Cannes 2011

  Editor’s note: With This Must Be the Place now officially released in theaters, here is a re-run of our Cannes review, originally published on May 20, 2011. Sean Penn‘s second appearance at this year’s fest – though in truth his first main once, since he was relegated to a side player in The Tree of Life – sees him don his finest goth garb and make-up to take an impressive shot at a Robert Smith type character. He plays Cheyenne, an aging former rock star, who seems happy to live off his royalties in a grand country house in Ireland with his wife (Frances McDormand), though really he is stagnating: depressed or bored, he can’t work out which. He gets an opportunity for respite when his father dies and he travels home to America for the funeral, subsequently learning that his father had been obsessed with tracking down a former Nazi Auschwitz guard who tormented him, and using the information he had already compiled to take on the task himself. In essence Paolo Sorrentino’s This Must Be The Place is a one-man road movie, and in traditional fashion it presents both a metaphorical and a physical journey through undiscovered or at least unfamiliar lands. And it all hangs on yet another stellar performance by Mr. Penn, who now must be getting close to being sick of the praise.

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22 films in 11 days. One walk-out. One mighty fine steak. Such is the story of this writer’s coverage of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, and now that Robert De Niro and his panel of the great and the good of world filmmaking have sat down over coffee and cheese to decide the real winners, I’d like to offer my own thoughts on who I would have liked to see win. This is all based on my personal experiences of the films, and you might notice the categories don’t match up to the split competitions of the festival itself, but I’m in charge here, and I can do what the flaming hell I want. So here we go with the best parts of the 64th Cannes Film Festival…

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Aptly, one of the most talked-about movies of Cannes 2011 was We Need to Talk About Kevin, which had a stronger impact on our reviewer than Tree of Life did. The film from director Lynne Ramsay stars Tilda Swinton as the mother of a son who commits a grand atrocity. Through alinear storytelling, more and more of her life is shared as she copes with motherhood, aftermath, and responsibility. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Oscilloscope head Adam Yauch was one of the audience members affected, and the group has bought rights to distribute the film in North America. Great news for movie fans hoping to see this in a theater near them. It’s also generally good news for anyone who loves seeing that Oscilloscope logo and assuming they’re about to see a science fiction B-movie from 1954. It’s no surprise that the goal is a winter release. Be on the lookout for plenty of awards season push for this one alongside Best Actress prediction headlines entitled “We Need To Talk About Tilda Swinton.”

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This year at Cannes was a year of firsts. It was a first for FSR to cover it (a situation that the larger press seemed to ignore entirely), but it was also the first time in nearly two decades that an American actress took home the Best Actress Award (known as the Prix d’interprétation féminine if you’re nasty). Kirsten Dunst took home the top acting prize for her performance in Melancholia despite its director Lars Von Trier being permanently (for the foreseeable future) kicked out of the festival. From 1985 to 1993, there was a solid run of American actresses earning the award. In that 9-year span, Americans chalked up 5 wins: Cher, Barbara Hershey twice, Meryl Streep and Holly Hunter. Then, nothing. Until now. On top of that, Tree of Life became the first American film since Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2004 to win the Palme d’Or. Unfortunate rhymes aside, that’s a pretty stirring achievement (although it’s not nearly as significant as Dunst’s streak-ending win considering that 3 other American films (Pulp Fiction, Elephant, and Michael Moore’s documentary) won the Golden Palm in the same time-frame between American actress wins). However, it is timely. This information shouldn’t be merely to support a sort of nationalistic pride, but also to support cinematic pride in general. The tone of the conversation in this country is often negative because there’s an industry out there that is obsessed with bottom lines and not nearly as concerned about quality or storytelling. However, these wins (at […]

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Wouldn’t you bloody well know it. Before the festival was tarnished by the Von Trier/Nazi scandal, all anyone seemed interested in talking about was the way Terrence Malick‘s latest had split the audiences in attendance almost straight down the middle. Not only that, The Tree of Life also inspired a rejuvenated debate over the nature of film, and the sometimes opposing ideals of entertainment and art. I ended my review stating that your reception of the film would depend entirely on what you valued more in your film-making experience, and it seems we now know that the Jury values the art of something over its entertainment value. Neither approach is necessarily right or wrong, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the film was already chosen before even the first minutes of footage rolled. Held up to the light, The Tree of Life looks exactly like a Cannes film, something eccentric enough, with grand enough aspirations and some sort of importance that extends beyond what we can actually see. And that troubles me somewhat: should a film win because it fits the artistic manifesto of the festival, or should it win on quality? Robert DeNiro‘s comment after the decision answers precisely that: It seemed to have the size, the importance, the tension to fit the prize. Not, “it was fantastic,” not “it moved me,” but it fit the bill.

