An assortment of atypical Cannes Reviews – from a sorry existence (1) to sheer brilliance (5)

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Find out more about each of these films by clicking through the title link to IMDB.

Spooks: The Greater Good (UK)
Kit Harington in SpooksTerrible and terrible where it matters most: the script and casting. I won’t write anymore other than this: the film deserves a star for credible action sequences and technical ability. I apologise for this inconvenience. 1/5

Amnesia (Switzerland/France)

amnesiaYou might just experience elements of amnesia watching this film. I’ve forgotten most of it and it was dealt like a blank deck of cards. Two interesting characters of different ages and backgrounds gently form a bond that will never become the reality that is perhaps so desired. An interesting starting point for a tale, but extremely underplayed here. The capital crime of drama scores the highest marks: passivity. One could potentially see the complete opposite: the films greatest feature is that real life can often be this boring! 1.5 /5

The Sea of Trees (US)

the_sea_of_treesThere is the jungle and the home. The events in the jungle feel contrived and painfully engineered, while the motionless flashbacks to the old procedures of a failing marriage actually carry some weight. Naomi Watts and Matthew McConaughey react together with a dynamic that is strikingly consistent with a floundering relationship. They are both great actors who can always go the distance in expressing a tortured soul, so while there is nothing we haven’t seen before, there is at least something special between them.

The film does not create a lasting impression. Given the plotline it should be a devastating film and under such circumstances it should linger. Why not? There is no secret ingredient that can answer this; it must surely be a whole culmination of factors. Though, in particular, the crosscutting to home and back didn’t have any effect for me, and the suicidal colleague of McConaughey was a tricky plea along with McConaughey himself relinquishing his prerequisite with death in order to take up an action adventure of sorts. Furthermore, the music melted over the top of the images like some ghastly peroxide drawing attention to it. It was not poetic even in its desperation to appear so and finally we can just say it’s all a bit messy. 2/5

A Perfect Day (Spain/Mexico)

the_perfect_dayA perfect day spent searching for rope in an armed conflict zone with the hopes of returning a humongous dead body from a deep well leads to no avail. This remains true throughout the course of the film, and whilst all rather a bit tedious, there are more than a few laugh out louds to be had, namely from the caricatures of Tim Robbins and Benicio del Toro. Robbins is wonderfully strong as a pitiful misfit, but stunning Olga Kurylenko is used simply as a means to be stunning and as cause for a little extra controversy between the groups. Though in most cases, the range of performance is significantly left unstirred.

A few poignant moments highlight the treachery and heartache of warfare, of which involve the caught-up adventures of a local boy showcasing his innocence. Although, still there is little to really focus us on these events and no real purpose is served other than the few laughs previously mentioned. The actors are enough to keep one engaged and the panoramas that encompass them duly create a nice spot of photography. 2/5

Diary of a Chambermaid (France)

diary-of-a-chambermaidLéa Seydoux is always remarkable and she is no less wonderful here, but it arrives amidst the unfortunately shambolic retelling of the enchanting Buñuel/Renoir classics. Célestine, the conniving servant, is irrational and lets her emotions spark the narrative in different directions, yet thankfully we are given the sufficient insight to understand the intentions behind such desperate actions; a tribute to Seydoux’s performance that does offer an enjoyable viewing experience. However, the situation of this retelling ultimately had it doomed from the beginning, it is near impossible to be unbiased considering what has come before. The design and locations are rich and fanciful and the film certainly has an allure, a voyeurism, and elements of intrigue, but nothing groundbreaking for French cinema. 2/5

Raging Rose (France/Poland)

raging-rose-crache-coeurThe opening sequence had me sold: thought-provoking work and a very dependable lead performance. However, the film quickly banishes a clear direction and tries to achieve too much with its interaction, yet this is not necessarily a fault and is made up for by an interesting take on naturalism and complimentary achievements in cinematic gallantry. A few instances of nonsensical character developments and other such flaws, but perhaps they are element to the bubbling rage and irregularity of being a teenager. Fundamentally interesting if anything else. 2.5/5

Sicario (US)

EmilyBluntSicarioThe film has its powerful moments from the extreme veracity and horrors of the drug trade to the subtler and more poignant performance from Emily Blunt, but it is steadily lacking in any resolute plot development or regular reason of events. To the films merit, it places us on the side of Blunt where we are forced to make sense of the bravado and corruption that make up the characters of Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro. We are constantly made to feel fear and anything deeper than this is somehow left behind. Blunt’s fear can feel artificial at times and perhaps it is due to living amidst and acting out too much fear!

