Sunday, July 3, 2011

Cannes Film Festival + Cinema Miscellanea

Link to official Cannes Film Festival site

Link to Cannes 2011 Festival Prize Winners

Cannes Film Festival being one of the major preview/heralds of film to come in the next year, judging from what I'm seeing here, 2011/ 2012 looks to be shaping up in pretty awesome fashion.That is, assuming we get these films distributed stateside. Cannes 2010 saw very little in the way of the major films from the fest ever appearing in theatres in the US, let's hope this coming year we see otherwise. New ones by some of the worlds greatest cinematic orchestrators of shock, beauty, subtle entrancement, rapture and genre-transcendence. Links below to some of the notable Directors works and prize winners from this years festival. Unfortunate that very little of them made it into the West Coast SIFF/SFIFF Fests this year (the exception being Terrance Malick's "Tree of Life" which is already here stateside at the time of it's premiere). After doing reading on the festival in both Sight & Sound and Film Comment, the abundance of curious and atypical works by established directors suggests there are some major surprises to be had in the coming year. This just being a small selection of some of the dramatic works by known directors, see the 'Out of Competition' for a number of what look like exceptional/curious documentaries:

Link to Terrance Malick - "Tree of Life" at Cannes site

Terrance Malick's Palme d'Or win this year is both a bit of a surprise and very much deserved for this longstanding American director! Flying in the face of the age of postmodern detachment, cynicism and irony -- we get this deeply personal, emotional, existential, spiritual, audacious, COSMIC tale from Malick. His most abstract to-date. No one in all of American cinema is making films like this, a visual spectacle with a 'soul' belonging more to traditions of quasi-religious questing ala Bergman & Tarkovsky. Profound almost transcendental cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki (DP on "The New World"). Yet, not quite the masterpiece it could have been, I suspect the Palme d'Or is more for the sum total of his filmography than just this work alone. There is also rumor of a 5 hour cut, to be released on Blu-Ray before the end of the year, which I suspect will lend some insight into the seeming imbalances of the theatrical cut. Still, the film is deserving of the highest accolades. Congratulations 'Terry'!: Synopsis: "The Tree of Life is the impressionistic story of a Midwestern family in the 1950's. The film follows the life journey of the eldest son, Jack, through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father. Jack finds himself a lost soul in the modern world, seeking answers to the origins and meaning of life while questioning the existence of faith."

Link to Lars Von Trier - "Melancholia" at Cannes site

After the absurdity and time-wasting spectacle that was Von Trier's idiotic missteps in interviews at Cannes, the more significant and better spectacle is going to be his newest, when we finally get to see it. From what I've read it looks to exceed "Antichrist" in it's surrealism and storytelling potency. Gotta love how terse and brief this synopsis is too. Synopsis: "Justine and Michael are celebrating their marriage at a sumptuous party in the home of her sister and brother-in-law. Meanwhile, the planet, Melancholia, is heading towards Earth..."

Link to Nuri Bilge Ceylan - "Once Upon a Time in Anatonia" at Cannes site

I've been following this Turkish director for about half a decade now, and increasingly he's become a cinematic voice to recon with, "Climates" and his previous, "Three Monkeys" were particularly notable and some of the better films seen each of those years. Significant for the weight of their atmosphere, the subtlety of the acting on display and the competency of storytelling. Synopsis: "Life in a small town is akin to journeying in the middle of the steppes: the sense that "something new and different" will spring up behind every hill, but always unerringly similar, tapering, vanishing or lingering monotonous roads..."

Link to Paolo Sorrentino - "This Must Be The Place" at Cannes site

Sorrentino, who's "Il Divo" was one of the best things I saw in SIFF that year, is back with a bio-drama about... ahem... Sean Penn as Robert Smith?? Synopsis: "Cheyenne is a former rock star. At 50 he still dresses "Goth" and lives in Dublin off his royalties. The death of his father, with whom he wasn't on speaking terms, brings him back to New York. He discovers his father had an obsession: to seek revenge for a humiliation he had suffered. Cheyenne decides to pick up where his father left off, and starts a journey, at his own pace, across America."

Link to Takashi Miike - "Ichimei aka Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai" at Cannes site

After the near tone-perfect nature of Miike's serious investment in period drama that was "13 Assassins" he's back with another adaptation of a classic piece of Samuria cinema based on the previous film by Hasaki Kobayashi and Yasuhiko Takiguchi's novel. Synopsis: "Seeking a noble end, poverty-stricken samurai Hanshiro requests to commit ritual suicide at the House of Ii, run by headstrong Kageyu. Trying to dismiss Hanshiro's demand, Kageyu recounts the tragic story of a similar recent plea from young ronin Motome. Hanshiro is shocked by the horrifying details of Motome's fate, but remains true to his decision to die with honor. At the moment of the hara-kiri, Hanshiro makes a last request to be assisted by Kageyu’s samurai, who are coincidentally absent. Suspicious and outraged, Kageyu demands an explanation. Hanshiro confesses his bond to Motome, and tells the bittersweet tale of their lives... Kageyu will soon realize that Hanshiro has set in motion a tense showdown of vengeance against his house."

