Cannes Diary 2007 | 5.23.07

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Outside on the Croisette right now is the gala premiere of Death Proof. They were blaring “Little Green Bag” a minute ago. I’m sure “Misirlou” will be played in short order.

divingbell

 

May 23, 2007
11:30 p.m.
 

One thing I forgot to mention when I was writing about Ploy yesterday: I was the first in the press line to see the movie, and was soon after joined by an Indonesian man who had Cannes Market accreditation (the Director’s Fortnight lumps market and press into the same line). I talked to him for a little while—turns out he’s a longtime Pen-ek fan—and soon after, a female Thai film critic showed up whom the Indonesian man was seemingly friends with. The three of us stood in line and talked for a long time (we all showed up about an hour before the film was scheduled to start), and at one point the Thai film critic went to check out how long the line was. While she was gone, the Indonesian informed me that the Thai woman was one of Thailand’s best and most-known film critics, and when the Thai woman came back, she told us that a lot of great Thai filmmakers were all in line to see the film, most notable of which being Prachya Pinkaew, the guy who directed the two Tony Jaa films to have gotten a U.S. release so far, Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior and The Protector. It was nice to have a tour guide through faces I wouldn’t have otherwise recognized.

Also, I’ve been largely irritated with the critical reception to everything here this year, mostly for the reason that it is almost always vastly different from my own. While I’m in the majority in thinking that Control, No Country For Old Men and Four Months, Three Weeks, and Two Days are all great films (IFC just picked up the latter for distribution in the U.S., by the way, as they did the new Hou Hsiao-hsien), pretty much no one but me liked My Blueberry Nights, everyone hated Death Proof (most of the non-U.S.-based critics hadn’t seen it before now), and pretty much everyone likes Import/Export, which is really baffling. I mean, it had about three really good scenes, and is 135 minutes long.

Yesterday morning I was so tired I wanted to die, but got up at 6:15 a.m. to get down to the early screening of the Julian Schnabel (Basquiat, Before Night Falls) film, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which is based on Jean-Dominique Bauby’s memoir of the same name. Luckily for me, I was completely in love with it for the first hour, and it is amazing what a good film can do for someone who is tired and whose ass and back hurt a lot. If you’re not already familiar with the story, Bauby (Mathieu Amalric, who you might remember from Kings and Queen) was the editor of the French version of Elle and was a well-known member of French society (enough so that he had a contract with a major publisher to write his memoirs), but then he had a stroke at a relatively young age that left him completely mentally competent but physically paralyzed. With the help of a speech therapist named Henriette Durand (Marie-Josée Croze, whom I wanted to propose to after about five minutes of screen time), Bauby learns to first answer yes or no questions in the way that is probably not foreign to those not paralyzed—one blink for yes, two blinks for no; blinking is the only thing that he can control—but then she re-orders the alphabet in descending order of how often the letter appears in the French language, and runs through the list of letters with Bauby blinking when he gets to the one that he wants to use. The entirety of Bauby’s memoir was written in this way. And while I tend to not be a fan of films like this—tales of the indomitable nature of the human spirit, especially ones that are based on true stories—The Diving Bell and the Butterfly finds a way to make it much more dynamic and effective than usual, mostly through editing and cinematography. The majority of the first half of the film is told strictly through point of view shots of Bauby’s, which, as a function of him being paralyzed, are often made up of the middle of people’s bodies, sometimes out of focus, and with all of the major characters leaning over and playing directly into the camera. The second half of the film gets away from this technique and the film is worse for it, but I’m willing to let it slide. What’s interesting is that I was so bowled over by the way it was shot that I had trouble believing that it was all done by Janusz Kaminski, a staple in Hollywood films who is very functional in a classical sense but pretty much never amazing, who has shot a ton of Spielberg films (pretty much all of them from Schindler’s List to Munich), as well as stuff like Jerry Maguire. I didn’t know that he had it in him.

My favorite film from Cannes 2005 was Carlos Reygadas’ Battle In Heaven. A lot of people at that festival were looking forward to it and then disappointed by it, all being fans of his first film, Japón, but I don’t much care for Japón, and was thereby blown away by Heaven. His new film, Silent Light, is here this year, and while he still shows that he is a master of composition and use of music (and still has a soft spot for unlikely people having sex), Silent Light is mostly boring. It’s about a Mennonite man (who has a totally amazing farmer’s tan) who is cheating on his wife.

One of the biggest surprises to me when they first announced the schedule of what was going to be showing here at Cannes last month was the inclusion of the first feature-length fiction film from Harmony Korine since 1999’s Julien Donkey-Boy, Mister Lonely, in Un Certain Regard. Mister Lonely is about a Michael Jackson impersonator (Diego Luna) who meets up with a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Samantha Morton, who has one film each in UCR, the Director’s Fortnight (Control), and the International Critic’s Week (Expired, which I saw and liked a lot at Sundance)) and joins a commune of celebrity impersonators at her request. I don’t like Kids, the Larry Clark film that Korine made a name for himself for writing when he was 22, but I’ve long been a fan of the much maligned Gummo, and was excited to see what Harmony’s been up to lately. Unfortunately, Mister Lonely is overlong and generally pretty boring. As is common with Korine (and is probably best witnessed in his little-seen-in-America documentary on David Blaine from a few years ago, Above the Below), the best parts of the movie are the scenes that most directors would cut and have no bearing on advancing the film’s plot, such as when a nun falls out of an airplane without a parachute, or when the resident Buckwheat impersonator goes on a long soliloquy about how much he loves chickens.

The final film I saw last night was Bela Tarr’s long-gestating The Man From London. I’m embarrassed to admit that London is the first Tarr film that I’ve ever seen, and I don’t really know what to do with it—he tells stories like a symphony conductor, and everything looked amazing, but it was too long and slow paced for me to enjoy this late in a film festival that always brings me near death. Maybe when I’m better rested I’ll give him the chance he deserves; I’ve been meaning to for years anyway.london

Speaking of which, I have to question the festival programmers for screening films such as The Man From London as the last screening of the night late in the festival—I’m sure I’m not the only one who didn’t give it the attention it deserved. The same thing happened last year with Pedro Costa’s Colossal Youth, and in 2004 with Shanghai Dreams.

This morning’s 8:30 a.m. screening was of Faith Akin’s The Edge of Heaven, which I was more or less indifferent to. I’m not feeling motivated enough to struggle through a description of it right now.

And finally, the last film I saw before I came here to write this was the Thai film Pleasure Factory, which comes from Ekachai Uekrongtham, the guy who made The Beautiful Boxer, which showed in SLIFF a few years back. It’s a drifty story about the happenings in a red light district in Bangkok, and, while it has a few good scenes (most notably one where a sweet Thai teen loses his virginity to a sweet Thai prostitute), it is ultimately forgettable. What is not forgettable, though, is the film’s press kit, which takes this year’s Taxidermia award in terms of nice graphic design—it comes in a box that is modeled after what I’m assuming the type of box a blow-up doll comes in, and in addition to the press notes, you get a condom. Thanks, guys.

I’m going to run off and eat a sandwich now, but later today I’m seeing Persepolis, which is based on Marjane Satrapi’s popular graphic novel of the same name (it has had two press screenings in the past two days, and both of them were nuts; luckily, they’re letting press into the film’s gala premiere, which is where I’ll see it), as well as Lee Chang-dong’s Secret Sunshine tonight, which stars Song Kang-ho, the popular Korean actor who is in almost all of the great, recent Korean films: The Host, Memories of Murder, JSA, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, etc. Both films look good, and I’m anxious to see them.│Pete Timmermann

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