Cannes Film Festival

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Editor’s note: Our review of Inside Llewyn Davis originally ran during this year’s Cannes Film Festival, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens today in limited theatrical release. The eighth In Competition banner for the Coen Brothers at the Cannes Film Festival is their first in six years, since their eventual Best Picture Oscar winner No Country for Old Men. Though there isn’t a chance for the intrepid filmmaking duo to repeat the same success here, the feeling coming out of Inside Llewyn Davis is that the brothers would not have it any other way. Indeed, while terming their latest work the worst thing they’ve put out since The Ladykillers might send alarm bells ringing, when you consider their body of work since – No Country, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man and True Grit – it begins to seem not quite so bitter a pill to swallow. Tackling the New York folk music scene of the 1960s, the Coens’ latest sees the titular character (Oscar Isaac) stumbling through the city by the seat of his pants, trying to make it as a musician in an ostensibly difficult niche. Hopping from sofa to sofa, LLewyn drifts through life, propelled almost singularly by a desire to meet music maestro Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham) while his personal life, namely a surprise pregnancy by way of occasional partner Jean (Carey Mulligan), crumbles around him.

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The Great Beauty

Editor’s note: Our review of The Great Beauty originally ran during this year’s Cannes film festival, but we’re re-posting it as the film opens in limited theatrical release today. Paolo Sorrentino‘s latest film, The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza), opens with a sizeable quote lengthy enough that the English subtitles at this evening’s Cannes Film Festival screening had to zoom through it at lightning speed, giving non-natives a chance only to speed-read the mounting context of the piece. Still, it isn’t long before a character brings us up to speed with the film’s focal question – “what do you enjoy most in life?” Jep Gambardello (Tony Servillo) finds himself trying to answer this for most of The Great Beauty, which opens with a bizarre sequence in which a man taking snaps around Italy suddenly drops dead, hitting the thematic nail on the head right from the first frames. The scene soon enough changes to a seductive, lengthy montage set inside a club, a regular haunt of the 65-year-old Jep, now entering the final stages of his life and getting a little dewey-eyed about it. While still having trysts with beautiful women, he no longer enjoys it in the same way, and his existential crisis reaches its apex when he learns that his old flame Elisa has died suddenly.

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review nebraska

Editor’s note: Our review of Nebraska originally ran during this year’s Cannes film festival, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens in limited release today. From the old-school Paramount logo that opens the film, it’s clear that Alexander Payne‘s latest has no aspirations to being a hip meditation on the turmoils of modern life in much the same way that his previous film, The Descendants did. More a quaint drama with modest ambitions that nevertheless hits a sure stride, Nebraska should please the Payne devout despite this being the first of his films which he did not also write (instead relying on a deft screenplay from Bob Nelson). Needless to say, while entrusting the words to a confidante, this is another coolly controlled, wickedly funny and subtly heartfelt drama from the master filmmaker. Cantankerous, alcoholic, senile old Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) has become convinced that he has won a million dollars on account of a (clearly phony) sweepstakes certificate mailed to his home. Son David (Will Forte) and wife Kate (June Squibb) try to talk sense into Woody, but he’s having none of it; he’s going to head to Lincoln, Nebraska no matter what, so David volunteers to drive him all 850 miles, in the hope that they might get to spend some quality father-son bonding time together along the way.

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Blue

Editor’s Note: Our review of Blue Is the Warmest Color originally ran during this year’s Cannes Film Festival, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens in limited theatrical release. Lea Seydoux has been one of the toasts of the Cannes Film Festival this year, what with her stellar work opposite Tahir Rahim in Un Certain Regard entry Grand Central, and now, In Competition, she delivers the stronger of her two performances in the sweeping, epic, sexy romance Blue is the Warmest Color. The bigger story here, however, might just be the coming out party for newcomer Adele Exarchopoulos, who is sure to become an in-demand young actress overnight. Adapted from Julie Maroh’s graphic novel, Blue follows a young high school student, Adele (Exarchopolous), through the passage of adulthood as she attempts to come to terms with her sexuality. After a failed relationship with a classmate, Thomas (Jeremie Laheurte), Adele seems to find that which was missing in her heart with Emma (Seydoux), a blue-haired, older art student who she chances upon at a lesbian bar after an initial sighting.

