Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Cannes 2007

The flood of reports from Cannes 2007 are all over the web, and the sting of jealousy and anticipation is already too much. If someone would please just give me a private screening of these films first in the company of the director, everything would be fine....but I digress. As with every Cannes, early reports fill me with hope on the state of foreign film. At this point, whether or not they will ever play in the Twin Cities is a non-issue. For not it is only excitement for the films themselves.

Cannes 2007 finds two of my favorite directors venturing outside of their homelands for seemingly drastically different films. Wong Kar Wai, working in the good ol' US of A, screened My Blueberry Nights with no last minute drama that came with his last film 2046. My Blueberry Nights is being described as a road movie and stars Jude Law and Norah Jones as well as a dozen other interesting stars. The critics have weighed in with a sort of frenzy that doesn't match the lukewarm tenor of most of the reviews. (Check out GreenCine's amazing synopsis of everything My Blueberry Nights on their blog HERE.) I think the love affair that critics (and myself) have with Wong is a love affair that is simultaneous with Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, and, in the case of 2046, Zhang Ziyi. Being asked to snap out of that transfixation is a hard, but maybe necessary jump for fans and for Wong. (Trailer HERE.)

Then there is Hou Hsiao Hsien's taking a jump from Taiwan, to Japan (for his Ozu homage Café Lumière) and now to France with Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge (Flight of the Red Balloon.) Hou's Red Balloon is a variation on the much-loved 1956 short by Albert Lamorisse titled Red Balloon. The film is the first in a series initiated by the Musée d' Orsay in celebration of the museum's 2oth anniversary. The only stipulation was that the museum appear in the film. (Other directors lined up for the series are Olivier Assayas, Raoul Ruiz and Jim Jarmusch.) Similar to reports on My Blueberry Nights, reviews echo the same sentiment that Hou's film does not have the gravity of the films shot in his native country. In this case I am particularly skeptical of the disappointing reviews for the simple fact that I have learned to love Café Lumière, which the critics largely discredited. Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge stars Juliette Binoche. (YouTube trailer HERE.)

There are s-loads of films in competition, out of competition, and un certain regard that are worth paying attention to. There are also some things that make me cringe a bit. I think we will see Michael Moore taking advantage of all the press he can get at Cannes with his documentary about the health care system entitled Sicko. He has already made a point in noting to the press that he is under federal investigation (who isn't?) and that his film is very cloak-and-dagger with certain documents kept in "safe places" etc. While I think Moore's films are thought provoking, he is by-and-large an opportunist at every angel. Similarly, my bias against Julian Schabel just wont let up. I disliked him as an artist (poser) and still have trouble facing his films with out that history. He presents his bio-pic, Le Scaphandre et le Papillon, on Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor of ELLE, who suffered a massive stroke and wrote a book with the mere facilities of being able to move his head a little, grunt, and blink his left eyelid.

But enough of the complaining and pretentious hemming and hawing. Following is my list of films that I am extremely enthusiastic about:

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu)
Another Romanian masterpiece? It seems so. A year after The Death of Mr Lazarascu left critics hesitating, it was able to catch a momentum that had most calling it one of the best, if not the best, film of the year. Critics are not hesitating this year with 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days with critics calling it "a stunning achievement" (Variety) and a "precisely tuned work" (Screen Daily) right out of the gate.

Alexandra (Alexander Sokurov)
Set in present day Chechen Republic; about a grandmother amongst army men; Alexander Sokurov.

The Banishment (Andrei Zviaguintsev)
I was definitely late in discovering Zviaguimtsev's amazing The Return from 2003. A friend had recommended it after it came out on DVD and I was very moved. The Banishment seems to have the same sort of surreal and allegorical family suspense in the vein of The Return.

Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant)
Van Sant is still gravitating toward young men with this film about a skateboarder. He is teaming up again with Chris Doyle as cinematographer (who he work with on Psycho) and Leslie Shatz for sound design (easily the best attribute to Last Days) and starring mostly unknowns that he recruited from MySpace.

Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud)
Go animation! Go Persepolis! I am very encouraged by original author Marjane Satrapi's involvement in the film. The graphic novel certainly had its share of deserved success; hopefully the film will bring even a wider audience. The version screening at Cannes is in French and stars Chiara Mastroianni as the voice of the independent Marjane, Catherine Deneuve that of her worried mother, and Danielle Darrieux that of her irrepressible grandmother. Word is there are plans for an English dubbing.

Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang-Dong)
It has been five years since Lee made Oasis, and there is much anticipation for this film that has already received critical acclaim from those who have seen it. It is a shame that his Peppermint Candy is still widely unknown outside of Korean film enthusiasts. Secret Sunshine stars the incredible Song Kang-Ho (The Host, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance). (YouTube trailer HERE.)

Breath (Kim Ki-duk)
I have been generally underwelmed by Kim's work for the past five years. The promising component of this film is that it stars Chang Chen.

Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas)
A film professor once told me he believed that any great filmmakers best work was his first film. Although I am skeptical of this proclamation, there are many cases that prove his theory right. With time, Reygadas may be proof positive that his first was his best. But with only two films under his belt, (Silent Light being his third) I think it is too early to say.

The Man from London (Bela Tarr)
At this point Bela Tarr seems like a mythic figure to me and it seems impossible that he would have a new film. Averaging a film about every seven years, his last Werkmeister Harmonies in 2000, The Man from London seems to be the film that will push him beyond his current circle of fans/fanatics. Or maybe not.

Boarding Gate (Oliver Assayas)
Did I mention I love Hong Kong? I think Olivier Assayas does too. Asia Argento is the globetrotting lost girl. Also starring Kelly Lin and Kim Gordon.

Go Go Tales (Abel Ferrara)
The screen clip of the catty dialogue between the "go go girls" is enough for me. I would at least expect something interesting from Abel Ferrara.

Triangle (Johnnie To, Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam)
These things rarely work, the shorts often just seem like unfleshed-out sketches of features, but these are three heavy hitters in my book. Johnnie To is the anchor in this omnibus with Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam both without very impressive projects for the past seven years.

He Fengming (Wang Bing)
Wang Bing's first film since West of the Tracks. We will have to wait and see if the scope is equally as epic. This is a very intimate portrait of one woman, He Fengming, looking back over the past thirty years of her life. When I was in China in the late nineties I would often think about the history those in their later years had witnessed, and this film seems to follow that train of inquiry.

Mister Lonely (Harmony Korine)
I like Harmony Korine, and I like the sound of this movie: "A Michael Jackson impersonator (DIEGO LUNA) lives alone in Paris and performs on the streets to make ends meet. At a performance in a retirement home, Michael falls for a beautiful Marilyn Monroe look-alike (SAMANTHA MORTON), who suggests he move to a commune of impersonators in the Scottish Highlands. At the seaside castle, Michael discovers everyone preparing for the commune's first-ever gala - Abe Lincoln, Little Red Riding Hood, the Three Stooges, the Queen, the Pope, Madonna, Buckwheat, Sammy Davis Jr… And also Marilyn's daughter Shirley Temple and her possessive husband Charlie Chaplin (DENNIS LAVANT)." Come on, that sounds awesome!

That's a short list, and I could go on, but sometimes you have to stick a sock in it and finish the post. (This is an overt act of using someone's photo when I probably shouldn't, and I will remove it if necessary, but what a great photo! That's Gong Li, by the way.)