Sunday, 25 May 2014

Cannes 2014: Le Meraviglie by Alice Rohrwacher

The last day in Cannes is spent literally catching up on as many films as possible, with all the ones in competition as well as those from Un Certain Regard being showed back to back in all the screens of the Palais. This was stretched to two days this year, with the competition having been shortened by a day and the awards given yesterday. So I had one last chance to catch a final film early in the morning, and I picked Le Meraviglie by Alice Rohrwacher, which won the runner up prize last night, an award which surprised many.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Cannes 2014: White God by Kornél Mundruczó

The hype machine works overdrive at the Cannes Film Festival. Everybody wants to have discovered the latest talent of note, and critical hits here get more severely judged when they come out as a result. But sometimes this hype spreads through the festival itself, even within the same day as it happened after the morning screening of It Follows at La Semaine de la Critique. So this is already with a certain weight of expectations that I watched White God at a catch-up screening near the end of the festival, on the back of some great feedback. An expectation which rose when director Kornél Mundruczó came on stage to introduce as the film, where normally cast and crew only stay for three days, and I correctly predicted that the film was about to win the Un Certain Regard prize, despite Force Majeure being the favourite. So were the expectations met?

Cannes 2014 Results: My Two Cents

You can never please anybody and neither should you want to. There is never going to be any film awards that will please us all. Remember how last year there were already a few dissonant voices for Blue Is The Warmest Colour? Remember back in 1994 when Pulp Fiction won, some woman in the audience was so outraged she shouted at Quentin Tarantino as he was on his way to accept his prize. And this year was no exception.

It is indeed an impossible task for the jury. They pick a favourite? They are accused of being safe. They pick a wild card? They are accused of getting it all wrong. I must admit I am mostly happy with the result but I have a few comments on them too.

Cannes 2014: Mercuriales by Virgil Vernier

There are some who lament the lack of fresh new talent in the official selection at the Cannes Film Festival, which is both unfair and untrue, as the presence of Wild Tales and The Wonder proves this year. Besides, as interesting as there are, some films are just too fragile to be competing against some masters of cinema and would be destroyed in the process. And this is where sidebar selections come in, especially the smallest and newest one: ACID, so new in fact that many attendees are not even aware of it even though it is actually 21 years old. And it has discovered its fair share of talents: Lucas Belvaux, Ursula Meier, Yolande Moreau... It is in this selection that was presented Mercuriales this year.

Cannes 2014 Awards: Predictions & Wishlist

It might seem a bit premature to discuss the awards in Cannes when I am nowhere near finished with my daily write-up. But I decided to actually spend more time watching films (24 and counting so far!) and then write reports and full reviews after the festival. Besides, a slight delay will be beneficial and help me decide which films stick and which other ones vanish without a trace.

It is always tricky to second guess prizes in film festivals. While film awards like the Oscars are based on the votes of thousands of people (or more) and therefore tend to be more consensual, here the choice is made between a handful of juries, which can cause its faire share of surprises. Back in 1997, the then president Isabelle Adjani had asked for the members of the juries to be all artists (in the past, it used to be a mix of critics, producers, and artists), a tradition which has sticked since and which often means some even more unexpected pics. And to make it even harder, out of the 18 films eligible for a prize in the main competition this year, I have only seen 11. I have decided to both include who I believe deserve to win, and who I think might win. Bear in mind that films are not allowed to win more than one prize.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Cannes 2014: Clouds Of Sils Maria by Olivier Assayas

Perhaps one of the most intriguing entry in the official selection this year thanks to the unusual pairing of Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart, Clouds Of Sils Maria was screened the last day of the competition. While I have not always been the biggest fan of Olivier Assayas (with L'heure d'été being a crime of boho), at least the premise promised a connection to one of his best films Irma Vep as well as countless cinephile references.

In Clouds Of Sils Maria, Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche), an actress at the peak of her career, is about to embark in the revival of the play that made her famous at a young age, the twist being she is now taking on the part of the older woman in the play, one that led the original actress to commit suicide. She travels to the Alps in the town of Sils Maria with her young assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) in tow to rehearse for the play.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Cannes 2014: Maps To The Stars By David Cronenberg

You just do not know what to expect from David Cronenberg anymore. While his career peaked early and his heydays are clearly behind him (despite what snobs might say), he has soldiered on with his career valiantly, with a few highs (eXistenZ, A History Of Violence) and many lows (A Dangerous Method, Cosmopolis...). Worse, while I would not expect him to carry on doing the same films and going over the same themes, he seems to have lost his identity, with many of his recent output feeling rather anonymous. And now he is back on the Croisette with Maps To The Stars, a Hollywood satire.

Cannes 2014: L'homme Qu'on Aimait Trop by André Téchiné

L'homme Qu'on Aimait Trop was a late addition to the official selection, and is presented out of competition, as if the festival was trying to find a diplomatic way of including it, given its starry cast and prestigious director, without exposing it to the ruthlessness of the competition. And indeed it seems as if André Téchiné has somehow gone out of fashion in the world cinema circuit.