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The best thing about the selection in Un Certain Regard is that it often throws up absolute gems of films that wouldn’t necessarily land on my radar otherwise (which is entirely the point of Cannes’ secondary competition, after all). This year, the selection hasn’t been hugely exciting (and one film even sparked the first, and hopefully only walk-out by yours truly), but in amongst the usual oblique material, little islands of enjoyment like Restless, shine even more by comparison. Now, Eric Khoo‘s animation Tatsumi can count itself among the biggest successes of this year’s Un Certain Regard alongside Gus Van Sant’s latest. The film is based on Japanese comics artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi‘s manga memoir “A Drifting Life” as well as five of his earlier short stories, using the artist’s own iconic gekiga artistic style, and a minimalist approach to animation.

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As the films come to a close, patterns tend to emerge. This year, for instance, there has been a definite focus on the cinema of abuse, of nostalgia and on auteur-driven films, but the most engaging and intriguing mini-pattern for me is the cinema of misdirection, i.e. films that suggest they are one thing and ultimately offer something entirely different by their end. Unlike Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, and The Skin I Live In and even to a lesser extent Hara-Kiri, Drive‘s directional swerve is a tonal one, rather than a thematic or material one. What at the outset looks like an indie love story, with background driving sub-plots, swerves wildly onto a more ragged road. Ryan Gosling (Cannes’ new darling after this and last year’s mesmerizing Blue Valentine) stars as a stunt-driver/mechanic by day, who moonlights as a getaway driver who is as solitary as Leon, and as effortlessly cool and detached as Bullitt. This driver’s world is flipped when he meets his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan, who looks stunning), and is immediately floored by her (and her son Benicio). Problem is, Irene has an ex-con husband (Standard, played by Oscar Isaac) who they discover has been granted early release, and doesn’t take too kindly to the driver muscling in on his family. When the driver discovers Standard beaten and bloody in the car park, he offers his services to pull off the one last job that will see the ex-criminal able to get out and go straight. Only things […]

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How can you ever hope to resist the allure of a film whose poster features a naked lady and a giant crocodile? Well, you can’t, as that combination is scientifically proven to be more attractive even than a monkey with a drumkit. So, I took my place in the company of the director and cast, and some other recognisable faces (including the Dardennes) to watch the humor-pricked political drama The Minister from Versailles director Pierre Schoeller, not entirely sure where the nudity and crocodiles would fit in. The film, framed by two tragedies, offers a microcosmic portrait of the inner workings of government, focusing on Transport Minister Bertrand Saint-Jean (Olivier Gourmet) as he tries to deal with multiple emergencies – a fatal bus crash in the Ardennes, a fragile economic climate, and some underhand machinations from other politicians – while simultaneously holding on to his own identity and personal life. Rather than a three-act narrative, we instead follow Saint-Jean as he works himself through the inner mechanisms of government, fending off political enemies and trying to hold his own in a world that encourages blind allegiance over moral fiber. I admit, it’s not one I would usually go for based on that synopsis, but when in Cannes…

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Takashi Miike has been accused of many things, but the pervading opinion that his name inspires is that he is one of the most creatively insane directors currently working in any cinematic market, and that “unrestrained” approach to filmmaking usually also means that his films are anything but typical (even in comparison with their fellows). So the opportunity to see another Samurai story, swiftly on the tails of the excellent 13 Assassins, and one remade from an absolute classic in the form of Masaki Kobayashi’s 1962 classic was one mixed with excitement and trepidation. The film focuses on the story of Hanshiro (Ebizo Ichikawa), an out of work samurai who visits the House of Ii in order to request to be allowed to commit Seppuku in their courtyard (the higher the prestige of a House, the more honor the shamed warrior can regain). Convinced he is bluffing in order to take advantage of the House’s good will, Kageyu (Lord Ii’s second in command) relates the harrowing story of a fellow shamed Samurai – Motome (Eita) – who had attempted a suicide bluff to gain financially, and who was made to go through with his Seppuku as an example against bluffing. Undeterred, Hanshiro affirms his intention, and requests that the House’s top samurai assist him, though they are coincidentally absent, and it quickly becomes clear that Hanshiro has more of a connection to the young Samurai than he originally confessed… It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to imagine a pre-Kill Bill Tarantino eying […]

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Make no bones about it, the UK has been screaming out for a local equivalent to the sprawling and genius beast that is the San Diego Comic-Con, as well as something that offers “regular movie fans” the opportunity to enjoy a similar festival that takes into account their various levels of nerdery, without feeling like they are second-class behind hacks and those attendees who turn up in full Klingon gear every year without fail. And now, thanks to Empire Magazine, British film-fest-fans are set to get their wish, with August seeing the inaugural Big Screen festival opening at the O2 and offering a so far unrivaled opportunity to get up close and personal with the movie world. I had the opportunity to meet the Empire team at a swanky, on-the-beach restaurant yesterday to find out some more details, and to be punched in the soul by the very best steak I have ever eaten. And I’ve eaten a lot of steak in my time.

