Our suitcases are only partially unpacked and our accreditation badges are still rattling around the bottom of our bags, but this year’s Cannes is now well and truly over, and perhaps the only way for us to attain true closure, is to run through our highlights and lowlights. In general, we’d agree with the overall feeling that this was not the most scintillating Cannes lineup ever (though very far from being the dud that some critics rushed to judgement on), and that’s probably due to a few factors: there was nothing equivalent to last year’s “Blue is the Warmest Color” to prove a major unifying breakthrough; the Un Certain Regard sidebar selection felt weak overall despite a few outstanding films; and “Winter Sleep” winning the Palme, whatever you think of the film, was hardly the most startling choice—it had been the bookie’s favorite even before the festival began.
But for us at The Playlist, this year’s Cannes was kind of fab. With three contributors (Jess, Oli and Nikola) in France for the duration, we got to cover a great deal more than ever before, meaning that where the Official Selection left something to be desired, we each had time to make our own discoveries. It amounts to roughly 50 reviews (or at least it will once the final couple go up) as well as news pieces and other tidbits, and you can catch up on all of it here at your leisure. In the meantime, however, here’s a rundown of the best and worst of our Cannes, from our consensus picks to our more individual reactions that follow. It’s been a long, amazing festival that we feel privileged and passionate about covering: thank you for reading.
The 5 Best Films
Bennett Miller might, until about ten days ago, have been the least well-known filmmaker ever to have had his first two movies turn out as hugely acclaimed Best Picture nominees. Both “Capote” and “Moneyball” were praised to the skies, but in both cases, it felt like others involved with the project overshadowed the director: Philip Seymour Hoffman‘s titanic performance in the former; producer/star Brad Pitt, who fought for years to get the movie made, with the latter. But now he’s won Best Director at Cannes, there’s little chance of Miller’s contribution ever being undervalued again, especially as “Foxcatcher” is the best of his three outstanding pictures to date (review here). On the one hand, it’s almost a modest little story, a (mostly) platonic love triangle between Channing Tatum‘s Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz, his older, more successful and happier brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), and eerie millionaire heir John Du Pont (an unrecognizable Steve Carell). And it’s furiously, scintillatingly acted by all three: Carell’s performance has been the headliner, and it’s an amazing turn, but Tatum and Ruffalo are subtly just as astonishingly transformed, entirely lived-in and fully realized. But this isn’t just a three-hander: the script (by “Capote” writer Dan Futterman and “Something Wild” scribe E. Max Frye) takes the story of these three people and turns it into something massive: this is a look at America, the privilege bought by immense, unearned wealth, the emotional toll of failure, and brotherhood, both literal and figurative. It’s an incredibly rich, complex work, and Miller directs the hell out of it: his technique isn’t showy (his Cannes win undoubtedly annoyed the auteurist crowd to no end), but meticulously judged and technically perfect (one scene, as Du Pont gives a speech to his wrestling team in front of his mother, should be taught in film schools). From the score to Greig Fraser‘s photography (there’s one shot in particular that made us short of breath), it’s remarkable from top to bottom. We tried to resist hyperbole coming out of the film, but a week or so on, “Foxcatcher” feels more and more like it could be the best American movie of the last few years.
Ladies and gentlemen, there’s a new Russian masterpiece in town and its name is “Leviathan.” Screening towards the end of the festival, when festival fatigue is in full force and your whole body craves all the nutrients it was denied for the past two weeks, Andrey Zvyagintsev‘s film was in slight danger of losing its audience quicker than most. But, like most critics out there, we were transfixed immediately (read our review here) and there was no going anywhere; the opening crashing waves and colossal sounds of Philip Glass pulling us in and not letting go during one of the most absorbing hundred and forty minutes we’ve experienced at this year’s Cannes. For a parable on suffering, its thematic issue of divine justice from the Book Of Job, and deep symbolism through its titular sea-monster, Leviathan is much funnier than it sounds thanks to characters diving into biblical amounts of vodka and a razor sharp wit aimed at the fallacy of authority. This humor balances out the bleakness and incredibly heart-felt storyline very effectively, and makes this Zyvagintsev’s most entertaining film to date. The plot follows a down-on-his-luck mechanic, Kolya (Aleksei Serebryakov), as he struggles to preserve everything that’s dear to him; his home, his wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova), and his friend Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovichenko), while going up against the town’s corrupt mayor, the terrifically Charles Laughton-esque Vadim (Roman Madyanov). The film is an artistic behemoth; from the incredible performances that breath life into each character, to the fastidious mise-en-scene that make surroundings feel like second-homes in record time, to the balletic camera movements that are such an integral part of the film’s feeling of intimacy. It flew back to Russia as a well-deserved Best Screenplay winner, but Zvyagintsev created something so special with this film, we were secretly (or in Jessica’s case, loudly and volubly) hoping it would nab the Palme d’Or away from the eventual winner.
