Cannes 2011 Diary #8: ‘Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’, ‘Poliss’, ‘The Kid With the Bike’, and more

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Murder. Suicide. Pedophilia. Prostitution. Just another day at Cannes. The murder came from the very last competition film, Once Upon a time in Anatolia, the longest, most demanding film of the official selection. Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s previous movie was the very accessible, entertaining drama Three Monkeys, but this time around, he returned to his previous style: quiet, bleak, without giving much information. A group of men are driving through the country, looking for a corpse after the murderer has confessed the crime. They can’t find the body and while searching, they engage in what appears to be random chatter. They find the body after 90 minutes, and by this point the audience realizes that most of that apparently pointless talk has major significance, not in the crime itself, but in the different lives of all the men involved in the procedure. This is not an easy film, but if watched in the right frame of mind, it is an extraordinary meditation of being a man and a fascinating (if ultra slow) police procedural.

It shared the Grand Prix with the latest film from Belgian helmers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Le Gamin au Vélo (The Kid with the Bike), yet another depressing story about very important issues with a bad title (after The Son, The Child and The Promise). The Dardennes are great filmmakers and know how to tell a story, and like Kaurismaki’s Le Havre, there is nothing really wrong with it, except that it feels like a retread of previous work. The film is about a child who is abandoned by his father but refuses to accept it, and won’t rest until he gets to talk to him.

Scenes of child abandonment also populate Poliss, directed by an actress who wants to be known only as Maiwenn. Polisse (winner of the Jury Prize) follows the daily lives of a group of policemen part of the Child Abuse sector of Paris. Yes, it does sound and feel like a 2-hour episode of Law and Order, which is not necessarily a bad thing. These cops see a lot of really unpleasant things and whether they want to or not, some of that stuff ends up directly affecting their daily lives. It didn’t win any awards, but is very interesting nonetheless, as was Michael, first film by Michael Haneke’s former casting director, Markus Schleinzer. The title character is a pedophile who looks entirely normal, and works at an insurance company, who kidnaps a boy and holds him in his cellar. Not for the faint of heart.

After the less-than-stellar reception, it was a shock to see The Tree of Life walk away with the biggest prize; but like many other years, a talented director who should’ve won long time ago receives the award for his least interesting movie. Also shocking was that the only other film that was very popular, This Must be the Place, was ignored by the jury. Perhaps the biggest shock of all was that the closing film, Les Bien-Aimés (The Beloved) by Christophe Honoré, wasn’t as atrocious as his previous films. Madeleine (Ludivigne Seigner, then Catherine Deneuve) is a free spirited woman who loves two things: dick, and shoes, and soon discovers that becoming a whore she can get her plenty of both. A meeting with a client transforms the rest of her life. Less interesting is the story of her daughter (Chiara Mastroianni), who is like the rest of Honoré’s characters: an annoying snob, immersed in really pretentious situations (9/11, AIDS…). Oh, and it is also a musical, though most of the songs are awful.

I guess that, after all, this was a year of surprises.

Eduardo Lucatero

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