Cannes 2012

Editor’s note: This review originally ran during Cannes 2012, but we’re re-running it as the film’s limited theatrical release begins this weekend. Those expecting Matteo Garrone to follow up 2008’s excellent Gomorrah with another authentic new world crime drama might be surprised to hear that his latest project replaces the seedy criminal underworld for a thoroughly modern exploration of the current fascination with reality TV and its particular brand of disposable fame. In Reality, we follow the tragi-comic story of Luciano (Aniello Arena), a Neapolitan fishmonger with aspirations to find his fortune on the Italian version of Big Brother at the behest of his family who see him as a star and inspired by the success of former housemate Enzo (Raffaele Ferrante). We also follow his subsequent delusional breakdown. Reality is effectively Garrone’s take on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, replacing the golden ticket with the chance to make it into the Big Brother House and instead of giving Charlie his fantastical pay-off, tricking him and trapping him in a perpetual hunt through Wonka bars for his one big shot. Offered an irresistible glimpse at what the prize would mean for his future, and intoxicated with the modern Fame Disease, Luciano quickly turns from charming family man to an obsessive, paranoid reclusive, convinced that the casting team of Big Brother are testing him for selection long after the show has started.

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On the Road Movie

Editor’s note: On the Road cruises into limited release this Friday, so put your brains into gear and enjoy this re-run of our Cannes review, originally published on May 23, 2012. Some books demand adaptation, offering immediate and easily translatable promise as film projects, whether that is thanks to the power of the plot, or characters or certain ideas that would lead to a looser adaptation. Jack Kerouac‘s seminal “On The Road” is not one of those books – like the work of James Joyce, the book is explicitly literary, its content inherently bound by its form and its author so fundamentally a writer before a storyteller that many, including myself, believed it to be unadaptable. In that context, the presence of Walter Salles‘ adaptation, imaginatively called On The Road, on the In Competition list here always stood out as an intriguing prospect. How would the director who made that other road movie The Motorcycle Diaries cope with the very specific problem of adapting something that is so explicitly literary? The answer, unfortunately, is not well. For a tale which so obviously values hedonism and free expression, On The Road is ultimately joyless and unengaging, and for a self-discovering road movie to fudge the journey so much and lose almost all lasting meaning is downright criminal.

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Editor’s Note: This review originally ran as part of our Cannes 2012 coverage. Cosmopolis hits theaters this weekend, August 17th. Though it is faintly vulgar to talk of any actors in terms of only one project, who would have thought a couple of years ago that the two lead actors from Twilight would both feature In Competition at Cannes, starring in brave and bold adaptations of two iconic, but problematic American novels? Two days after Kristen Stewart’s next release – Walter Salles’ On The Road – screened in the Theatre Lumiere, the same screen played host to the Robert Pattinson-starring adaptation of Don DeLillo‘s Cosmopolis. The film follows Eric Packer (Pattinson), a young billionaire asset manager on a journey across a thronging New York City in his limousine, flanked by his head of security Torval (Kevin Durand) in order to get a hair cut. Along the way he encounters colleagues (Jay Baruchel, Samantha Morton, and Philip Nozuko), protesters (Mathieu Amalric), his wife (Sarah Gadon) and lovers (Juliette Binoche and Patricia McKenzie), all of whom contribute to unravel his cold, clinical world. It helps little that the New York he seeks to cross is in open revolt, with anti-corporation demonstrations making way for violence, and somewhere amongst it, an unknown killer stalks Eric.