Xavier Dolan‘s Venice film “Tom at the Farm” had been our favorite of his before we went to watch his Cannes Competition entry “Mommy” (our rave review here). And so the news that he’d gone back to themes and indeed cast members from before that film (Anne Dorval and Suzanne Clement both appeared in “Laurence Anyways” and “I Killed My Mother“) had us wondering whether he was moving forward or backward. But “Mommy” was a wonderful surprise—a synthesis of the aesthetic confidence and curiosity of ‘Tom’ (right down to aspect ratio experimentation within the film) with a soapish, almost Almodovar-esque story of mothers and sons and female friendship and the beauty that the messiness of life sometimes hides. And it also has quite the most remarkable soundtrack of any Cannes entry in that it’s hard to imagine we’ll ever listen to this one on its own: Dido, Counting Crows, Celine Dion, Oasis and Eiffel 65 tracks are used in a baldfaced attempt to be deliberately unhip (I mean, most of this shit isn’t even cheesy pop, it’s just awful MOR). It’s almost annoying the way this utter bravado totally works, but, rather like the moment we found ourselves getting a little caught by the opening to a Sheryl Crow track in Richard Linklater‘s “Boyhood,” time and again here we felt almost embarrassed by how our heart was swelling to the point of bursting while something like “Colorblind” blasted over the speakers. Add to that the stellar performances, from Dorval, Clement and Antoine Olivier Pilon, the stunning, largely square-format photography and a real compassion and wisdom even in its soapiest moments, and you have a pure, joyous thrill of a film. There’s a moment in which Steve (Pilon) cycling on his bike with the blue sky behind him stretches his arms out, literally pushing back the sides of frame so that the 1:1 aspect ratio becomes widescreen. It brought a spontaneous round of applause from the audience, and a burst of giddy pure-joy laughter that you rarely hear from a few thousand gathered journalists, but that ludicrously uplifting moment did for the film what the film did for us at the festival—it opened wide the shutters and let in more life than we’d imagined possible to that point.
The appearance of Mike Leigh‘s new film was the easiest to predict as far as the Cannes’ main competition was concerned, but just how much we’d end up loving it was not so obvious. After all, it was slightly new territory for Leigh and a biopic of controversial painter J.M.W. Turner didn’t exactly sound like the frolicking good times we had with “Topsy-Turvy,” its closest cousin from Leigh’s filmography. So you can imagine how happy we were to have any tenuous reservations quickly dismissed by one of Leigh’s greatest achievements (read our review). With Timothy Spall at his most boisterous and thunderously introverted, and resplendent photography evoking Turner’s genius and bridging the artistic gaps of cinema and painting, along with Mike Leigh’s signature style of organic writing and seamless directing, this easily slips into our top five. Much like the rest of our best picks, Mr. Turner balances out a refreshing sense of humor (here, mostly in the form of the bellowing Spall and his many variations on the grunt) with an affecting story of a deeply troubled soul; a man whose relationship with his father, his colleagues, and his different kinds of families all suffered due to his inability to fully express himself. This caged feeling was only truly liberated when he was painting his shipwrecks and tumultuous seas, and with Leigh’s craftsmanship this liberation is magically captured and contained throughout its running time. This biopic sheds itself of all the formality and predictable beats which usually drag the genre down to obscurity and 5$ DVD bins, and makes for one of the greatest biopics we’ve seen in quite some time. Spall deservedly picked up Best Actor, and we’ll be crossing our fingers that the good word carries “Mr. Turner ” all the way to the end of the year awards talk, most especially for the beauteous cinematography by Dick Pope.
