Lineup Announcement: Cannes 1996
As the world absorbs the newly announced Cannes 2016 lineup, we (read: I) here at Nick's Flick Picks prepare our annual traditional of participating in all the madness by revisiting some Cannes Film Festival of the past. This year, I've booked a trip to Cannes 1996, roundly celebrated at the time as one of the richest Competitions in then-recent history. Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves, the Coen Brothers's Fargo, and Mike Leigh's Secrets & Lies all emerged as Palme front-runners in the top half of the festival. Not only did each reap major prizes on the Croisette, their acclaim persisted across the year, landing them on year-end Ten Best lists around the world and scoring major Oscar wins and nominations. Revisiting these three films alone would be a worthwhile errand on their 20th anniversary, since electing on a "best" among them is as tricky now as it was then. Same goes for their three leading ladies, who eventually held down three-fifths of a notably superb Best Actress roster at that year's Academy Awards.
But Cannes 1996 offered even more than its three principal breakout titles. David Cronenberg shocked the festival so completely that Francis Ford Coppola's jury had to devise a separate prize for originality, daring, and audacity. Ewan McGregor was the where'd-he-come-from ingénue of the moment, flashing his gorgeous eight-inch ...smile in both Trainspotting and The Pillow Book. Jacques Audiard and Arnaud Desplechin took major strides toward global renown in the Main Competition, where Robert Altman, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Michael Cimino staged more elegiac bids for continued relevance. New names like Paul Thomas Anderson, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Mary Harron, and David O. Russell attracted more devotees, none of them realizing that their next movies would really make their names. Iran, Japan, Romania, Australia, Russia, Poland, Senegal, and Spain extended the glorious runs of their national cinemas, while Georgia, Lithuania, and Guinea-Bissau marshaled more meager resources to yield memorable titles.
I'll fold as many sidebar titles as I can into my Cannes 1996 screenings, but at the very least, I'll have my notepad out for all the movies selected for the Main Competition (pending the availability of one elusive title, but even 21 out of 22 wouldn't be bad). There'll be no jury joining me this year. I'm too busy at my day job to coordinate another mass effort this spring. But I still hope you'll all play along as much as you can at home, especially if you notice a title that you've been thirsty to reexamine or eager to dig up for a first encounter. Here's what I can tell you about my main itinerary. More to follow, all leading up to the main action from May 9-20, the dates of the actual 1996 Cannes Film Festival.
Breaking the Waves (Lars von Trier, Denmark/France/Sweden): I've seen this three or four times over the years, always with astonishment at its ambition and uniqueness, but with some upward and downward swings of real affection. How will it go down this time, especially on that recently-issued Criterion Blu-ray?
Crash (David Cronenberg, Canada): One of those movies I can't imagine my life without, and effectively the film that inspired my entire first book, despite registering only peripherally in the finished product. I'm a sucker for this one, but I noticed on my most recent return that my reactions were shifting a little.
Drifting Clouds (Aki Kaurismäki, Finland): I haven't spent much time with Kaurismäki, though The Match Factory Girl was the 1500th feature I ever saw (on my 25th birthday!). I wasn't enraptured by The Man without a Past, which cleaned up pretty well at Cannes 2002, or by Le Havre, which was a festival favorite in 2011, but I always feel like I might be one title away from "getting" him.
Earth (Julio Medem, Spain): I only know Medem from the palindrome-obsessed Lovers of the Arctic Circle, though The Red Squirrel was a critical darling a few years before Earth premiered, and Sex and Lucia steamed up global arthouses a few years later. I'm always jazzed to see films on the docket whose premises, stars, and genres are entirely unknown to me.
The Eighth Day (Jaco van Dormael, Belgium): Despite pulling down a shared Best Actor prize, this film dropped off everybody's radar pretty quickly. Van Dormael earned more plaudits for Toto le héros in 1991 and drew more acclaim last year for his Brand New Testament. This fraternal drama could turn out sticky or sweet.
Fargo (Joel Coen, USA): Recently one of my undergraduates e-mailed me to ask if I had clear memories of this "old classic," or whether I had seen it. We're somehow in a moment where the TV show isn't an interesting supplement to the movie's legacy but is, in fact, the Fargo that a lot of young media consumers know. I haven't actually popped it in the player for years. I'm psyched!