The visuals lensed by Roger Deakins also carry the film and the layers of sequencing and viewpoints that make up the action are at times staggering. However, these scenes of car squads pursuing through Mexican towns for half an hour or so with their almighty presence lend to an action, or tension, that is overtly too consistent to have the preferred punch. A captivating fondue of warfare indeed, but missing something, a guess could be a touch of the human spirit: a richer connection between the lines of this interesting conflict. 2.5/5

The Assassin (China)

the-assassin-cannes-film-festivalApart from nodding off for five or ten minutes mid-way through (a merit to the films magic I might argue), The Assassin is a stunning spell of filmmaking that looks back beyond the ancient roots of storytelling and the moving image. Olympia screen one also has some cushy new leather seats, which are considerably appealing after an urgent and clammy stride down the Croisette seconds away from midday sunstroke.

The action is effortless and given a weightless quality that is retained by a strict and somehow expansive form of choreography. The characters feel re-born from 9th century China where the simple natured ways of living by the sword had reached their most potent. This is until our assassin becomes torn between the two worlds postured by family and foe, a conflict of dynasties and moralities. It is an efficient exchange of the cinematic language and one that lets it slowly seep into our growing hearts. The imagery of distant hills in the closing of daylight is also most pleasing (to wake to)! 3/5

The Lobster (UK/Ireland/Greece)

The_LobsterIt is easy to be split into two minds over this film. The better side of you says that this whole game is repulsive, gratuitous and demeaning to the human race as an entirety. Or, the satirist in you will delight at the extraordinary world that Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos is somehow able to so credibly postulate. I stand between each for different moments in the film, making for still yet an extraordinary experience. Whatever one says, you will find yourself in fits of rapturous laughter and then in instants of utter silence and contemplation. The foundation of our sense of place, existence and the societies that we have formulated as living human beings is certainly raised from beneath the surface and this might not be such a bad thing.

If we consider the human being as a matter of decadent specie, or in reverse, an extra-terrestrial life form that has just been sponged onto this earth, then we have no reason to take the character’s actions at face value. We can therefore laugh at their incompetence and thank ourselves that we, back in our own nurtured reality, are better off. This is one way to justify the means and the other is to accept a film as a film, and still more precisely a film in which the world (the reality) belongs to Yorgos.

The film kicks off with fiercely witty dialogue and immediately creates a dangerous territory of deadpan humour beyond our wildest imaginations. This continues and eventually falls off to be replaced with more piloting adventure and demonstrative responses from Colin Farrell who excels in such a role. All the performances definitely crack the whip. However, there is little more to the film than these escapades and the crusade of lampooning. The course becomes more and more unsteady, but that said, the taunting and deliciously manipulative last few sequences are to be bestowed upon. 3.5/5

Eisenstein in Guanajuato (Netherlands/Mexico/Finland)

eisenstein-in-guanajuatoThe film most definitely achieves one thing: it is “boxing for the freedom of cinematic expression”. This line uttered by Elmer Bäck, whose prodigious performance has more voltage than a bolt of lightning, is thrown back and forth between uncovering sexuality and the irate eccentricities that trump the traits of a genius. The film pays historical service to highlighting the constraints of a film industry concerned with an American audience and, of course, keeping the costs down! In one illustration, an important meeting with the head of a Hollywood studio is turned into a cat and mouse chase around Sergei’s prized chamber with items of clothing taking on a life of their own.

However, this film does not run away film industry tics and shortcomings. Peter Greenaway makes no exception to focus on exploring a man’s desperate search for identity in a world where the existence of film (in its hundreds of feet) is likely to contain the only meaning to anything. Some moment’s even form a satirical vantage point on the human sentiment, it is reached through the depth of Sergei’s character and is certainly open to many comical and very speaking interpretations. 4/5

Mia madre (Italy)

mia_madreNanni Moretti helms another sincerely honest portrait of late middle-aged overthrow and this time it is a female film director in an ever-brooding tumult over the approaching death of her terminally ill mother who does all the suffering. Despite the exploration of death and the pessimistic outlook on existence, the film is equally bursting with currents of joy and artistic freedom. The expression of John Turturro’s character seeks out nonconformity in the rules that apply to a film set and its rigorous motions. He is an annoyance to the director with all these foibles, but is also a distraction and counterpoint to what the director is really searching for – namely a truth and redemption. Turturro brings moments of real hilarity thanks to the sharp and clever dialogue that he navigates fully charged and by way of particular command.

