Friday, May 21, 2010

Leaving Cannes

Julien here.

Last day in Cannes, and random thoughts on the films I saw.

Les Amours Imaginaires: Xavier Dolan's second feature was a huge disappointment for me after the gut punch of I Killed My Mother. It was probably foolish to expect a second miracle from a 20 year-old director, but although I recognized some of the qualities that made I Killed My Mother so memorable (the kid's got talent, that's for sure), I hate to admit that those who called him a narcissistic poseur the first time around were in fact not entirely wrong. Fans of A Single Man will probably revel in its overbearing prettiness, but to me the avalanche of slo-mo and Almo/Wong-isms felt too much like a self-conscious search for style, rather than the natural development of an artist.

If you thought Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's first three features were a tad too cheerful, Biutiful is sure to please you. Bleak doesn't even begin to describe the experience, which feels like being locked up in a sandbag and beaten for 2 hours and 20 minutes. As is often the case whith Inarritu, the film start with its main characters already at a very low point, and then proceeds to go downhill from there. There's no denying Inarritu has some fantastic directorial instincts, but since Babel, I'm getting the feeling that human misery is to him what oversized tits were to Russ Meyer: a huge turn-on. And his indulgence in filming squalor is increasingly nauseating, especially since there's nothing around the corner except more squalor. The only thing keeping it from complete unwatchability is Bardem's restrained, humane presence.

What can I say about Stephen Frears' Tamara Drewe? Nothing much, except that I have no idea what could have attracted a director of Frears' stature to such a trivial project, and that Gemma Aterton, who plays the title character, is outacted by every single member of the cast, including the dog. There are some funny moments, but it's mostly aimless, and all over the place.

Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy is by far the worst film I've seen during the Festival. It's the typical Cannes imposture: a film so vague and meandering that intimidated critics are sure to project some sort of profound content on it, terrified at the prospect of being the only one who didn't get it. So let me put it this way: for all its contrived central gimmick and long-winded gabbing about original vs. copy, Certified Copy is nothing more than a banal bourgeois melodrama posing as an art film. I found it not only tedious, but empty, pretentious and irritatingly lazy. Binoche may be great, but there's nothing she can do to salvage this pointless, shallow film.

Who could have thought a few months age that the go to guy for Hollywood spy thrillers, Doug Liman, would ever be in competion for the Palme d'Or? And yet here he is, with Fair Game, a retelling of the Valerie Plame affair that shook the Bush adminstration a few years ago. Sigh of relief: Fair Game has more in common with The Bourne Identity than with Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Liman chooses wisely to stay close to the facts, moves quickly, and gets some good work from former 21 Grams co-stars Watts and Penn. Solid and efficient, if unremarkable.

I'm flying back to Paris later this afternoon, and though I've had a fantastic time in Cannes (I've barely slept in a week), as you may have noticed I've been mostly underwhelmed by the films I saw here. I hope you won't think I'm such a sourpuss, but believe me, I ain't the only one: everyone in Cannes was pretty much disappointed by the selection. The closest I came to being won over completely was by Mike Leigh's Another Year, and I sure as hell hope Lesley Manville will be picking up the Best Actress prize for that one on Sunday.



I LOVE these writeups (especially the description of Biutiful. I am very afraid). thanks so much for piping in on your experience.

Julien said...

Thanks to you for inviting me. Honored am I.

James T said...

I loved your contributions. Thank you so much.

PS: Certified Copy is really controversial!

jbaker475 said...

Biutiful is beginning to scare me a little. After seeing Hunger on DVD recently, I'm not sure how many more "total downward spiral" films I can handle. Interesting to see such divided opinions on Certified Copy. I haven't seen any of Kiarostami's work, but I was intrigued by the mild Before Sunrise/Sunset comparisons. Looks like it's one that you really have to see for yourself...

Volvagia said...

As a whole, I have to admit I dislike "downward spiral" films. Synecdoche and Eraserhead are the only ones I've seen that I've loved as films, mostly because they end on a note of death, and with those lives, it's really a twisted reprieve. (Crazy Heart was bland and refused to go all the way with it, Requiem was necessary, even if, as I've thought on it, I realize I didn't really love it and Babel was just way too serious about what it was. This is just the three I remember, among others I've seen and forgotten.)

Robert Hamer said...

I'm so worried about Biutiful because it sounds like the kind of misery porn that Inarritu wallows in, yet everyone has been raving about Javier Bardem, and I can never get enough of him.

For those who've seen it: Is he worth it?

Lorenzo said...

All my fears about Certified Copy seem to be justified: I began to get suspicious halfway through the trailer... Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for your writeups, Julien. Very well written, indeed!

Anonymous said...

I was never a X. Dolan's fans even though I think I've Killed My Mother has a wonderful performance by the central mother character (One of the 10 best female performances of the year). One of the problems I have with the movie it's its indulgent character. Also, the director is NOT the best
I also don't like how all the blame is placed on the mom. Maybe it's cuz I come from a different culture, we don't treat our parents that shitty, so I might be viewing it with a bit of bias.