“Two Days, One Night“
So what, exactly, does Marion Cotillard have to do to get a Cannes Best Actress award? Because if turning in a completely immersed and transparent performance in a film in which she is not offscreen for a single moment, directed by two-time Palme d’Or winners can’t do it for her we’re really not sure what can. Not to detract in any way from Julianne Moore‘s win (hers is a turn we absolutely loved) but Cotillard seemed to us like the no-brainer choice here; we don’t even consider ourselves among the actress’s most unquestioning fans (that honor is reserved for that one commenter of ours who likes to go onto unrelated posts and write long diatribes about how great she is) but here even off her high bar, she’s quite revelatory. And the film itself is a wonder. Despite two unnecessary turns of the melodrama screw late on (that Cotillard nearly sells, that’s how good she is), the film is a gripping, deeply moving examination of one person caught up in an unfair system and trying to quell demons exterior and interior to fix it, which works equally well as a humanist portrait, as social commentary and even as political allegory.The realism that the Dardennes are so known for may take a knock as a result, but when the film does so much else so well, it feels churlish to compare it to some of their other work, which may have stuck more strictly to the rhythms of real life, but that didn’t have quite this ambitious and broad a remit. It feels like fiction, it’s true, but it’s great fiction, resonant and intelligent and actually quite thrilling, with an ending so perfectly satisfying that our niggles about narrative wobbles in the preceding minutes were instantly forgotten.
The Worst 5 Films
“Grace Of Monaco“
Festival openers have a somewhat dicey reputation, whether in Cannes or elsewhere; there’s a slight sense that it’s a movie designed to gather maximum press coverage thanks to the presence of movie stars, rather than necessarily getting the cinematic celebration off on the right note. Lord knows that this year’s Cannes opener, “Grace Of Monaco,” (review here) had to be in the former category, because if Thierry Fremaux and co. had intended this as a tone-setter, the tone would have been “spoilt Tea Party activist on Quaaludes.” Ill-conceived from the off as a project that celebrates movie star Grace Kelly (Nicole Kidman)’s role in ensuring that Monaco continued to be a tax haven for the super-rich, as well as choosing to abide by her husband’s wishes that she continue to give up her career as an actress in favor of being a princess, a wife and a mother, it’d be a pretty lousy movie even if it were well-executed. But it’s very much not: Olivier Dahan suggesting that even the not-especially-great “La Vie En Rose” was something of a fluke, because this is cheap and campy at best, and totally incompetent at worst, from photography that goes from queasily soft-focused to unevenly lit, to some truly puzzling shot choices, including several that rove around Kidman’s face in extreme close-up like the camera operator was drunk. Often in this kind of tepid, Vogue-magazine-spread biopic (see “La Vie En Rose,” “My Week With Marilyn“), you’ll at least have a decent performance at the center, but Kidman’s barely present and certainly never reminds you of Kelly, despite Dahan’s occasional hamfisted quotes of her Hitchcock films, or frankly tasteless foreshadowing glimpses of her death. The film might, once it’s available at home, make for an entertaining drinking game (take a shot every time someone introduces themselves with their job title, e.g. “As the Minister for the Interior,” or every time Tim Roth exhales a plume of smoke and you’ll be stinking in no time), but that’s the most that can be salvaged from this one, aside from a handful of truly WTF moments, six of which we run down here.
