AMERICAN CINEMA PAPERS
CANNES 2004 – THE 57th INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
SPOTLIGHTS, LOLLIPOPS AND PALM TREES
by Harlan Kennedy
War is Hell.
The world is not at
war: only bits of it. Yet it sure feels global. At
Godard will win no new converts with NOTRE MUSIQUE. The film is about as coherent as a crackling last message left on a field telephone by a war-crazed soldier. But that may be why it feels so brilliantly a propos.
First we get the
opening battle montage, a long uncommentated
delirium of clips from war footage actual and fictional (from Holocaust to
You get the picture. And even if you don’t, the picture gets you. Godard has never got old. It’s just we who have regressed to infancy. With our need for simple stories, for bread-and-circus narratives in the Spielbergo-Cameronian age, we are forgetting the lessons the old New Wave taught us: that a tale told the ‘wrong way round’, with its ideas determining its plot structure instead of vice versa, can teach us more than ABC what-nextery.
And did someone say
Dante? “Halfway through life I found
myself in a dark forest”. Of course
War and art. Art
and war. Among the films addressing conflict topics, directly or obliquely,
many fearlessly raised the banner with the bold device “Art is Bliss”. Kusturica’s latest flick orders you to be optimistic with
its very title. LIFE IS A MIRACLE.
Even in war-battered
The Serbian two-time Golden Palm winner was reproved by some for filtering a cruel war through a rosy viewfinder. But outlaw optimism and what else do we have to live for? The French loved the movie. It probably reminded them, with its garish colours, escapist expressionism and sky-navigating flying reveries, of Chagall. Kusturica, at best, always does.
Art is bliss? Well,
it is, isn’t it? Especially great art, a peak that one filmmaker at
For ten minutes,
admittedly, we wonder if we’re still stuck in IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE. That was Wonky’s
So it’s just a
tragic love story, you’ll say. Puccini plus Sternberg.
For starters it’s about Christopher Doyle’s cinematography. Wong’s lenser has his finest hour (two hours). The imagery is jawdropping. Doyle sluices colour, radiance and iridesence through the handful of sets; he bestows chameleon hues, sheens and textures on ‘plain’ rooming-house walls; he half-curtains the widescreen opulence of some shots in black; he refracts and facets others in such a way that we seem to be peering through jewelled eye-glasses.
And what’s it all for? It’s for conveying the heart and mind of a man trapped in his own hall of reflections. His own memory maze. Where romance and beauty are doomed to be referential, to gaze out only in duplicated lustre while real love exists as the never-seen but always-remembered....
Music in this movie goes with the mood and message: a plush and plangent super-kitsch, echoes of nostalgic echoes – from Callas crooning ‘Casta Diva’ to Como drooling ‘Chestnuts Roasting on a Open Fire’ – while exotic distanciation is further imposed by the captions that formally interrupt the narrative, as if they are quotes from the hero’s phantom novel. (“He began to sense a horror in the affair....”).
This is what great cinema is about. A story comprehensible predominantly in its imagery; where words and sounds are footnotes and haunting echoes, auxiliary but secondary; where the invited filmgoer prises open the door to a new world, recognizable yet different, like the mysterious shape, seen at beginning and end, that guards the portals of this tale. Is it a giant shell? Is it a jewelled oyster? Is that an eye in its centre? When a love story, in its infinite verticality, meets a science fiction story, with its infinite horizontal reach rearward and forward, anything is possible. Which is probably why Wong Kar-Wai picked this collision of genres.
It won My Private
Bundle of Gold award and should surely have won the Golden Palm. Years ago
Quentin Tarantino, who had just started out as the wild man of Wonderland,
California, helped to release the very movie that made Wonky’s
Elsewhere, Tarantino put himself about to good effect. Not a man to sequester himself in smoke-filled rooms – unless it’s gunsmoke and he’s clearing up dead bodies – Quent went everywhere. To the thrill of gossip hacks ogling a new romantic ‘item’, Sofia Coppola was often at his side, not least at the Z CHANNEL showing. How she and he and we in the audience giggled to watch QT go ape on screen. He was one of Xan Cassavetes’s interviewees in this Sundance-hailed docu-hit about a cine-seer, suicide and legendary cable channel programmer.
Tarantino at this fest was grace itself. He suffered the shutterbugs to come unto him. He gave the press corps an easier time than they could remember with any previous Palme d’Or pontiff. He sat in on KILL BILL 2 the Euro-premiere and later THE COMPLETE KILL BILL (240 mins). And he sat back for two days while another Ugly American became news all over the Croisette, indeed the populated world. Michael Moore.
There were as many
vertical levels of simultaneous FAHRENHEIT
9/11 screenings as there were serial vertical levels in ancient
Well, exempt Brad.
He did cause hysteria. Not just at the tapis rouge but at the
Eric Bana and Brian Cox, also attending, might as
well have been smiling waxworks. Brad flashed blue eyes, dimpled his cheeks
with each smile, scratched his stubble-blond hair, showed his extensive
knowledge of anthropology, archaeology and geography – “Troy is in Turkey”
(to someone asking if it was in Albania) – and confirmed the screenwriter’s
assertion that there is no mention in Homer that Patroclus,
Achilles’s ‘cousin’ in the movie, was Achilles’ gay
lover. In short Pitt turned everyone in the room into snowmelt, even those
who had arrived with a deep-frozen contempt for
folk just have the magic. Here’s another: Gael Garcia Bernal. The Mexican hearththrob, starring in two
These two pix prove that the Force is with Latin cinema as we move towards 2005. In the Pedro pic, Gael plays the cross-dressing brother of a transexual ex-child-abuse victim who (Gael, that is) gets amorously involved with both the brother’s former schoolhood lover and the formerly abusing priest-teacher. On another narrative level (there are as many as Troy) a movie-within-the-movie, or rather a movie-encircling-the-movie, is turning all this into high-style screen melodrama as we watch.