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Last year, I kicked off the FSR Cannes Awards by taking the opportunity to give three awards to The Artist (three of the Oscars it won actually, if you’re interested in just how much of a boss I am), and though there isn’t quite the same standout type of film at this year’s festival, there were some notable highlights. The rain was not one of them. This year, I saw 21 of the hundreds of films available to see, so these awards obviously only take in those that I deemed worthy of my attention (or which were possible to see given the intense mathematical equations required to see everything and write reviews of them all in timely enough fashion that all of the key information doesn’t bugger off out of your head). Here are my own highlights of the 65th annual Cannes Film Festival:

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The Paperboy John Cusack

Last year’s Cannes Film Festival featured this year’s Oscar winning Best Actor performance thanks to the inclusion of the wonderful The Artist in competition, and though the films seem to have been chosen for their artistry and provocative subtexts more than any really commercial pointers (as always happens the year after the festival is deemed “too commercial”), there have been some seriously fine performances this year as well. There wasn’t an Uggy this year, but there was a murdered pooch in Moonrise Kingdom, a bitey Killer Whale in Rust & Bone, and a striking performance from an armadillo in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Me and You, so we’ll have to wait and see who emerges with the best animal performance. Probably won’t come from Madagascar 3 though…so for the time being, let’s stick to the humans.

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The Best Short Films

Why Watch? Seeing Rubber was a highlight of 2010. Quentin Dupieux proved his fierce, uncompromising imagination and a flare for nihilism which made the strange journey of a murderous tire ingenious. His follow-up was Wrong, which hit festivals a while back, but he’s now premiered a short at Cannes that’s not a sequel. He’s just lazy with titles. Wrong Cops, hilarious in its towering self-confident commitment, features the kind of sleazebag authority figure that would make Harvey Keitel smile. Just kidding. Harvey Keitel never smiles. Still, this short is like exploring a place you’ve been before and finding something different. Insane and wondrous, it also asks a profound philosophical question that demands several minutes of contemplation: does Marilyn Manson want a picture of your dick? What will it cost? Only 13 minutes. Skip Work. You’ve Got Time For More Short Films

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Michael Haneke on set of Amour (Love)

As we all know, “Palme d’Or” is French for Feather Button Hand of Gold Achievement. Or something. Google Translate wasn’t loading this morning. Regardless, it’s as prestigious as awards get, although it hilariously almost never lines up with the Oscars (for good reason). Past winners include Barton Fink, Taxi Driver, MASH, The Third Man, Black Orpheus, La Dolce Vita, The Wind That Shakes the Barley and nearly one hundred other films that should be on a rental queue somewhere. That list also includes Michael Haneke‘s The White Ribbon which took the price in 2009 and, as of yesterday, his latest film Love (Amour). That’s 2 wins for the director in 4 competition years. It ties him for Most Palmes d’Or Ever (no director has won more than two), where he joins Alf Sjoberg (Iris and the Lieutenant, Miss Julie); Francis Ford Coppola (The Conversation, Apocalypse Now); Bille August (Pelle the Conqueror, The Best Intentions); Emir Kusturica (When Father Was Away on Business, Underground); Shohei Imamura (The Eel, The Ballad of Narayama); and The Dardenne Brothers (Rosetta, The Child). It’s a stellar achievement deserving of a long standing ovation than the one that The Paperboy got. The full list of winners (from the festival website) is as follows:

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Holy Motors Movie Leos Carax

The question is, do you open the sack? Simon’s review from Cannes praises the positive brand of bat-shit insanity that Leos Carax‘s latest flick, Holy Motors, has going for it: “Really, the film is no more than a Kafkaesque short story idea, stretched out into a high-high-concept film that is baffling, infuriating and brilliant in equal measure. It will undoubtedly pick up five star reviews, and the only restraint on this review comes from my own refusal to cast off the conventional entertainment gauge: it’s hard to imagine anyone enjoying their popcorn when confronted with a naked man with an erection eating Eva Mendes‘s hair.” The trailer has a violent tone to it, a dangerous smoke that lingers, something felt but not always seen. There is an angry potential to it (hence the cat simile). Essentially, it feels like the kind of movie that dares you to see it. Check out the trailer for yourself, and get ready to scratch your head:

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Gimme the Loot

To find something as simple as Gimme The Loot in amongst the grand-standing, self-consciously important films at Cannes is a rare thing this year, but that isn’t to say that the slightness of Adam Leon‘s debut feature should in any way be construed as a criticism. His day in the life, gentle teenage caper flick is heartfelt and hugely charming, and the fact that it was made with a near zero budget, and has already walked away with the Narrative Grand Jury Prize at SXSW back in March is a major achievement. Inspired by a local-access cable TV show’s suggestion of the NY Mets homerun apple as a worthy target for any graffiti artists (or “bombers” in the language of the film) looking to make a name for themselves, two Bronx teenagers – Malcolm or “Shakes” (Ty Hickson) and Sofia (Tashiana Washington) set about achieving the feat that has defied everyone for the past twenty years. Malcolm knows a man inside at Citi Fields who can get them access before the Mets return from an away game, but the only issue is the $500 finders fee and the fact that both the teens’ pockets are empty.

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Beasts of the Southern Wild

Cannes’ secondary competition – Un Certain Regard – offers attendees the opportunity to see innovative or intriguing projects, deemed of significance by the programme schedulers, and if there is any film in the selection which fits the bill perfectly, it is Benh Zeitlin‘s Beasts of the Southern Wild. As Kevin Kelly stated in his own review of the film, it changes the way you see movies, and Zeitlin’s first feature arrived at the festival buoyed by similarly positive reviews at Sundance. The film takes place in the Bathtub, a Southern American area outside of a government enforced levee where a community of resistant, and spirited residents live in shacks in the ominous shadow cast by global warming. Our hero is Hush Puppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), an extraordinary six year old girl who lives next door to her father Wink (Dwight Henry), living day to day on the bayou, among a colourful cascade of  carnival characters, but haunted both by the ghost of her absent mother and the threat of impending ecological doom. The narrative is driven by two flashpoint events: first Wink disappears, to return days later in a hospital gown and then a raging storm floods the Bathtub, destroying the communities homes and leaving only a small group of survivors to rebuild.

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Me and You Bernardo Bertolucci Movie

Bernardo Bertolucci‘s latest, Me and You, is the director’s first Italian language film for 30 years, seeking to show that the Italian has never lost touch with his ability to translate adolescent concerns on screen after an enforced absence from the industry, and while the film is tonally quite impressive, it lacks engagement and feels like little more than an over-stretched short story concept, imbued with the kind of self-importance that dilutes any kind of enduring message. The spartan, surprisingly high-concept story focuses on Lorenzo (Jacopo Olmo Antinori), a troubled 14-year-old who lives on the outskirts of his school’s social cliques and prefers his own company, who spends a week living hidden in the basement of his home, having told his concerned mother (Sonia Bergamasco) that he is going on a school skiing trip. His holiday away from the horrors of normal life is spoiled somewhat when his half-sister Olivia (Tea Falco) turns up out of the blue, suffering withdrawal symptoms from her drug problem, and embittered by her family’s rejection of her. The two immediately strike up a difficult dynamic as Olivia struggles with her drug demons, and Lorenzo with his social awkwardness and some darker compulsions that are only briefly hinted at in a film which is surprisingly chaste considering its potential and Bertolucci’s track record.

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The Paperboy Movie Lee Daniels

For a long time heavy-weight director Pedro Almodovar attempted to bring an adaptation of Peter Dexter‘s excellent novel “The Paperboy” to the screen, and a cursory glance at the story details of that novel confirm exactly what promise the Spanish auteur saw in that potential project. The book focuses on the case of death row inmate Hillary Van Wetter, convicted for the death of a local sheriff who murdered his cousin, and whose romantic relationship with letter-writer Charlotte Bless leads to the involvement of two investigative journalists from Miami who look into the possibility of Van Wetter being innocent. Without wanting to give away too much, as the book progresses, all is not what it seems, leading to a catastrophic ending. It seems that Almodovar was not the man to bring a film version of The Paperboy to life, and Precious director Lee Daniels stepped in to offer his own take on the story, investing a good deal more social outrage and shifting the focus onto the younger brother of one of those journalists. Zac Efron plays that brother – Jack Jansen – a former swimmer kicked out of college for an angry act of vandalism, and Matthew McConaughey his elder brother Ward, who enlists the help of writing partner Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo) to investigate Van Wetter’s (John Cusack) innocence, at the behest of local vamp, and regular inmate letter write Bless (Nicole Kidman).

