AMERICAN CINEMA PAPERS
CANNES 2002 GOLDEN PALMS
THE 55th INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
by Harlan Kennedy
The great, the grand and the gaga. The new,
the nude and the numinous. What a wonder of the world is the
I nearly tripped over my Gucci bootlaces – we all did – on that opening night. It was 2002: A Space Odyssey. The lights raked, danced and skittered, using the clouds as a writing slate when not piercing through to the stars and planets beyond. The stars on the ground, who included jury diva Sharon Stone, French nymphet Virginie THE BEACH Ledoyen (“I will appear nude”, though she didn’t) and event-opening Woody Allen (“Je declare cette festival – ouvert”), sparkled hard to beat off competition from the Universe. Somewhere in between wandered the ghost of Jacques Tati, furloughed from Heaven to survey the beachfront installation devoted to the great screen comedian and his 50-year-old masterpiece MONSIEUR HULOT’S HOLIDAY: stripe-colored beach huts standing in scattered, enchanting sentry duty, and an open-air screen detonating with clips from the movie. What a birthday present.
Yes, the 55th
So Woody Allen’s press conference upstaged
Woody Allen’s film. (Not hard when the film is the patchy
What can a poor traditional motion picture do
to compete? Some competed by holding fast to their creators’ strengths, like
Mike Leigh’s ALL OR NOTHING, re-solemnizing the Britwizard’s
genius for giving plain folk the kiss of comical-dramatic life. Others, like
Paul Thomas Anderson’s PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE in competition or Carlos Reygardas’
Were these the three best flicks? Certainly in
week one. Leigh aims his grunge-tinted binoculars at three sets of neighbors
Nor from the early knockabout would we
predict, with any other helmer, the final-reel
switch to anguish and revelation. But as in Leigh’s last
Nearly everyone looked for love at
It becomes very Herman Melville: the nutter as epic Everyman (see BARTLEBY). But Anderson and Sandler give their hero a startling charm and sweetness, and as a comedy of unravelment – though just like Leigh it finds a way to re-ravel – it combines populist good timing with the avant-garde touches we expect from Mr Magnolia. Many hated, but I loved, the discordantly drumming soundtrack which sounds as if Gene Krupa and band had been serially thrown, still playing, off the back of moving trucks.
UN CERTAIN REYGARDAS
Director Carlos Reygardas moves his camera around like Tarkovsky. There is no such thing as abstraction: a tree is a child is a stone is a sky is a human face. We have no idea what story he is telling until we realize he isn’t telling one, that what you see is what you get (or don’t ‘get’). Yet we have no desire to leave or fidget, for it is all so vision-renewing. Madly, we witness a sex scene between the two oldies, him and her, which resembles the wrestling match of two plucked chickens. Then the house is knocked down by workers who talk about how poorly they are treated by “the film.” Finally we escape to a horizon-reaching rail line cradled in a dazzling valley, where the camera does its last circling, lyrical explorations, among grass and sleepers and mysteriously strewn human forms hinting at accident or cataclysm. Did we say sleeper? This film was the first at Cannes 2002.
Sexual candor is ubiquitous in modern cinema,
of course, and it isn’t going away.
But it is evolving and changing. Even Catherine Breillat,
French scandaliser of ROMANCE and A MA SOEUR, has
moved into post-ironic phase with her graphic couplings. Witness SEX IS
COMEDY. This opened the Directors Fortnight,
From sex it is a short step to violence, as we
see each year at
Women are seldom raped in full view on the fiction screen, of course. But every rule has exceptions. This year’s was IRREVERSIBLE, a gasper from Gaspard Noe (last celluloid conviction, SEUL CONTRE TOUS). Here a wound-back narrative gives us the tale, starting at the end and moving back to the beginning, of a girl ravished in an underpass and her boyfriend’s bid to avenge her. Monica Bellucci gets the 10-minute rape sequence, shafted by a thug and then bashed by him about the face. Awful. But so was the movie, which left this bloody oasis of realism sitting alone and incongruous amid a desert of ill-nourished storytelling and whirly camerawork.