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review all is lost

Editor’s note: Our review of All Is Lost originally ran during this year’s Cannes Film Festival, but we’re re-posting it as the film opens today in theatrical release. J.C. Chandor follows up his sturdy 2011 debut Margin Call with a staggeringly ambitious if niche project that will appeal most to fans of its star – and, in fact, its only actor – Robert Redford. If the actor is better known for his iconography than his acting prowess these days – though is highly respected as a director and founder of the Sundance Film Festival – he delivers what is easily one of his all-time best performances as a lone man lost at sea. Much hype has followed the film considering the claim from Redford that the drama unfolds free of dialogue, and aside from a brief opening narration, a desperate plea to a fuzzy radio signal, and an enraged expletive, this is true. Chandor’s minimalist effort begins with the man discovering a hole in his boat, and finishes with the very end of his predicament – whether that is death or rescue will be the prime question occupying viewers’ minds.

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Nothing Bad Can Happen

Editor’s note: Our review of Nothing Bad Can Happen originally ran during this year’s Cannes Film Festival, but we’re re-running it here as it plays Fantastic Fest. One of the most loudly-jeered though curiously little-discussed films at this year’s Cannes Film Festival was first-time director Katrin Gebbe‘s Nothing Bad Can Happen, the single German film playing at 2013′s fest. For sure, it’s controversial material, guaranteed to divide audiences on whether or not it is in fact a criticism of religious sectarianism or merely a depiction of humanity’s dark heart. Tore (Julius Feldmeier) is a young man who has fallen in with so-called Jesus Freaks, a punk Christian sect basing themselves out of a house in Hamburg. Though an awkwardly unassuming sort, Tore one day makes acquaintance with an affable family man, Benno (Sascha Gersak), and decides to move into his home, where he meets and forges a connection with Benno’s young daughter Sanny (Swantje Kohlhof). However, this bond is tested once Tore discovers the sinister nature of this family unit; Benno’s dislike for Tore’s fastidious religious beliefs notwithstanding, the patriarch is an abusive sexual deviant with a short, violent temper.

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Editor’s note: Our review of Borgman originally ran during this year’s Cannes Film Festisval, but we’re re-running it now as it plays Fantastic Fest. Alex van Warmerdam‘s Borgman is the first Dutch film to play In Competition at Cannes in just shy of 40 years, and with its daring, deeply dark yet also rib-ticklingly amusing subject matter it unquestionably proves the country’s cinematic worthiness. Early reviews emerging from the Croisette have already compared the film to both Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth, and the more severe works of Michael Haneke, two touchstones that absolutely hit the mark. Borgman is absolutely a film best approached with only a cursory knowledge of its plot — not that van Warmerdam gives much away himself. The opening images show a dishevelled middle-aged man, Borgman (Jan Bijvoet), being disturbed while sleeping in an underground compartment, at which point he flees and knocks on the door of married couple Richard (Jeroen Perceval) and Marina (Hadewych Minis). Richard turns him away after administering a harsh beating, but Marina takes sympathy and allows him to recuperate in the guest wing. However, little does she know quite what she has invited into her home. 

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The Bling Ring

On the balance of probabilities, Sofia Coppola‘s fifth feature is likely to be one of her most commercial; not only is it based on true events (in more certain terms than her edgy if sketchy Marie Antoinette), but the real life tale’s rooting in the cult of celebrity will almost certainly ensure that it earns its fair share of fans. Disappointing it is, then, that Coppola can’t wring much of interest out of the people behind the story, while the eminent appeal of Emma Watson in yet another boundary-pushing, post-Harry Potter presence is almost completely squandered in a throwaway supporting role. Though The Bling Ring is not a good film by any stretch of the imagination, it is still very much the sort of feature audiences would expect from the director, crowded with an indie rock soundtrack and featuring long, deliberate takes in order to focus on the existential ennui of the characters therein. Despite doing little with them, it is the characters which Coppola peculiarly decides to focus on instead of the facts of the case itself. The titular collective of criminals is headed by Rebecca (Katie Chang), who leads her friends to the homes of their favorite celebrities to make off with their most expensive and illusive wares.