Faced with the comeback of a certain kind of heavy and intellectual cinema (such as Winter Sleep and Leviathan, both in competition this year) that used to be so popular in the 70's and 80's, his films might lack a certain oomph and arthouse street cred while not offering the whimsical experience of a more wide reaching and retro French cinema, meaning there is little room for them outside France, where he continues to be popular. Which is a shame as while his directorial input of late has not quite matched the highlights of his career, it remains consistently rewarding.

Cannes 2014: Adieu Au Langage 3D by Jean-Luc Godard

Is it even possible to objectively review a film by Jean-Luc Godard? It seems as if you can only belong to two camps: those who see it as an impostor and have long given up on even trying, and those full of hyperboles at the ready for any of his new offering. Yes his work over the last two decades have proven challenging to say the least, but there is a certain freedom and sense of experimentation to it which I can only admire even if I am not completely on board with it. And detractors and fans alike were intrigued when it was announced that he was to make a full feature in 3D (after his segment in 3X3D). So it is with an open mind that I attended the sole screening of his film at the festival, among a buzzing atmosphere, but with the master sadly absent, in fact the only director allowed not to attend the screening of his own film by the festival (it is a condition of participation for anybody else).

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Cannes 2014: Bird People by Pascale Ferran

We were expecting Bird People to be in the main selection this year, only to find it relegated to sidebar selection Un Certain Regard. This is not necessarily a bad sign, as the latter is reserved for more fragile films which might suffer from the cutthroat world and intense scrutiny of the former, and in fact the same thing happened with Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring and Claire Denis' Les Salauds last year.

Pascale Ferran is little known outside France, yet she made a big impact twenty years ago as part of a new generation of French directors, which included Arnaud Desplechin. Yet after directing two films back to back (Petits Arrangements Entre Les Morts & L'âge Des Possibles) in the mid 90's, we had to wait another ten years to see her direct again, with her acclaimed adaptation of Lady Chatterley in 2007, and another seven years to see her behind the camera, with the intriguingly titled Bird People.

Cannes 2014: Lost River by Ryan Gosling

Lost River (or How To Catch A Monster as it was first known) is another film we were expecting in the official selection, only to find it relegated to Un Certain Regard, although given how unusual it is and the immediate reaction from the press members I saw it with after its world premiere, it makes a lot of sense. The official selection has not been very open to cult/genre films lately, it is a daunting prospect for any new director and the notoriety of his director Ryan Gosling meant it was always going to go through some even more intense scrutiny. Indeed there was a mighty scuffle to get into the first screening, and I cannot imagine what the evening one with him in attendance will be like!

In Lost River, single mum Billy (Christina Hendricks) is forced to enter a dark underworld to survive when facing financial difficulties, while her son Bones (Iain de Caestecker) discovers an abandoned town at the bottom of a reservoir.

Cannes 2014: Two Days, One Night by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Two Days, One Night is Marion Cotillard's third attempt in a row to win the best actress prize, after Rust & Bone and The Immigrant (the latter a woefully underrated film for which she would have been a far more worthy recipient than Bérénice Bejo). Eyebrows were raised when this project was first announced, as this was to be the first time two times Palme d'Or winners Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne were going to work with a megastar of this caliber. So as we all gathered for the morning press screening in the Palais, we were wondering whether they were about to make history by winning a third Palme, and whether Marion Cotillard would finally be rewarded. And judging by the result, the former is exceedingly unlikely, the latter would be nice even if unwarranted.

Cannes 2014: A Girl At My Door by July Jung

Before the review itself, I just wanted to point out how the magic and glamour of Cannes are to be found at any hour of the day. A Girl At My Door, presented in the Un Certain Regard sidebar selection in a single morning screening, saw its star Bae Doona casually turn up in a limo as we were all waiting to go in, shining all the megawatts of a movie star despite the grey weather, and I can vouch that she looks just as effortlessly stunning in person as she does on screen.

A Girl At My Door is the first film of July Jung, and follows police officer Lee Young-nam (Bae Doona) as she relocates to a small city for reasons at first unknown to the audience, a new environment she struggles to fit in with, having to put up with misogyny and unfriendly locals. She soon becomes close to a young girl who is the subject of family abuse, and takes her under her protective wing. But skeletons from her own past are threatening to emerge...

Cannes 2014: Still The Water by Naomi Kawase

Japanese director Naomi Kawase has had such an unusual career so far. She has been celebrated by the Cannes Film Festival right from the beginning, being awarded the Camera d'or (best first film award) in 1997 for Suzaku. Ten years later she won the Grand Jury Prize (the runner-up prize) for The Mourning Forest. Yet none of her films have met any kind of commercial success and even in Japan she is considered a bit of an outcast, as she lives away from Tokyo and does not belong to the industry. And she is back this year, with the very frank admission that she is here solely to win the Palme d'Or, with Still The Water that she describes as her masterpiece, having prompted some uncharitable comments on social medias as a result (although I suspect some of her comments got lost in translation).

