Sunday, July 20, 2014

Cannes Film Festival + Cinema Miscellanea

Reports from Cannes by the esteemed Nick James, Amy Taubin, Gavin Smith, Dennis Lim, Nicholas Rapold and Kent Jones in the pages of Film Comment and Sight & Sound have begun to see print this month, fueling curiosity and stoking anticipation! As with ever year the festival played host to new works by some of the worlds greatest cinematic orchestrators of shock, beauty, subtle entrancement, rapture and genre-transcendence. This year's Cannes Award Winners featuring returns to form and/or subject matter from the last few decade's greats, adventurous new directions from old pros, enfant terrible's return to do their thing stirring up the critics and other directors alike, and surprising genre pics from the fringes of independent cinema. A bounty to be found in doing reading on the festival in the pages of the above institutions. The abundance of curious and atypical works suggests there are some major surprises to be had in the theater stateside in the coming year.

Covering what's being called the stupendous new 3-D "reinvention of cinema itself", Jean-Luc Godard’s "Goodbye to Language" being the foremost in all the critic's picks, each and every one of the overviews above beginning with extended interpretations of it's technique and narrative concerns and without exception it's said "Sunny Cannes Gets Lightning: Godard’s ‘Goodbye to Language’ Enlivens Festival". Godard’s Jury Prize winning experiment may not be quite so epoch-making as the Duchamp work it references, but it situates him firmly, almost 65 years since his first short, within the tradition of artistic provocateur even more than it recalls his beginnings. The Palme d'Or this year went to a director who has been on the rise and rise for a decade now, so no surprise to see Nuri Bilge Ceylan's "Winter Sleep" receiving the world's most prestigious cinema award. His darkness of winter Turkish stove-side epic is full of philosophic musings spun in Chekhovian fashion – especially Haluk Bilginer as the former actor turned hotelier trying to reconcile himself to old age. Awards-wise there was also Alice Rohrwacher's Grand Prix winning tale of an Italian beekeeping family, "The Wonders", (bringing to mind another great piece of familial, beekeeping Spanish cinema of decades past), held it's mysterious charms close to it's intimate core.

The film that many felt Marion Cotillard should have won best actress for, the newest exacting drama from Dardenne Brothers "Two Days, One Night", Cotillard taking on a smaller, more subtle role than her recent string of blockbuster appearances, as a woman recovering from depression conveyed in the most minimal of gestures. The best actress award instead going to Julianne Moore for her role in David Cronenberg's exploration of the hollow spaces of celebrity, ego and feel-good guru-ism, his "Maps to the Stars" a horror show at the borderline of narcissism and psychosis, ie; Hollywood. Another divisive film with a powerful central role, Olivier Assayas’ "Clouds of Sils Maria" features Juliette Binoche offering one of her most nuanced roles in recent years. Binoche, apparently brilliant in her unnerving portrayal of the psyche's refusal to accept the aging of the body. Other contenders for the Jury Prize were Michel Hazanavicius's remake of the 1948 wartime melodrama "The Search" and Naomi Kawase’s melancholic teen drama, "Still the Water". July Jung's "A Girl At My Door" received superior reviews for it's depiction of a adolescence in ruin and withdrawal. Charming all those that saw it for it's non-human protagonist, Kornél Mundruczó's "White God" is decidedly not a "Babe"-style family flick, but instead apocalyptic misadventures of a Jekyll-and-Hyde dog in an allegorical tale of revolt.

An auteur who's work apparently pushed Nuri Bilge Ceylan to the wire, offering serious competition for the Palme' Andrey Zvyagintsev's "Leviathan" took away the best screenplay prize for his weighty and damning fable of contemporary provincial Russia. It's being said that Bennett Miller’s best director prize for "Foxcatcher" was won almost exclusively for the performances he coaxed from his leads, as were the charms of Mathieu Amalric's darkly erotic adaption of a Simenon murder mystery, "The Blue Room". Another feature that was powerfully actor-driven, Mike Leigh’s "Mr. Turner" biopic of the great Romantic painter is a wickedly gruff late-life tragicomedy and class critique. The Argentinian director of the glacial and expansive, Lisandro Alonso's films are predominantly wordless, allowing the physical journeys of his protagonists and the terrain they travel through to hypnotically evolve over lengthy stretches. It seems an ideal confluence of style and theme that his "Jauja" is as much a 19th Century quest for a runaway daughter as it is a mythological land of abundance. Abderrahmane Sissako's elegant refutation of fundamentalist Islam, "Timbuktu" has been described as poetic as it is brutal, and many of the festival's attendees bemoaned it not taking away the festival's major prizes for it's eloquent, complex and even compassionate accusation.

Wem Wenders returns with a new documentary exploring forty years in the life of photographer Sebastião Salgado and his traveling of the continents of the world, depicting an ever-changing humanity, "The Salt of the Earth". Another return for that most disciplined of documentarians, Frederick Wiseman is back with his observational remove focused on "National Gallery", paying tribute to the gallery’s technical prowess and craftsmanship, interestingly, the private preservation scenes yielding as much information as the public lectures that punctuate it. Cannes also offered genre treats in the form of Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata's "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya", Takahata taking on the traditional Japanese folktale of an ethereal offspring born of bamboo, and her waning in the feudal caste environs of her new human home. Rendered in a lush watercolor palette, it's stylistic distinction sets it apart from much of the studio's recent output. There was also quality science fiction to be had in David Michod's Australian outback set, "The Rover". Michod's desolate chase thriller puts a post-apocalyptic spin on his exploration of violent masculinity and is one of the few films of the fest currently playing in US theaters. Horror was also represented by David Robert Mitchell’s tail-chasing nightmare, "It Follows", which proved to be both smarter than you’d think – and a good bit more terrifying than festival-goers expected. Reports from the festival unanimously conveying that Mitchell collectively transported an entire roomful of viewers into a parallel (tension-filled, anxiety-ridden) world of the filmmaker’s imagination. Whether it be Godard in 3-D or American Independent Horror, what greater feat than that could be asked of any work of cinema?