CANNES 2002: Un Certain Regard Travels To Mauritania, Thailand and Beyond; Plus An Impressive Double Shot From Turkey
by David Bourgeois
Olivier Assayas, Abbas Kiarostami, Michael Moore, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Robert Guediguian. While it's true these directors have films in official competition at this year's 55th Cannes Film Festival, they also share the distinction of being first initiated into the festival through the sidebar competition, Un Certain Regard, which in English is loosely translated to, "of special consideration." Other directors, such as Baz Luhrman and John Singleton, have gone from showing in Un Certain Regard to directing large budget Hollywood pictures.
The sidebar has always served as a bullpen for directors who strive to get their work into official competition. This year's 22 films represent 17 countries including such unlikely spots as Mauritania, Tajikistan, and Syria, and although usually only a few of these films ever receive American distribution, the true joy of the sidebar comes in getting an education on the state of filmmaking in certain countries that are hardly known as hotbeds for cineastes.
One of the most polished films, and one that generated the most buzz, was "Ten Minutes Older -- The Trumpet," a series of seven very distinct10-minute films directed by Jim Jarmusch, Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog, Victor Erice, Aki Kaurismaki, Chen Kaige, and Spike Lee. The most startling of the seven was Erice's "Lifeline," an extraordinary 11-minute black-and-while film that has very little dialogue. The story centers on a sleeping baby whose pajama shirt initially shows a tiny blood stain. As the film progresses, the stain gets bigger and bigger, leading to a loud shout of, "The baby is dying!" Wenders' short, "Twelve Miles to Trona," is a chilling tale of a drugged and dazed man attempting to drive himself through the California desert to a hospital emergency room. Commenting on the group of short films, Wenders said, "I was happy. For once I could make a movie that wasn't criticized for being too long," "Ten Minutes Older" will premiere on Showtime in July and a second film in the same style, "Ten Minutes Older -- The Cello," is in production and will include from Bernardo Bertolucci, Claire Denis, and Mike Figgis, among others.
Delphine Gleize's "Carnages" (Carnage), as of press time without an American distributor but likely to get one, stars Chaira Mastroianni in a dual tale of a little girl who fears all animals, large and small, and of a bull destroyed after it gores a bullfighter. After the bull is butchered, the film splinters into separate stories, each incorporating a section of the bull into the story line.
Un Certain Regard is also home to two films with drag queens as major characters: the sexually graphic Jacques Nolot film "Glowing Eyes" (the French title, "La Chatte a Deux Tetes," is actually translated as "The Pussy with Two Heads") and the Brazilian-French "Madame Sata," directed by Karim Anouz "Glowing Eyes," which will most certainly attract a crafty American distributor, is a one-note story about transvestite prostitutes who frequent a heterosexual French porn movie theater. The film is framed around a flaccid love affair between a 50-year old female ticket-taker and a young male projectionist.
"Madame Sata," a more visually complex and intricate film, is a biopic of the life of the physically imposing Joao Francisco dos Santos (1900-1976), better known as Madame Sata, a performance artist, street dweller, drag queen, and killer. Like "Glowing Eyes," "Madame Sata" is replete with graphic sex scenes, but the comparisons stop there. Clearly aimed at the gay market, the pic elevates Sata to gay-hero status.
The other end of the thematic spectrum is most apparent in the films "Sud Senaeha" (Blissfully Yours) from Thailand and "Heremakono" (Waiting for Happiness) from Mauritania. The former, directed by 31-year-old, Chicago-educated Apichatpong Weerasethakul, is the frustratingly slow story of two lovers, one from Burma, the other from Thailand, who spend much of the film on a picnic in a dense Burmese forest. The director admitted before the screening, "I haven't seen this print." Maybe that explains why the credit sequence appears 45 minutes into the film. For a moment, as the credits rolled, this Un Certain Regard film seemed more apt for Uncertain Regard.
Abderrahmane Sissako's "Heremakono" is also slow, but the director is more accomplished and precise. Set in a coastal town in Mauritania, the film looks at how outside elements and transformations are unwelcome in the community. A 17-year-old Mauritanian boy yearns to return to Europe, and feels frustrated that he's unable to speak the local language and is unaccustomed to local tradition; a young boy (who tutors him) dreams of being an electrician, but his mentor, a village elder, cannot even wire a home for a single light socket. The most beautiful scene comes as the boy and the old man walk through the wind-swept desert, the old man holding a lighted bulb on the end of a long extension cord.
Other notables in this year's sidebar are the Belgian " Une Parte Du Ciel" (A Piece of the Sky), which stars the sad-eyed actress Severine Caneele (last seen in "Humanite," her film debut) as a factory worker imprisoned for an unspecified crime; and the Chinese "The Little Chinese Seamstress," directed by Dai Sijie and based on his best-selling French novel.
This year Un Certain Regard unspools the first two films of a planned trilogy by 38-year-old Turkish director Zeki Demirkubuz: "Yazgi" (Fate) and "Itiraf" (Confession). It is the first time that the sidebar has programmed two feature-length films by the same director; both films won the best director's prize at the Istanbul Film Festival's national competition and both won a Fipresci (international critics association) prize. Although his name is hardly known outside the festival circuit, Demirkubuz looks to be the best bet to have a film in official Cannes competition in the years to come.