Link to Naomi Kawase - "Hazenu" at Cannes site

Kawase's last two films "Mourning Forest" and "Nanayo" were amazing exercises in subtlety and ambiguity in tone. Her depiction of the uncertainty of relationships being about paramount. Some of the more gorgeous cinematography and natural splendor caught on screen I've seen this decade too. Synopsis: "The Asuka region is the birthplace of Japan. Here, in ancient times, there were those who fulfilled their lives in the midst of waiting. Modern people, apparently having lost this sense of waiting, seem unable to feel grateful for the present, and cling to the illusion that all things will move constantly forward according to one’s own plan. In ancient times, there were three small mountains that people believed were inhabited by gods. They were Mt. Unebi, Mt. Miminashi, and Mt. Kagu, and they still stand. In that time, a powerful official used the mountains as a metaphor for a struggle inside his own heart. The mountains were an expression of human karma. Time has passed into the present. Takumi and Kayoko, inheriting the unfulfilled hopes of their grandparents, live out their lives. Their tale continues a story of the ages, representing the uncountable souls that have accumulated in this land. "

Link to Jeff Nichol - "Take Shelter" at Cannes site

New young director who's film was highly lauded in most press I've read, and that's about as much as I know on this one. Synopsis: "Curtis LaForche lives in a small Ohio town with his wife Samantha and six-year-old daughter Hannah, who is deaf. Curtis makes a modest living as a crew chief for a sand-mining company. Samantha is a stay-at-home mother and part-time seamstress who supplements their income by selling handmade wares at the flea market each weekend. Money is tight, and navigating Hannah’s healthcare and special needs education is a constant struggle. Despite that, Curtis and Samantha are very much in love and their family is a happy one. Then Curtis begins having terrifying dreams about an encroaching, apocalyptic storm. He chooses to keep the disturbance to himself, channeling his anxiety into the obsessive building of a storm shelter in their backyard. His seemingly inexplicable behavior concerns and confounds Samantha, and provokes intolerance among co-workers, friends and neighbors. But the resulting strain on his marriage and tension within the community doesn’t compare to Curtis’ private fear of what his dreams may truly signify."

Link to Sean Durkin - "Martha Marcy May Marlene" at Cannes site

The exceptionally positive reviews have been placing this between the better aspects of "Eyes Wide Shut" and the sense of existential American landscapes that make up the work of Terrance Malick. I'm ready! Synopsis: "Martha Marcy May Marlene is a powerful psychological thriller starring Elizabeth Olsen as Martha, a young woman rapidly unraveling amidst her attempt to reclaim a normal life after fleeing from a cult and its charismatic leader (John Hawkes). Seeking help from her estranged older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy), Martha is unable and unwilling to reveal the truth about her disappearance. When her memories trigger a chilling paranoia that her former cult could still be pursuing her, the line between Martha's reality and delusion begins to blur. "

Link to Nicolas Winding Refn - "Drive" at Cannes site

The "Pusher" trilogy and "Valhala Rising" Refn is back. Gotta say though, this subject matter looks significantly less compelling to me. Synopsis: "Drive is the story of a Hollywood stunt driver by day, a loner by nature who moonlights as a top-notch getaway driver-for-hire in the criminal underworld. He finds himself a target for some of LA's most dangerous men after agreeing to aid the husband of his beautiful neighbor, Irene. When the job goes dangerously awry, the only way he can keep Irene and her son alive is to do what he does best-Drive."

Link to Jafar Panahi & Mojtaba Mirtahmaseb - "This is Not a Film" at Cannes site

What happens when you have been banned from making films for 20 years in Iran and you're under state issued house-arrest for 6? Apparently when you're Panahi, THIS. Synopsis: "A day of the life of an Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, before the celebration of the new Iranian year (NORUZ)."

Link to Dardenne Brothers - "The Kid with a Bike" at Cannes site

The masters at making the everyday dynamic, unexpected, passionate and intensely visceral are back. The disparity between reading their synopsis and what one envisions as the prototypical result from formulaic Hollywood, vs. what we will be getting with this film, is an exercise in visual storytelling potency itself. Synopsis: "Cyril, almost 12, has only one plan: to find the father who left him temporarily in a children's home. By chance he meets Samantha, who runs a hairdressing salon and agrees to let him stay with her at weekends. Cyril doesn't recognize the love Samantha feels for him, a love he desperately needs to calm his rage."

