Cannes Film Festival 2007

corbjincontrolOne of the highlights of Cannes for me every year is the opportunity to see the best and newest Asian cinema, but it was late in 2007's festival before I saw any that particularly struck me—and when it did, it struck me hard.

 

 

 

 

It was widely speculated before the 2007 Cannes Film Festival—which marks the fest's 60th anniversary—that it was going to have one of the strongest lineups in history, as a lot of great filmmakers and Cannes regulars were readying films for release this year. When, in mid-April, Cannes announced exactly what films were screening in competition, I was at least a little let down—the programmers at Cannes have never led me astray before, but a lot of the films that I expected to premiere there were nowhere to be found (most notably Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood and Todd Haynes' I'm Not There-incidentally, the trades later reported that all involved parties wanted both of these films in competition, but they simply weren't done in time), except for Wong Kar-wai's My Blueberry Nights, over which I was completely drooling. And while I was one of the few who liked Blueberry Nights (it is one of the worst WKW movies, but still the worst of his films are better than almost any other modern films in existence), as I sort consoled myself upon seeing the lineup, the real memorable films were the ones that I hadn't yet heard of at the time of the lineup announcement.

Well, save my favorite film of the festival, the Coen brothers' No Country for Old Men, which I really wanted to like, but sort of didn't expect to, seeing as how the Coens haven't made anything good since 1998's The Big Lebowski. No Country is an adaptation of the unfortunately Oprah-hot (but undeniably brilliant) Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name, which concerns a basically good guy named Llewelyn (Josh Brolin) who stumbles into a lot of money, A Simple Plan-style, and spends the rest of the film trying to escape from the rightful owner of the money (if being a psychopathic drug dealer makes you the rightful owner of anything), Anton Chigurh (a disturbingly Brad Garrett-looking Javier Bardem). Both during and post-festival, the critical notices on Bardem's performance have reached the heightened state of exaggeration that The Host was rightfully getting back in 2006 – everyone's saying that Bardem in this film will go down with Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet and Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs as one of the craziest movie villains of all time. I can't say that I disagree, but, as it does with Lambs and Velvet, only talking about Bardem detracts from how solid the rest of the film and its cast are. Look for it to be up for some Oscars next year, and hopefully bring the Coens back to the A-game that they worked in for such a long period in the '80s and '90s.

432 Bardem's performance aside, the biggest critical darling of the festival is also the film that wound up winning the Palme d'Or, the Romanian abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, which was directed by Cristian Mungiu. 4M3W2D concerns a pair of college students, one naïve and pregnant (Laura Vasiliu's Gabita), the other headstrong and smart enough to not get knocked up in the first place (Anamaria Marinca's Otilia), who are roommates in Communist Hungary in the '80s. Since abortions are illegal and Gabita is too incompetent to take care of herself, Otilia has to step in and coordinate a back-alley abortionist to take care of Gabita's problem, all the while trying to keep her own life on track, especially with her extra-needy boyfriend. Despite a somewhat slow beginning, 4 Months winds up being such an effective drama that you could almost qualify it as a thriller.

Another nice surprise, which I at least sort of saw coming, was music video director Anton Corbijn's (perhaps best known for directing the video for Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box," although he had previously established himself as a rock photographer of merit) directorial debut, Control, which is a docudrama of Joy Division (who Corbijn shot some iconic images of back in the day) and their tormented lead singer, Ian Curtis. Corbijn shows great promise as a filmmaker, bringing out the best in his black-and-white cinematography, and especially in his casting of what are by and large unknowns (save maybe Samantha Morton as Deborah Curtis, Ian's wife), who are all exceptional, and who completely convincingly play the band and recreate their music on screen. Sam Riley, who plays Curtis, is particularly unbelievable—his marching-band way of dancing, his intensity, his singing voice, the look in his eye, etc., are all uncanny. And if it weren't enough to see such an unparalleled glorified tribute band (and believe me, it is), the narrative arc of Curtis' story makes for a great film on its own. Didn't you wish there was more of the Joy Division story when you were watching Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People a few years back? Well, Corbijn wants you to have it.

One of the highlights of Cannes for me every year is the opportunity to see the best and newest Asian cinema, but it was late in 2007's festival before I saw any that particularly struck me—and when it did, it struck me hard. Leesecretsunshine Chang-dong's Secret Sunshine screened for the press late in the evening late in the festival, and due to its 142-minute running time, I was afraid I was going to get really bored and squirmy by the time that it was over (long, slow dramas never get a fair shake when seen at the end of a film festival). I had never seen any of Lee's films before (only his Oasis seems to be readily available on DVD here in the States; needless to say, it is now on the top of my Netflix queue), but was a big fan of the film's costar, Song Kang-ho, who is in almost every great Korean film that has come out in the past five years (The Host, Memories of Murder, JSA, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, to name a few). Song is great here, as always, but the film's lead, Jeon Do-yeon, is absolutely riveting (she went on to win the festival's best actress prize, which makes me immensely happy). The problem with Secret Sunshine is that it is a long film that never really goes where you expect, and thus it is hard to say almost anything about its plot at all, for fear of giving too much away. Anyway, the basic setup is that Jeon's Lee Shin-ae and her young son move to a small town called Miryang, the hometown of her now-deceased husband, in order to start a new life and honor his memory; Song is a mechanic that meets them outside of town when their car breaks down on the way. Since it often takes a year or two for Asian films to make it to America after their Asian premiere (barring any happy film festival surprises, like what happened with The Host and Summer Palace at SLIFF last year), you're going to have to wait a while to find out what else happens, but trust me when I say to just see the film at your first opportunity, and don't read anything about it between now and then.

As one would expect, there were a number of other gems at Cannes this year, such as Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (which deservedly won the best director prize—almost all of the awards went to the people and films that I would have voted for, amazingly), or the extended Death Proof, or Zodiac or Sicko, both of which hopefully you've seen already. This was my fourth year attending the Cannes Film Festival, and it was the best and most consistent of the four that I've been to. Other critics who have been going to the festival exponentially longer than me are saying the same thing. Granted, we all collectively seemed to have made up our minds about this year's festival before the lineup was even announced, but if there was ever anything that I would want my predictions to be right about, this would be it. Attending film festivals is my favorite thing to do in the world, the Cannes Film Festival is my favorite film festival in the world, and from the sounds of it, 2007's festival might just be the best one that I will experience in my lifetime. | Pete Timmermann

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