Friday, May 23, 2014

Cannes Film Festival 2014 (Part Two)

Ready for more complaints about queues? Welcome to the second and final blog from Cannes 2014!

Cast & crew of Xenia

Xenia played in Un Certain Regard and, directed by Panos H. Koutras, it follows two very different brothers who, after their mother passes away, go in search of the father who abandoned them as children. It's a camp affair overall, between the Greek Star audition (think X Factor) plot and a few musical numbers and dance routines thrown in for good measure. There are plenty of plot holes (didn't they do well to escape the police and sniffer dogs even though older brother Ody was giving younger brother Dany a piggyback?!) And there was also the bizarre sequence, reminiscent of The Night of the Hunter, where the two brothers drift along the river in a boat while various wildlife (including a giant sized rabbit!) come to the riverbank to watch them pass...? The film was picked up by a distributor but I don't see this having mass appeal on release. I managed to grab a quick video of Koutras and cast in their pre-screening address.

One of my favourites has been Damian Szifron's Wild Tales. This thoroughly refreshing and hugely entertaining Argentinian film pulls together six different, unrelated stories, each offering it's very own 'wild tale', largely about people on the edge losing control and crossing the line that society usually demands we stay behind. It works exceptionally well overall (although the humour level doesn't quite sustain throughout) and four of the six are truly wonderful. A special shout-out has to go to the third story which tells the tale of a cocky driver in a fancy car overtaking and abusing a slow driver in his clapped-out banger, hurling abuse as he speeds by. A few miles down the road however, he gets a flat, and who should be the next driver to arrive on the scene...? What follows is a hilarious exchange of revenge exacted which escalates and escalates until it reaches it's unimaginable and utterly hilarious climax. The whole film is wildly entertaining and a complete breath of fresh air. It's probably simply too much fun to win any major awards, but you never know...

Director Damian Szifron

In an almost-sequel, Mange tes Morts/Eat Your Bones by Jean-Charles Hue focuses on the traveling community in France, in particular three brothers (one of whom has just been released from prison following a fifteen year stretch) and their cousin. The most interesting scenes for me were the very natural conversations on the community's halting site with old rivalries coming to the fore. The main thrust of the film follows the four men as they attempt to break into a scrap yard to steal a consignment of copper that the youngest brother Mickael has learnt of. While Mange tes Morts could be viewed as a sequel (after Hue's 2010 film La BM du Seigneur which followed the same characters) it can equally be viewed independently. 

Cannes favourites Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne returned with Two Days, One Night, this time opting to work with a well-known actress (Marion Cotillard) instead of their usual lesser known faces. The story, set over a weekend, follows Sandra (Cotillard) as she sets out, reluctantly, to meet each of her colleagues one by one in order to secure their support for her in a ballot the following Monday where they must vote between her keeping her job or all the staff receiving a bonus. The main themes of the film revolve around depression/mental health and the wider economic situation. Many seem to have issue with the credibility of such a well known actress taking on the role of such an ordinary, down on her luck employee, but I had no such concerns. I don't think it's the Dardennes' finest work, but it's still absorbing and worthy of being in the Official Competition.

Pascale Ferran's Bird People is an interesting and unusual film which played in Un Certain Regard. I absolutely loved the opening sequence which randomly dropped in, for a few moments, on various different conversations during a train journey and the private thoughts people were having. Seamlessly going from someone having a heated argument to joining someone else listening to classical music on their headphones, it was a captivating opening. Once the main film gets started it very much splits into two stories. The first follows Gary (Josh Charles) and while staying at the airport hotel (where most of the action of the film takes place) he decides to change everything about his life, starting with quitting his job and leaving his wife. The second part follows Audrey (Anais Demoustier), one of the hotel's chambermaids who (literally) wants to soar to new heights (the clue is in the title people!). The Carte Noire IFI French Film Festival director Marie-Pierre Richard simply adored this film. You heard it here first!

Cast & crew of Bird People

From a flight of fancy to a journey of despair, in Hope, deep in the Sahara Desert, a young man from Cameroon  comes to the rescue of Hope, a Nigerian, as they navigate a dangerous journey to illegally gain access to Europe. Desperately bleak with obstacles facing them at every turn along their way, there is also great beauty, and the chemistry between the two leads is marvellous. I found this very engaging, powerful and thought-provoking, though never an easy watch. 