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Cannes 2013

The Cannes Film Festival is all wrapped up for another year; the awards have been given out, and pundits are busy working out what’s going to go the distance in the coming awards season, and what will fall by the wayside. In my first time at Cannes, I managed to watch 41 films, including all 20 films In Competition, and have arrived at the 10 films that I feel were the best of show. Put simply, these are ones to watch out for:

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michael-kohlhaas

Arnaud des Pallieres’ take on Heinrich von Kleist’s novella, Michael Kohlhaas, has all the makings of a riveting, party-crashing entry into the Cannes Film Festival’s In Competition banner, what with its focus on adventure and righteous vengeance. Disappointing it is, then, that while it features Mads Mikkelsen in as game a mode as ever, and the landscapes are sumptuously shot, the soporific narrative pulse has kept this oddly forgettable film clear of festival discussion pretty much altogether, which many could argue is even worse than it being an alright flop. The story begins as the titular character (Mikkelsen), a merchant, is forced by a local Baron (Swann Arlaud) to relinquish two of his prized horses as collateral on the way to the market due to him not having the proper documentation. When Kohlhaas returns to discover that the steeds are of ill health and Cesar (David Bennent), the man he left behind to tend for them, has been attacked by the Baron’s guard dogs, he seeks reparations from the courts. However, given the Baron’s social stature, Kohlhaas loses the case immediately. Devastatingly, his wife, Judith (Delphine Chuillot), also winds up murdered while travelling to plea the case, and so Michael teams up with the local social outcasts to launch an attack against the Baron and his army.

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The Immigrant

James Gray has steadily gained a head of steam over the four pictures he has released to date, culminating with the grand critical success of his compelling 2008 romantic drama Two Lovers. With another film again appearing In Competition at Cannes, Gray raises the curtain on what is easily his most-anticipated work to date, The Immigrant, which has previously gone by the names The Nightingale and Lowlife, though has no doubt landed on its final moniker for ripe positioning by the Weinstein Company in the impending awards season. As soon as Polish immigrant Ewa Cybulski (Marion Cotillard) and her sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan) arrive in the United States, their circumstances are dire. Magda is immediately quarantined with tuberculosis, while Ewa is questioned for reportedly being a “woman of bad morals,” due to her apparent conduct on the ship over from Europe. Appearing sympathetic to her plight, Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix) bribes an official to allow Ewa passage, at which point he introduces her to his Prohibition-era bar and theater, and soon enough has her turning tricks in his employ. As Ewa finds little possibility to escape from this life, only Bruno’s magician cousin Orlando (Jeremy Renner) seems to offer any respite, locking the two in a fierce battle over the woman.

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inside llewyn davis 04

Three-hour lesbian drama Blue is the Warmest Color was announced the winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, a choice that many foresaw as likely but not a sure thing. The jury that awarded the honor was led by Steven Spielberg and also included Nicole Kidman, Ang Lee, Christoph Waltz and Lynne Ramsay. For the second place Grand Prix winner, they picked the latest from the Coen Brothers, Inside Llewyn Davis, while for Jury Prize (considered the third biggest deal) they chose Hirokazu Kore-eda‘s Like Father, Like Son. Like Father, Like Son was also recipient of an honorable mention from the Christian-based Ecumenical Jury, whose top prize went to The Past — the star of which, Bérénice Bejo, was named Best Actress by the main Cannes jury. Blue is the Warmest Color also earned multiple honors from the fest, taking the critic choice FIPRESCI Award for the In Competition category. The biggest surprise of today’s announcement seems to be Spielberg and Co.’s naming of Bruce Dern as Best Actor for the new film from Alexander Payne, Nebraska. After the jump, you can find a full list of main jury winners (from the festival website) and other honorees announced over the weekend accompanied by links to our review of the film where available.

