of the film in particular is just crescendo after crescendo of pure emotion that’s as visceral as in any recent film I can recall. Many intelligent persons are calling this film boring, and I do not know what film they were watching.
Like Someone in Love (Abbas Kiarostami) – When the screening first ended, I went out on a limb and called that this would be the most divisive film at Cannes this year, having heard no reactions yet. I was right! Playing off of Certified Copy’s interests in what makes us love another person, and the way the behaviours of loving someone are ingrained in our DNA, this is a minimal, sorrowful and absurdist package that contains dozens of breathtakingly serene car rides and blissfully drawn-out conversations. One I keep coming back to is what could be called the film’s second scene – ‘could be’ because the first one is so fractured, and reveals itself so mysteriously, that it feels like an entire Act in retrospect – where Akiko is chauffeured through downtown Tokyo at night and scans through voicemail after voicemail from her grandmother and the look on her face, as well as the following superfluous replay trek around a roundabout, means nothing but implies so much. Kiarostami is practically confrontational in his challenge for us to add it all up to something, only refusing to easily define it for us (in contrast to the new Carlos Reygadas film (see Tier 5), it is apparent that further digging will actually yield substance). I thought of Chantal Akerman’s News From Home on occasion while watching [*edit – in retrospect, I should have been thinking of her Les rendez-vous d’Anna instead, specifically the final scene, though I think the emotions are more in line with News], but really it’s unlike anything I’ve seen or experienced in quite some time – a truly weird film. I’ll need another look, or twenty, before I can make perfect sense of this, but it refuses to exit my mind.
Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg) – radically stylized & inhuman, it actually took me a while to realize that Robert Pattinson wasn’t in fact giving one of the worst screen performances I’d ever seen, but was, conversely, giving a pretty amazing portrayal of a man who’s forgotten how to be human. Once it picks up steam, ideas fly at you like data in a detached but riveting stream, perfectly complimenting its theme (which pairs nicely with A Dangerous Method): the way our minds can repress the humanity of our mannerisms, behaviours, and interactions.
You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet! (Alain Resnais) – I saw this one twice, and I’m so glad I did, because what was a tedious and disappointing chore on first watch cleared itself up nicely on another viewing, though I don’t think everyone will require a second look to fall for it. Basically, there is a very heady, clever, and playful conceit at the heart of this film, and I fixated on it too much the first time. The key to appreciating this film lies in its source material: Eurydice. Pay attention to the play – it’s really lovely, intelligent, and bittersweet – and don’t get hung up on the wacky set-up, and you should be good to go.
Amour (Michael Haneke) – Turns out I already saw the new Haneke film a year ago in the Director’s Fortnight; an unfortunate coincidence, it’s almost identical to the Icelandic film, Volcano. Moment-to-moment it’s incredibly straightforward considering its maker, and starkly ‘what it is’. We wait for each progressed stage of deterioration in order to arrive at the same defeating and inevitable exit that we know – and are told in the very first scene – will come. For the first time, it felt to me like Haneke has made a film for his own cathartic therapy; no scolding or lessons to teach the audience. Getting old sucks, and that is primarily true because you have to watch loved ones do it, too. A devastating film, in its own modest, not-earth-shattering way.
Laurence Anyways (Xavier Dolan) – OK, fine. I still think Dolan is light on ideas, and he’s far too young to hold steadfast to a fixed theme (that being ‘impossible love'; I mean, this guy wants so hard to be taken seriously as a wunderkind auteur that he risks suffocating himself, which he did in his previous film, Heartbeats), but the filmmaking is really superb for most of this, and for the first time, it feels more ‘Dolan’ than anyone else (Wong, Almodovar, Allen….). Not sure what’s changed since his last film actually, but it’s just more genuine and honestly exuberant in its youthfulness and naïveté.
