Cannes 2011 Diary #6: ‘The Skin I Live In’, ‘Hara-kiri’, ‘The Day He Arrives’

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Every year it’s the same: critics arrive thinking that the line-up is very strong, then they get disappointed as the festival advances, and near the final weekend a foul mood sets in and they claim it is the worst festival in years. Then they realize that they saw at least 5 of their Top Ten films here and can’t wait to get back to the festival for another strong-looking year…

This year, however, definitely hasn’t lived up to the promise of its filmmakers. For his latest Cannes entry, El Piel Que Habito (The Skin I Live In), Pedro Almodóvar drops the melancholic lyricism of his past couple of works and went back to his usual model: a convoluted plot with a couple of ridiculous twists, gorgeous cinematography and art direction (and one of the greatest musical scores of his career, by regular Alberto Iglesias) but not much else.  Elena Anaya is always a welcome presence, and here she does a good job playing a woman apparently kidnapped by an evil plastic surgeon, who is conducting experiments to create a human skin that is resistant to burns. As the back-stories grow elaborate enough to embarrass a Mexican soap, the viewer is left wondering if this is a comedy, a drama or an ad for Chanel.

****

Equally disappointing was the first ever 3-D film in competition, from the prolific Takashi Miike. Ichimai (Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai) was not as visually interesting as could be expected, nor particularly bloody, and unfortunately, it was also a little bit boring. A samurai enters a castle and asks permission to kill himself, honourably, at the garden. The owner of the castle wants the samurai to change his mind and tells him about a man who recently asked for permission to commit suicide there as well. As the story unfolds; the man realizes that both men are related, and that vengeance is imminent.

Far better was Song Hong-soo’s  Un Certain Regard entry The Day He Arrives, an old-fashioned, black-and-white fable – it could’ve been shot by a French New Wave director in the sixties – of a film director who, after a moderately successful career, has dropped out of the film world and now lives in the country and teaches. On a visit to Seoul, he discovers that for all his critical success, no one has seen his films other than film critics. His encounters with several women are also a big part of the story, since the director is a philanderer and has a lot of issues with women. Playful and fresh, The Day He Arrives showcases a different kind of Korean film from the extreme genre movies often associated with that country’s cinema: a small scale, intimate dramedy.

 

– Eduardo Lucatero

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