Critics, especially those of a bitchy bent (Oli’s C- review was one of the most positive, if you can believe), are having a field day with Ryan Gosling‘s directorial debut, and some of its defenders seem to suggest that it’s getting a beating because Gosling is such an easy target. Allow us to dispel this myth; “Lost River” is a really terrible movie, and Ryan Gosling’s name has very little to do with why it’s bad. Gosling the director and Gosling the writer, on the other hand, have everything to do with why it’s bad. It’s the story of Billy (Christina Hendricks) and her small family unit of two sons, a baby and a teenager called Bones (Iaen De Caestecker), as they try to survive a housing crisis and the clutches of sleazy banker Dave (Ben Mendelsohn) and local thug Bully (Matt Smith). There’s also Bones’ friend Rat (Saoirse Ronan) and her mute grandmother thrown into the blender, along with a variety of characters who are all grotesquery and aesthetics with zero personality. Gosling pushes the button on the blender pretty early on, and things spiral out of control to form a hurricane of garbage; trashing any semblance of storyline, character development, emotional attachment, or rudimentary logic. Yes, it looks pretty with its neon purples and twisted art deco, so we have cinematographer Benoit Debie and art director Erick Donaldson (along with a few actors like Mendelsohn, Ronan, and Smith) to thank for softening the punches our brains have to endure. Our article on what to expect with “Lost River” will give you more details, but suffice it to say that putting this in our bottom five list was a no-brainer. Instead of watching Ryan Gosling juke-box the influences of Nicholas Winding Refn, David Lynch, Guillermo Del Toro and other directors, we would strongly urge you to pop in any film from those influences. This pungent thing is so disfigured it’s hardly recognizable as a movie.
There was a contingent, even among our number, really pulling for “The Search” to prove the “The Artist” backlash brigade wrong about Michel Hazanavicius. But whatever you thought of the 2011 Best Picture/Director Oscar-winner, there’s no doubt that he’s come a cropper with his follow-up, which is basically what hell looks like at the end of that pavement of good intentions we’re always hearing about. There’s no doubting the sincerity of the attempt to throw a searchlight onto an underreported conflict (the war in Chechnya), but with terribly on-the-nose speechifying put into the mouths, especially, of Berenice Bejo and Annette Bening (an actress we usually admire, who gets a special Cannes Razzie here) and a highly unsubtle tacked-on subplot about a Russian soldier supposed to provide some context, all “The Search” (2014, Hazanavicius) does is make source film “The Search” (1948, Zinnemann) look like an out-and-out masterpiece. (When in fact it’s just a quite-good film). To this writer, Hazanavicius has always been a director of pastiche—light, airy confections with a broad strain of comedy that refer to nothing but other movies, like his French-language spy spoof series, starring Jean Dujardin “OSS-117.” And so everything about this folly of film smacks of the self-importance that someone suddenly given an Oscar for a perfectly decent but hardly revelatory film might fall into if they’re not careful. Wanting to make a serious film about war and the terrible human cost of conflict but lacking the resources of intelligence and artistry to say anything new or arresting, “The Search” is a painful, earnest film that only gets a pass for so long due to its earnestness, before it becomes simply painful.
“That Lovely Girl“
Director Keren Yedaya warned audiences, when she introduced her film, that it was “hard” and “not entertainment,” which was for “other directors” to make. Which makes her the queen of understatement, as well as the ruling sovereign of the Israeli incest drama genre which we sincerely hope is a kingdom of one, because we don’t ever want to sit through something like this again (Oli’s F grade review here). Deeply assured of the worthiness of the project which is essentially to catalogue every conceivable instance of rape, bulimia, self-harm, incest, binge eating, psychological torture, neglect, emotional terrorism and, what the hell, a little more rape visited on one young girl who is entirely and completely defined by her victimhood, and who slinks back to the incestuous embrace of her violent and perverted father time and again even when offered a way out, Yedaya ends up simply making us wallow in the unmediated filth of this unremittingly ugly story. Her justification is that such things happen in the world, and indeed they do, but isn’t fiction supposed to help us access some deeper truth about humanity other than just “this stuff happens and it’s deeply unpleasant”? How does Yedaya’s film, in refusing to comment on or illuminate the story in any way amount to anything more than exploitation: of her young actress who in addition to suffering all these physical and psychological indignities, has to play a character with all the interior life of a bread roll, and of the audience who are actually expected to sit through this offensively graphic lecture which seems designed to make us despise, rather than empathize, with this poor girl and her dreadful plight.There was no other film we were closer to walking out of than this one, but it’s absolutely irredeemable awfulness somehow made it imperative that we stay: we knew we’d be trying to warn everyone away from this grubby little exercise, and we wanted everyone to know we knew exactly what we’re talking about, from grim beginning to dismal end. By which point it certainly seemed like the only suffering not inflicted upon this wretched creature was being forced to endure this film.