Reality itself is inevitably put under great scrutiny. The film gestures towards a preferred reality in the medium of filmmaking and is definitely satirical to anyone familiar with the ordeal and magic of the process. Margherita, the director, is able to escape the fears awaiting her at home and launch her imagination elsewhere. However, this other reality constituted by the filmmaker is severely tested by the personal life and develops a very interesting mediation for telling a story with lots of laughs, perception and ideas. A director can smile on a film set and they can also look close to complete bereavement. The ending of this film suggests that it is the place to smile and that there would be little hope otherwise. For Margherita, and dare I say it in more general terms, being a film director gives connotation to an otherwise empty existence. 4.5/5

There are so many great films at Cannes and one can’t possibly schedule them all in or get admission. It is a dream factory of cinema exhibition, but it can seek to irritate, for example in the scheduling of four fantastic films within the same hour. Such is the explosion of filmmaking from around the globe and the riot of 12 days in Cannes to see 1200 movies.

Below are links to my two five star reviews/favourite and most memorable screenings this year.

 LOVE

CHRONIC

Thanks for sticking with the madness and joy!

Chronic is a way of life and death.

ChronicDirector: Michel Franco
Original Title: Chronic
Country of Production: Mexico, France

Endurance and persistence are the principal characteristics of Tim Roth’s chronically depressed character. He is stuck in a motion of caring for those close to death supposedly in order to feel closer to life himself. He breathes their air and consumes it for his own good. It is the paradox of life and death and good lord do we stroke them both.

If there are two more things deeply haunting about this film, it’s the first and last image. An opening sequence precedes the films title card ‘Chronic’, after which appears the skeletal structure of an anorexic lady being washed under the shower by Roth. The shot lingers, frozen to its framing, as is the method of Franco’s use of the camera, and we soon feel the strength of every droplet of water as it carries a piece of life away with it. This will not be the first time that we witness the waking of death; instead every image throughout the film will be stained with its remnants. Ironically, the last image appears as a flash, the paradoxical metaphor is complete and the unexpected becomes a reflection of the expected. In other words, a twist occurs in the way that it should: as a surprise routed in thematic significance.

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Trying to articulate an order in which to explain one’s experience viewing this film is difficult to come by. The spectator may experience boredom, anxiety, hunger, anger, weakness, sickness, sadness, and even hopefulness, the latter not being an adjective of focus for Franco yet nevertheless still given its moments. It is a case of going so far in one direction that it becomes impossible not to taste a little of the opposite. As humans we feel great sadness, but the cliché here is that we know we must feel alive to experience such feelings, and because of this sadness we are psychologically able to experience great happiness. It is the sprinkles of salt and pepper mixed into the overwhelming curry.

Roth’s character moves from patient to patient and becomes more and more dependent on those who he cares for, while they equally and more necessarily return the favour. From mental health 101 to old age and cancer, there is no escaping the demise that carries this film and fuels its unbearable nature. This is all attributed to the performances that uncover certain mysteries surrounding death and seek to hide nothing by way of concealment. The true evidence is that which Franco’s camera penetrates: the observation of human emotion, fragility and expiry. The method of filmmaking is restricted, no close-ups, no music that doesn’t appear within the world of the picture (diegetic), no cutting ahead of time, no wild camera tracks, the picture appears quite simply as is. It is a remarkable way to tell stories and makes me wonder why we ever felt the need to tell them differently.

5/5

International sales by Wild Bunch. UK Premiere TBA.

Love is joyous, playful, tearful, fearful and deeply melancholic.

LOVEDirector: Gaspar Noé
Original Title: Love
Country of Production: France

The first thing to note about this film is its 3D format. I hate 3D. However, I am biased towards my distaste due to 3D’s primary association with blockbuster spectacles, but after witnessing a burning love story on the 3D plane, I can only succumb to complete fascination.

A love story for Gaspar Noé is a story of overflowing passions, plenty of sex and affinities of addiction. It is also a story about Noé, filled with his philosophies on life and the special ingredient of love – love is clearly the meaning behind many of life’s prospects. Not to mention, for a bit of riotous dramatic irony, the newly born baby of Murphy carefully named Gaspar and the ex-lover of Electra also named Noé, the owner of a famed art gallery.

