Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cannes 1986: Still in the Fortnight

I have four more films left to see in the docket of the Directors' Fortnight before I do some more reporting on the main Competition films. I was weak and let a little bit slip about one of my favorite Palme contenders so far, not yet reviewed, during my 1986-themed podcast with Nathaniel, but you'll have to listen to us gab about Aliens, Fool for Love, Kathleen Turner, A Room with a View, and Francophilia at the movies if you want to get the scoop.

Meanwhile, the last two movies I sampled in this sidebar both straddle the B/B– boundary, albeit in different ways. Cactus, where a young Isabelle Huppert plays a newly blinded French woman falling tentatively in love in the Australian bush is what the older relatives at your family reunion might call a "nice movie." I suspect the director, Paul Cox, might bridle at bit at that since the most interesting stuff in Cactus are the temperature-cooling long shots, the unusually high mixing of natural sound, the hilarious and totally lifelike group scenes at a public meeting and a private party, and some abstract montages that burrow into the characters' fears and memories. The jury is out whether he wanted to make a "nice movie," and sometimes he seems to actively avoid doing that, even at the expense of his own plot. But it is nice, in a refreshing range of ways, and if Huppert is your hook, you won't be disappointed. Check her reaction to bad news from her doctor. Meanwhile, my review is here.

Amos Gitai's Esther has no ambitions of being nice, staging the Old Testament tale in a series of painterly, flatly played tableaus with a Where's Waldo?-type narrator speaking directly to the audience. The effects are a little too weird for the suburban arthouse though not truly challenging, and they evoke urgency in the story without really drumming up much drama. Still, if Cox feels somewhat ambivalent about the vehicle and the genre he is working with, Gitai seems dogged and ecstatic about making exactly this movie, using these formal gambits, and registering these political convictions. The ending is a frame-breaking sleight-of-hand all its own, which may or may not "work" or shed new light on what you've just seen, but at least it makes a real impression, however ambivalent, and for that I give Gitai credit.

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