Abbas Kiarostami’s TEN from Iran and Olivier Assayas’ DEMONLOVER, otherwise as unlike as chalk and Semtex, also dealt with violence to women. Abbas processes the theme in a clever, pedagogic fable. Camera never leaves interior of moving car as a woman drives round city streets dialoguing with serial passengers – fractious son, grief-stricken sister, prostitute – and turns the film into a finespun web of insights about work, love, family and sexual politics in Ayatollah-land. For the French director of IRMA VEP, by contrast, man’s inhumanity to woman is featured – or featherbedded - in a meretricious chunk of industrial-spying mayhem starring Tinseltown starlets Connie Nielsen and Chloe Sevigny, up against everything from sexual assault to cyanide pills as they battle male chauvinist empire-builder Charles Berling. Rubbish, booed to the rafters even by the French.
GANGS AND GONGS
The best violent film about violence was
The filmgoer picks his jaw up from the floor so often that he might as well leave it there. Brilliantly acted by a cast hand-picked from the favelas themselves – 4000 auditionees whittled down to 200 roles – the movie is shot by young admercials graduate Fernando Meirelles as if MTV had sent him to Hell and told him to jazz it up only where needed. Jumpcuts; color filters; fast motion; whippy montages that backstory new characters in ten seconds flat. It ought to be over the top, in the event it’s coruscating. You have no time to be jaded. Just when you think the film is too in-your-face Meirelles comes even closer and it’s in your brain. When that wears off, he comes closer still and it’s in your heart. A scene with two tiny kids facing a gun barrel – “Foot or hand?” they are asked – is so harrowing you want to go away and weep. Instead you stay and weep, knowing you aren’t going to get such a humane lesson in the horrors of truth anywhere else.
was dubbed a ‘new Scorsese’ by some pundits. To help us judge, who should
limo into La-la-land but Marty himself? Little Italy’s Mighty Atom came to
show-reel 20 minutes of his period-set GANGS OF NEW YORK, a film that it’s
now become a joke to call ‘long-awaited.’ If we wait any longer most of us
will playing harps in the Afterlife Philharmonia, Max Steiner conducting. (It was first due
out last fall, then last Christmas, then spring…). What Harvey Weinstein of
Miramax had said to Scorsese about cutting the film down, and what Marty had
replied(“******!!!”), were put off-limits while the director of MEAN STREETS
and RAGING BULL went on stage, paid a preludial
tribute to the dead Billy Wilder (plus clips), then showed the goods. And how
good they looked. Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel
Day-Lewis and Cameron Diaz blaze and babble in the biggest sets that
Leo looks larky in a boyish scribble of beard and acts his best since TITANIC. (Which, all right, only excludes CELEBRITY and THE BEACH). Cameron shows she’s gorgeous even in rat-tail hair and clothes Shani Wallis might have worn in OLIVER! And Daniel Day-Lewis came out of retirement as a shoemaker in Florence – absolutely true, if you were wondering where the star of MY LEFT FOOT and THE AGE OF INNOCENCE had got to – to re-hammer his histrionic talent as a gang chief with size-12 mustaches and a booming Noo Yawk accent.
Juror Sharon Stone warmed up the picture-snappers lining the Palais steps awaiting Leo and Cameron with her own 10-minute photo-op. And what an op. Clad in a shoulder-exposing sky-blue dress with oyster-shell fluting and pleated skirt; her blonde hair cut in a Winged Victory backsweep, Sharon posed, twirled and camped it up on the red-carpeted steps as if her whole career had led up to this moment. A real trouper showing them how these things are done. We cooed, gasped, tittered and trilled.
The red carpet is a great place for meeting people. You could hang out all day if you had a dinner jacket and magic press card, meeting the stars and being treated like one. The gracious Christine Aime – the most human festival press boss in human history – smiles encouragingly at journos scrambling to hit the Salle Lumiere before morning zero hour (8.30am). And then there is Gilles Jacob, eminence far from gris, still the senior ambassador for the festival’s charms, exchanging handshakes and French-style kisses – the both-cheeks not deep-tongue variety – with everyone from Emmanuelle Beart to Martin Scorsese. Even the swollen army of security folk this year, searching our bags for items more dangerous than sun lotion and copies of Daily Variety, said a friendly “Bonjour” and smiled “Bonne Projection!” (Airports of the world – take note).
So. Who were the favorites as time ran out on
*** Is this is the first Loach film since the Golden Palm-winning KES to boast a teenage hero? Not quite, but 16 is young for an otherwise quintessential Loach protagonist (Martin Compston) grubbing for survival in a realist Britain where poverty, joblessness and petty crime mingle in a melting pot of subclasses and street accents. Compston is a Clydeside lad promoting himself dangerously from ciggy-vending to drug-dealing and then to doing ‘jobs’ for the local Mr Big: all to finance a home for drug-jailed mum when she exits the hoochow. The movie lams along sweetly, though its plot is somewhat in hock to MY NAME IS JOE and most of its characters could have been swept up from almost any prior Loachwork.