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Yet again I find myself sitting in the dark waiting for one of my most anticipated films of this year’s Cannes film festival, and am met with a chorus of coughs ringing around the screen. Here’s a thought – if you are allergic to either a) the dark or b) the cinema, maybes it’s time you stopped going. It sounds like a bloody Victorian bronchitis convention every time the lights go down… Anyway, The Skin I Live In (also known as The Skin That I Inhabit, depending on how you translate the original Spanish title), is the latest in this year’s auteur-focused Competition line-up, and thanks to both director Pedro Almodovar‘s assertions that he set out to make a horror “without screams or frights” and his reunion with sometime muse Antonio Banderas, this one sat at the top table in terms of anticipation. Warning, there be a few spoilers below, though I have tried to avoid as many as possible. But like Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, such is the nature of the film that some hints are a necessity.

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Despite assertions that I would never consciously put myself through the draining experience of watching one of his films again, this morning saw the first screening of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, a film about the end of the world, as well as one that presents the triumph of melancholia, or the feeling that everything we know is hollow. So, now the credits have rolled, the world has ended and again, I find myself challenged by the dichotomy of a film that consciously aims to jar and jolt, rather than be pleasurable (is there any other way for this director though?). Like Malick’s The Tree of Life, Melancholia is experiential cinema, a film that has limited commercial appeal aside from the names attached to it, that is as much a manifestation of Von Trier as an artist as it is a film in its own right, and long after this film festival is done, it will be those two films that will command the most debate, side-by-side. Both are endurance tests, but Melancholia is something entirely different to that other film, even though both will no doubt split the festival. Is it successful? Incredibly so. Though it’s certainly not an enjoyable experience. But at the end of the day, that’s exactly what the infamous director set out to achieve.

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This week, on a very special episode of Reject Radio, we talk with Louder Than a Bomb director Greg Jacobs and get an update on how Cannes is shaping up from Simon Gallagher. Plus, Eric D. Snider from Film.com and our very own Matt Patches enter the squared circle of our Movie News Pop Quiz. Then, we spend less than 15 minutes defining art. Take that, thousands of years of philosophy. We get the job done here at Reject Radio, so kick off you shoes and stay awhile. Listen Here: Download This Episode

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The second competition title of Sunday, and a universe away from the gorgeous, subtle brilliance of the morning showing of Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist, comes Bertrand Bonello‘s House of Tolerance, or to give it its full French title L’apollonide (Souvenirs de la Maison Close), an intimate portrait of a  brothel in its last days. The press pack promised copious nudity, and the hook of a prostitute who is disfigured by a “client,”  who slashes the corners of her mouth to make a permanent scarred smile. So think the Joker, only with capital knockers. It’s hard to offer a succinct review, or even a succinct synopsis, since the film consciously resists definition by traditional standards. In other words it’s one of those pretentious films that is usually found making up the Competition picks at Cannes, not likely to trouble the awards, and thus basically represent an opportunity for the selectors to show off their own tastes. But here goes…

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World events and current affairs invariably inspire cultural commentary, in terms of both entertainment and factual responses, and it is no exaggeration to speculate that if an event, or an idea is worthy of note for documentary filmmakers and straight literary commentators, it will inevitably already have been considered by someone in Hollywood as a potential money-spinner. Just look at how quickly the Kill Bin Laden project was confirmed after the death of arguably the most wanted man in Western history. Recent years have seen the blurring of the distinction between serious exposes and their Hollywood counterparts, as filmmakers like Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock have used more commercial arenas to promote their messages, and we can now talk about documentaries in terms of their box office appeal and potential bankability. Add to that the fact that revolution is hot right now, with notable uprisings taking up slots in the news almost every day, and you could suggest that this is the perfect time to be making and releasing anything that successfully blends a compelling story with a spirit of dissent. Into this context, filmmaking spouses and activists Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrell have made The Big Fix (sometimes known as Spill), a documentary charting the continued after-effects and alleged cover-up of the Deepwater Horizons oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which screened this afternoon as a Special Screening in Cannes.

