Sunday, May 24, 2015

Cannes 1995: Day 8: May 24

Ulysses' Gaze, Greece, dir. Theo Angelopoulos

Fewer films than usual on offer today: Critics' Week had ended, and many of the Quinzaine and Un Certain Regard titles proved elusive. But what remains is a full meal. Some might even say over-full. I imagine critics arrive to every Cannes with certain days in the schedule circled in boldfaced marker, and this would have been one of them. Theo Angelopoulos' Ulysses' Gaze, which finds the legendary Greek auteur pondering the evisceration of the Balkans and the evanescence of film, and Zhang Yimou's Shanghai Triad, with its visually and narratively operatic story of gangsterism and bitter redemption, had figured instantly on everyone's list of likely plays for the Palme d'or. By "everyone," I include the filmmakers.  Neither was renowned for hiding his light under a bushel, but even by those standards, they pull out all the technical and rhetorical stops in these projects.  I don't doubt their sincere commitment to their visions, but I also sense they can smell the velvet in the trophy case. Neither of these statement-pieces went home empty-handed, even if Angelopoulos' famous hissy-fit upon winning the runner-up prize suggested otherwise, but nor did they unite critical opinion or endear themselves uniformly to audiences. I found plenty to chew on in both, but oscillated like so many others between awe and skepticism. If anything, I was more galvanized by a one-hour Malaysian adaptation of William Faulkner's "Barn Burning" that slipped into Un Certain Regard to less acclaim than it deserved. You could watch it three times in the span it takes to screen Ulysses' Gaze, though that's not an automatic point for or against either of them. Good things come in big and small packages.

Ulysses' Gaze
(Main Competition: Greece, dir. Theo Angelopoulos)

My Response: "Labored devices, awkward clashes of idiom, but admirably earnest. Heaven is made of Angelopoulos camera movements ..." Grade: B

Ivan Albertson's Review: "I hesitate to call this pretentious self-parody, but only because we’re supposed to know that’s philistine code for not understanding it. In this case, however, it feels apropos, for despite Angelopoulos’ [...] unmistakable bids for profundity over its three tortured hours, his efforts are strained at every moment." Rating: ★½

Tim Brayton's Review: "... Individually, it's made up of almost nothing but striking images and meaningfully slow moments, but long before the movie was even thinking about ending, I was cowed into submission more than transfixed by the gravity of every moment ... " Rating: 6/10

Amir Soltani's Review: "The film is deeply and intimately rooted in its milieu, but maybe three-hour lectures on Balkan history are not everyone's idea of a rewarding university course film experience ... " Grade: B–

Shanghai Triad
(Main Competition: China, dir. Zhang Yimou)

My Response: "Full potential isn't reached; boy's perspective unilluminating. Voluptuous exercise, though, with a Warner Bros end ..." Grade: B

Ivan Albertson's Review: "It's a relief when it settles down in the country in the second half. While the gradual thaw of Gong’s character is hardly surprising, it is effective, and the ending is impressively uncompromising ... " Rating: ★½

Tim Brayton's Review: "Filtering its tale of gangland warfare through the perspective of petulant nightclub singer and gangster's moll (she's played, terrifically, by Gong Li), and then filtering her through the eyes of a teenage boy from the country (Wang Xiaoxiao) who can barely articulate his impressions through all of it, the film has a point-of-view problem ... " Rating: 7/10

Amir Soltani's Review: "The gorgeous cinematography is the highlight of the show. The film's intricacy only hits in the last couple of scenes, but when the loose ends of the story are finally tied up, the intense finale overshadows much of the slowness in the preceding buildup. ... " Grade: B+

The Arsonist (Kaki bakar)
(Un Certain Regard: Malaysia, dir. U-Wei Haji Saari)

My Response: "Faulkner thrives in Malaysia! Land as mindspace, race as turf war, class as tribunal: all there. Brute, vivid object ... " Grade: B+

Tim Brayton's Review: " ... The aesthetic is casually naturalistic but with a poetic attention to darkness and color; the social insights are smart as they are quiet." Rating: 9/10

Coming tomorrow: As we enter the final third of the Competition slate, everyone's in motion: mooning about Paris, racing to catch a cuckoo king, and skulking through woods and ruins, one step behind or ahead of the devil ...

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