Room 237 (Rodney Ascher) – It’s practically a comedy, offering up a string of straight-faced observations, theories, exposés, and analyses by OCD cinephiles who latch on to what they perceive to be subliminal messages hidden in The Shining. Because Kubrick’s a genius, of course he slyly inserted all of this devastating and subversive conspiracy theory nonsense on purpose, right?! Most of what these guys propose is so insane/absurd – but genuine – that I felt ashamed of the fact that, as a passionate cinephile myself, I often do the very same thing all the time. Films are playgrounds for us to insert ourselves and our experiences into, and we manufacture statements that reflect us so that we can understand a film just as much as we wish to be understood by others. Many will see this film as a curio that introduces interesting ideas on what The Shining is about, but what it actually accomplishes is more ambitious: showing exactly how cinephilia has been transformed by the home video era of movie-(re)(re)(re)(re)watching.
In Another Country (Hong Sang-soo) – since this was ‘only’ my seventh Hong film, it still felt fresh to me. Huppert had me giggling the entire time, even when I didn’t know what I was laughing at. Those familiar enough with Hong (i.e. if you’ve seen more than two) will note that this is yet another auto-critique, this one regarding the fact that pretty much all of his films have the same script and casting aesthetic. The 1st act is the funniest, but for the rest I was coasting on the subtle differences in each Anne (Huppert plays three different characters, all with the same name, naturally), and the treatment toward her by others.
Sister (Ursula Meier) – Ursula Meier is one talented lady. I wish the twist came about a little more naturally than it did (actually, I think the film would have improved if the audience had been in on it from the get-go), and I’ve yet to get more out of the film than just seeing it as a really well-done inversion of the absent parental guardian picture, but really is good at that. It’s a popular comment, but this really is a very Dardennes-ian film, though I missed the quasi-surrealism from her last film, Home, which was no doubt lifted in order to better serve the ultra-realistic tone.
Killing Them Softly (Andrew Dominik) – No doubting what Dominik wants you to take away from this (hint – Obama may not like this movie), but it’s still an exceptional, dialogue-heavy thriller that is boldly non-commercial. It is impressive that such a movie was made without ever feeling Tarantino-esque. I loved Gandolfini and Liotta.
Tabu (Miguel Gomes) – how anyone claims to have properly digested this on a single viewing is a mystery to me, but its second half sure lived up to the vague memory of hype I seem to recall it having, which is to say: I was floored by its singularity and the fact I cared so much. Bifurcation is like so ‘in’ right now and I guess now that I see the hints of connections between the halves I can start to appreciate it next time, but in the act of watching this I wished that the first hour would up and disappear altogether.
Sightseers (Ben Wheatley) – a pretty solid mix of Mike Leigh’s naturalism and Edgar Wright’s absurdly casual genre injections; humor works about half the time – mostly because you can see many jokes coming from a mile away – but its simple yet accurate observations of a couple who’ve reached a romantic plateau in their relationship and must invent new ways of staying interested in each other is often piercing despite the laughter.
No (Pablo Larraín) – aesthetically, conceptually, and thematically bold, not to mention that I laughed more at this film than anything else other than the new Hong. I just wish its political purpose resonated as much as the ironies and kitsch do.
The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg) – well-made, compelling but unsurprising in its view of how something out of our control can reshape our lives for the worse (this being a Vinterberg film and all). The Best Actor Prize was earned (even if this performance doesn’t hold a candle to Lavant’s all-time great turn in Holy Motors). Probably his best film since The Celebration.
Reality (Matteo Garrone) – an inversion of The Truman Show, but more like a remake of Sara Goldfarb’s cracked-out descent in Requiem for a Dream. Garrone’s significant addition to these premises, though, is an (perhaps unsubtle and single-note) analogy of Catholic hypocrisy. It’s scathing & visually dizzying, but also feels familiar. I thought it got a little too goofy in its second half. Anyone who tells you that this is just a movie about television obsession is missing the point.
38 Witnesses (Lucas Belvaux) – cleanly calibrated to maximize the impact of the last 5 min, which are ridiculously effective; I just wish the rest were as distinctive. Not as good as most of his films, which are criminally underappreciated.
