Thursday, May 28, 2015

Cannes 1995: Jury Awards

First off, I want to thank everybody who followed this feature, and for making the five of us feel that we weren't shouting into a total void, or throwing a party to which we hadn't invited anybody else.  Comment sections were pretty quiet, but murmurs over Twitter and elsewhere indicated there was an audience for our nuttiness.  We hope you'll dig up some of these films if you haven't already, whether to share or challenge our enthusiasm, or to mirror or refute our distaste or indifference.  As for "we" and "us," I couldn't possibly be more grateful to Ivan, Tim, Alex, and Amir for cramming so many movies into a month and producing such thoughtful and zippy reflections on them, at a time when all five of us had plenty else going on.  I woke up every morning excited for what they'd have to say, and they never disappointed.  You can use the "Cannes 1995" label at the bottom of this post or head over here to remind yourself of all their pearls of wisdom.

Tim and I were the last two people to leave the hotel room; we also kept the craziest schedules, heading out earliest and coming latest, to see the most sidebar entries.  Over our final breakfast in our beachfront hotel (yes this is all made up what of it this was our best shot at a mental vacation shhhh) we swapped cocktail serviettes with our Top 10s on them.

Nick's: 1) Safe, 2) Underground, 3) Georgia, 4) Nasty Love, 5) L'Enfant noir, 6) The White Balloon, 7) Good Men, Good Women, 8) The Arsonist, 9) The Neon Bible, 10) Ed Wood

Tim's: 1) Dead Man, 2) Safe, 3) Ed Wood, 4) Underground, 5) Hello Cinema, 6) Good Men, Good Women, 7) Lisbon Story, 8) The Arsonist, 9) Nasty Love, 10) Georgia

That lets you know where at least two of us started as we entered deep sequester with our fellow jurors. As for determining prize-winners among all five of us, I would say there was pretty speedy agreement about many of these choices, even though at least half of them involved some haggling—whether about levels of achievement within each category or about distribution of prizes across the slate.  The closest calls had to do with the Palme vs. the Grand Jury Prize, which probably divides a lot of juries, and with the exact criteria for the Jury Prize, which I'm not sure we're giving to our third-place film, but certainly to a film that impressed us from multiple angles and didn't seem to come out on top in any one area.  So let that be a lesson to you kids out there making assumptions about what Jury Prizes, or any Cannes prize, or any juried film award, necessarily implies about the conversation behind it.

I'll be announcing our selections over my Twitter feed over the next couple of hours, and will later group all the news here.  Meanwhile, we'd love to hear your choices or other Cannes '95-related thoughts in the Comments section ... and stay tuned for one more Roundtable still to come (following this one and this one, both of which taught me a lot), plus some late-breaking discussions with film scholars and other experts who can unpack some of our recent viewing from more specialized perspectives.  So, the awards aren't the end, but the beginning of the end.  And they are...

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Cannes 1995: Day 12: May 28

The Quick and the Dead, USA, dir. Sam Raimi

Many people need no help appreciating Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man. If you're me and can't help feeling agnostic, recuperating more admiration for Jarmusch's affected earnestness and genuine idiosyncrasy is a lot easier after seeing a revisionist Western as flat and plodding as Sam Raimi's The Quick and the Dead Or Sharon Stone's The Quick and the Dead (she also produced), or whoever's The Quick and the Dead. Even the mid-90s' reigning Goldilocks can't save the movie from being too much or too little at all times. The narrative disarray is total—as evidenced by a major flashback tucked into the last ten minutes, which, incidentally, unfolds a scene the audience has already worked out—but even disarray is more interesting than the utter stasis of so many shots where Stone or Russell Crowe or Gene Hackman just stares at people, or the brute momentum of the shootout scenes where the same same same thing happens as the field of contestants winnows down to an utterly foreordained foursome. Raimi's attempts to wake himself aren't any more interesting than the impressions of Raimi asleep at the wheel. But rather than keep laying on Cannes's closing night film, I'm inclined to put pressure on the oft-invoked phrase "revisionist Western," because the John Ford retrospective that unfolded throughout the festival—25 features in ten days——shows that even peak-period Westerns by figures as major as Ford were "revisionist" as often as not. Few have been as austere in their outlook, albeit frequently purple in their prose, as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.  This 1962 James Stewart/John Wayne vehicle, which could not possibly be more cannily cast, challenges and complicates so many myths of the frontier, the ballot box, the law, the state, and the gun that you're hard-pressed to find any Western trope that survives intact. I wish I'd had time for more of the Ford films, but boy was I glad to have saved them up so that I didn't finish on Raimi's folly, and I could take in a rounder, wider, bitterer scale of revision than the simple notion of a girl with a gun.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Cannes 1995: Day 11: May 27

