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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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That raises another question: If it's going take a couple of years to make those kind of judgement calls, how valuable is the coverage coming out of this festival?

MP: Bob, we were talking about this earlier. When you're there, trying to give an impression of where the festival's going in a given year, while you're also doing your best to address the specific film you're dealing with that day, or the specific three or four films you're dealing with that day, it's like you're standing in front of the Seurat painting from three inches away, and all you can see is the dots.

Like Someone In Love

I liked Kiarostami's film less than you did, but the visual density of the first 15 minutes of that film, in the club sequence where you meet all the characters and get the simple narrative established, there are so many kind of elliptical riddles going on, just in terms of who's talking and who we're supposed to focus on, what is the spatial relationship between people. Even though I had issues with that picture, it was the kind of thing where five days later, I thought, I can't wait to see the first 10 minutes of that film again.

BK: I think the test of a good critic is when you're in the crossfire of Cannes, which is as close to a battleground situation as film critics are likely to get into, where there is so much stuff going on all at once, and you're trying to find a clarified picture of it. For me, it was clear by the end of the competition that "Holy Motors" and "Post Tenebras Lux" were the two films that were really advancing the art form.

MP: Bob, we have different tastes, but we tend to have a similar yearning for that kind of test of what a narrative really means, and what you can do with it, and how a film's visual rhythm kind of replaces a conventional narrative, and god knows that's a different achievement than what Haneke came up with for "Amour." While I think "Amour" is terrific, it's a different achievement. Can we talk about how lousy some of the English-language pictures were?

BK: Some of my colleagues were highly anticipating the American entries. I wasn't so sure myself. I came in with a bit of skepticism over that -- why Lee Daniels was in there and John Hillcoat, knowing full well that Harvey Weinstein had recut "Lawless." That was already well known. It seemed curious on paper. There was a lot of anticipation around Jeff Nichols' "Mud," which actually I found extremely satisfying.

MP: Yeah, that one you don't have to apologize for.

BK: But the others were disasters.

MP: It's an issue of carpet. If you're really going to make a deal with the devil and say, "All right, we'll show 'Lawless,' at least you get Jessica Chastain, Tom Hardy or Shia LaBeouf out of it." It's not even the fact that Lee Daniels' "The Paperboy" turned out to be seriously berserk. I mean in a festival that included "Post Tenebras Lux" and "Holy Motors," Daniels' film was still the nuttiest thing at the festival. At least it was that. But it was the thudding banality of Hillcoat's "Lawless" where I thought, "You're kidding me!" We haven't even had a good bootlegging movie in a while. This thing doesn't even have any energy.

BK: I assumed it was in there as a quid pro quo for getting "Django Unchained" into competition next year.

MP: Who knows? There's a lot of that speculation.

"Lawless."
"Lawless."


BK: It's a measure of how bad "Lawless" is that one would even ponder what kind of strategies were afoot behind the scenes that led to this being even considered for competition. That was the problem overall with this competition. I studiously avoided Ken Loach's "The Angel's Share" and Lee Daniels' "The Paperboy." I used those as excuses to sleep in. There were other films that had no business being in competition, starting with the first day, with Yousry Nasrallah's "After the Battle." And why was "Killing Them Softly" in competition?

MP: Well, with that one, I don't know if it works, but I found it interesting because of Andrew Dominik's previous film, "The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford." He's as fine a filmmaker as Hillcoat, so at least you have pedigree there. I will say that two of the films that made the most noise this year were very conventional but satisfying narrative features: Haneke's "Amour" and the Chilean film "No" from Directors' Fortnight. It's certainly one of the best movies about advertising and politics I've seen in a long time. Sometimes, the word of mouth at Cannes really is legitimate.

BK: It was very encouraging for those of us who had a lot of issues with Pablo Larraín's previous films "Post-Mortem" and "Tony Manero." Based on those films, I had no idea what this filmmaker was like. Even though they were two parts of a trilogy on Pinochet's dictatorship, this one is completely different stylistically and this time he really hits it out of the park. It looks at what politics and media really do to people.

This article is related to: Cannes Film Festival







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