The film plays like a masterclass in the thought of its auteur. Electra replies to Murphy’s question, “what is the meaning of life?” with the simple answer, “love”. The film is a treatise of love and perhaps a nostalgic love that not all of us are familiar with. Love is different in every circumstance, an attribute that makes love the complex sensation that it seeks to be. Love is the foundation of our desires and heartaches as emotional human beings; no one learns these lessons harder than the character of Murphy.

There is rarely a brighter side to the films of Noé. His films swelter under a lantern of scorched memories, split grief and sunken yearnings of the human soul. On this dark side is arguably where we can find life’s most beautiful moments, at least that is what Noé’s Love attempts to achieve. Watching this film you may cry and lust over the images before being held in a state of far-reaching intoxication, unsure of all predispositions in the mediation of the cinematic image. Those magical moments of first love and the first night with a new partner are overwhelmed by the futilities of life’s needs and complications. The expression is bountiful and sticks to one like the pain of an ingrown ulcer.

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The first criticism of this film will be without fail the sexual content. This is unfortunate, as previously articulated, the film is far more than a sexual meeting. Why is the sex important? Sex is natural and so very natural to any loving encounter. Noé clearly sees no reason not to indulge in the fantasies of a young couple, in what is an honest attempt at the intricacies of the sexual relationship amidst the hunger of love. These scenes can be explicit on the eye, but they are without doubt the most thoughtfully and breathtakingly crafted sex scenes I have ever had the pleasure to face.

Murphy himself is an aspiring film director and has his own philosophy on the medium that he wishes to share with Electra. Why has no one made a film of partners in love having explicit sex? Of course, the twofold irony of this is such that we are witness to Murphy’s own desires through Murphy himself. He also believes that blood, sperm and tears formulate the essence of life and can’t understand why movies don’t reflect this. These facets of the human certainly stand true to many manifestations, notably the tears pair with one’s outward suffering, the sperm with an essential private pleasure, and the blood as the component fuelling the interior toxins of life. We can expect an explosion of such fluids pumping across Love.

When a film has such a strong vision and an abundance of things to say, it is challenging to confine the art to a film review. It is no wonder the critics have had to dismiss the film as some form of talky soft porn; they won’t find the time to invest the thought that the film deserves. It’s as if the film spreads like a book and reads like Nietzsche or Kafka, perhaps Noé should write a novel or thesis on love instead. Yet, such lines are insults, the written word cannot reveal every frame a painting and expose moving actions stapled with the intelligence of a provocateur.

On a final note, do not be dispositional to images of a natural cause. There is no gratuitous violence in this film. Is the sex gratuitous? One could argue that sex cannot be so; it is a different category to violence and should be accepted as justified for a story that focuses on the trials of young love. Either way, I like to consider any well-dressed image that creates a memorable or thought-provoking experience as a worthwhile one. Our lives are made up of these memorable experiences; our memories stipulate what makes up a large part of our reality. This is where cinema excels again at proving to be such a powerful medium.

5/5

International sales by Wild Bunch. UK Premiere TBA by Artificial Eye distribution.

We Monsters – A Market Treat at Cannes 2015

wemonstersThe conclusion of this film leaves us with the deadly intention that the family is the MONSTER. By way of lies, love and human nature, a family is forced into a series of events with little way out other than the formation of trust.

The film boils with tension from the get go and releases the toxins of human antagonism to remarkable depths. Actions are fully realised with almighty blows and moral conflicts that turn the filmic landscape into a minefield of operations. Signed off with a touch from the heart, topnotch acting and the all-encompassing imagery, Sebastian Ko’s debut feature film is nothing short of first-class cinema and entertainment.

Upon deeper reflection, it is surprising how wicked the actions of these believable characters become. The spice of this is Ko’s ability to make us empathise on all levels and become wholly caught up in the conflict. The perspective that haunts each moment is constantly shifting and leading us deeper into the journey of these characters. These troubles aren’t without their laughs either. Mind games are full to the brim and hilarious in their own peculiar way. The human idiosyncrasy that is revealed in times of desperation is a key stance exploited by Ko and one that certainly calls for the occasional smirk and releasing of oomph from a tightly wound audience.

Pluto Film represents We Monsters – they do a fantastic job of treating new talent with high regard and providing a sales platform for bold and new crossover dramas – I was fortunate enough to attend their market screening in Cannes. The worldwide premiere for the film will be held at Shanghai International Film Festival taking place between 13th to the 21st June. UK Premiere to be announced shortly after.

