Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Festival Report: Cannes 2012

This is the first guest-contribution by Blake Williams: he arranged the fifty-two films that he saw at Cannes into seven categories, here are the top two. You can read the rest of Blake's comments on everything else he saw at Cannes on his excellent blog, R, and G, and B. – D.D.

Tier 1
Holy Motors (Leos Carax) – So singularly weird and exhilaratingly cinematic that, really, it doesn’t even *need* to mean anything (though it clearly does mean many things). It’s capital ‘S’ Surrealism as it pertains to the disappearance of cinema and humanity as we know them. Very telling anecdote: Carax hates digital cinema, and this film was shot digitally (among other things, Holy Motors may be the only Cannes Main Competition film that will ever have the screen intentionally datamosh). But there’s so much more, relating to online avatars, Georges Franju, as well as the confusion of our own personas and identities in the face of virtual existences (video games, cinema, the internet). The fact that all of these broad themes are packed into such an entertaining, euphoric presentation is just icing. Had the film walloped me the way I think it should have at the end, I might already be calling it one of the greatest films ever made.

Beyond the Hills (Cristian Mungiu) – I was no lover of 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, but this all but cleaned the floor with me; had it had a less Romanian ending (think Aurora), I’d have probably needed to ask for tissues when it ended. It details the tragic rejection of compromise between three parties that is so intense I often could not believe what I was seeing. The second half of the film in particular is just crescendo after crescendo of pure emotion that’s as visceral as in any recent film I can recall. Many intelligent persons are calling this film boring, and I do not know what film they were watching.

Like Someone in Love (Abbas Kiarostami) – When the screening first ended, I went out on a limb and called that this would be the most divisive film at Cannes this year, having heard no reactions yet. I was right. Playing off of Certified Copy’s interests in what makes us love another person, and the way the *behaviours* of loving someone is ingrained in our DNA, this is a minimal, sorrowful and absurdist package that contains dozens of breathtakingly serene and blissfully drawn-out conversations & car rides. Kiarostami is practically confrontational in his challenge for us to add it all up to something, only refusing to be easily define it for us (in contrast to the new Carlos Reygadas film (see Tier 5), it is apparent that further digging will actually yield substance). I thought of Chantal Akerman’s News From Home on occasion while watching, but really it’s like nothing I’ve seen or experienced in quite some time – a truly weird film. I will need another look, or twenty, before I can make perfect sense of this, but it refuses to exit my mind.

Tier 2
Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg) – radically stylized & inhuman, it actually took me a while to realize that Robert Pattinson wasn’t in fact giving one of the worst screen performances I’d ever seen, but was, conversely, giving a pretty amazing portrayal of a man who’s forgotten how to be human. Once it picks up steam, ideas fly at you like data in a detached but riveting stream, perfectly complimenting its theme (which pairs nicely with A Dangerous Method): the way our minds can repress the humanity of our mannerisms, behaviours, and interactions.

You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet! (Alain Resnais) – I saw this one twice, and I’m so glad I did, because what was a tedious and disappointing chore on first watch cleared itself up nicely on another viewing, though I don’t think everyone will require a second look to fall for it. Basically, there is a very heady, clever, and playful conceit at the heart of this film, and I fixated on it too much the first time. The key to appreciating this film lies in its source material: Eurydice. Pay attention to the play – it’s really lovely, intelligent, and bittersweet – and don’t get hung up on the wacky set-up, and you should be good to go.

Amour (Michael Haneke) – Turns out I already saw the new Haneke film a year ago in the Director’s Fortnight; an unfortunate coincidence, it’s almost identical to the Icelandic film, Volcano. Moment-to-moment it’s incredibly straightforward considering its maker, and starkly ‘what it is’. We wait for each progressed stage of deterioration in order to arrive at the same defeating and inevitable exit that we know – and are told in the very first scene – will come. For the first time, it felt to me like Haneke has made a film for his own cathartic therapy; no scolding or lessons to teach the audience. Getting old sucks, and that is primarily true because you have to watch loved ones do it, too. A devastating film, in its own modest, not-earth-shattering way.