Spare a thought for poor old Ryan Reynolds. After a string of big-bucks Hollywood flops and underperformers, the narrative should run that he returns to his native Canada, teams up with a moderately successful, moderately well-thought-of compatriot auteur for a small-scale thriller and knocks one out of the park. But with “The Captive,” (review here) he swung and missed, though his responsibility for that is not as great as that of Atom Egoyan. Egoyan’s erstwhile talent, in evidence on “Exotica” especially and “The Sweet Hereafter” among a handful of others seems to have totally deserted him as he turns in this turgid, leadenfooted retread of territory covered much better just last year in Denis Villeneuve‘s “Prisoners,” only with added opera-loving, henchwoman-having, mustache-sporting baddie (Kevin Durand). Why Rosario Dawson is here at all is beyond us, given that her role, as a smart, capable, successful senior police officer seems there purely so that it can be undercut when she, like every other female character in the film, falls victim to the same bad guy. And all because her boyfriend didn’t stay by her side every moment to protect her from harm. Politically distasteful, dramatically ludicrous and emotionally perplexing, loaded with logic gaps and “wait, why didn’t she just tell him that before?”-type moments, it’s an embarrassment that this film was in Cannes at all, let alone in the main Competition.
The Film I Saw That Should Have Made It Onto “Best”: “Tu Dors Nicole”
I managed to catch a few top notch films that my colleagues didn’t make it to (“Whiplash,” “Princess Kaguya,” “Pride,” “National Gallery,” and liked both “It Follows” and “Amour Fou” a little more than the official verdicts, but the undoubted highlight of my off-piste festival experience was “Tu Dors Nicole,” a deeply charming little comedy from Quebec. In its black-and-white tale of a young woman somewhat lost in her mid twenties, it’s drawn immediate comparisons with “Frances Ha” (as well as with “Ghost World“), but director Stephane Lafleur‘s comic voice is quite distinct, given to surreal flights of fancy, a slightly discombobulating rhythm, and a general playfulness and visual inventiveness. He’s constantly playing with expectations (one scene sees the titular heroine, during another sleepless night, confused by a car driving around in circles that appears to be kerb-crawling and emitting strange noises, only for her to discover that the driver is the father of a young child trying to lull his child to sleep with whale noises), and though the tone is featherlight in the best way, underlies things with a sense of melancholy and truthfulness that gives it a real impact. The performances from a mostly unknown cast (“Goon” actor Marc-Andre Grodin being the sole exception) are sensational, and it’s the rare comedy that feels truly cinematic. There’s no word on whether the film has picked up much in the way of distribution beyond its homeland, but we’d be amazed if this wasn’t snapped up soon, because it’s a real cult hit in the making. Aside from the others mentioned above, I also loved Celine Sciamma’s “Girlhood,” and had a good time with “Wild Tales” and with the flawed, but worthwhile “The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby.”
The Film I Saw That Should Have Made It Onto “Worst”: “Jimmy’s Hall”
This is a slightly misleading header: I somehow ended up reviewing four of our five picks for the consensus worst films of the festival, possibly as some kind of punishment for something. They’d all number among my bottom few (along with “The Clouds of Sils Maria,” which I found just as disappointing as Nik and Jess), and were significantly worse than most others that I saw. So, having covered those, I’d also add Ken Loach‘s “Jimmy’s Hall,” which isn’t terrible so much as it is incredibly mediocre. I have to confess that it’s a while since Loach really wowed me (“Sweet Sixteen,” maybe?), and his latest conformed to expectations that it would be, well, a Ken Loach film. Except one that, as has been reported widely elsewhere, essentially lifts the plot of “Footloose,” for a formulaic and tired tale of simple folk who just want to dance, dammit, but the church won’t let them. Unlike Loach’s other Irish pictures, this one feels rather enamored of its own blarney, with a cast who mostly behave like they’re in a Jamesons ad (with the exception of Andrew Scott, of whom the film needs about 400% more). It’s well-meaning enough, and we’re not against laying into the evils of the church every so often, but everything here feels so low stakes, and there are so few memorable performances, that it’s hard to even take much pleasure in it, beyond Robbie Ryan‘s photography, though he’s did better work even within the festival, on “Catch Me Daddy.” Indeed, the theme of people doing it better became prevalent on this one: only a day later, we saw “Pride,” which captures the revolutionary spirit of Loach much more successfully than the man himself. We dearly hope that the talk of his retirement has been overstated, because this would be something of a bum note to go out on.