Link to Mohammad Rasoulof - "Goodbye" at Cannes site

Bit of a total mystery for me, as this is Rasoulof's last film before his being banned by Iran from making films for 20 years along with his compatriot Panahi. Previous to this, his "White Meadows" in SIFF 2011, was one of the better films seen this year. So the ambiguity is compelling. Especially with no synopsis offered by Cannes.

Link to Hagar Ben Asher - "The Slut" at Cannes site

New young director who's film was presented only in the 'Critics Week' section, but universally praised in the articles read. Synopsis: "Tamar, 35, a beautiful young woman, lives alone with her two daughters. She can’t restrain her sexual appetite and gives herself to several men of the village. Shai, a young man, just moved back in the region to handle his dead mother's assets, but as he meets Tamar, he decides to stay. They soon fall in love, but will Tamar be satisfied with only one partner?"

Link to Michel Hazanavicius - "The Artist" at Cannes site

Expecting very, very good things of this. Won 'best actor' for Jean Dujardin as Valentin. Synopsis: "Hollywood 1927. George Valentin is a silent movie superstar. The advent of the talkies will sound the death knell for his career and see him fall into oblivion. For young extra Peppy Miller, it seems the sky's the limit - major movie stardom awaits. "

Link to Pedro Amlodovar - "The Skin I Live In" at Cannes site

Almodovar takes on the Frankenstein myth in his own spin. Of all the 'premise for his recent series of films, this I'm most excited for. Especially the blending of genres and tone I expect he'll carry off masterfully. Even the title is great in it's implications. Synopsis: "Ever since his wife was burned in a car crash, Dr. Robert Ledgard, an eminent plastic surgeon, has been interested in creating a new skin with which he could have saved her. After twelve years, he manages to cultivate a skin that is a real shield against every assault. In addition to years of study and experimentation, Robert needed a further three things: no scruples, an accomplice and a human guinea pig. Scruples were never a problem. Marilia, the woman who looked after him from the day he was born, is his most faithful accomplice. And as for the human guinea pig..."

Link to Andrey Zvyagintsev - "Elena" at Cannes site

In contemporary post-Tarkovsky cinema, this young director has been a rising star to watch. His "The Return" and more recently "Sacrifice" were two of the better films from the post-Soviet Union I've encountered this decade. Deeply existential, quasi-religious and visually poetic, it's no surprise he studied under Andrei. Synopsis: "Elena and Vladimir are an older couple, they come from different backgrounds. Vladimir is a wealthy and cold man, Elena comes from a modest milieu and is a docile wife. They have met late in life and each one has children from previous marriages. Elena’s son is unemployed, unable to support his own family and he is constantly asking Elena for money. Vladimir’s daughter is a careless young woman who has a distant relationship with her father. A heart attack puts Vladimir in hospital, where he realizes that his remaining time is limited. A brief but somehow tender reunion with his daughter leads him to make an important decision: she will be the only heiress of his wealth. Back home he announces it to Elena. Her hopes to financially help her son suddenly vanish. The shy and submissive housewife then comes up with a plan to give her son and grandchildren a real chance in life."

Link to Hong Sang-Soo - "The Day He Arrives" at Cannes site

Another new Hong Sang-Soo! Is this a film a year now from him? He's seriously forming up to be the postmodern Bergman of South Korea. No doubt, more bummer times and the people who make that their lives, will ensue. Synopsis: "Sungjoon heads to Seoul to meet a close friend who lives in the Bukchon area. When the friend doesn’t answer his calls, Sungjoon wanders around Bukchon and runs into an actress he used to know. The two talk for a while, but soon part. He makes his way down to Insadong and drinks makgeolli (rice wine) by himself. Some film students at another table ask him to join them--Sungjoon used to be a film director. He soon gets drunk and heads for his ex-girlfriend’s house."

Link to Gus Van Sant - "Restless" at Cannes site

Van Sant's "Paranoid Park" was about ten times the film I expected it to be, after kind of having given up on the guy after "Gerry" and "Elephant", I came away shocked at his collaboration with Christopher Doyle for both it's artistry and realism. Synopsis: "Annabel Cotton is a beautiful and charming terminal cancer patient with a deep felt love of life and the natural world. Enoch Brae is a young man who has dropped out of the business of living, after an accident claimed the life of his parents. When these two outsiders chance to meet at a funeral, they find an unexpected common ground in their unique experiences of the world. For Enoch, it includes his best friend Hiroshi (RYO KASE) who happens to be the ghost of a Kamikaze fighter pilot. For Annabel, it involves an admiration of Charles Darwin and an interest in how other creatures live. Upon learning of Annabel's imminent early passing, Enoch offers to help her face her last days with an irreverent abandon, tempting fate, tradition and even death itself."