** SPIDER is David Cronenberg doing Art, a spectacle that impresses many but depresses me. Would you really rather have THE NAKED LUNCH and M. BUTTERFLY than RABID and VIDEODROME? Cronenberg was once a mad sci-fi Goth. Now he tippy-toes through counterculture moodworks like Patrick McGrath’s novel about a vagrant schizophrenic (Ralph Fiennes) who checks in at an old folks’ boarding-house whose proprietress might be the ex-floozy and murderess who helped his unfaithful dad (Gabriel Byrne) kill his mum (Miranda Richardson, also playing two other roles). Flashbacks are spun like spider’s webs and are just as subtly treacherous. What happened for real and what happened, and may be still be happening, in Ralph’s head? Fine if you like a cross between a Hammer horror pic and LAST YEAR IN MARIENBAD; and Fiennes relishes his mumbling, quirky character turn. Others, wait for Cronenberg’s next zappy bloodfest.
*****Polanski didn’t film his own boyhood
story of growing up as a guest of the Holocaust. But those memories, on his
own avowal, inform and inspire THE PIANIST. If there is nothing quite as
quirky here as the young Polanski’s use of a false foreskin
to fool Nazis searching for signs of Jewishness,
there are craft, skill and encompassing period detail in Ronald Harwood’s
screenplay based on the memoirs of Nazi-evading pianist Wladek
Szpilman. Adrien Brody
plays the Jewish ivory-pounder whose family is
hauled off to Treblinka while he escapes to survive from day to day in
**** Kaurismaki has
been on the edge of a big festival win for 13 years, ever since the
funky-forlorn Finn broke over us, in a wave of droll inertia, with
We at Cannes 2002 should know. This was a manic, movie-intensive festival. We haven’t even had time to lavish lexicons on those films that came to fight and stayed to be slaughtered. “Morituri salutamus” should have been the cry of Cannes cannon fodder such as Jia Zhang-Ke’s UNKNOWN PLEASURES (cataleptic Beijing street drama), Manoel De Oliveira’s THE UNCERTAINTY PRINCIPAL (panto-with-attitude from the potty Portuguese) and Brian De Palma’s loopy thriller FEMME FATALE, which begins with a daring jewel heist at the Cannes festival lui-meme and then disappears up its own mazes of pointless ingenuity.
But then nothing American, let’s face it,
could beat Alexander Payne’s late-showing delight ABOUT SCHMIDT. This comedy
about Americana – mobile homes, New Age mothers-in-law (Kathy Bates) and
aging insurancemen (Jack Nicholson) who want to
touch base one last time with God’s Little Acre before going up to God’s
billion-hectare place in the sky – crackled blissfully for Anglophones while
leaving the French bemused. “What ees thees?” they all but muttered, stymied by jokes about jacuzzis, waterbed salesmen, occupational therapists and
the tendency of the Midwest to spread in all directions like a molten map of
Purgatory. Nicholson, in sublime form, deserved every prize possible. Would
fellow yanks David Lynch (Jury prez),
AND THE WINNER IS..
Roman Polanski’s THE PIANIST. We salute the deserving. We honor the honorable. Way to go, Roman!
Grand Jury Prize: Aki Kaurismaki’s THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST, also grabbing Best Actress for AK’s favorite waif Kati Outinen. Best Actor: Olivier Gourmet in the Dardenne brothers’ LE FILS (carpentry and Christ parallels in the deft if dour tale, from the makers of the 2000 Golden Palm-winner ROSETTA, of a joiner apprenticing the young ex-con who killed his son). And a Best Director prize divided between Paul Thomas Anderson (PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE) and South Korean veteran Im Kwon-Taek, who merrily washed the screen with water colors, on the last day of the Competition, in the true tale of artist-wastrel Jang Seung Up who liked a drink whenever he could get one. And we mean whenever.
Sound man. Reach me a glass of Dom Perignon. Transport me painlessly to the
COURTESY T.P. MOVIE NEWS
WITH THANKS TO THE AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE FOR THEIR CONTINUING INTEREST IN WORLD FILM.
©HARLAN KENNEDY. All rights reserved.