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Critical Consensus: Robert Koehler and Michael Phillips Let Loose on the Best and Worst of Cannes 2012

By Robert Koehler, Eric Kohn and Michael Phillips | Indiewire June 1, 2012 at 11:52AM

"I'm in the minority about "Beasts of the Southern Wild." It's flashy and imaginative; the filmmaker's got real skill, but I found that movie's technique awfully pushy."
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Editor’s note: Critical Consensus is a biweekly feature in which two critics listed in Indiewire’s Criticwire Network discuss a recent topic from the film world with Indiewire’s chief film critic, Eric Kohn. Here, Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips and Variety contributor Robert Koehler discuss this year's Cannes Film Festival.

cannes marilyn
Forget, for a moment, whether or not this year's Cannes program was good or bad. What surprised you?
 
MICHAEL PHILLIPS: Well, I want to land on a positive note, but let me start on a note of discouragement: Early in the festival we saw the Jacques Audiard film "Rust and Bone." His last film in competition at Cannes, "A Prophet," was really masterly pulp. And it only took him, one more movie, to make a big hunk of mediocre Hollywood cheese that just happened to be in the French language, I think that was the first film I saw this year that made me think, "Please don't give this any awards, this is not the right sort of work to recognize."
 
The Michael Haneke film, "Amour" -- of all the major international auteurs that come back year after year at Cannes, I believe Haneke was the only director who was here this year with a film that was more interesting than his previous competition titles, but it did seem like a notable shift in tone. It has a more surface compassion for the characters that you tend to get in Haneke.

I was looking at Bob's review and he gave it pretty faint praise, saying that it wasn't bad and certainly an improvement on the "White Ribbon."

MP: I liked it more than that, but Bob, you were cold to it.

ROBERT KOEHLER: Well, I was. I don't see this as Haneke delivering the best of the bunch. I think Ulrich Seidl delivered one of his very best films this time with "Paradise: Love," and as I think more and more about it, I think it may be Seidl's best film. I think it's extremely daring, it deals with a paradox with what they call colonial feminism. Trying to wrap your head around that paradox and seeing it play out was very brave, and politically incorrect. It's a naughty film, and precisely the type of film I want to see more of in the competition. Also, with "The Hunt," I think Thomas Vinterberg delivered a better film than "A Celebration."

MP: Really? No…

BK: Oh yeah, it's a much better film than "Celebration."

The jury seemed to imply it felt Mads Mikkelsen's performance was the film's strongest suit by giving him an acting prize but otherwise ignoring the film.
 
BK: Well yeah, maybe, I'm a little surprised that film was divisive as it was. I think it very much was a solid, down the middle, or maybe a double for Vinterburg.

Mads Mikkelsen in 'The Hunt.'
Mads Mikkelsen in 'The Hunt.'


MP: Well, yeah I agree with that characterization, but what I really missed, Bob, was that I don't think the audience experiences for a single moment any kind of moral discomfort. There isn't a single moment of moral discomfort for that protagonist. It's more the lesser plays of Ibsen, where the guy is just clearly a victim of this societal process.

BK: Without going into a lot of details about the film, I think the morally disturbing moment for me was near the end, when he dares to actually, once again, touch the little girl. I was astounded he had the chutzpah or, the, nerve, or courage, or balls, or absolute blindsidedness to go there. I was just astonished by that, and it immediately made his character far more complex than I had taken it to be.

MP: But when you think back to "Celebration," it more expansively illustrates one idea: What if the hypocrisies came leaking out of this family's celebration?

BK: You can say they're both high concept, psychodramas.

MP: But look, it was far from the most interesting stuff in the competition.

BK: No question, I think Abbas Kiarostami's film, "Like Someone in Love," was a whole lot better than his "Certified Copy."

MP: Really? I don't agree.

BK: It really surprised me. The initial wave of response, on the first day it screened, was very negative. What was fascinating, to me, as each day went by, I was hearing more and more counter to that. And by the time I saw it, on the final day, I went in saying, "Wow, I am really in for a treat here, I am getting such different responses from this film now." I really was quite surprised, and struck by how adept he was at switching gears into totally different social contexts -- completely different sets of manners, cultures, styles, while maintaing the same types of themes that he's explored consistently throughout his career: specifically ones of mistaken identity, ones of ironic reversal, ones of surfaces shattered -- literally, in the final moment of the film, so it was very much in line with his cinema.

The way you talk about it calls to mind a similarly divided reaction to Carlos Reygadas' "Post Tenebras Lux."

MP: Well, that's one of my very favorites of the year.

"Post Tenebras Lux."
"Post Tenebras Lux."

BK: I agree. I think this was a better film than his "Silent Light." Actually Hong Sang-Soo delivered as strong as a film this time [with his competition entry "In Another Country"] as he had previously in his entries for Un Certain Regard, where he was previously placed at the festival. So I would say that some of Thierry's favorite filmmakers underperformed this time, but there were also some who delivered more.

MP: Reygadas is a good example of that. I don't know if I prefer it to a "Silent Light," but it's different enough, in every way, and in terms of how the narrative is very freeform and essayistic. When I look at something like "The Hunt," I can be really shaken up by it, and it's a real gut-grinder, but I really love Reygadas' constant moral flux about what's going on. I was amused at the end of the festival when [jury president] Nanni Moretti essentially acknowledged in the final press conference that there were three provocative and difficult movies, and they really felt like they only needed to recognize one of them. That's why they gave the director card to Reygadas and said to hell with "Holy Motors." And that's an interesting case, because for a lot of people this year in attendance at Cannes, the only film they made sure to see a second time was "Holy Motors."

BK: That was my case, that was the only film I saw a second time. I went out of my way to see it a second time.

MP: Me too. That and the Reygadas.

BK: When you look back a year from now or five years from now, those are going to be the two films that are really remembered from this competition, the ones that point to the future of cinema. They have a forward-looking view of what cinema's capacities are, what the potential is.

This article is related to: Cannes Film Festival