Cannes 2011 Diary #4: ‘Skoonheid’, ‘Le Havre’, ‘Arirang’

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One of the pleasures of a festival like Cannes is that there are so many films a day that sometimes it is possible to walk into a film you don’t know anything about, just because it fits the schedule, and be pleasantly surprised. It was the case for Skoonheid (Beauty), the South African entry at the section Une certain regard. The second film by the young Oliver Hermanus is a flawed yet absorbing portrait of a group of Afrikaners (white South Africans) who just don’t seem to accept that life has changed. At the center, a middle aged man who can’t accept the fact that he prefers the company of gentlemen. Successful, married and with two daughters, he attends sex parties where they will just do any men, except for “fags and coloreds.” When he reencounters Christian, the hunky young son of a former friend (who used to call him “uncle” as child), his attraction starts to get out of control, and the films becomes a darker, tense Death in Venice.

Back in the competition, Finland’s Aki Kaurismaki presented Le Havre, his nineteenth film, and his second in French since La Vie de Boheme. There is nothing wrong with Le Havre; it is a quirky, well intentioned, optimistic film that talks about important issues; the problem is that it looks and feels like every other Kaurismaki movie. A container full of immigrants being smuggled into England end up at the eponymous port by mistake; an old man who can barely scrape a living as a shoe shiner meets one of them, a child, and decides to protect him from deportation and help him get to London with his family. At the same time, his loyal wife gets a terminal disease and decides to hide it from him, to protect him from pain. The funny one liners and non-sequiturs, the deadpan acting, the blue-tinted photography; it’s all there as usual, and it all feels far too familiar. That seems to be enough for most, since the film was cheerfully greeted by almost everyone.

Similarly good universal appeal received Kim-ki-Duk’s Arirang, a challenging and difficult film from the Korean director of Summer, Fall, Spring, Winter and Summer. After an accident killed an actress on the set of his latest film, the director fell into a complete depression and decided to quit film.  So he moved to the country and lived a hermit’s life for a few months, recording a diary with a small camera.  His recorded diary is not always flattering and is openly self-centered (he gets a writer-director-producer-editor-sound recorder-cinematographer credit), so Arirang is either an enlightening experience or an excrutiating one, depending on the viewer.

– Eduardo Lucatero

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