Those coming to The Assassin, the new wuxia from Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien (winner of the Best Director prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival), expecting an all-out action martial arts fest are in for a bit of a rude surprise. There certainly is action, and it carries considerable weight in the story. But rather than glorify the violence, the weight serves to magnify its importance and emphasize its effect upon those involved.
Cannes Film Festival
Denis Villeneuve’s narco-thriller Sicario is likely the most mass-appeal film in this year’s competition, a very watchable, schematically Hollywoodian production more at home at the Oscars than at Cannes. It stars, tragically, Emily Blunt as FBI agent Kate Macer and, unsurprisingly, Benicio Del Toro as special drugs advisor Alejandro.
The second of no less than five French competition entries, La Loi du Marché is so far the most stringently cinéma-vérité film competing for the Palme d’Or. It is a fine piece of social drama in the French tradition of cinéma engagé (socially conscious cinema) with prominent touches of Dogme 95-style naturalism. I had seen and loved two of Stéphane Brizé’s previous works, Je ne suis pas là pour être aimé (Not Here to Be Loved, 2005) and Mademoiselle Chambon (2009) but never realised they were directed by the author of La Loi du Marché so I went in slightly irritated with the French press already lionising director Brizé’s favourite lead Vincent Lindon’s performance as “on track for the best actor prize” as I already had my firm favourite in the shape of larger-than-life Géza Röhrig (and it’s still the case because despite Lindon’s exquisitely calibrated, textbook-worthy, perfect but not innovative incarnation, the spell of the sweat and madness of Röhrig’s performance still holds.)
I went into the Mia Madre screening hoping for a witty, ironic, sensitive and emotionally substantial piece of cinema and came out thinking the Cannes selection does not pretend to be a meritocracy. Nanni Moretti is one of the big Cannes brand names, a few lucky ‘subscribers’ quasi certain of a slot in the festival, the mediocrity of some of their fare notwithstanding.
The much anticipated fourth film in competition, Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster follows in the footsteps of Garrone’s Tale of Tales and Sorrentino’s Youth – Southern European auteurs of noteworthy beginnings migrating to English-language international co-productions and big-name casts. So far the ‘show-me-the-money’ transplant, (Lanthimos stated during the press conference that while funding was easier to assemble internationally, he moved to the UK because he wanted to work in English anyway), has yielded mixed results: it seems that once the big money and names are there, the genuine irreverence and wildness we first loved gives way to forced weirdness overkill and uninspired attempts at outdoing oneself (while probably being intimately aware that casting a pretty Hollywood-approved lead because the budget is there does not guarantee great art). Though to be fair, by day four at Cannes 2015, it seems quite a few films get made because, well, someone secured a budget to make a film (Iceland entry to Un Certain Regard Rams about sheep and grass and sheep and snow, I am thinking of you)…
By just the opening shots of Pascale Ferran’s Bird People, the film has established an odd perspective: the audience is privy to the inner thoughts of each character, their wandering conversations, or the music modestly playing through their headphones. It’s an act of cinematic eavesdropping, of allowing the audience to peer into the lives of even the most minor characters. In truth, however, it serves as introduction to one of the leads, Audry (Anais Demoustier), a persistent wallflower whose curiosity into the private lives of others later lends itself to a magical opportunity. It’s the sort of magic that’s genuinely unexpected in such a drama-centered story, but the sheer amount of charm exuberating from the character-driven narrative allows the story to sink into a pleasing form of magical realism.
In a driving scene roughly thirty minutes into A Man and a Woman, the host on a station playing from the car radio says, “I can tell you right away that the weather forecast is rainy. There’ll be rain all over France.” He’s certainly not wrong, as Claude Lelouch’s Cannes prize-winner might be the drizzliest film ever made, with light rain, or at least overcast skies, pervading as backdrop for most of its exterior scenes; even those without have either snow or the dimming light of dusk to encourage its characters to bundle up. It’s a film where the warmth of an emerging romance happens amid perpetual chill – Baby, It’s Cold Outside was apparently not a working title.
There are three things you don’t discuss at a dinner table: politics, religion, and your unending suffering at the hands of those two beasts. Andrei Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan manages to bring all three of those into a modern retelling of Job by way of Thomas Hobbes. Taking influence from such classic texts puts Zvyagintsev in the realm of other Russian storytellers known for grand-scale ambitions: Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Tarkovsky. Luckily, his cultural inheritance is well-utilized — the title implying a mammoth tale from a political beast encapsulates a present-day Russia dominated by systems out of its citizens’ control.