Laurence Anyways (Xavier Dolan) – OK, fine! I still think Dolan is light on ideas, and he’s far too young to hold steadfast to a fixed theme (that being ‘impossible love’; I mean, this guy wants so hard to be taken seriously as a wunderkind auteur that he risks suffocating himself, which he did in his previous film, Heartbeats), but the filmmaking is really superb for most of this, and for the first time, it feels more ‘Dolan’ than anyone else (Wong, Almodovar, Allen….). Not sure what’s changed since his last film actually, but it’s just more genuine and honestly exuberant in its youthfulness and naïveté.

Room 237 (Rodney Ascher) – It’s practically a comedy, offering up a string of straight-faced observations, theories, exposés, and analyses by OCD cinephiles who latch on to what they perceive to be subliminal messages hidden in The Shining. Because Kubrick’s a genius, of *course* he slyly inserted all of this devastating and subversive conspiracy theory nonsense on purpose, right?!?! Most of what these guys propose is so insane/absurd – but genuine! – that I felt ashamed of the fact that, as a passionate cinephile myself, I often do the very same thing all the time. Films are playgrounds for us to insert ourselves and our experiences into, and we manufacture statements that reflect *us* so that we can understand a film just as much as we wish to be understood by others. Many will see this film as a curio that introduces interesting ideas on what The Shining is about, but what it *actually* accomplishes is more ambitious: showing exactly how cinephilia has been transformed by the home video era of movie-(re)(re)(re)(re)watching.

In Another Country (Hong Sang-soo) – since this was ‘only’ my seventh Hong film, it still felt fresh to me. Huppert had me giggling the entire time, even when I didn’t know what I was laughing at. Those familiar enough with Hong (i.e. if you’ve seen more than two) will note that this is yet another auto-critique, this one regarding the fact that pretty much all of his films have the same script and casting aesthetic. The 1st act is the funniest, but for the rest I was coasting on the subtle differences in each Anne (Huppert plays three different characters, all with the same name, naturally), and the treatment toward her by others.

Sister (Ursula Meier) – Ursula Meier is one talented lady. I wish the twist came about a little more naturally than it did (actually, I think the film would have improved if the audience had been in on it from the get-go), and I’ve yet to get more out of the film than just seeing it as a really well-done inversion of the absent parental guardian picture, but it’s *really* good at that. It’s a popular comment, but this really is a very Dardennes-ian film, though I missed the quasi-surrealism from her last film, Home, which was no doubt lifted in order to better serve the ultra-realistic tone.

Killing Them Softly (Andrew Dominik) – No doubting what Dominik wants you to take away from this (hint – Obama may not like this movie), but it’s still an exceptional, dialogue-heavy thriller that is boldly non-commercial. It is impressive that such a movie was made without ever feeling Tarantino-esque. I loved Gandolfini and Liotta.

Tabu (Miguel Gomes) – how anyone claims to have properly digested this on a single viewing is a mystery to me, but its second half sure lived up to the vague memory of hype I seem to recall it having, which is to say: I was floored by its singularity and the fact I cared so much. Bifurcation is like so ‘in’ right now and I guess now that I see the hints of connections between the halves I can start to appreciate it next time, but in the act of watching this I wished that the first hour would up and disappear altogether.

Sightseers (Ben Wheatley) – a pretty solid mix of Mike Leigh’s naturalism and Edgar Wright’s absurdly casual genre injections; humor works about half the time – mostly because you can see many jokes coming from a mile away – but its simple yet accurate observations of a couple who’ve reached a romantic plateau in their relationship and must invent new ways of staying interested in each other is often piercing despite the laughter.

No (Pablo Larraín) – aesthetically, conceptually, and thematically bold, not to mention that I laughed more at this film than anything else other than the new Hong. I just wish its political purpose resonated as much as the ironies and kitsch do.

Blake Williams

For the following five tiers, see Blake's blog entry "Cannes 2012 Hierarchy, with comments".

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