Dead Man, USA, dir. Jim Jarmusch

Two Hugh Grant movies played the last three days at Cannes, in sync with a carefully timed visit from His Floppy-Hairedness, Marquess of Stutter. That may have been the big news at the time, whereas now The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Jesus This Title Is Long is the most patently dated element of the final full day of programming. All three of the other films listed below, despite slipping in at the eleventh hour, have had much more lasting impacts. La Haine caught on quickly, of course, sending shockwaves through French film culture and public discourse. 20th-anniversary pieces have popped up in many major European papers this spring. Dead Man wafted in and out on the final day with remarkably little fanfare, just as Jarmusch's delicious Only Lovers Left Alive did two years ago; I'm pretty reconciled to Just Not Getting Dead Man, but I see completely why so many cinephiles are impassioned about it. Despite its stiffing by the jury and, evidently, by the programmers—way more than La Haine, it's the sort of movie that works by osmosis, and needs time to unwrap its ideas—I'd wager that it now boasts the highest critical stature of any of the Palme competitors from this good-to-middling vintage. My favorite film and happiest discovery among these three was the Burkinabe ensemble dramedy Haramuya, which nimbly alights on multiple storylines among young and old, male and female, in modern-day Ouagadougou. Today it is most celebrated by African cinema devotées for its rare attention to urban teens in a contemporary setting. I'd have had a hard time seeing it without my university connections, but keep an eye out for that title. It was the second movie I watched of the 53 I screened over the six weeks for this feature, and it's easily in the top two or three of those I'm most eager to check out again.

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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 ...

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Cannes 1995: Day 9: May 25

The Convent, Portugal, dir. Manoel de Oliveira

This third-to-last day of the Competition is a riddle to me, even more so than whatever syndrome is or isn't making King George III mad, or why Benoît does any of the things he does in Don't Forget You're Going to Die, or wtf is happening in the crypt or the church or the cave or the woods or the beach or the first reel or the second reel or the third reel in The Convent.  Just when the Palme race started to heat up with much more exciting contenders than we'd seen in the early days of the festival, Day 9 feels larded with puzzling, truncated, or frankly mediocre work, in and out of the Main Competition.  The things that make Beauvois's and de Oliveira's films frustrating to watch admittedly make them more interesting as time passes. Either might have been served by an earlier berth in the schedule, an idea we'll revisit when we land on Dead Man on the final day.  Most of the sidebar stuff could just as easily not have played at all, but I have to say, after so many unsatisfying narratives and inchoate statements, it was sure was fun watching Antonio Banderas fire away at bad guys with weaponized guitar case.

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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.

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Cannes 1995: Day 7: May 23

Nasty Love, Italy, dir. Mario Martone

It is on to-day, honey. The hits keep getting bigger!  Four of the Competition titles from the last 48 hours have handily eclipsed the rest of the field, but today's discoveries are invigorating in a different way than yesterday's because they were so much less heralded. Mario Martone, highly regarded in Italy but barely known outside of it—he's competed for the Golden Lion four times, and swept the Donatello awards a few years back with his prestige literary adaptation We Believed—wowed me more or less from out of nowhere with the directorial verve of Nasty Love, simultaneously steely and luscious, sexy and sad. Many of the most conspicuous directorial signatures of Cannes '95 have been high-handed or humorless; Martone figures out how to impress and entertain at once. No slight on sobriety, though, when it's done with the odd, immaculate mannerism of Terence Davies's The Neon Bible, though I'm suspicious I may have responded better to this one than at least a couple of my peers. All that, plus L'enfant noir is an uncommonly beautiful West African coming-of-age tale, and Safe is one of the definitive movies of the decade. Hard to swing a better day at a festival than this.

