Cannes 2013 Review Roundup Part 2
Well, the festival is over, the prizes have been given out and we can all go home and get some sleep. For those of you that haven’t found out already, here are the main competition winners:
The Palme D’Or: Blue is the Warmest Colour (a.k.a. La Vie d’Adele – Chapitre 1 & 2) by Abdellatif Kechiche (France)
The Grand Prix: Inside Llewyn Davis by Ethan and Joel Coen (U.S.)
The Jury Prize: Like Father, Like Son (a.k.a. Soshite Chichi Ni Naru) by Kore-Eda Hirokazu (Japan)
Best Director: Amat Escalante (Mexico) for Heli
Best Screenplay: A Touch of Sin (a.k.a. Tian Zhu Ding) by Jia Zhangke (China)
Best Actor: Bruce Dern in Nebraska
Best Actress: Bérénice Bejo in The Past (a.k.a. Le Passé)
The Camera D’Or (for first feature): Ilo Ilo by Anthony Chen (Singapore)
On Sunday they replayed all of the main competition films for standard badge-holders so I managed to cram in another 5 of the ‘big’ films. I tried to catch Polanski’s Venus in Furs too, but it was full by the time I arrived. Anyway, here are my thoughts on the last handful of films I saw at Cannes in 2013.
Inside Llewyn Davis
Director: Ethan & Joel Coen
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake
Unsurprisingly given I’m a huge fan of their films, The Coen Brothers delivered my favourite film of the festival, Inside Llewyn Davis, which just missed out on winning the Palme D’Or to Blue is the Warmest Colour. Set in the early 1960′s in New York, it tells the story of Llewyn Davis, a folk singer who used to be part of a mildly popular duo (in the local scene at least), but now is a down and out solo artist. His agent is useless, he lives on various sofas from day to day and he’s just found out he may have got his friend’s wife pregnant. The film follows Llewelyn as he struggles along with little hope of change.
It’s one of the Coen’s slightest stories, little changes by the end and it has a cyclical style. It’s kind of like A Serious Man in that it presents a kind of vicious circle of bad luck that the character is trapped in rather than a journey to change him. That said, it is up there with some of their best work. Although the overall story might lack drama, the individual scenes are fantastic and, as ever, it’s the characters that truly captivate. The film is populated with the usual quirky and memorable characters, all fed some wonderful dialogue. John Goodman pops up in an extended cameo which stands out in particular, equalling some of his other roles in the Coens’ oeuvre.
The film looks gorgeous too. Coen regular Roger Deakins might not have worked on it this time, but Bruno Delbonnel, his ‘replacement’ (temporary or otherwise is yet to be known) does a wonderful job. The snowy streets of New York, dark highways across states and smoky clubs have never looked so good, with a soft, muted look to the film which is incredibly beautiful at times. Some nice subtle sound design helps too. Speaking of which, there is a lot of music in the film, with numerous songs being performed in their entirety. These are all simple but effective folk songs, sung by various talented musicians. The soundtrack could well emulate the success that of Oh Brother Where Art Though celebrated.
There are very slight niggles to be had with one or two predictable gags and plot points and the end isn’t all that satisfying. Nonetheless, this is the Coen Brothers on top form and that is always a joy to behold.
A Touch of Sin (a.k.a. Tian Zhu Ding)
Director: Jia Zhangke
Starring: Wu Jiang, Vivien Li, Lanshan Luo
I reviewed a box set of Jia Zhangke’s films earlier in the year and although I appreciated elements of them, I found the three films included to be a bit of a chore at times. Another film of his I’ve seen was 24 City back in Cannes a few years ago and that was one of the most tedious films I’ve ever had to sit through. So of course, despite some strong reviews, I was a little dubious about what to expect from A Touch of Sin.
The film is split into four stories, each following a different character as they suffer hardships or frustrations leading up to a death (or deaths) of some kind. The first for instance is the story of a man who feels short changed and cheated by his town chief and the boss of the large corporation he works for. Getting beaten up after trying to voice his concerns is the last straw and he decides to take matters into his own hands, going on a murderous rampage akin to Falling Down. The other stories aren’t quite as violent, but still follow a similar kind of descent.
I shouldn’t have been too worried about this, as it turned out to be my favourite of the four films from the director that I’ve seen. In splitting the story into four individual segments it becomes less slow and ponderous as some of his previous work, even if it retains his naturalistic style. Of course, adding some action/thriller elements helps keep the energy up too although it couldn’t be called ‘fast paced’. The fact that you knew each story was leading to some kind of tragedy helped keep me engaged too.