Final Thoughts On Cannes 2014
2014 was my first Cannes (Venice has traditionally been my beat, but my friends’ continuing insistence on getting married at the end of August means Jess’ll be covering it this year), and to be honest, I was a little intimidated going in: its reputation is of something bigger and crazier than any other festival, with more queueing than actually watching films. The reputation is wrong: it’s certainly busier and a little more crowded, and sometimes the slightly baffling schedule means you do have to queue two hours early to get into the Cronenberg, but I had a blast. Trying to cover as much ground as possible between the three of us meant that I missed a few hot ticket items: “Mommy,” “Winter Sleep” and “Two Days, One Night” all slipped out of my grasp, sadly, due to screening clashes. But there’s more than enough kicking around to have made it worth the trip, particularly the exemplary “Leviathan” and “Foxcatcher,” and even the films I didn’t love had something to recommend them — I was, frankly, kind of dreading the Godard, but found much of interest in there, even if I can’t echo the ‘It taught me how to cry’ reactions of some of my colleagues as a whole. Plus if you have the chance to see a new Godard film at Cannes, you take it, if only for the experience of walking up the red carpet to the incongruous sounds of Chromeo.
As ever, there are themes in common with some of the films — economic disparity, incest, dogs, (although the latter may just be bare-faced attempts to win the prestigious Palme Dog)–that you can start to sense something in the water, though we’re not sure what the three together add up to. Just as important as the films, though, are the people, and I was lucky to put faces to names of various people I’d previously known over Twitter or similar. And the undoubted highlight of the whole festival was getting to meet fellow Playlister Jessica Kiang in person–if you think her writing is smart and funny, it’s nothing compared to the real thing. ‘Til next year, Cannes.
The Film I Saw That Should Have Made It Into “Best”: “Jauja”
My Playlist colleague Jessica tore into this movie in her review (read it here), but I’m happy to wave the flag for Lisandro Alonso‘s mesmerizing film all by myself. Besides, it’s not like I’m without support; with an average CriticWire rating of “A-” and walking away with the critics’ FIPRESCI prize from the Un Certain Regard section, I’m far from being alone in praising this beguiling and translucent piece of work. Viggo Mortensen plays Denisen, a Danish captain who has joined ranks with a Spanish infantry and travels with his young daughter Inga. One night, after Inga steals away into the night with a Spanish soldier, Denisen rides off into the desert to search for his daughter, and Alonso’s film takes off into a language all on its own. With an aspect ratio recalling the Instagram frame, the use of space and depth of field in this film is as inviting as the mystical presence felt in the subplot of a missing legendary Spanish leader, an appearance of a starved dog, a conversation with an old woman, and the celestial desert itself. It’s not surprising that “Jauja” will most likely be the most divisive film to come out of Cannes, so much depending on whether its existentialist and philosophical nature manages to charm you; if it does, you’ll walk away from it like I did, calling it a truly moving experience and a film that manages to reveal hidden treasures of the very essence of cinema in its barren landscapes and thematic mysteries of time, space, and an attempt at understanding the core of human existence. The film’s opening explains that Jauja is an earthly paradise all men get lost trying to find, and Alonso’s journey is this loss of paradise captured on screen. It’s one I can’t wait to revisit.
