I had better back up a little, and talk about the last films of my festival.
Friday morning was Cosmopolis. I’ve been saying “eagerly awaited” but perhaps more by my companions from Cronenberg’s homeland of Canada than the general populace. Mind you, anyone who has read Don Delillo’s novel will have high hopes. The director (aptly called le realisateur in French, which subscribes to the auteurist view that the director creates and is responsible overall for the film – a philosophy that understandably riles writers, editors and cinematographers! – but in this case and others where the director has also written or adapted the script, it’s not so outrageous) has spoken in interviews about the challenges of creating a visual movie from the author’s brilliantly worded and wordy story. Interestingly, Cronenberg said this was easier than coming up with an original idea, as it took him 6 days to write this screenplay, whereas new stories can take years. To this end, he has lifted whole excerpts of dialogue straight from the book, and right from the opening scene where Robert Pattinson gets into his limo, he sticks to Delillo’s “script”.
The story is a challenge in itself: city moneyman Eric Packer wants a haircut, meaning his limo must cross town during a series of demonstrations and security hindrances caused by the President (“Just so I’m clear,” he asks his driver “which President?”) being in town. Pattinson does an excellent job of being neither British nor Edward Cullen, as a rolling cast of players in his life are brought forward for their scene. Most of this takes place in the car which has been rebuilt in very Cronenbergian fashion to accommodate a rich man’s daily requirements, including doctor’s appointments, financial updates from staff, and not-so-random sex.
And so it goes. Talky talky it sure is, initially thrilling and inviting us to listen intently, though I admit to being distracted by other things during Samantha Morton’s strange monologue (not dissimilar, in delivery, to her omniscient android in Minority Report. Which, for this film, is not really a compliment). But there is something of a plot trajectory, and several very well conceived set-pieces, including a simultaneously hilarious and moving funeral for a rap superstar. The actors are generally terrific, and even those playing people we’ve seen before manage to be commanding (Paul Giamatti, I’m talking to you). Mostly it just looks bloody great, sounds terrific, and is something of a return to Cronenberg’s earlier, creepier work prior to the excellent and violent A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. If this sounds like you, it’s a must-see.
Saturday was a big film day, since time was running out. First up, Jeff Nicholls’ follow-up to Take Shelter, with Matthew McConaughey as the eponymous Mud, a man in hiding on an island in a remote part of Mississippi. Billed as a modern-day Huckleberry Finn, Mud is befriended by a couple of adventurous young boys, one of whom (a superlative Tye Sheridan who starred in last year’s Palme D’Or winner The Tree of Life) is captivated by his purported love story and commits to helping Mud. It wasn’t as good as people hoped (ie. as amazing as Take Shelter) but it is a good movie, and no doubt we’ll get a bite of this cherry come festival time.
Straight out of that screening and into the premiere of the ten short films in competition, one of which Night Shift was directed by NZ’s Zia Mandviwalla, who waited nervously with the other young filmmakers before going up on stage to great applause, prior to the screening. Of the ten films, I loved three: (with absolutely no bias) the NZ entry is a wonderful, subtle, curious and ultimately moving 14 minutes of a reality for many New Zealanders, delivering a terrific revelation that I didn’t see coming. The Australian entry was far from subtle, but showed bombast and was affecting and exhilarating (even if the manipulations were obvious); and finally, one of the ten actually made us laugh (it would seem it’s easier to come up with a gritty, challenging mini-movie than something for laughs). The French-Canadian film was brilliant, and I spoke briefly to the protaganist outside the cinema after, mainly to thank her for the light relief. Of the rest of the ten, I found two to be actually pretty poor – not technically so much (the wonders of digital seem to eliminate that complaint) but I didn’t like either story, found takes to be held too long, acting to be a bit “acty”, dialogue unrealistic, and even 13 minutes felt too long. As it happened, one of my “Yeah, that was pretty good”s eventually won the prize: sparse on dialogue, aptly called Silence, a Turkish film about Kurds suffering and struggling to make ends meet in a difficult family situation.
To round off the cinematic day, I went to see the pre-screening of the Festival’s Closing Film, an adaptation of the French novel Therese Desqueroux, starring Amelie‘s Audrey Tautou and hearthrob Gilles Lelouche. I studied the book at University – well, I say “studied” but I suspect I read the English translation and missed the nuances – but Claude Miller’s last film seems a fairly straightforward rendition of a tale of a feisty woman who marries into a life that eventually feels like imprisonment, and goes to desperate means to free herself. It’s fine; the Bridgeway crowd will love it; I suspect the critics at Cannes were underwhelmed.
And then it was the last day of camp. Cannes thinned out enormously in the final days, and you could discern a feeling of sadness tinged with relief that we’d all soon be going home. I’d been warned Cannes would be exhausting, and it’s true that while sitting in a cinema isn’t inherently tiring, racing from place to place and being on a timetable and eating dinner at 10pm and getting up just after 7 can be. Hence my taking off to Italy for 10 days rest.
But there is still time on Day 12 to see any of the Competition movies one may have missed. So thankfully I went to see Michael Haneke’s Amour, already the buzz of the festival and most-likely-to-win. Eschewing the outright nastiness of many of his recent films, it is still a devastating story of how far love will take you in the care of your loved one. Two central performances by elderly French actors, with support from the omnipresent Isabelle Huppert. It is quiet, meaningful, slow without once losing our engagement, and completely non-judgmental. A flawless film, expertly made, and highly recommended to those who are up for it. That said, I will not be seeing it again for a while, and there are people I know to whom I will be advising caution. But a deserved win from a line-up of admittedly mixed films this year. (Get me! I say that like I’m a regular! But really, even I could tell there were more average films this year than one would expect in a festival of this renown.)
So that was Cannes. The city packed down on Sunday night, I had one last pizza dinner with my Canadian family, and Monday morning I boarded the first of eventually five trains over a ten and a half hour journey into Tuscany.
I have been vowing not to see a film for the next week, but this evening I noticed the wee cinema here in Lucca is showing Dark Shadows (it has received lukewarm reviews, but it can’t be that bad, surely??)…