By Brian Brooks | Indiewire May 27, 2009 at 1:13AM
From indieWIRE's vantage point, there are twelve absolute must-see films from Cannes '09. Actually, make that a baker's dozen with the inclusion on one additional movie. Not all on our list here were necessarily our personal favorites (we'll always have a soft spot for Pedro Almodovar for instance), but these are the films that had people talking the most and the ones we consider essential viewing.
Our roster includes a mix of award winners, like Palme d'Or winner "The White Ribbon," but also impossible to ignore films that stirred debate and acclaim ("Antichrist", "Enter The Void"). Not to mention titles that might have skated by under the radar ("I Killed My Mother", "Police, Adjective", "Like You Know It All") were it not for attention from critics, bloggers and festival programmers who made their case.
"Antichrist", directed by Lars von Trier
While walking down to the Palais to meet my colleague coming out of the screening for Von Trier's latest, I ran into a distribution chief after the showing. "How was it?" I asked. "Wow!!" was the response... "Is that 'Wow' good or 'Wow' bad?" I asked. "Just 'Wow,' unbelievable! It definitely piqued my interest!" Indeed, "Antichrist" demanded attention everywhere and everyone had an opinion to go along with it. But, the overriding agreement about the film, starring Charlotte Gainsbourg (who won best actress in Cannes) and Willem Dafoe who head to a cabin in the woods to try and repair their marriage and their broken hearts, was that it was outrageous. Von Trier kept the provocation going in Cannes, declaring during his rapturous news conference at the festival, "I am the best film director in the world." IFC Films swiftly made a deal for the film in the U.S. and plans to release it in theaters in the same controversial version that played in Cannes.
"A Prophet", directed by Jacques Audiard
After its screening during the first weekend of Cannes, early speculation was that Audiard's film could be the second French Palme d'Or winner in a row ("The Class took the festival's top prize last year), but the film ended up with the Cannes jury's second prize, the Grand Prix. iW called the film's star, Tahar Rahim's performance "a breakthrough" during the festival. The gangster story takes place mostly in a French prison pitting Corsicans against Arabs. Rahim plays Malik, a young naive prisoner who wins the favor of the ruling Corsican thugs running the prison and eventually amasses power himself, not unlike Ray Liotta’s “Henry Hill" in Scorsese's "Good Fellas." Though not quite the big winner, audiences will hopefully flock to this film, which some viewers called a 'masterpiece'. It managed to receive thunderous applause during a final screening on awards day, despite being two an a half hours long. Sony Classics will handle U.S. distribution.
"Dogtooth", directed by Georgios Lanthimos
The Greek feature won the top prize in this year's Un Certain Regard section, stirring nearly universal praise among festivalgoers who ventured outside the competition to check out this distinctive sophmore feature. The drama is perhaps a warning sign for those who wish to home school their children... A father and mother keep their kids isolated in their suburban home under their total influence. They don't see anyone except their father's employee who is allowed in to satisfy their son's sexual desires, but one day the daughter gives her a gift and asks for something in return... Or as Boyd van Hoeij wrote in a review for Variety, "Three indefinitely grounded siblings are stuck in an alternative universe dictated by their parents' cruel whimsies - think an eternal 'Big Brother' house as designed by Lars von Trier..."
"Enter the Void", directed by Gaspar Noe
Lars Von Trier wasn't the only competition filmmaker to elicit a conflicting chorus of boos and cheers at the festival. Gaspar Noe's latest made a splash and got the chattering classes - are there any other classes in Cannes? - buzzing during the fest with his film about a brother and sister who recently arrive in Tokyo. Oscar takes up small time drug dealing and Linda strips in a nightclub. Early on in "Enter the Void," a main character is shot and the striking film becomes a hallucination and study of death, following the person's spirit, witnessing flashbacks and memories of a rather tragic life and traveling ghost-like throughout Tokyo, mostly from above, moving in on the dramas of the people that are left behind. The film is comprised of continuous digital effects, psychedelic visuals, ambient electronic music, and saturated colors. It's a fascinating cinematic experience to take in on a big screen. “What was it that Douglas Sirk said to Fassbinder,” Gaspar Noe asked during last week's press conference, “To make a good melodrama you need, sperm, blood and tears. These are in this film.” Indeed.
"Go Get Some Rosemary", directed by Josh & Benny Safdie
A rare American indie in Cannes, Josh & Benny Safdie's "Go Get Some Rosemary" marked the filmmakers' second year in a row at the festival. Last year, Josh brought his "Pleasure of Being Robbed" to the Director's Fortnight sidebar and this year the brothers were hailed as the honorary mascots of the section (and praised by Fortnight's Oliver Pere for restoring hope to American indie film). People talking about the movie in Cannes gave the actual title of the movie itself a thumbs down, but since we don't judge by a cover (or at least we shouldn't), we simply can't overlook this distinctive new story about the lives of the Safdies themselves. "Go Get Some Rosemary" follows Lenny (Ronnie Bronstein in an exceptional performance), a single father who spends just two weeks every year with his young children. When you see the movie, you'll realize why it could just be two weeks too many. Check it out.
"I Killed My Mother", directed by Xavier Dolan-Tadros
A discovery in Cannes. Quebecois filmmaker Xavier Dolan-Tadros is all of 20 years old, but his first feature - described as a semi-autobiographical story about the filmmaker, a young homosexual at odds with his mother - made it to the Croisette. And even better, it swept the Directors Fortnight's four prizes.
