Saturday, July 11, 2015

Cannes Film Festival + Cinema Miscellanea

The summer issues of Sight & Sound and Film Comment have landed, and with them their respective overviews of this year's Cannes Film Festival and it's four major aspects; the Competition and this year's award winners, the Camera d'Or, Critics Week and the Director's Fortnight. Covered in-depth by some of the most established names in film journalism, including Amy Taubin's "Setting Sun: Despite Glorious Films the Specter of the Death of Cinema was Never Far" on cinema-as-film's diminishing role seen at Cannes. With the DCP becoming the established projection norm at the world's premier film festival, even for great auteurs who's work continues to be shot on celluloid. There was also some question concerning vision and programming when superior Hollywood crowd-pleasers like George Miller's "Mad Max: Fury Road", though a masterfully edited and kinetic sensorial onslaught, was still being cited as one of the truly great films seen by the festival's 11th day. With many of the initial offerings by expected directors quite-good-but-minor, or left out of competition entirely in the Director's Fortnight, Gavin Smith asks if these conditions are simply a sign of the times, or is art cinema on the ropes, "Sins of Omission: With Obvious Exceptions, La Programmation Wasn't Great". His sentiment mirrored in the New York Times coverage by Manohla Dargis "At Cannes Film Festival, Good Sometimes isn’t Enough". Further plumbing the divide between the delights of quality entertainment and the richness of art cinema, Laura Kern 's "Slumming It: Days and Nights in the Market" explores the festival's underbelly of low-profile, indie, pulp and genre treats running the spectrum of savage horror films, sleazy thrillers, sci-fi oddities, and other assorted uncharted questionables.

Transcending what Smith referred to as those "quite-good-but-minor" works, Jacques Audiard's "Dheepan" tackles migrant integration in central Europe in his characteristically workmanlike and absorbing fashion as a highly charged thriller. Yet many felt it being awarded the Palme d'Or was a snub to greater films seen. Other highlights include Yorgos Lanthimos Jury Prize-winning Kafka meets H.G. Wells allegory, "The Lobster", the best Best Actress award going to Todd Haynes adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's "Carol" and the Un Certain Regard prize graced Grímur Hakonarson's tale of brotherly hatred between hermit farmers in "Rams". In the same program, Romania's Corneliu Porumboiu earned the Talent Prize for his "The Treasure" and the Directing Prize went to Kiyoshi Kurosawa, apparently back on form with a altogether different spin on the Japanese ghost tale. Kurosawa's exploration of modern unease has taken a more refined turn since 2008's "Tokyo Sonata", a path he continues down with "Journey to the Shore". Rounding out the prize selections, the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize went to Dalibor Matanic's "The High Sun" and the festival's cinematography award, the Caméra d'Or to César Augusto Acevedo for "La Tierra Y La Sombra". Not prize winning, but no less notable for it, Jia Zhang-Ke's "Mountains May Depart" continues his commentary on China's shifting cultural-economic alignment as a extremely ambitious, albeit microcosmic depiction of that nation's rapid transformation. Japan's mainstays of contemporary arthouse familial drama, Hirokazu Kore-eda and Naomi Kawase delivered "Our Little Sister" and "An", with varying degrees of success.

More significant works were relegated to out-of-competition status due to their inclusion in the richly populated Director's Fortnight section this year. Among them were Arnaud Desplechin's intricate memory piece, "My Golden Days" and Philippe Faucon's "Fatima" based on the first person prose of Fatima Elayoubi. Other stand-outs include Stéphane Brize's bleakly dispassionate monitoring of an unemployed European everyman (for which Vincent Lindon won the Best Actor prize) in, "The Measure of a Man" and Ida Panahandeh brought fresh insight to the familiar subject of divorce Iranian-style in, "Nahid". The title of the long anticipated Kent Jones documentary says everything you need to know going into this one, "Hitchcock-Truffaut" is as intelligent and lively as you could hope, filled with memorable images to accompany the historic series of encounters as well as revelatory commentary from David Fincher and James Grey, among others. In disappointing turns, having fallen so far from one film to the next, Paolo Sorrentino's "Youth" apparently gave viewers a sense of what it must have been like to be cast out of Eden after having ascended to the sublime and rapturous heights of 2013's, "La Grande Bellezza". Another disappointment, though one that could be seen coming in the tipping of the balance at "Enter the Void"'s conclusion, Gaspar Noe's "Love" was a somewhat flaccid affair who's highlight was solely the gorgeous cinematography expressed through Benoit Debie's steamy, luminous palette. Almost as disappointing after the late-career surprise of "Paranoid Park", nothing favorable has come out of the festival concerning Gus Van Sant's "The Sea of Trees". 

Saving the best for last, the four films delivered this year by Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, László Nemes and Miguel Gomes have been received with unparalleled enthusiasm across the festival's reportage. For Film Comment, there was Kent Jones' "Wonders to Behold: A Few Films Touched with Greatness Can Make All the Difference" on the sublime perfection of Hou Hsiao-Hsien's eight-years-in-the-wait period piece and Dennis Lim's reveling in Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Miguel Gomes' further refinement of their storytelling art, "Daydream Believers: Two 21st-Century Trailblazers Stole the Festival’s Thunder". Their sense of wonder at established auteurs on fabulous form was mirrored in the pages of Sight & Sound by Nick James' "Cannes: Hunting Season" and Isabel Stevens' "Cannes: An Affair to Remember". The four pieces focusing on Hou Hsiao-Hsien's sumptuous and oblique Best Director-winning spin on the wuxia genre, "The Assassin", László Nemes’ Grand Prix-winning Holocaust drama "Son of Saul" and Miguel Gomes' audacious three-part modern refashioning of folk tales from the Islamic Golden Age, "Arabian Nights - Volume 1, The Restless One" & "Arabian Nights - Volume 2, The Desolate One" & "Arabian Nights - Volume 3, The Enchanted One". Like Scheherazade, Gomes apparently has pulled out every storytelling trick in the book to span the film's epic 6 hour duration: prologues and epilogues, prolix voiceovers, obtuse framing devices, abundant on-screen titles and nested narratives within narratives. A director who's whole filmography deals in mystic parables couched within modern life, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "Cemetery of Splendor" may lack wandering spirits in the night of the Thai jungle this time around, but it's mixing of the political, historic and the spiritual is told through a literally dreamy central metaphor. Sleep acting as a mysterious, uneasy bridge between the two worlds, the protagonists lead the viewer into a heightened sensory exercise of hypnotic motion and hushed sound as we observe their ambulations through neon-lit psychedelic jungle and Escher-like mazes of modern shopping complexes. All the while simultaneously turning increasingly Oneiric as it's political inflections sharpen.