Goodbye, South, Goodbye (Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan): Good Men, Good Women was one of the movies that most impressed me from my Cannes 1995 voyage last year, though I can't say that I loved it. That's usually the split I'm negotiating with Hou: I'm so awestruck by what he does, but I'm seldom swept up. Which may not even be his goal. But let's try again.
Kansas City (Robert Altman, USA): A perfect candidate for reappraisal. I saw this once, not quite twenty years ago, when I was such an easy lay for Altman that I gave a good review to The Gingerbread Man. I liked Kansas City but didn't adore it. I've read some ardent defenses of it since, and by now, I can't even remember what I liked most or least. So excited for a second trip.
My Sex Life... or How I Got into an Argument (Arnaud Desplechin, France): Desplechin's case compares to Hou Hsiao-hsien's in my book. I can't think of anyone who makes movies quite like he does, but after a half-hour or so of bliss and wonder, I tend to tire of his mannerisms and pine for a quicker wrap-up. I'm always hoping, though, that this will be the one that fully clicks.
The Quiet Room (Rolf de Heer, Australia): The only movie by Rolf de Heer I've seen is probably his best loved, the Aboriginal drama Ten Canoes. I don't know anything about The Quiet Room's scenario and am not sure I've ever even read a review. A genuine tabula rasa for me.
Ridicule (Patrice Leconte, France): Along with A Chef in Love and Prisoner of the Mountains in the Directors' Fortnight, this was one of three eventual nominees for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars that debuted at Cannes. I haven't seen any of them, and the period quasi-romp Ridicule, which served as the festival's opening-night film, is the one that most attracts me.
The Second Time (Mimmo Calopresti, Italy): The shortest Competition title is also the hardest to acquire in English-subtitled form, and I don't speak Italian. I'm on the case, though, and eager to see Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and 2001 Palme d'or winner Nanni Moretti in the starring roles. I was so taken aback, in a wonderful way, by the Italian entry last year. Maybe il fulmine can strike twice?
Secrets & Lies (Mike Leigh, UK): Leigh's only Croisette champ, his most-nominated film at the Oscars, and (I think?) his biggest box office hit. I've seen it several times but not for a while. I'm curious how it'll measure up against the titles I've seen more recently: early efforts like High Hopes and Life Is Sweet and the introverted epics like Mr. Turner, which might be my new favorite.
A Self-Made Hero (Jacques Audiard, France): I have such a clear memory of a graduate TA telling me in college that she had seen this movie the night before. Because I'd never heard of Audiard or Kassovitz and found the title so uninviting, I couldn't understand why she'd bothered. That's how far I've come in twenty years. Audiard has come even farther! Interested to see this early outing.
Stealing Beauty (Bernardo Bertolucci, UK/France/Italy): The rare Competition title, especially from this vintage, that I flatly disliked. Three years later, though, I responded better to Besieged than to almost anything else Bertolucci ever made, so I wonder if I'll groove more to the low-key, sensualist vibe of this one on a second return. Plus, baby Rachel Weisz! Baby Joseph Fiennes!
The Sunchaser (Michael Cimino, USA): At the time, I really wished this one had been more widely distributed, mostly because I had a huge crush on Woody Harrelson in those years, but also because the total disappearance of Cimino after the peak of The Deer Hunter and the fiasco of Heaven's Gate was so intriguing. I never did track it down, so here's my moment.
Temptress Moon (Chen Kaige, Hong Kong): Like most of the world, I rhapsodized over Farewell, My Concubine in 1993, so much so that I didn't even mind The Piano having to share its Palme d'or. (Well, maybe a little.) Temptress Moon didn't seem to galvanize anybody even 20% as much but there's still plenty of interest here. Leslie Cheung! Gong Li! Christopher Doyle!
Three Lives and Only One Death (Raul Ruiz, France/Portugal): From Ruiz's sprawling, multinational career, I've only seen two features: the Proustian puzzlebox Time Regained and the even more cryptic and playful Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting. I have the impression this one is styled to be more accessible, and Mastroianni rarely steps wrong. In truth I don't know much about it.
Too Late (Lucian Pintilie, Romania): I saw this a few years ago when a Pintilie retrospective was touring US markets. Not to mince words, I felt then that it was at least the equal of the Coen, Leigh, and von Trier movies, if not their superior. Was that just the thrill of unanticipated discovery? Now I'll be coming at it with high expectations from my first encounter. Can't roll around fast enough.