The Angels’ Share (Ken Loach) – as pure, schematic entertainment, I had a lot of fun with this, which was helped by the fact that I’ve been pulled into a semi-recent whiskey fascination. Sure, it’s a well-made version of a kind of film that has existed for years, but it does have a palpable, beating heart inside. Could be called Loach’s Sideways, for sure. Or his Ocean’s Eleven.
Everybody in Our Family (Radu Jude) – ultra-realistic distention of a single familial conflict (sound Romanian?). Acting is spotty, especially in the overlong first reel. Jude feels like a bit of a weak link in Romanian cinema, though at least he dropped the tiresome and overly repetitive structural gimmick from his last one, The Happiest Girl in the World.
Paradise: Love (Ulrich Seidl) – One, two, three strikes and she still gets tricked by those pesky Kenyans! Seidl could direct a film with his eyes closed and it’d be deeply felt and sharply observed, but this feels padded out (the third scammer is entirely superfluous), and the statement it’s making is too simplistic and obvious to justify the two-hour running time. I still look forward to the other two of this trilogy, Faith and Hope.
Caesar Must Die (Paolo Taviani & Taviani) – Alarmingly similar to the new Resnais film, actually. The Tavianis do something a tad more complex on a conceptual level, adding some documentary fuzziness and a humanist element, but my thinking that Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar isn’t that great a play kept me from loving this.
Gimme the Loot (Adam Leon) – the direction is awkward at best, but the loose narrative is weirdly compelling; a scene set to the Mosby Family Singers’ “The Lord is My Shepherd” is this film’s raison d’être, a truly beautiful thing to watch and listen to.
La Noche de enfrente (Raúl Ruiz) – I’m happy that Ruiz went out in off-the-rocker , whimsical mode, since on paper this looked like Mysteries of Lisbon: The Epilogue. It doesn’t have the impact I think it should, likely because it feels too long (I know, the more Ruiz the better!, but not really, here) and its stream-of-consciousness is intentionally mind-numbing in large doses. Mostly delightful, though, & its use of DV is unlike any Ive seen.
Mystery (Lou Ye) – considering how much I hated Lou’s previous two films, I found this to be a remarkably gripping noir. It’s still problematic in a very Lou Ye kind of way (pointless, provocative rape and general violence toward females), but the familiar premise felt invigorated, and invigorating, this time. Many have called this a return to his Suzhou River ways, which is meaningless to me since I haven’t seen that, but it must be promising.
Mud (Jeff Nichols) – I’ll admit this snuck up on me at the end, but take the strong concept, Michael Shannon, & Jessica Chastain away from Nichols and he struggles – there’s not much here that’s distinctive from any other southern-set coming-of-ager. Not to mention, it’s contrived beyond my tolerance level. Shrugs across the board for me.
The Pirogue (Moussa Touré) - a modest but impacting bit of didactic self-deprecation; like Rabbit-Proof Fence reconfigured for Senegal. I can’t say I was in the proper mood for appreciating this one.
Les Invisibles (Sebastien Lifshitz) – A documentary focusing on a handful of octogenarian French gays and lesbians; sweet, but largely a tired ‘look how far we’ve come’ treatment of the material.
Final Cut – Ladies & Gentlemen (György Pálfi) – nobody told me there was a Christian Marclay film in the festival! Pálfi attempts to create grand objective narrative of films across 115-year history as celebration of classic conventions, but it therefore asks us to sit through an entirely cliché-ridden film strung together with an unoriginal gimmick. Oh, and SPOILERS!!!
The We and the I (Michel Gondry) – like a Spike Lee take on The Breakfast Club; sporadically enthralling, but seriously lopsided – since the film starts with the full cast on the bus and then whittles its focus as characters depart the bus over the 90-minute running time, Gondry should have been more careful so that he didn’t leave the least interesting characters left at the end. A late scene in particular, with the only good acting in the movie, feels far too weighty to be included.