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review grigris

Mahamat-Saleh Haroun‘s fifth film to date tells the tale of Souleymane (Souleymane Deme) – known as Grigris to his friends – an immensely skilled dancer living in Chad’s capital, N’Djamena. Due to a debilitating leg injury, however, he struggles to hold down even manual labor, while seemingly the only joyous aspects of his life are his dancing and a nascent romance with a local prostitute, Mimi (Anais Monoroy). When his step-father wracks up hefty medical bills, Grigris decides to start skimming shipments of gasoline from the illegal racket he works for as a runner, yet when his boss finds out, he’s given just 48 hours to pay the funds back, on threat of death. Haroun smartly throws us straight into the African milieu from the get-go with an entertaining scene of the titular character showing off his exceptional dancing skills, made only all the more characteristic by his disability. This is suddenly juxtaposed with Grigris’ more provincial home life, taking pictures for the locals and helping out around the village. There is a constant to-and-fro of aspiration and adversity being depicted, while the city’s economic and religious specifics – the latter including numerous references to Allah and the Qu’ran – are more subtly cossetted into proceedings.

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review wakolda

Argentinian filmmaker Lucia Puenzo shot onto the scene in 2007 with her startling directorial debut XXY, which conveyed the quest for an intersex individual to discover their definitive gender identity. Regrettably, however, though eying up a curious enough premise again this time, Puenzo can’t prize anymore than a cursory level of intrigue out of it, the result being a disappointingly flaccid, forgettable drama that was capable of so much more. Taking place in Patagonia in 1960, the story follows an Argentinian family traveling along a 300km desert road, as they encounter a German doctor who asks to tag along. While at first taken with the man’s charm, wit and money, things take a disturbing turn when he begins sizing up the family’s 12-year-old daughter, Lilith aka Wakolda (Florencia Bado), who has bones that are too small for her age. Gradually, the family discovers the man’s dark past, dating back to one of the most heinous atrocities in recent human history.

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sarah_prefere_la_course

French-Canadian director Chloe Robichaud makes her feature film debut in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard branch with a highly unique tale that has echoes of downtrodden sports films like The Wrestler, though wraps itself in a vivid, swooning tale of nascent romance. Sarah Prefers to Run (Sarah Prefere la Course), above all else, paints both filmmaker and leading lady as sure talents to watch in the future. As you can doubtless glean from the title, 20-year-old Sarah (Sophie Desmarais) likes running, and as a standout on her local track team, decides to see if she can make it in the big athletic leagues of Montreal, moving there with a young man she barely knows, Antoine (Jean-Sebastiene Courchesne). However, things soon enough become complicated when Antoine suggests that they get married for the financial incentives, while he has a far sneaker plan in mind – to make her fall in love with him. Sarah, meanwhile, struggles to reconcile her feelings about this, while trying to keep pushing herself on the track.

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review bastards

Revered director Claire Denis brings to the Croisette easily one of her least-accessible jaunts yet with the impenetrable Bastards, an ill-organized revenge tale that unfolds in needlessly incoherent fashion, and despite a rather salacious, sexy premise, fails to get the pulse racing in all other departments. Marco (Vincent Lindon) is one half of the film’s beguiling sibling equation, a man who learns that his brother in law, Jacques (Laurent Grevill) has taken his own life, while niece Justine (Lola Creton) has been taken to hospital after suffering from severe mental trauma. In an attempt to make amends with his estranged sister Sandra (Julie Bataille), Marco moves into the same apartment block as the shady businessman she believes caused Jacques’ suicide, and embarks on an affair with his mistress, Raphalle (Chiara Mastroianni).