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Just when the festival’s perpetual rain threatened to soak right through the collected critics’ spirit, redemption came from the most unlikely of places, the grey, wind-swept streets and hills of recession hit Scotland. The Angels’ Share sees festival veteran Ken Loach return to the Croisette with a gentle, but politically loaded comedy, steeped in Gaelic identity but carrying a wider message that feels appropriate well beyond the geographical borders of the film. The film follows Robbie (Paul Brannigan), a young Glaswegian with a violent past on community service and intent on changing the direction of his life for the benefit of his girlfriend Leonie (Siobhan Reilly) and newborn baby son Luke. Inspired by community service supervisor Harry (the always excellent John Henshaw), Robbie discovers a flair and passion for whiskey appreciation, and is invited into the alien world of whiskey collection thanks to his skills. With the considerable ominous shadow of his past hanging over his head, and worries that he is not good enough for his girlfriend (not aided by the violent reinforcement of her father, Psycho-Balls), Robbie hatches a plan to steal three bottles from a very rare cask of Malt Mill whiskey from a Highlands auction.

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The Hunt Movie (Jagten)

When a film’s pre-release marketing includes mention of false accusations of pedophilia, and the subsequently unraveling world of  the accused kindergarten assistant, and it has been included in Competition at Cannes, you could be forgiven for expecting an openly provocative project designed for no more than an Ulrich Seidl style rise from the audience. But unlike last year’s festival inclusion Michael, from Austrian director Markus Schleinzer, Jagten or The Hunt in my mother tongue, takes a more subtle approach to the considerably dangerous material, exploring lead character Lucas’ accusation as a harrowing situational horror that crawls under the audiences skin and which is profoundly successful as a slow-burning drama with a biting edge. While the horror of Michael was in the matter of fact way the film presented its protagonist – a pedophile who keeps his young victim captive in a basement prison – in perversely conventional terms, Jagten’s horror is far more artfully conceived, presenting an irresistible What If situation that quickly escalates because of the nature of an accusation and the dangers of gossip and presumption. In the hands of director Thomas Vinterberg, we watch with tangible horror as the cataclysmic waves blossom out from a malicious lie and threaten to swallow up Mads Mikkelsen‘s Lucas.

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Holy Motors Leos Carax

Cannes films have a tendency to provoke reaction, with selections chosen for their impact more often than any conventionally commercial appeal, and as a result, responses from those who attend tend to polarize. In that context, it is no surprise that Leos Carax‘s weird and wonderful Holy Motors was chosen to screen In Competition, judging by the number of walk-outs and the final standing ovation. The film follows Mr. Oscar (Denis Lavant), an inexplicable figure who is driven around Paris in a stretch limousine by his chauffeur Celine (Edith Scob), fulfilling “assignments” around the city. The angle is that Mr. Oscar is an actor, and his assignments are characters, each requiring precise and preposterous costumes as he seeks the ultimate performance, in front of invisible characters for an unknown audience. As the film progresses, Mr. Oscar advances through his list of jobs – an old beggar woman, an assassin, a businessman, a father, a dying old man, a deranged, violent monster who eats flowers and kidnaps supermodels – committing himself entirely to the art of character. We are never afforded an insight to who he really is, how he came to be, or even whether there is any reality in any of the situations at all.