5/5   

Cannes 2015 Entry #4 – The Market Screenings

cannes_market

The best thing about market screenings – if you aren’t buying or selling – is some kind of ego formulation: “I could have made that better. How did this film even get representation? Let’s walk out and filter some conceited pleasure in doing so.” I have to admit, no matter how **** the film, I struggle to walk out, not for didactic reasons (though we all wish to support our fellows), but because my imagination insists on discovering more about the image. It’s like cutting the cord short, taking a leap off a tall building to your demise and never finding out the what if (I hadn’t jumped). It is a parallel with life; we all know this lays the foundation for the essence of cinema, or am I projecting too much here? Don’t we have to over-project anyway as a cinema spectator? Do I take cinema too seriously? Shouldn’t we take it seriously? Okay…

Exploring the depths of independent cinema – one minute you are watching a Cantonese language film about an old head schoolmistress having a social/economic crisis, and the next moment you might be watching a German adolescent pierce the skin of her thigh with a musical instrument (true story). There is a great range and while one might have to endure some painstaking hours, you will always find the hidden treasures (if you stay long enough) and make a new discovery on your journey through the galaxy of cinema. It’s like being a child at the fun fair and taking boundless lucky dips at the slots with no extra cost.

Occasionally, the sales agents will be hovering outside the entrance to cut off any slackers – people like myself who just want a bit more cinema and don’t stand as head of acquisitions for Lionsgate in the UK; what a festive job it could be as head of acquisitions… A representative gave me a slight look of madness when I said I wasn’t a festival programmer/director, sales agent or buyer, no consideration on her part for my willingness to explore and share their movie. The screening was practically empty and so ten minutes later the lady distressingly waved me through, yet to my distress, it meant I had missed the first ten minutes of the film – I can’t allow that to happen. Call it what you will, but again (taking cinema a bit seriously) it’s like forgetting to cut the umbilical cord; I’m left behind to miss the first crucial moments of a precious life. Okay, cinema might not be so drastic; it remains intact for what should be an eternity, but not allowing the imagination to play with opening moments causes a longing to return and an unsatisfied mind (promising a satisfied mind can exist). The counter argument to this would be that missing the beginning of a film makes one more focused, as they have to play catch-up, and give more attention over to what is really happening. Whatever… I don’t imagine the filmmaker wrote the first ten pages whilst thinking, “Yes, we can definitely cut this.”

Cannes 2015 Entry #3 – The Divide

cannes_crowd

The paradox of this place is that everyone is searching for money and spending money they don’t have. Or rather, the .1% here has great yachts (probably not the filmmakers – the CEO of Dolce & Gabbana perhaps) and spends with all riches while the 12,000 filmmakers cobble on the sidewalks and plea for development money. Where is the middle ground? There is one, of course, but it is harder to spot, as is the case when one critiques any walk of life/society. A further paradox is that everyone has to look like they do have money – this is Cannes – and so returns home completely out of stock! I’ll be taking that suit back for a refund…

The hotels. I discovered that the festival hotels on the Croisette, the Majestic, Carlton etc. aren’t even top dollar for around here. They are popping with glam and sleaze, but the stars venture further down the strip to a place beyond any apparent humane reach. One can begin to suffocate amongst all the comfort, though saying that, the lifts in the festival hotels are surprisingly tight-nit – don’t overload! I don’t mean to sound too critical, I mean who wouldn’t bath in these suites given the chance? It’s the self-absorbed entourage that picks my stomach.

Then there are the folks who don’t even hold a festival badge. They stand outside the Palais holding banners for invitations. I can’t see how that has ever succeeded when Lumière tickets are so sparse – perhaps I will defy my own convention and find a ticket for the old lady wearing her tired blouse; it’s certainly respect for the dedication of a cinematic experience. Then watch out for the cronies who will line the sidewalks with sticks of legs coated in their latest euphoric lotions – the suntans. Their eyes, mouths and ears lap over the iron bars to banquet on the red carpet. Then brace yourself for the selfie sticks that appear in their thousands (need I go down that route?); you grit your teeth as you try to get past the hordes to your far more urgent meeting regarding a potential future source of income! Either that, or you may stop to gaze, at whom I am not so sure – the (male) attention has many conduits to wonder in Cannes!