Tree of Blood (Flora Gomes, Guinea-Bissau): Even more obscure than Too Late. Why is it that even the one-in-a-million African features to penetrate the Main Competition at Cannes still tend to miss out on U.S. distribution, even on DVD? I did find a French pressing of the film on disc, and given my enthusiasm for other sub-Saharan filmmaking, I really have my fingers crossed for this one.
The Van (Stephen Frears, UK): Fox Searchlight gave this one a decent push the following spring, trying really hard to sustain post-Commitments affection for Roddy Doyle and post-Snapper momentum for star Colm Meaney. I didn't catch the spark then and don't harbor all that much faith in the wildly uneven Stephen Frears. But maybe by this point I'll be in the mood for a comedy?
Les voleurs (André Téchiné, France): The least well-known of the Competition entries I actually caught in cinemas during my first full year of proper urban moviegoing. I had been electrified by Wild Reeds on video and didn't find Téchiné working at the same level here, but I liked the performance he coaxed from young Laurence Côte and suspect I might see more in it now.
Un Certain Regard
(Not a complete list, which is available here. Just my likely pit stops.)
Bastard Out of Carolina (Anjelica Huston, USA): Huston's directorial debut, slated for cable television in the U.S., is an adaptation of Dorothy Allison's blistering novel, starring then-newcomer Jena Malone and the recently reinvigorated Jennifer Jason Leigh. Huston didn't direct much after this, and nothing with its promised sharpness of edges. Very eager.
Few of Us (Sharunas Bartas, Lithuania): Brilliant, kind, classy film writer Acquarello of Strictly Film School, more active these days on Twitter as @filmref, once got wind of how much I loved Katerina Golubeva in Pola X, which includes a cameo for her lover and frequent collaborator Sharunas Bartas. Suddenly in my mailbox was a VHS compendium of three Bartas features. Thanks, Acquarello, and hope you're well! Excited to finally discuss them in person.
Gabbeh (Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Iran): Along with The White Balloon, one of the gems of Cannes '95, Gabbeh was something of a pathbreaker for Iranian cinema in the U.S. market. It's a colorful parable built around motifs of weaving and storytelling. The first Iranian film I saw that wasn't directed by Kiarostami, screened at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. Took a friend. She loved it.
Hard Eight (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA): Screened at Cannes under its intended title, Sydney, and instantly earned hosannas for the brilliant, professionally resuscitated lead actor Philip Baker Hall. I finally caught this around the time The Master came out and really admired it. It's the only P.T. Anderson film I've only seen once, and I'm looking forward to a second impression. Hoffman, Jackson, and Paltrow all terrific in this, too.
I Shot Andy Warhol (Mary Harron, USA): The film and the caustic lead performance by Lili Taylor were indelible in themselves when I saw them at a June 1996 matinee at Boston's Kendall Square. What I really remember, though, were the out and proud ticket-buyers of every stripe and style: my introduction to the idea that some films were worth seeing in theaters for the audience alone. Haven't watched it since. Will feel so strange to screen it alone in my apartment. Maybe I'll post flyers.
Irma Vep (Olivier Assayas, France): My adoration of this one is a matter of public record, which I saw first on VHS and later on Fox Lorber's typically subpar DVD. I'm excited to screen Zeitgeist's restored version on DVD, though if any movie can actively thrive off a grainy, rough-edged transfer, this punk little object might be it. Maybe I'll watch it at midnight, like Cannes did.
Looking for Richard (Al Pacino, US/UK): This making-of documentary about Pacino's stage production of Richard III bowed so shortly after Richard Loncraine and Ian McKellen's celebrated screen adaptation that it both profited from the hype and vanished a bit in the more flamboyant film's shadow. I never caught it and am hoping for the best.
Love Serenade (Shirley Barrett, Australia): There's odd, there's actively eccentric, and there's this Australian comedy about two rural sisters, including Lord of the Rings's Miranda Otto, competing for the affections of a fugly, soulful radio DJ who may, in fact, be a fish. Won the Camera d'or for best first feature of the festival. Did this just rocket up your list?
Mimi, aka La Bouche de Jean-Pierre (Lucile Hadzihalilović, France): I thought I'd have trouble locating this 50-minute quasi-feature by the subsequent auteur of Innocence and last year's Evolution, but here comes Fandor to the rescue. Last year's Cannes '95 juror Ivan Albertson may pop over to watch this and discuss.