Wild or what? For Almódovar it’s show business as usual. So is his ability to paint a swimming pool as if it were a Hockney masterpiece, to texture sets for emotional meaning and symbolic enrichment (dig the crazy-tiled look of a crazy-tiled character’s Madrid mews pad) and to strip his characters both literally and metaphorically when the narrative heat turns up.
In MOTORCYCLE DIARIES Gael Garcia Bernal
plays Ernesto Guevara in 1952, before the 23-year-old Argentinian
medical student won his nickname ‘Che.’ (And
several years before he met Fidel, changed
They rev, roar,
sputter, push and finally walk – every motorbike has its last day – all the
Real-life characters are great to meet at a filmfest, whether impersonated on screen or immanent in the flesh. How numinous to meet Max Von Sydow. Here in Cannes to give an acting masterclass, the avatar of Ingmar Bergman, the ‘Exorcist’, the Christ 40 years before Mel Gibson, and the man who made three days of the condor seem 362 days too few – that was a thriller one could have watched for a continuous year – spoke from his spiritual diaphragm.
In that deep voice made of melted chocolate and broken glass he presented an hour of insights. Into the how, why, wherefore of the thesping art, from the profound to the pragmatic. The key to any character, he said – at any point in any play or movie – was to know what he wanted. “’I want, I want, I want’ should be the actor’s mantra,” rasped the mage. “The drama is the drama of conflicting needs and desires.”
On the practical side, always speak a line after you make your gesture. So (pointing imperiously to the exit sign): “Get the hell out of here!” cries Sydow. We are momentarily so alarmed that we almost do. Then Sydow repeats it the other way round, after a few remarks about the speechmaking ineptitude of politicians. We suddenly see that if “Get the hell out of here!” is followed by the raised arm and pointing finger, the gesture is forced and phony. It seems a posturing afterthought. Light is suddenly shed on the incidence of the ridiculous in the rhetoric of folks like – well, to name the name again – George Dubya Bush. (Now I must wash my mouth out with soap again).
Back in the land of darkness we call moviegoing, the fest was whirling to its climax. And just when we had begun thinking that Cannes 2004 was a little weak on the very art Von Sydow had apostrophised – acting – a horde of histrionic view-halloos were suddenly hurled at us from the screen.
Kong diva Maggie Cheung, who was Olivier Assayas’s
Irma Vep, plays the heroin-hooked heroine of the
French regisseur’s latest. A popworld
dropout recovering from an OD’d hubby’s death, Cheung’s character tries to
kick the drug habit while auditioning for (a) a job and (b) the return of her
fostered-out son. The little boy’s grandpa-in-law Nick Nolte doesn’t want to
let him go. Cheung, now Europe-based, doesn’t intend to give him up. Heigh-ho, we’re into a moral battle of wills as subtle,
steely and ocean-straddling as a Henry James novel. Will Megs win
AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS. Geoffrey Rush ‘is’ the British goon turned
millionaire prey of charlatan clairvoyants, overbearing mothers and serial
wives. Poor Peter Sellers. Once – as this film based on Roger Lewis’s biog
shows – he all but was the Boulting Brothers, Blake Edwards and Stanley Kubrick. They were filmmakers sensible enough to
surrender to this one-man show when he was on song. But ah, it all went
wrong. Cue rage, tears, divorce, bad behaviour, and Brechtian
alienation whoopee (with Rush playing Sellers phantasmically
playing Blake, Stan and Mom). Rush is brilliant. You can’t tell him apart
from either Sellers or Sellers’s creations:
Strangelove, Clouseau, Chauncy
Gardiner. Will he win
LADYKILLERS. Well, as remakes go, it’s not a great comedy. Is
it? Ealing did it better. But Coen see what you
think. Star Tom Hanks was in
In the event the
Best Actor prize went to 14-year-old Yagira Yuuya in Kore-Eda Hirokazu’s NOBODY
Violence is more stylised in Zhang Yimou’s sumptuous HOUSE OF THE FLYING DAGGERS. Shown noncompetitively, it was ineligible for prizes. But it wins My Private Bundle of Silver award. Zhang offers al fresco coups de cinema to complement compatriot Wong Kar-Wai’s domestic dazzlements in 2046. Duels, dances, battles, and aerial combat scenes atop bamboo trees that for balletic panache equal CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON.
I personally left Cannes after leaping from top to top of the palm trees along the Croisette, distributing my messages of thanks and felicitation to a well-conducted festival, presided over as ever – for the appreciative press corps – by the gracious Christine Aimé.
At the city limits I turned back one last time to the sight of gleaming bay and seafront lined with colourful festival posters. Making sure my gesture preceded my utterance, as tutored by Max von Sydow, I waved it in loving valediction and exclaimed, in the words made immortal by General MacArthur and Governor Schwarzenegger, “Je reviens!”
COURTESY T.P. MOVIE NEWS.
WITH THANKS TO THE AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE FOR THEIR CONTINUING INTEREST IN WORLD CINEMA.
©HARLAN KENNEDY. All rights reserved.