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Cannes 1995: Day 6: May 22

Land and Freedom, UK, dir. Ken Loach

And now we're finally talking. Ken Loach and Hou Hsiao-hsien serve up the meatiest, chewiest Palme contenders so far, and without pushing too far outside their stylistic comfort zones, they make some of the most forceful work in either of their filmographies. Regrettable, maybe, that Kids stole a lot of the media attention, but in the context of Cannes, it proved something less of a sensation than its makers and distributors might have hoped. Meanwhile, Chris Newby premiered some British cinema as dissimilar as you could imagine to Land and Freedom, except perhaps in its ethic of unanticipated affinities and identifications across difference, and Iranian master Mohsen Makhmalbaf furnished one of the most austere but committed of several films overtly commemorating the 100th anniversary of the medium...

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Cannes 1995: Day 5: May 21

Carrington, UK, dir. Christopher Hampton

What's going on?  It would be a significant overstatement to say Cannes 1995 wasn't giving us anything to enjoy or admire in its first 100 hours. Sharaku and Angels and Insects have real lingering power, The City of Lost Children at least offers grand spectacle, and the programming in Directors' Fortnight and Un Certain Regard picked up some of the Main Competition's slack. Carrington might be the high-water mark of the Competition thus far. One week later, the jury certainly held that view; give or take Sharaku, I'm inclined to agree with them. But as much as I've always liked Hampton's movie, it's a surprising apex, one-third of the way into the world's most auspicious film festival. Plenty of worthy rental choices below, but also a couple of indifferent doodles and must-avoids.

Updated: For even richer thoughts on many of the films listed below, head over to the first Jury Roundtable, where we all go into more detail about our reactions. 

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Cannes 1995: Day 4: May 20

Jefferson in Paris, USA, dir. James Ivory

The Main Competition continued to languish on the festival's fourth day; none of this section's first seven titles earned any bouquets from the jury by the end of the fortnight. Happily, things were still percolating in the other selections, where Nicole Kidman and Gus Van Sant turned their very different careers around on the same project. Other faces lighting up screens were as fresh as Liv Tyler's and as familiar as Alec Guinness's...

Updated: For even richer thoughts on many of the films listed below, head over to the first Jury Roundtable, where we all go into more detail about our reactions.
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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Cannes 1995: Day 3: May 19

Beyond Rangoon, UK/USA, dir. John Boorman

1995 boasted the largest roster of Competition titles in recent Cannes history—which is all the more surprising given that some of these entries, like Angels and Insects, would have played equally well in the sidebars, and others, like Beyond Rangoon, could have been skipped altogether. But if the Palme contenders hadn't yet yielded much excitement, the sidebars were starting to pop with buzzy titles, hailing from Tinseltown and Tehran...

Updated: For even richer thoughts on many of the films listed below, head over to the first Jury Roundtable, where we all go into more detail about our reactions.
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Monday, May 18, 2015

Cannes 1995: Day 2: May 18

Sharaku, Japan, dir. Masahiro Shinoda

The Main Competition offerings today were determinedly more esoteric than the opening-night film. Souleymane Cissé's Waati was the only one of 24 Palme contenders that eluded me entirely, MIA even from this box-set of that renowned Malian director's work. I did locate the day's other Main Competition title via the website SamuraiDVD, even though it isn't a samurai film. (Technicalities.) Still, even once it's in your hand, Sharaku is such a tough nut to crack that U.S. distribution never happened.  That doesn't mean I was unseduced...