The Pallbearer (Matt Reeves, USA): Reviews were sort of mean at the time about this Miramax-backed black comedy, but I remember enjoying it. Gwyneth wasn't yet Gwyneth then, David Schwimmer was still just Ross, and Cloverfield's Matt Reeves was more than a decade out from his recent reinvention as a top-drawer horror-suspense stylist. Prime time for reassessment?
The Pillow Book (Peter Greenaway, Netherlands/UK/France): Another movie that got ensconced as a Favorite a while back, which is a little weird given how much I always fight with the second half. It's not just because Ewan departs. Every time I view this I feel differently, and discover plenty in it that I didn't even remember, for better or worse. Finally available on Blu-ray!
Some Mother's Son (Terry George, Ireland): Back before Helen Mirren was a marquee name for U.S. audiences—I was there, it was true—Columbia gave this a prestigious but commercially damning mini-release on Christmas Day. Perfect for a movie about mothers losing their boys in the Troubles! The better reviews actually went to Fionnula Flanagan, as the other mother.
A Summer's Tale (Eric Rohmer, France): Happily restored and released to cinemas just last year, having never achieved theatrical distribution in its time. Reviews were rapturous, as usual for Rohmer. Even if he somehow fell asleep in the director's chair, it's still young Melvil Poupaud dawdling on the beach, so.
The Waste Land (Deborah Warner, UK): One of the final screenings of the fortnight was this 34-minute recording of Fiona Shaw reciting Eliot's masterpiece, as filmed by her frequent and ingenious stage collaborator Deborah Warner. You might recall that Warner led Shaw through a Medea, for example, in a small backyard filled with plastic children's toys. Whether this Waste Land is nearly as inventive remains to be seen. The University of Minnesota had the only DVD copy in the United States library system, but they loaned it to me!
(Not much else is readily available from this year's selection.)
The Daytrippers (Greg Mottola, USA): Warmly received Stateside the following spring, this farcical road film (I think?) kickstarted the career of Superbad helmer Mottola. You could do worse for a time capsule of Landmark-friendly mid-to-late 90s acting talent: Hope Davis, Stanley Tucci, Parker Posey, Campbell Scott, Marcia Gay Harden, Liev Schreiber...
(Not a complete list, which will soon be available here. Again, likely pit stops.)
Beautiful Thing (Hettie Macdonald, UK): A movie I initially skipped in theaters because I was young and somewhat self-serious about my homosexuality and felt I did not have time for some roseate urban fable (which isn't even a fully accurate précis) when there were traumas and injustices to deal with. Later, when I saw it, I loved it.
A Chef in Love (Nana Dzhordzhadze, Georgia): One of those food-based romantic comedies for which a certain audience has a bottomless appetite. This Oscar nominee has never been put on DVD, but thankfully for me I have a working VCR and a nearby public library stocked full of VHS tapes that nobody else seems to rent.
Inside (Arthur Penn, USA): Robert Kolker is quite hard on this film in his oft-revised and engrossing A Cinema of Loneliness, arguing that Penn eventually just gives into the kind of sadistic violence that Bonnie and Clyde so cleverly holds up to philosophical and cultural critique. I've never seen it, but I gather it's a visceral prison-torture drama.
Jude (Michael Winterbottom, UK): The dissolution of PolyGram seems to have put this one in limbo; DVDs have been hard to locate for years, most are blurry Korean imports, and several are censored at a crucial moment. All too bad, because it's a richly photographed, deftly played and scripted Hardy adaptation. Winslet, Eccleston in glorious form.
Kids Return (Takeshi Kitano, Japan): The only Kitano film I've seen was his Zatôichi film, which I hated, though I remember so little of it that I don't stand confidently behind that reaction. This will be an odd follow-up, especially in lieu of Fireworks or Sonatine, but I'm hoping I can make time for it, since this whole exercise is about broadening horizons.
Lone Star (John Sayles, USA): I think this was the first Sayles film I actually saw, and for many people it remains his peak (though just try prying Passion Fish out of my cold, dead hand, Ilsa). The screenplay was nominated for everything, and Cooper, Peña, Canada, and Kristofferson are all remarkable. Should be even more renowned than it is.
