Dheepan Directed by Jacques Audiard France, 2015 Philadelphia Film Festival …
Pink hair, silver nails, green eyes. Smoke rises from a rolled cigarette and from nearby work in the field. These impressions, whispers of a time and a place, fuel Catch Me Daddy the debut feature of Daniel Wolfe. The film is undeniably beautiful, a minimalist ode to the underside of Yorkshire life. The surfaces of image, sound and performance craft a poetic illusion that is impenetrable thematically and emotionally. The overall experience is intensely frustrating and incredibly empty.
The final film in competition, Justin Kurzel’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth delivers a spectacle of dripping blood, slow-motion battle scenes, sprawling Scottish highlands and Michael Fassbender. Fassbender stars as the Scottish warrior turned regicide and paranoid monarch, who after a particularly bloody battle has a vision of three witches predicting he will be King of Scotland. Macbeth starts out as an honorable soldier loyal to King Duncan (David Thewlis) and decides to only become king the “natural way”. However, after imprudently sharing the witches’ prophecy with his wife, played by Marion Cotillard, Macbeth finds himself constrained by her ambitious power lust.
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.)
Miguel Gomes showed up the Director’s Fortnight screening of the second part of Arabian Nights wearing a t-shirt and Benfica football scarf and started off by rambling about his favourite team’s newly won championship title. Something about Gomes is disarmingly charismatic and sincere – you could tell the rugged look was not an act but rather Gomes was just being himself. And amazingly, despite the thick layers of surrealist imagery and narrative convolutedness, there is a quality in his Arabian Nights enterprise that comes across as unadulteratedly sincere.
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)…
Alright-ness continues at this year’s festival with the Un Certain Regard opening film An (“Sweet Red Bean Paste”) by Cannes regular Naomi Kawase. The film stars Masatoshi Nagase as Sen, a middle-aged dorayaki pastry maker with alcohol issues and Kirin Kiki as Tokue, an elderly woman eager to work as Sen’s assistant in the pastry shop. The youthful touch is provided by Kyara Uchida as a shy schoolgirl having a hard time getting along with her single mother. Reluctant at first, Sen ends up admiring Tokue’s unique bean paste making talent and employs her to the displeasure of the pastry shop’s owner. Gradually, the three generations forge an intimate friendship as their respective traumas are revealed.
After a kick-off day with some alright films, variously peddling frivolous contrivance or social awareness rehash, Saul Fia (Son of Saul), the third film in the official competition, finally delivers an overdose of the goosebumps absent so far. An all-too-real horror film for grown-up audiences by first-time director Laszlo Nemes, Saul Fia should at least scoop the Caméra d’Or award for first film and a best actor prize for newcomer Géza Röhrig’s performance.
Perhaps it’s an unfortunate coincidence for the festival opener, French social drama La Tête Haute, that it follows but a year after the adulation apparently garnered by Xavier Dolan’s Mommy at last year’s festival – while the flamboyant Quebec drama received 10 minutes’ standing ovation, this year’s press screening of the more down-to-earth underprivileged mother-son duo from Dunkerque was met by a total of two claps and a single boo…