Playing outside competition, the title of Andre Techine's latest release, In the Name of my Daughter, may sound like a Sally Field made-for-TV movie, but it is in fact a solid piece based on a true story. Set in Nice, following the breakdown of her marriage, Agnes le Roux (Adele Haenel) returns home to her mother Renee (played by the ever wonderful Catherine Deneuve), owner of the Casino le Palais. She quickly befriends Maurice (a truly wonderful performance from Guillaume Canet), her mother's confidante and legal advisor, and their relationship deepens, despite his having a wife, son and string of other lovers. A fixed game at the casino, rigged by the mafia, throws the future of the business in jeopardy and loyalties are put to the test and broken. The film opens in the present day and then goes back in time, so despite me not being familiar with this true story (it apparently was back in the news only weeks ago with new twists and turns), one is aware from the beginning that Agnes has been missing, presumed dead for over 30 years and that Renee believes it was at the hands of Maurice. Techine offers us a very conventional film. The performances are great and the story is intriguing, and this should be met warmly by those interested in solid French film.

Following on from Saint Laurent on Sunday, it was time for me to move fashion house from YSL to Christian Dior. Dior and I is the new documentary from Frederic Tcheng which is a behind-the-scenes look at new Artistic Director, Raf Simons' first haute couture collection in his new role. The access granted to Tcheng is fantastic and the cast of characters involved in bringing the collection to fruition demonstrates a group of passionate, dedicated and loyal employees; and that in itself poses a slight problem for the film. They're all too nice! Dior and I lacks the foreboding central character of say Anna Wintour (she pops up in this too!) in The September Issue or her (perhaps more interesting) second in command Grace Coddington. Raf Simons is a much gentler character - although the cracks do begin to appear as the show draws closer. And tensions do begin to mount as the atelier team are put under increasing pressure, especially when one of the premieres doesn't cope particularly well with change or stress. Overall the documentary presents a rare opportunity to get to see the work and passion that goes into making a fashion collection and catwalk show, and it makes for a great companion piece to Saint Laurent.

Dior and I

Nadav Schirman's The Green Prince is a slickly produced documentary about one of Israel's most prized spies, the son of a top Hamas leader. Using a combination of first person testimony, archive footage and reconstructions, it charts how Mosab Hassan Youssef (code name The Green Prince) was recruited by the Israelis and how (and why) he turned on his own people, including his family and friends, and the relationship he developed with his Shin Bet handler, Gonen Ben Yitzhak. Produced by Schirman along with two-time Oscar winner Simon Chinn (Man on Wire and Searching for Sugar Man) and Oscar winner John Battsek (One Day in September), it has all the trademarks of these highly produced documentaries. It employs the real life thriller approach reminiscent of The Imposter and is it a fascinating, almost incredible story. It picked up the Audience Award at Sundance and I'd imagine it should also get a lot of attention from Cannes. 

In Un Certain Regard, Mathieu Amalric steps behind (as well as in front of) the camera in Le Chambre Bleue/The Blue Room. Two lovers, Julien (Amalric) and Delphine (Lea Drucker), conducting an affair, post-coitally lie in their blue room contemplating spending their lives together. This then cuts to the police interrogating Julien for a crime we know is related to their affair and respective spouses. But what has he done and is he indeed guilty? This is a stylish and classy film. It wavers slightly towards the end but it is still a very interesting and engaging film from the director/actor Amalric.

So what will win the coveted Palme d'Or and the other major awards? It's a hard one to call. For the Official Competition, as I was leaving Mommy (Xavier Dolan) and Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard; who has never won the Palme) had both just screened and were generating positive word, while many are still talking about Mister Turner (Mike Leigh) and Wild Tales (Damian Szifron) from earlier in the Festival. Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev) - which is showing tonight - was being talked about as one of the favourites before the Festival even began. 

So that's it for me for Cannes 2014. I look forward to hearing (and debating the worthiness) of all of the winners. Until next May...

Ross Keane

Read Ross' festival blog - part one - here.


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