Prisoner of the Mountains (Sergei Bodrov, Russia): Bodrov entered the Oscar race with this highly-regard Tolstoy adaptation that starred his son, a quickly-rising Russian eminence after this, Brother, and East-West. Sadly, Bodrov Jr. died at 30, so his hits are also epitaphs. I've been looking forward to this one for quite a while. Oleg Menshikov is good value, too.
La Promesse (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium): Hard to believe, after two Palmes and a ceaseless string of critical hits, that once upon a time the Dardennes were known only to a few people. Hard to accept they're still unknown to many more. I've still never seen their breakout feature, a big sidebar hit at the festival with which they soon became synonymous.
Trees Lounge (Steve Buscemi, USA): I have postponed seeing this for years, even after Owen Gleiberman's memorable enthusiasm in EW, because all the DVDs appeared to be pan & scan. Turns out there was a limited pressing of widescreen transfers, though, so I'm good to go with Buscemi, Sevigny, LaPaglia, Seymour Cassel, Brooke Smith, CAROL KANE... (!)
Cinémas en France
(Different accounts tell different stories about whether this section of Cannes '96 was encompassed within the Directors' Fortnight or constituted a separate itinerary. The screening venues were the same, anyway.)
Full Speed (Gaël Morel, France): One star of Wild Reeds directs the other two, hunky Stéphane Rideau and enchanting Élodie Bouchez, in a drama of youth that kickstarted a nice directing career for its precocious helmer.
Perfect Love! (Catherine Breillat, France):Short version: I have no idea what it's about, but it's a movie called Perfect Love! by the director of Fat Girl, and it even has an exclamation point in the title. I fail to see what could possibly go wrong.
Out of Competition
Elective Affinities (Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, Italy): The Coens weren't the only brothers making their mark on the Croisette this year. Having won the Palme in the 1970s for Padre padrone and appeared in competition three years prior with Fiorile, the Tavianis unveiled their latest as a Special Screening. A recent Taviani retrospective at the Siskel here in Chicago earned them a lot of love.
Flirting with Disaster (David O. Russell, USA): Russell wasn't a global name in 1996, with only his acerbic debut Spanking the Monkey under his belt, so to speak. It's kind of surprising that his madcap farce scored the Closing Night spot, but when you consider how many people adored it then and do now, Cannes comes out looking pretty good with this choice.
Girl 6 (Spike Lee, USA): I was recently championing this on Twitter as Lee joint that's far from perfect, especially in its final third, but the best stuff is so terrific that it's one of my favorites in his portfolio. I only ever remember the peaks, including Theresa Randle's lead performance, so re-viewing it may be sobering. The all-Prince, all-the-time soundtrack is a virtue in itself.
Microcosmos (Claude Nuridsany and Marie Pérennou, France): Insects. Plus a few slimies, like snails. All captured in exquisite close-up by state-of-the-art cameras that earned this documentary the Technical Grand Prize of the fest, even though this wasn't in competition. Narrated by Kristin Scott Thomas. Released to great acclaim and good box office in multiple nations. Poster art was a praying mantis in sunglasses. I never caught it. Are you in?
Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, UK): Many people's favorite movie of 1996, with the kind of durable cultural capital that puts it on the level of Breaking the Waves and Fargo. I never quite attached to it, and in fact delayed seeing it until video. I liked it more than I expected but my memory is pretty, shall we say, spotty. I truly won't know what to expect from a second plunge down this filthy toilet.
Cinémas de Toujours
(More or less what now gets called Cannes Classics.)
L'Enfance nue (1968, Maurice Pialat, France): I don't know anything about the scenario of this one, but given my affection for Under the Sun of Satan, I've been telling myself forever that I would take in more Pialat. If I can scoot to the repertory venue after a long day with the premieres, I'll catch this one.
Mon Oncle d'Amérique (1980, Alain Resnais, France): My viewing history with Resnais is spottier than it should be. This was one of the biggest international hits of his middle career, a smash at Cannes and an Oscar nominee for its screenplay. The female lead, Nicole Garcia, has spun out a rich career as a director, landing in competition this year with From the Land of the Moon, starring Marion Cotillard. A perfect moment to seek this out.
I'll post more about these films as May 9 draws nearer, including the actual sequence in which they screened two decades ago. I'll also highlight some sidebar films that I know I'll be viewing. Twitter, as usual, will be the best place to catch all the updates as they unfurl. But for now, I'll pass the mic: which of these movies are you most curious about? Which ones are your favorites or least favorites among those you've caught in the past?