Updated: For even richer thoughts on many of the films listed below, head over to the first Jury Roundtable, where we all go into more detail about our reactions.
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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Cannes 1995: Day 1: May 17

The City of Lost Children, France, dirs. Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Marc Caro

Welcome to the first day of the rest of your lives, and also to the first day of the second coming of the 1995 Cannes Film Festival! As I've been telling you for weeks now, and as Twitter has been hearing at regular intervals, I and a distinguished entourage are embracing our practical and financial inabilities to attend the currently-unfolding Cannes Film Festival by calling on all streaming services, private DVD collections, campus holdings, Interlibrary Loan offices, brick-and-mortar rental shops, and international mail-order retailers to throw what we consider a very inspired birthday party for many, many films that screened on the Croisette 20 years ago this week.  I personally have already seen upwards of 40 titles, from 18 countries, with about a dozen still to go and more nations to represent.  Having searched through every open door for these movies—many of which I hadn't seen in two decades, most of which I'd never seen at all, and several of which are by directors I'd never heard of before—I'm having the time of my life.

Each day of the festival, I'll post an entry that collects my thoughts on the films that bowed on the Croisette that day in 1995.  I'll also include links to essays, capsules, tweets, or Letterboxd entries by my cohorts.  I hope you'll enjoy following these posts, and that you'll consider playing along, and either posting or linking your impressions in the Comments.  I've provided a day-by-day itinerary of the films up for discussion, to help you know what's coming.  (I pulled the dates and even the screening times from an old issue of Le Monde; after today, my already-written Twitter reviews will be timed with maximal nerdiness to appear at the moment each day when the curtain rose on the film in question.)

Occasionally, you'll also be treated to more in-depth conversations between me and some scholar, writer, or friend (often all three!) who has particular expertise in a given film or the story or region it depicts.  I'll also post a few mid-festival roundtables among my closest collaborators, as we hash out our impressions, concluding with our own jury awards for the Best of the Fest.

Today's easy, since as per usual, only one film was programmed on opening day...

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Sunday, May 03, 2015

Cannes 1995: Meet the Jury

My friends and I review the titles in high, brassy style.

The 48th Cannes Film Festival opened on May 17, 1995, with the gala premiere of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro's The City of Lost Children.  My own 20th-anniversary return to that year's lineups will also begin on May 17, which is two weeks from tonight.  No time like the present, then, to introduce you to the game, rambunctious, movie-mad colleagues who will be jumping with me into the time machine and leveling judgments at films I either half-remember or never saw at all.  Though we're unquestionably as chic as last year's congress, we've humbly elected to let our work speak for itself rather than rely on our collective beauty to entice you into this imminent, unfolding feature.

Ivan Albertson is well-known to any Chicago filmgoer: if he isn't tearing your ticket, he's probably sitting with you in the audience, or may even have programmed the especially delicious and hard-to-find titles you're about to enjoy. Ivan sees more movies than anyone I know, maintaining both a high bar and a wide-ranging taste; he is intimidating both in his expectations and his generosity, and it's never clear in advance when or how fully we'll agree. You can keep up with his thoughts during or after Cannes on Letterboxd. He also called the Siskel staff behind my back and had them do this as a kicky surprise before the screening we recently attended of Good Men, Good Women, so I worship him even more than before.

Tim Brayton of Antagony and Ecstasy is, as many of you know, a confoundingly prolific and engaging writer of long-form movie reviews. His work arcs across current releases, pet genres and traditions (from Disney fables to slasher films), and month-by-month obsessions (from Tarkovksy to Tyler Perry). He is a recent festival juror, a Film Experience regular, and ...Tim, can I spoil your other big news? Tim agrees not to judge me for buying a DVD of The Descendants, which I loathed, just because it got Oscar nominations, and I agree not to perform an intervention when he goes to see, e.g., Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 because he think it's snobby when critics disdain to see what folks are out there paying to watch. He's also amidst a fundraising drive you should consider donating to.

Alex Heeney (Twitter) is two of my favorite types of cinephile: the kind based in Toronto, and the kind who does something totally different during the day. She's a Stanford Ph.D. candidate in Industrial Engineering, with an emphasis on confronting structural quandaries related to food waste and climate change. Raise your hand if you're doing that much to better the world...  Hmmm?  Nobody?  Alongside all this, Alex manages to review film, theater, and music at her website The Seventh Row, which, like Tim's, leaves me agog at both the scale and caliber of commentary. She'll also be in actual Cannes while slumming around our faux one. Citizen of the world, that one.

