Cannes 2011 Diary #5: ‘Melancholia’, ‘Oslo, August 31st’, ‘Tatsumi’, ‘Corman’s World’

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Another day, another controversy. This time around, it was all about the highly anticipated Melancholia, from Danish provocateur Lars von Trier. Looking well fed and in good spirits, this time he was all jokes, including saying that his next film is religious porn starring Kirsten Dunst and the he understands Hitler. That was enough for some people to tune him out, as if they had never seen or heard the man.

And there were some others that really hated his new movie, Melancholia. It contains with enough beauty, intensity and compelling ideas to earn a recommendation. Actually, in a way, it turned out to be what The Tree of Life was aiming for; an intimate portrait of the complex and difficult way many families function, in the forefront of the largest scheme of things.  The movie starts with the end: everybody dies when a giant planet crashes into Earth. A similar montage of the history of mankind as in Malick’s film, but way shorter, follows with unapologetic aesthetic brio as we meet a few characters during the last moments of life on the planet, before fading to black. Two parts follow; Justine (Dunst) is getting married at a lavish estate in some unidentified location. The bride and groom are young and pretty, but family quarrels start to give the party an unexpected tone. Part two revolves around Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), the high-maintenance, control-freak sister who owns the estate, her husband (Keifer Sutherland) and their young son.  Some people doubt that the end will actually come, and the family awaits the impending doom.  The last ten minutes of the film are especially gripping, and the performers seem to have a lot of fun (especially during the wedding, where the ironies of phrases like “Until death do us part” or “I feel like the luckiest man on earth” obviously take on new meanings). Von Trier regulars like Udo Kier and Stellan Skarsgard appear to have the most fun, while Charlotte Rampling and Keifer Sutherland should beg the director to hire them again.

Also highly anticipated, very Scandinavian and very depressing: Joachim Trier’s follow-up to the acclaimed Reprise. When a Hollywood project started to get delayed, Trier decided to shoot Oslo, August 31st, a love letter to the titular city, much in the way Paris was for Louis Malle’s Le Feu Follet (both films are based on the same novel). A man in his thirties is about to finish a rehab stint and gets permission to go into the city for a full day. He is starting to realize that his life is not what he always hoped he will be, and it is very obvious that he severely harmed his friends and family, and it doesn’t help that all his acquaintances are having babies and successful lives.  The saddest part is that he appears to have had it all before falling from grace; he attends a job interview that could be his only opportunity to get back on track.

More uplifting was Eric Khoo’s Tatsumi, an animated film based on Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s autobiographic manga (or more exactly gekiga, a term he created to define comics based on and catered towards adults), dropping a few of Tatsumi’s short stories in the mix as well. Tatsumi is very enjoyable and although it is not as good as Waltz with Bashir, it also shows that documentary and animation can indeed be mixed formidably – and it’s also light-years better than Khoo’s previous movie, the horrendous My Magic.

The last film of the day was Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, by Alex Stapleton. Stapleton’s documentary on famed Hollywood schlockmeister Roger Corman isn’t particularly revealing or original, but it’s a delightful film that is akin to spending a couple of hours with a good friend. Stapleton had full access to the Cormans (his wife produced the movie herself) which also gave the director unlimited access to the entire collection of Corman’s films. It was also moving to see the man himself as polite and humble, in a way that most younger, less interesting directors could only dream of.

Eduardo Lucatero

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