Journal de France (Claudine Nougaret & Raymond Depardon) – I like Depardon’s work a lot, but constructing a film out of the unused material that he’s kept throughout his career and adding expository voiceover on top of it is as bland as it sounds/not as awesome as it sounds (depends on who I’m talking to). I should add that this will play differently for those who’ve seen his early work, since much of it is outtakes from those films. Could easily have been titled Journal de The Last 60 Years of European History, but that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue…
Miss Lovely (Ashim Ahluwalia) – love the look of the movie, which is close to a vintage giallo film when it’s really on, but the narrative is wack and mostly a chore.
Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson) – works just fine as a concept – parts vs. group in color, music, and characters – but Anderson’s deadpan kitsch has never been more stilted and affectless. Murray and McDormand’s melancholic non-relationship is the heart of the film and the only thing that worked for me. Most of all, it reminded me why Fantastic Mr. Fox worked so well: Animation, especially stop-motion, has to be tightly controlled, so I was able to ignore the suffocated actions of the characters.
Student (Darezhan Omirbayev) – so Omirbayev is a Bresson fan. Pretty much every decision is either inspired by or, more often, a replica of his cinema: the protagonist’s walk is a direct pull of Jacques’ slacked strut in Four Nights of a Dreamer; the ending is a reshoot of Pickpocket’s ending; elsewhere, it’s L’Argent galore. Calling attention to the Poet of Precision doesn’t mean your movie is good, though. I didn’t think a Crime & Punishment adaptation could be this comatose, and even the very De Oliveirian modernism couldn’t liven the mood. Many will praise – and by now, have praised – this for the Bressonian-ness of it, but I still think I’d prefer to see Omirbayev make an Omirbayev film.
Confession of a Child of the Century (Sylvie Verheyde) – the score was great, but the ‘emos in decadent garb’ thing grew tiresome pretty early. I forgot it before it even ended.
Our Children (Joachim Lafosse) – a simplistic, miserablist tale of a woman who does something horrible because the two men in her life have no souls. Well done, in its own way, but characters have to be treated badly for a believable reason, in my opinion.
In the Fog (Sergei Loznitsa) – more like Slog in the Fog, amirite? I thought this was a step down from My Joy, which was intermittently brilliant. Time is distended passed its breaking point here, and I just did not think this Catch 22 narrative needed to be this boldly anti-kinetic.
Three Worlds (Catherine Corsini) – imagine Martel’s The Headless Woman, with a man run over instead of a dog, made by someone who isn’t interested in creating art, but rather a convoluted thriller.
The Paperboy (Lee Daniels) – often ridiculously bad, yet still a step up from Precious, if only because so much of it works as camp that I kind of had a lot of fun with it. Highlight is Efron getting his face pissed on by a ferocious Nicole Kidman.
Rust and Bone (Jacques Audiard) – Feels like watching an Adult Contemporary radio station for 2 hours. Given the fetishistically charged developments in the plot (a woman loses both of her legs, gets prosthetic ones, struggles to regain confidence in her sexual life) I kept hoping it would evolve into a Cronenbergian mania, if only so it would detour the proceedings away from the ultra-schematic premise. Alas, it stays on the straight & narrow, heal-each-other path the whole way through. Some have argued that the film is interesting because it is actually more focused on the malfunctional personality who hasn’t lost his limbs (coincidentally, a kickboxer!), but I still see this film as having a dual focus, healing one, and then the other. On the bright side, it certainly had the best CGI of the festival.
On the Road (Walter Salles) – better than I was expecting but still mostly useless.
Lawless (John Hillcoat) – phony gothic western that inserts bloodbaths & twangy accents as shorthand for grit. Pearce’s Dino-haircut is intimidating, but he is not. I think this filmmaker is a fraud.
Aquí y allá (Antonio Méndez Esparza) – ethnographic slice-of-life realism that gets by on looking & feeling like just the kind of film that would win Cannes’ Critics Week. So it did. Nothing distinctive about this, just ‘nice’ and ‘competent’.