As is common with Zhangke’s films there is a large amount of social commentary too. Each story concerns slightly different social issues in China today, from the working class being taken advantage of by the rich business owners revelling in the financial success of the country to the aimless youth that now can get what they want without too much work, so don’t know what to do with themselves.
It’s this social commentary that made the film interesting for me and, in occasionally mixing it with Hong Kong action tropes, creates a unique and surprisingly entertaining dissection of China today.
Director: Arnaud des Pallieres
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Mélusine Mayance, Delphine Chuillot
Arnaud des Pallieres’ Michael Kohlhaas is a moody French period drama set in the 16th Century and based on a classic novel (which I was only aware of after reading reviews of the film). It follows the titular character, a trader, as he arrives back home with some new horses. He is stopped at a bridge and is forced to give up two of the horses as a toll, which is illegal. Angered, especially when the horses return dirty and battered, he complains to his local council, but keeps getting ignored. When eventually his wife goes to try and convince the princess to see the matter in court, she is brutally attacked and comes home only to die moments later in her husband’s arms. This sets Kohlhaas on a mission to seek justice by force, building a small army of followers along the way from passing villagers who are also angry at their treatment.
On paper this sounds rather exciting and indeed I found the first half fairly rousing, but the film unfortunately peters out as it moves along. Developing a Braveheart style uprising story, the film promises huge battles and a fight for justice at any cost, but instead the film gets rather too earnest and ends with a lot of speeches and frowning.
This overly serious tone is one of the film’s chief shortcomings. Granted, it wouldn’t work with if it turned too lighthearted, but it never once stops being very glum and ‘worthy’. This means the film never real changes tone, dramatically speaking, and the lengthy running time can’t sustain such a lack of warmth or punch. It looks great and has a nicely grim and dirty style to it, but you’re better off sticking to Game of Thrones for a more involving fix of medieval(ish) drama.
Only Lovers Left Alive
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska
Jim Jarmusch returns to the Croisette with his own spin on the vampire movie genre. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton play Adam and Eve, a married vampire couple who live apart at the start of the film, Adam in Detroit and Eve in Tangiers. Adam is a reclusive rocker and Eve a bit of a free spirit that has a local friend in Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt). Eve decides to head over to Detroit to see her husband and the two mooch around, mulling over their ‘lives’. Eve’s sister (Mia Wasikowska) comes to visit too, which causes problems.
I really wanted to like this. The style and mood work very nicely to begin with, it has a sumptuous aged look to it and the soundtrack is excellent. I liked the idea of the vampires being geniuses and experts in chosen fields and arts too because of all the time they have on their hands. Unfortunately the film never goes anywhere with these ideas. The film just ambles along with pretty much no plot at all. The dialogue, characters and performances do little to help this either. Adam, Eve and her sister are just rather annoying and dreary and the usually excellent cast don’t seem to know what to do with themselves. The ‘jokes’ are all laboured and unfunny too, with far too much time taken up with the idea that the work of these vampires has been given to or stolen by people like Shakespeare, Schubert and Byron.
I rarely outright love Jarmusch’s films to be honest, so fans might think differently, but this did very little for me and it’s the worst of his films I’ve seen. A dull exercise in ‘cool’ that doesn’t offer enough to make its vaguely interesting concept and effective style worth sitting through.
The Great Beauty (a.k.a. La Grande Bellezza)
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Starring: Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli
The final film I saw in Cannes was Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty. This is a free-wheeling and unusual film which brought to mind the work of Fellini. It follows Jep, an elderly writer living in Rome who has been the life and soul of the city’s cultural nightlife for decades. After his 65th birthday, Jep starts to see the cracks in his high-flying existence though and we watch as he goes from one soiree to another, becoming more disillusioned with it all as it progresses.
I often struggle to get into these types of film which focus on the emptiness of bourgeois society or the superficiality of the ‘social scene’. However, this won me over quite quickly and kept me engaged through most of its lengthy two and a half hour running time.
What helps is the humour, it’s a very funny film, making pointed stabs at the ludicrous nature of the world of the socialite and things like modern art and the perceived nature of beauty. The various art installations Jep visits in particular are very enjoyable, being simultaneously ridiculous and believable.
It’s an inventive and occasionally quite surreal experience which is a delight to behold. It does feel too long though and I’m sure it would have benefitted from losing some of the weaker scenes as there’s not enough of a clear story to require all of them. For a modern dig at Italian (and probably most other countries’) ‘high society’ though, this is one of the best recent examples I’ve seen.