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Culture Warrior

Yesterday the Twittersphere (a place where topics are only discussed in rational proportions) was abuzz with the news that Terrence Malick’s long-awaited magnum opus Tree of Life was booed at its Cannes premiere. While the reaction to Malick’s latest will no doubt continue to be at least as divisive and polarized as his previous work has been, for many Malick fans the news of the boos only perpetuated more interest in the film, and for many Malick non-fans the boos signaled an affirmation of what they’ve long-seen as lacking in his work. (Just to clarify, there was also reported applause, counter-applause, and counter-booing at the screening.) Booing at Cannes has a long history, and can even be considered a tradition. It seems that every year some title is booed, and such a event often only creates more buzz around the film. There’s no formula for what happens to a booed film at Cannes: sometimes history proves that the booed film was ahead of its time, sometimes booing either precedes negative critical reactions that follow or reflect the film’s divisiveness during its commercial release. Booed films often win awards. If there is one aspect connecting almost all booed films at Cannes, it’s that the films are challenging. I mean challenging as a descriptor that gives no indication of quality (much like I consider the term “slow”), but films that receive boos at the festival challenge their audiences or the parameters of the medium in one way or another, for better or […]

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It feels like a millennium has passed since it was announced that Terrence Malick – aka The Man Who Won’t Be Rushed – would be next turning his hand to The Tree of Life, which landed at Cannes this morning to shed light on its most infuriatingly purblind synopsis, and a mysterious trailer that didn’t exactly clear things up. Would Malick be able to live up to the increasingly stifling expectations heaped on him by his infamously ponderous post-production technique? Could the film recapture the director’s incredible eye for composition and visuals, or would we be treated to another mess of in-determination, whose quality of substance wildly misses that of its aesthetic, as some have come to predict? Flicking through the accompanying press pack, it is striking to note how much those involved in the film’s production seem to insist on its deep, universally appropriate meaning, and the fact that the film should be judged not as something conventional cinematic, but rather as a unique and visceral experience, infinite in scope, organic, which transcends words and definition. If the alarm bells hadn’t already been ringing, the bell-ringer would surely have collapsed with exhaustion at this point.

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Anyone can make a documentary that serves their own purpose, the real skill is presenting something analytically that explores the facts and encourages the audience to come to their own conclusions. The difficult prospect there of course is that no one really sets out to make a documentary that doesn’t touch controversial ground, so usually either the audience or the filmmaker themself will have some prefigured opinion on the subject that will color their judgement no matter what the doc says. And to a certain extent, it doesn’t matter what this documentary/expose by Keith Allen (father of Lily and co-creator of hit UK jingoistic single “Vindaloo”) succeeds or fails at because his subject matter is solid gold. Allen takes the opportunity in Unlawful Killing to probe analytically whether there was a cover up during the inquest into the deaths of Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed, as well as driver Henri Paul in a Paris tunnel in 1997, or at least he claims that as his intention…

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On paper, Michel Hazanavicius‘s The Artist looks a fairly difficult sell. Tell anyone you’re off to see a black and white, silent movie that runs over 90 minutes long and they might look at you with a mix of pity and downright confusion, and it will probably take a Herculean effort by Warner Brothers and The Weinstein Company to convince audiences to come out to see it. But make no mistake, the film is as good as any cinematic experience gets, and will have a far more lasting effect on the world of film than any bloated 3D “epic” that screens out here. The Artist is an infinitely charming, and incredibly clever homage to the Golden Age of silent film: as authentic and believable as if it were made circa 1927, right from the opening credits which are so subtly unquestionable that you’re immediately gripped by the glamour and romance of the era, before we’ve even met a character. When we do, it’s Jean Dujardin’s George Valentin, an intoxicatingly charming mega-star of the silent period, who has the whole Hollywood world on their knees before him – the film subsequently charts his peek, before the advent of the talkies arrives, and he finds himself cast out overnight in favor of the new breed of speaking stars. Along the way he meets Berenice Bejo’s Peppy Miller, a wannabe who miraculously finds her way to stardom when she bumps into George during a photo shoot, and takes her fate in her own hands to […]

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Cannes often courts controversy, and with potentially volatile films centered on a Child Protection Unit, and one on the Pope already screened, this year looks to be no different. Add to this the inclusion of Michael, a film that explores the relationship between a pedophile and his ten-year-old victim. Man alive that’s a change of direction from this morning’s show-case of Pirates of the Caribbean! That very brief synopsis may sound pretty despicable, and I have to admit I wrestled with why I would want to go and see it, but at the end of the day, I idolize good filmmaking, and who am I to judge how a director chooses to express his skill? The most difficult aspect is that it is impossible to resist comparisons with the harrowing real-life story of Austrian Natasha Kampusch, though thankfully director Markus Schleinzer (famously Michael Haneke’s casting director of choice) has chosen a far more tactful approach than presenting an obscene and intentionally controversial style.

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