Children of Sarajevo (Aida Begic) – more heavy-handed miserablism hiding under a veil of exotic topicality. Pity porn with eye-roll-worthy ‘uplift.’ A step down from Snow.
Antiviral (Brandon Cronenberg) – a straight-to-video terrible horror film, yet sans any fun whatsoever (i.e. the only thing that this type of film is good for). And I do not get why a director would ever want to do the exact same thing his/her parent does. Brandon’s contribution to the apparently hereditary brand of body horror is clinicality, & that (+ general amateurishness) does not do well here.
Post Tenebras Lux (Carlos Reygadas) – One of the most pretentious films I have seen in a very long time. In the interviews I’ve read since the film premiered, Reygadas’ one defense is basically ‘all you guys want your movies spoon-fed to you! my movie is challenging and doesn’t give answers! you have to think for yourself!’, which basically confirms what the film indicates: the guy doesn’t know what his movie is saying, but he desperately wants it to say something profound. On its surface – and this is making it sound far more interesting than it is – one could almost call this Satan’s telling of The Tree of Life. The difference is that Malick actually knew what he wanted to do with his film. Example of head-smacking, go-for-broke grasps at profundity: two characters who we have never seen before and never see again (*Edit: jk…it’s the main couple that the rest of the film focuses on. That it doesn’t really make that much of a difference either way is telling) are at a swingers bath house where there is copious anus-pounding happening all around them; they walk into a room and ask the four or five naked patrons inside “is this the Duchamp room?” One of them replies “No, sorry, this is the Hegel room.” Puh-lease. However, if a film that has this kind of nonsense (<--clickable) going on around the edges of the frame for more than half the running time looks like your idea of a stunningly visionary breakthrough in how we see the world, perhaps you can disregard everything else in this capsule.
7 Days in Havana (Benicio del Toro, Pablo Trapero, Julio Medem, Elia Suleiman, Juan Carlos Tabio, Gaspar Noé, & Laurent Cantet) – Gaspar Noe’s and Elia Suleiman are predicably good; Julio Medem’s is an embarrassment to cinema; the rest are forgettable. Now can we please stop making these city-centric omnibus films.
After the Battle (Yousry Nasrallah) – Nasrallah exposes how artificial and flaccid his vision of the revolution is when, towards the end, he flips quickly from an actual viral video of the riots to his fictional reenactment of the same event; one is enthralling, the other plastic. Also problematic is the construction of the universe as strictly ‘politically aware,’ meaning that politics are all anyone speaks about, anywhere, ever. In reality, even when we are in the throes of major events, we retain our abilities to be interested in, and have discussions about, other aspects of our lives that aren’t related to said major event.
Dangerous Liaisons (Hur Jin-ho) – more like Im’s The Housemaid remake than Wong’s In the Mood for Love, though it thinks it’s in line with the latter. I was in a stupor for pretty much the entirety.
Mekong Hotel (Apichatpong Weerasethakul) – as Arirang showed us all last year, there are some things that a director just doesn’t need the public to see. Not as grating as Kim’s film was, but this really does feel ‘casual’ as Apichatpong put it when he introduced the film, almost like a parody of his work.
The Dream and the Silence (Jaime Rosales) – Good grief was this movie boring. That Rosales made it so intentionally opaque for its own sake ticked me off even more. The film is in black & white (very good-looking, actually), yet two random scenes are in colour. Why? Just cuz.
The Taste of Money (Im Sang-soo) – I remember enjoying The Housemaid on some level; that Im followed that up with something this inept is somewhat baffling. A truly horrible film with zero redeeming qualities.
After Lucía (Michel Franco) – a girl is fed shit, pissed on, raped, and subjected to numerous other hateful provocations solely for the sake of getting into a film festival. This director wants so much to be bold and visionary, a Mexican Haneke, and it’s just sad watching him try so hard, fail so miserably.
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