The Film I Saw That Should Have Made It Into “Worst”: “Clouds Of Sils Maria”
While I agree with Jessica’s negative review of this film, especially in the teeth of so many bafflingly positive responses, personally, I was even more disappointed in Olivier Assayas‘ “Clouds Of Sils Maria” than Ryan Gosling‘s dog’s breakfast “Lost River.” The latter is a first-time director who had the means at his disposal to make an aesthetically sound experiment, which failed. The former should be in his prime, with projects like “Carlos” and “Summer Hours” proving he’s got what it takes to tell incredibly captivating stories. So, what on Earth happened with “Clouds Of Sils Maria“? More to the point, how is it possible that such a lazy and messy piece of work competes for the Palme over distinguished and assured auteur films like “Amour Fou” (reviewed here) by Jessica Hausner or any of the many other sidebar entries that proved so superior? The story follows Juliette Binoche‘s Maria Enders, a famous actress in her early 50s, who struggles with connecting to the new role she reluctantly accepted, because of her personal history with the story. Supported by her assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) and fearing how the spotlight will be taken away from her by the likes of a Hollywood brat Jo-Anne (Chloe Moretz), the film stretches out this one woman’s denial into a two hour film, leaving absolutely nothing to latch on to in terms of emotional investment or inspiration. The acting is solid from the three women, with Stewart and Moretz turning in their greatest performances (Moretz, particularly, is like an aspirin for the headache induced by the film’s insistence on jamming its message down our throats), but the fact that they both outplay one of the greatest screen actresses only goes to show how poorly written and badly handled the arc of Maria Enders is. Who just happens to be the most important character in the whole movie. No biggie. Read our review for more proof of how and why we failed to connect with Assayas’ vapid and melodramatic story of an aging actress in a world of shit and watch Cronenberg‘s “Maps To The Stars” for the much livelier version of a similar character played by Best Actress winner Julianne Moore.
Final Thoughts on Cannes 2014
While some of us didn’t particularly take to “Winter Sleep” (read our review here), others still were taken by its rhythms and hypnotic conversations (read an alternate take here) so the Palme D’Or winner is divided by a shrug and a fistpump at the Playlist watercooler. Something interesting to take away from this year’s Cannes is how strong the main competition was compared to the Un Certain Regard, where first-time directors especially failed to stir us (the Camera D’Or winning “Party Girl” among them, review here), though other sidebars, like Director’s Fortnight, actually had a fair bit more going on. Naomi Kawase’s work has such a hard time finding US distribution, and no matter how much we cared for “Still The Water” (review here) it feels like it too will have a hard time; a real shame because it’s a slightly patchy but wholly beautiful piece of work.
On a personal note; this was my very first time covering the Cannes festival, and even without the fantastic films (the three that blew me away were “Jauja,” “Leviathan,” and “Winter Sleep,” but there was a plethora of excellent ones along the way,) the high from the adrenaline rush of furious typing and ungodly number of espressos in the press zones is enough to make the experience more than worthwhile. What’s even more, meeting awesome Playlisters Oli and Jess, both of whose writing I’ve been a big fan of for years now, was the delicious cherry on top of a cake made much sweeter than I could have imagined. We may have (respectfully) argued over the lines dividing transcendence and ignorance, or the importance of Steve Carell‘s prosthetics, but we’ll always have “Leviathan” and “Lost River” to bring us together. My only regret is not finding more time for hangouts, but here’s hoping future festivals make amends for tha
The Film I Saw That Should Have Made It Onto “Best”: “The Tribe”