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As I Lay Dying

James Franco has proven himself an ambitious sort in recent years, branching off from merely working as an actor to studying for a master’s degree part-time, and now turning his talents towards directing. Franco certainly set the bar high for himself the first time on the horse, in adapting William Faulkner‘s notoriously challenging 1930′s work As I Lay Dying. Regrettably, Franco captures neither the sardonic wit of the novel nor any particularly compelling snapshots of his own in this rather muddled mess of a film, which is easily one of the weakest showings at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Addie (Beth Grant) is soon to be dead, and so her children Cash (Jim Parrack), Jewel (Logan Marshall-Green), Dewey Dell (Ahna O’Reilly), Vardaman (Brady Parmenter), and Darl (James Franco) begin to make the relevant preparations alongside their father, Anse (Tim Blake Nelson), for her burial. Set in rural, downtrodden Mississippi, the trek to bury their mother and wife in the far-away town of Jackson proves an arduous one, one with more destructive implications for the family unit than they could have expected.

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review behind the candelabra

Steven Soderbergh has for years been a director who continues to work entirely in spite of himself; he presses on, releasing a film a year (if not more) while constantly expressing frustration with the industry and claiming that his next will be his last. With his latest effort – a production from the increasingly prestigious HBO Films banner – it appears that the director might finally be sticking to his word, and if so, he goes out with quite the belter to his name. Doing huge justice to the oft-sneered at TV film delegation, Behind the Candelabra is a studious project shot through with the high production quality, dedicated craftsmanship and superior acting of a great theatrical feature, and went down a storm at this morning’s world premiere. Soderbergh trains his focus on the final decade of Liberace’s (Michael Douglas) life, from meeting his most prolific lover, Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) to his eventual death from AIDS. After a chance encounter backstage, the two embark on a whirlwind romance that sees each confide more in each other than they ever have another person. Of course, complications inevitably arise, but their bond is one that endures at different levels right to the singer’s final deathbed conversation with Scott.

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A Castle in Italy

As the debate continue to rage about the place – or rather, the lack thereof – of female directors in Hollywood, the trend seems to be little different at the Croisette; in Cannes’ coveted In Competition bracket, of the 21 films screening, only a single one, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi‘s A Castle in Italy, is directed by a female. This has already earned it plenty of pre-buzz as a dark horse for the Palme D’Or, and while Bruni Tedeschi, who also stars in the leading role, may well be a top contender for the Best Actress award, the film itself is likely too milquetoast to catch the allure of jury head Steven Spielberg. Louise (Bruni Tedeschi) is a middle-aged actress who is taking some time out from acting to take care of herself, at which point the news arrives that the luxurious mansion she and the other family members maintain may have to be liquidated or sold on to settle sizeable tax fees. Louise also has to deal with a brother, Ludovic (Filippo Timi) suffering from AIDS, and Nathan (Louis Garrel), a young suitor who persistently pursues the actress across Paris; one scenario can indicate only impending death, while the other might signify the arrival of a new life if Louise gets her way. A Castle in Italy is wryly, dryly funny, and sure to be remembered as something of a divisive acquired taste. While it begins by examining the destabilisation of an upper-class family base, it soon enough splinters off […]

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Guillaume Canet earned the goodwill of many with his immensely potent 2006 thriller Tell No One, before the misjudged – and like this film, much too long – Little White Lies came along and eroded plenty of that promise. However, Canet returns with his latest feature, and the busload-full of skilled actors he has brought with him damn near ensures a compelling sit, even if the film’s ponderous pacing and resulting length do detract somewhat from its finer qualities. A remake of 2008′s French film Rivals – which starred Canet himself – Blood Ties begins in 1974 New York as Chris (Clive Owen) is released from prison after a 12-year-stint for murder. While welcomed warmly by his father (James Caan), Chris is received less so by his brother, Frank (Billy Crudup), a respected policeman who is nevertheless called upon by his family to take him in. Adding to the drama is the litany of anguished lovers sitting on the periphery; Chris shacks up with a gorgeous young receptionist named Monica (Mila Kunis), much to the chagrin of his drug-addled hooker ex-wife Monica (Marion Cotillard), while Frank continues to pine for a former flame he broke it off with, Vanessa (Zoe Saldana), whose current relationship with the dangerous Scarfo (Matthias Schoenaerts) is on the rocks.

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