Six more films (plus one) on the next page.
"Like You Know It All", directed by Hong Sang-soo
Also in Directors Fortnight, Hong Sang-soo's latest trip to Cannes stirred so much attention because it shows audiences a different side of the filmmaker. Compared by many in Cannes to a Woody Allen comedy, the movie is set at film festival. While it is typical of its minimalist director, according to The Korea Times, featuring characterless hotel rooms and drinking spots and showcases more of the mirror-image structures inherent to Hong's stories of frustrated ideals and sexual desires, in the words of Spout's Karina Longworth, it "ultimately plays out like a spoof of the life of an independent filmmaker, with the festival circuit and speaking gigs as pit stops to both pump up the ego, and force crises of conscience."
"Mother", directed by Bong Joon-Ho
This Korean director made a splash in North America when Magnolia Pictures delivered Bong's "The Host" to domestic audiences, and his latest, "Mother" found a home in Un Certain Regard for its premiere. "Mother" is the story of a widow and her 28 year-old shy son who lives at home. After a murder, he becomes the prime suspect and despite a lack of evidence the police are relentless. It spirals further downhill - attorney incompetence, and an over eager police department - her son is headed to the slammer. But then mother gets involved...
"Police, Adjective", directed by Corneliu Porumboiu
What the hell is this movie anyway, many wondered at times in Cannes. Well, another buzz film from outside Cannes' main competition. The film had critics, buyers, fest programmers and others chatting as the fest rolled on last week. And, iW had lunch with a major U.S. distributor at the end of the festival who said it's one of the films he still most wants to see. The story revolves around Christi, a policeman who refuses to arrest a young man who offers hashish to two of his schoolmates. Believing the law of "offering" hash to someone isn't ultimately going to be illegal, he is against making the life of an 'irresponsible' young man a victim of the system - but his superior sees it differently. Reviewing the film for indieWIRE, Anthony Kaufman called it, "a minimalist and sardonic tour-de-force."
"The Time That Remains", directed by Elia Suleiman
In the words of iW critic Eric Kohn, "Elia Suleiman’s 'The Time That Remains', an experimental reflection on the filmmaker’s family history in Palestine, embeds symbolism in nearly every shot." The filmmaker's latest, like his Cannes award winner “Divine Intervention” (2002) and Venice fest prize-winner “Chronicle of a Disappearance” (1996), offers a window into a broader situation from a private vantage point. Told with brightly colored imagery, using static shots to frame the scenes, Suleiman’s compelling new work - received quite warmly with an extended applause at a press screening here - evokes that of Jacques Tati and Buster Keaton. Suleiman plays himself in his movies. But, such comparisons are coincidental, the filmmaker reiterated in Cannes. He said he never watched Tati or Keaton before making his first film, yet he admits seeing a resemblance when he watches his own movies as a viewer. “In this big world [with] so many people doing art and film it’s bound to happen.”
"The White Ribbon", directed by Michael Haneke
This is an easy one for inclusion on this list, after all it won the Palme d'Or. But, even before taking Cannes' top prize, Michael Haneke's latest was winning praises. So, Puritanical lives and all its contradictions aren't necessarily an American monopoly, this story is set in Protestant Germany prior to the war. "Pairing visual mastery with a quietly immersive story, 'The White Ribbon' plays like a morbid version of 'Our Town,'" said iW's review of the film last week. "“It’s about the roots of evil,” Haneke explained during a press conference in Cannes. The film looks closely at kids (and at the adults who influence them) in a project he’d been working on for almost ten years. Sony Classics nabbed the movie for U.S. distribution days before the festival began.
"Vincere", directed by Marco Bellocchio
In the waning hours of the Cannes Film Festival, word spread that "Vincere" would be the jurors choice for the top prize in Cannes (and, we could've sworn we spotted the film's star, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, in an official Cannes car being chauffered around on the day of the ceremony). But alas, the film came up empty-handed on awards night. Not without garnering great buzz at the festival, though. The film surrounds the family trauma of a self-made man and the mother of his first son in the early decades of the 20th century. Maybe something not unheard of, except that the man is Benito Mussolini. "“Ida is a woman who fell madly in love with this man who shared her ideals,” said Bellocchio in Cannes. The Italian filmmaker said that she naturally became enraged with Mussolini who she became obsessed over and hated simultaneously. Tidbits of their relationship are preserved in documents, but many details are missing.
A bonus Film that will undoubtedly not need our attention, but....
"Up", directed by Pete Docter
Universally praised from the moment it screened on the opening day of the festival, the latest Pixar film -- this one in 3-D, had folks talking on the Croisette. Here at iW, we called it, "a grand visual spectacle on a big screen, pulling viewers into a striking three dimensional world and eschewing the sort of visual sight gags found in typical 3-D movies. Quite emotional at times, some viewers had to wipe tears from beneath their 3-D glasses while experiencing the emotional story of an aging man and a young boy who set out on a dramatic adventure together." "Up" may not be on the top of every cineaste's "must see" list among this year's Cannes crop, but as a vet from the film business said one night at the Grand Hotel in Cannes, "It's Pixar!"
[Eugene Hernandez contributed to this article.]