There were two films I really enjoyed that didn’t make it into our top 5–Cronenberg‘s “Maps to the Stars,” and Korean thriller “A Hard Day“–due to, I suppose a degree of disposability in both cases. But more nourishingly, I adored Celine Sciamma‘s “Girlhood,” really admired Melanie Laurent‘s “Respire“/ “Breathe,” liked David Michod‘s “The Rover” more than most, it seems, was totally absorbed by Sissako‘s “Timbuktu” and “Force Majeure” from Ruben Ostlund made a late bid for my list too. But while I feel a little bad about mentioning a film here that we haven’t yet reviewed, (the review is coming, promise, and spoiler alert, it’s going to be a rave) “The Tribe” made the most indelible impact. The Ukrainian film was the deserved winner of the Cannes Critics’ Week sidebar, and is a remarkably high-concept example of slow cinema that satisfies as thoroughly and provokes as viscerally as many of the other exemplars of that same movement in Cannes this year failed to. Yes, “Winter Sleep” I’m looking at you. In fact, perhaps the reason I admired “The Tribe” so much is that in its complete absence of dialogue (the characters communicate through sign language which is not subtitled nor voiced over; in fact not one recognizable word is spoken throughout) it was almost the converse of the excessively verbose “Winter Sleep.” And it was somehow so much more vital and packed with meaning for not relying on vast monologues or explanatory dialogue (of which I felt I’ve had far too much this year, and not just in Nuri Bilge Ceylan‘s Palme Winner, but in “Clouds of Sils Maria,” “The Search” and even “Jimmy’s Hall“). “The Tribe” is a very difficult watch at times, featuring an abortion, some graphic scenes of sex and bloody violence, and the eerie quietness in which it’s all carried out is less a comment on deafness (the protagonists are the pupils in a deaf school) than a clever way of making us examine the idea of a closed system which, “Lord of the Flies“-like refers only to itself. And so it’s difficult not to read it on a political level too, a statement on the corruption and power abuses endemic in those closed systems, even as protests against the Ukrainian government’s anti-EU isolationism continue to cost lives. Socially shocking (its portrayal of poverty and marginalization is gruelling), politically provocative, dramatically gripping, and shot with a steady, unflinching eye for composition and light and shadow, “The Tribe,” the debut feature from Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy was my personal find of the festival, and I cannot wait to see what he does next.
The Film I Saw That Should Have Made It Onto “Worst”: “Snow in Paradise”
So in the teeth of no doubt more angry comments, I’m doubling down here–I really didn’t like this debut from UK editor-turned-director Andrew Hulme and said as much in no uncertain terms in my review. I found nothing admirable in its appropriation of modern Brit gangster film cliches, and the way it skirted, ever so briefly over its main point of differentiation (the lead character more or less converts to Islam) only pointed out what a shocking waste of an intriguing concept that was. All Cockney stereotypes and hammy “go on, my son” performances, I know others have had a kinder take, and often, (this is a secret don’t tell) hearing reasoned defenses of a film’s strong points can sway even the most hardened of opinions. But here the things I’ve read about “Snow in Paradise” have simply made me wonder if we all saw the same film. Derivative, dull and somehow convinced that it’s terribly clever and new, “Snow in Paradise” was a film I found barely tolerable, but maybe it was even worse for those around me who were forced to endure my frequent lapses into rhyming slang delivered in an awful Cockney accent for the rest of the week. So it certainly had an effect, I suppose.
Final Thoughts On Cannes 2014
I loved attending Cannes this year. My second year, I guess I was a little more relaxed than last time and at least knew the most likely free spot in the press room and the location of the “secret toilets” and all those little things that contribute to the stress levels of the neophyte (Oli seemed to get by just fine though, blast him). I was surprised by my own rejection of some of the more critically favored examples of slow cinema (“Winter Sleep” and “Jauja” especially) as I’ve always somewhat prided myself on being a patient viewer, entirely unterrified by long runtimes or seemingly obscurantist locales or themes. And when one of the first wholeheartedly positive reviews I gave was to slick, hilarious Korean cop thriller “A Hard Day” I really wondered if I’d totally lost my critical faculties to popcorn populism. But then of course, the richness and breadth of Cannes programming pulled me back in, and I found my level with astonishing films like “Foxcatcher” and “Leviathan,” both In Competition, both slow and meticulous stories of downfall and decline, both utterly brilliant in every way.
Meeting and arguing agreeably with Playlister Nikola was a great pleasure, though I think I probably talked too much like I normally do (sorry, Nik). And a special shout out to Oli whom I’ve talked to via email more or less constantly for years but only met for the first time two weeks ago at Nice Airport. For ten days or so, getting to hang out with an old/new friend like that made that ridiculously pretty, annoyingly expensive and exhaustingly hilly stretch of coast in the South of France feel like home.