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Brad Pitt in Killing Them Softly

Andrew Dominik always had an ominous mountain to climb with his next feature, having polarized opinion with The Assassination Of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford, that most tonal and visually textured of revisionist Westerns, but with Killing Them Softly he has certainly at least avoided the black hole that tends to suck young talents perilously down into obscurity. He might not, however, have scored a huge commercial hit. Taking a leaf out of Jesse James‘s book, Killing Them Softly is effectively a post-gangster film, deconstructing the genre and smashing it against the oh-so-contemporary wall built by recessions and austerity measures. The label might still seem to read “gangster,” with the presence of wise guys and henchmen presiding over their own lawless patches of the murky underbelly of normal society, but gone is the aspirational elements of Goodfellas and Casino in favor of a tight-belted, thoroughly modern revision of the gangster ideal. For all intents and purposes, this is the cut-price Cosa Nostra.

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The simplest way to sell Wayne Blair‘s film debut The Sapphires is to say it is like the point where Dreamgirls and Cool Runnings meet, only with a more explicit socio-cultural message, and played out against the backdrop of the Vietnam War. And all in all it’s a largely undemanding, entertaining affair. The title refers to an all-Aboriginal vocal group – Gail (Deborah Mailman), Julie (Jessica Mauboy), Kay (Shari Sebbens), and Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) – who leave the discriminant community their families live on the edge of and travel to Vietnam to entertain the American troops, under the guidance of their self-styled “Soul Man” manager (played by the excellent Chris O’Dowd in a role that bears resemblance to John Candy‘s in Cool Runnings). Along the way The Sapphires explores similar issues to Dreamgirls: the group are initially torn by personal frictions and haunted by underlying racial tensions both within their own group and in the wider world, and have their heads turned by the new opportunities of fame.

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Sitting in a theater watching a fair few people walk out in protest at the poor quality of Dracula 3D, you have to wonder whether they knew anything about horror legend Dario Argento, and if so what exactly they expected from the director whose name alone guarantees an audience. Because Argento has a certain set of skills, which aren’t necessarily reconcilable with what is great about film these days, but to give due credit, he hasn’t really deviated from the same tracks for decades, and the result is generally an entertaining affair all the same. This time out he’s taken the iconic Dracula story on, giving horror’s most famous character (played here by Thomas Kretschmann) his first 3D treatment, and adding a few other brand new touches to the iconic story of how the Count tricked Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde) into working for him in order to take his wife Mina (Marta Gastini) for his own. Along the familiar path we meet jealous and mostly naked vampire Tanja (Miriam Giovanelli), the infamous Dracula servant Renfield (Giovanni Franzoni), and the various pawns in the game, both victims and servants of the Dark Lord, with the prominent role of Lucy going to the director’s daughter Asia Argento. And of course, in the final third we are invited to enjoy the many pleasures of Rutger Hauer as Abraham Van Helsing.

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Being the son of a famous artist can certainly have its drawbacks, and the most pronounced for Brandon “Son of David” Cronenberg will undoubtedly be certain expectations that he will take up his father’s filmmaking tricks and become a great in his own right. Especially difficult for Cronenberg Jr. will be some of his father’s fans’ unwillingness to forget former successes, and perpetually demand that he make Videodrome again, and the inevitability that they might now turn to him for that opportunity. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be such a concern, because based on the experience of Antiviral – included in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes film fest – the son of The Fly director has every intention of following in his father’s oddly-shaped footprints.

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Whatever happened to brevity? Xavier Dolan‘s latest project – the transgender-infused romantic melodrama Laurence Anyways that was chosen as part of this year’s secondary Un Certain Regard competition in Cannes – weighs in at a comfort-busting two hours and thirty nine minutes. That, in any context, is too long. But, perhaps the plot might offer redemption, and make for an engrossing enough experience to make time less of an issue? It all appeared very promising – a decade spent in the company of Laurence (Melvil Poupaud), who makes the bold and brave decision to change his sex, and his girlfriend Frederique (Suzanne Clement) who must come to terms with exactly what that decision must mean. Over the ten years the pair refind each other as Laurence advances on his personal journey of discovery, making this sort of like When Harry Became Sally, if you’re looking for a provocative, self-indulgent pop reference.

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published: 11.21.2014
D
published: 11.21.2014
B+
published: 11.19.2014
C+
published: 11.19.2014
B-, C


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