Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Cannes 1995: Day 10: May 26

Underground, Serbia/France/Germany, dir. Emir Kusturica

A very sad anecdote in Citizen Cannes, the memoir by longtime festival director Gilles Jacob, finds Serbian film director Emir Kusturica spotting Francis Ford Coppola in the airport after the 1996 festival, where Coppola presided over the jury.  Kusturica is over the moon to meet one of his filmmaking idols, and also to share in their very rare status as two of only three men (at that time) to have scooped two Palmes d'or. He approaches Coppola, fawns over him, attempts to establish fellow feeling. Coppola has never seen his movies, and indeed has no idea who he is. Kusturica keeps throwing him lifelines, establishing his credentials as a globally renowned cineaste, while humbly expressing his feelings of inferiority in present company. Coppola just can't get interested, and never figures out who he's talking to. Jacob offers the story as an emblem of American ignorance, retaining absolutely no idea of what cinema means or who produces it outside of Hollywood's confines. And indeed, you'd love to live in the world where a movie as ambitious, as outsized, as risky and huge as Underground endowed its maker with worldwide renown . . . to fellow luminaries in his field, at the very least. Kusturica has his complexities, to be sure, as both an artist and, from what I understand, as a person, but to Coppola he may as well have been Edward D. Wood, Jr.

At least Jeanne Moreau's jury showed greater appreciation for Underground. Indeed, it's hard to imagine a better day for a Cannes competition than this one: two emblematic works by two figures prominent enough to later lead their own juries. In virtues and even in what I'd call their flaws, Underground and Ed Wood both seem to embody every hope their eccentric auteurs could have harbored for them, and both of them function, implicitly or explicitly, as valentines to a form that keeps thriving, even amid the devastations of land and people, even amid the merry assaults of the utterly talentless ...

(Main Competition: Serbia/France/Germany, dir. Emir Kusturica)

My Response: "Lusty, impressively panoramic-surrealist view of Yugoslavian chaos as total war, eternal return, perverse metatheater ..." Grade: A–

Ivan Albertson's Review: "... It's never less than exuberant; it’s just that Kusturica's ambition extends beyond making a Marx Brothers movie in German-occupied Yugoslavia, which happens to be the movie he’s most adept at making ..." Rating: ★★★½

Tim Brayton's Review: "The Palme d'Or winner, and it's easy to see why: the film's study of war's effect on the 20th century is spiked with humor, black as the heart of a collapsed sun, that repeatedly knocks it around the head with a psychotic carnivalesque flair ..." Rating: 9/10

Amir Soltani's Review: "With biting humour and at a relentlessly energetic pace, Underground draws a historical map of Yugoslavia through the 20th century that is at once accessible and precise, heartfelt and bitter, and prescient and timeless. A masterpiece." Grade: A

Ed Wood
(Main Competition: USA, dir. Tim Burton)

My Response: "Perfectly suits Burton's oddball empathy while passing off stylistic limits as homage. Very sweet if hardly without flaws ..." Grade: B+

Ivan Albertson's Review: "... Burton’s broad, zippy style seems to have been adopted without a great deal of thought. It doesn’t resemble the films I’ve seen from Wood in any way, even if you account for a massive production upgrade, and it encourages the actors to repeat many of the same notes." Rating: ★★★

Tim Brayton's Review: "... An unrestrained love for old movies and the gaudiest kitsch of the '50s permeates every set, performance, and note of Howard Shore's superlative score, leaving it less a straightforward biopic of the notorious low-budget director Edward D. Wood, Jr, than an inside-out journey through his dementedly sunny worldview ..." Rating: 10/10

Amir Soltani's Review: "A remnant of a time when Burton was still capable of making films that expressed human emotions, full of nostalgia for the simpler times of the past—the perennial state of Hollywood in any era—and, like Wood himself, genuine love for the medium ... " Grade: B+

Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead
(Un Certain Regard: USA, dir. Gary Fleder)

My Response: "Strenuous. Was ever a script so proud of itself? As ever, Garcia cannot get us on his side ..." Grade: C

Tim Brayton's Review: "... The film lacks the bent humor of even the most flailing wannabe Tarantino pictures, and it has barely a trace of visual style or filmmaking energy, which not merely permits but practically begs us to notice how little substance it has as a story ... " Rating: 5/10

Coming tomorrow: The last full day of Competition, but don't start packing your bags early. The last two Palme contenders to premiere on the Croisette have proved to have greater longevity in film culture than just about any of their competitors ...

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Anonymous Roark said...

I'm still wrestling with my response to Underground (which I sought out specifically to watch in time for this project, after meaning to see it for years and years - so thanks for the nudge). On the one hand, I was very impressed with the historical perspective and epic sweep of Kusturica's vision, no matter how controversial. On the other, the whole manic comedic mode that much of the film operates in - people screaming, throwing plates, faster and faster, whirling around, with that damn music droning on and on - is nails on a chalkboard excruciating for me after a little while (it's not just this movie, either, I find much of Amarcord unwatchable for the same reason). I feel very schitzy about this one. So much to admire. So much to despise.

11:27 PM, May 26, 2015  

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