Monday, 19 May 2014

Cannes 2014 : It Follows by David Robert Mitchell

A particularly interesting horror film took the Cannes Film Festival by storm this year, It Follows, which showed at La Semaine De La Critique, a sidebar selection showcasing first and second feature films. It comes from an unexpected source: David Robert Mitchell. the director of The Myth Of The American Sleepover who here takes a radically new direction for his second film.

It Follows opens with a rather traditional prologue, which sees a hysterical young woman trying to flee an unseen presence, only to be brutally murdered. The film then skips to Jay (Maika Monroe) who goes on a date she'll never forget for all the wrong reasons. After a romantic evening followed by a few hours of passion, her date reveals that he has exposed her to a ghostly and nightmarish curse, with the only way to get rid of it being to "pass it on" to somebody else through intercourse.

Cannes 2014: Saint Laurent By Bertrand Bonello

I was actually dubious about Saint Laurent, having been scarred by the terrible Yves Saint Laurent which came out a mere few months ago in the UK, a flat and dull, show-and-tell hagiography that had all the flaws of the biopic genre. Interestingly, Bertrand Bonello, director of Saint Laurent, mentions that other project in the press kit, and explains that since he knew the competing project would be a more traditional biography and was to come out earlier, it was actually doing him a favour and freeing him from many narrative constraints. Since the audience would be more familiar with key elements in the designer's life as well as the important people in his life, he decided to chop off his script to avoid being redundant, ending up with a film that is a lot more radical and abstract as a result.

Cannes 2014 Day 4: Westerns, Tourists & Queues


In what was about to become a pleasant routine, I woke up at the crack of dawn for the first press screening of the day at 830am, the one from which Twitter impressions are anxiously expected. There is something rather surreal about finding yourself in the biggest cinema in the world so early in the morning, but this is the kind of life I could get used to! Then I strolled into the screening of a film I knew nothing about, Turist, before the press screening of Maps To The Stars. Or that was the plan anyway...

Cannes 2014 Day 3: Saint Laurent, Les Combattants & It Follows

As ever with Cannes, a day of contrast, with a film about Yves Saint Laurent, a survivalist French rom-com and an indie horror, as I worked my way alongside the Croisette from the Official Competition in the Palais to Director's Fortnight to Semaine de la Critique.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Cannes 2014 Day 2: Ryan Reynolds, Mathieu Amalric And Nuri Bilge Ceylan

After the amuse-bouche of yesterday came my first full day in Cannes. I must say, with the glorious weather, the seemingly smaller queues for screenings combined with the ease of access my press pass is giving me, the festival is proving to be a completely stress-free experience so far! So on this day, expectations were high. A new film by Atom Egoyan, a Simenon adaptation and a late introduction for me to a director I have been keen to discover, Nuri Bilge Ceylan.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Cannes 2014 Day 1: Girlhood, A Hijack & Sabine Azéma

Bande De Filles at Director's Fortnight

And so I'm back at the Cannes Film Festival again. This is my third visit in a row after a fourteen years hiatus  and I simply cannot imagine not going back every year now. Yes it is exhausting, crazy, frustrating, but also, an experience like no others, where each day brings its share of surprises, glamour, chance encounters and of course great cinema. For all its madness, it is also a celebration of cinema in all its variety in a way that simply does not exist anywhere else in the world. The sheer concentration of talent, journalists, industry people, and cinephiles is insane, and make you feel like you are in a bubble, blissfully unaware of the outside world. Where else would people queue for hours and fight to watch a 3 hours + arthouse Turkish film, as happened to me today (more on this tomorrow!). But first thing first, and this is how my (short) first day went.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

You And The Night: A Jean Rollin Electro Poem

As much as I like French cinema, one thing that has often been bothering me lately is its overt reliance on naturalism. Oh sure, it does it so well. But it is almost like all the film graduates from the grand old FEMIS cannot earn their stripes unless they go down that road. But where are the French Brian de Palma, Peter Greenaway, David Lynch, Apichatpong Weerasethakul even?... It is even more baffling considering how, within France itself, the new wave came up with such formally inventive films decades ago. I'm thinking Godard obviously, but also Alain Resnais, Jacques Rivette... Sure there has been a lot of genre films coming from France over the last decade, but they don't offer a great deal in term of formal experimentation (apart perhaps from Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury).

So this is why a film like You And The Night is so exciting to me, and feels like such a breath of fresh air, in the way it defies any modern conventions within French cinema.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Sundance London 2014: Talking Cats, Paul Rudd, Lo-Fi Sci-Fi And Wannabes

Paul Rudd & Amy Poehler in They Came Together

Bringing Sundance and its particular blend of independent cinema to London two years ago was a gamble, and yet it paid off handsomely. The festival has enjoyed a great success and recently had its third edition. It is proving yet again how cinephile London has become over the last decade or so, and the appetite there is for a wide range of films. And I like the opportunity this festival offers to catch up with a kind of American independent cinema which is actually hard to find, even in London, even if I can't help lamenting its short duration, and the fraction of films brought over.