Amir Soltani (Twitter) co-hosts and co-edits the podcast Hello Cinema with Tina Hassannia, which you should really start listening to if you already know a lot about Iranian film, or if you know a little but wish you knew more, or if you don't know anything and recognize that this is a failing on your part. (Sorry: tough love. And for real, why are you denying yourself?) Amir, like Alex, is based in Toronto and is paid to do something completely different than reviewing movies, and I hope he's really good at that other thing, because he's great at reviewing movies. A regular presence at The Film Experience, he organizes all our internal polls, which is more like herding cats than you'd guess.

Ed.: The fabulous foursome above turned out to be my accomplices. As the personal king of biting off more than I can usually chew, I expected some attrition.  Even though they had to bow out of the time machine just before we closed the hatch, you should still be following these folks if you don't already! —

Guy Lodge (Twitter) wears nattier cardigans, cooks more titillating tarts, and maintains finer facial-hair grooming than any other film critic on the net, in addition to soliciting more revealing and genial conversation from Andie MacDowell than you have, or I have.  He writes mostly for Variety now with a side-gig at The Guardian and a distinguished past we all recall with deep yearning at HitFix, née In Contention. Though I tend to require a tighter CV than that for contributors to this site, I've decided on this one occasion to let it pass. (No picking on Guy if his packed spring itinerary of real-world reviewing means he has to bow out.)

Angelo Muredda (Twitter) is another dapper Torontonian, or perhaps I should say another chic Torontoist. I first started reading his work at Film Freak Central, where the hits just don't stop coming. Those guys just know the game. Every game. You're reading them all, right? Angelo's movie writing shows up lots of other places, and he has a better batting average of funny tweets than almost anyone in this racket. He's also getting ever-closer to that Ph.D. in Canadian literature, and is thus a man after my own heart, proving that academics aren't all immured in library stacks (which, by the way, there's nothing wrong with), speaking only to each other (which, I'd wager, there is).

Tim Robey (Twitter) remains the film critic I'd want to be if I had a) stuck with a long-ago aspiration to write movie reviews for a major daily paper, b) actually gotten such a gig, and c) proved to be sublimely good at it, week after week. He makes shrewder points than I do in sentences shorter than I can manage. I don't know why I keep evoking myself. I think I enjoy being in sentences with him.  He's my annual roommate at TIFF, where he sometimes asks me to vet his drafts, even though all I ever do is cut very severe bangs and say, "You've done it, Robey. You've cracked it wide open." Like Alex and Guy, Tim will be offering real-time dispatches from this year's Croisette, so any energy he expends here I extra-appreciate.

Sarah Turner has survived what nobody else on this list has even attempted, i.e., taking one of my classes. She was consistently brilliant talking and writing in academic registers about gender, sexual, and racial politics in contemporary sci-fi features and is just as consistently brilliant writing to a mass audience about everything the Pop Insomniacs can throw at her, including pieces I especially liked about Dear White People and Mr. Turner (no relation), and all the weekly reviews of Mad Men I can't read yet because I've only ever seen 1.5 episodes. Those are all rich, chewy texts, but when you can whip up interesting thoughts about Mike Epps' AOL series, you've arguably shown your chops even more. I don't know who's out there trying to hire young, interesting, eclectic writers, but I didn't plead for her to participate and offer her this platform for my health, okay? Managing editors? Talent scouts?

I hope you're all as excited as I am for what this crew has to say about the 1995 Cannes Film Festival, from the best and brightest to Beyond Rangoon. (Honestly, is that even a spoiler?)  Keep checking back.

Oh, and what's that?  I have a whole other jury assembled of research specialists and published film writers with targeted insights to drop about specific titles along the way?  I've offered you Iron Man, Thor, the Black Widow, Hawkeye, Captain America, and all the others above (you can work out who's who...), and that's only half the tally of Cannes Avengers I've got working on the case?  What??? [/Teaser]

He seriously set this whole thing up and I didn't even know.

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