Cannes 2012 Capsule Reviews: Like Someone In Love; You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet; La pirogue; Jagten; Despues de Lucia
You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (Vous n’avez encore rien vu) - dir. Alain Resnais
Alain Resnais, the veteran director of French new wave who first presented a film at Cannes in 1959 with Hiroshima mon amour, has always held an interest in the theatrical; in other words, in the nature of truth in dramatic representation. Where cinema is able to take on realistic values and present a plausible interpretation of the world, theatre always holds its audience at arms length, asking it to interrogate the ways in which the world have been represented. Resnais’s films - at least since Mélo in 1986 — have flirted with the theatrical, presenting static décors, mannered dialogue and heightened performances that challenge the viewer to suspend their disbelief.
His new film, Vous n’avez encore rien vu ramps this up a notch as it finds famous French actors (Sabine Azéma, Pierre Arditi, Lambert Wilson, Mathieu Amalric etc), all playing themselves, invited to a remote villa after the death of a close friend and theatre director. There, the friend has arranged for a film to be shown to the players, who it emerges have all held roles in this friend’s past productions of Jean Anouilh’s Eurydice. As they watch the film - a recording of an amateur production of Eurydice, the actors begin to say the lines of their characters over the film, and are soon acting out the entire play. As they act, theatre sets suddenly appear around them, and the actors begin to inhabit their roles. Eurydice and Orpheus are played by two pairs of actors, Sabine Azéma and Pierre Arditi playing an older version of the doomed lovers and Anne Consigny and Lambert Wilson playing younger versions. The two performances are sometimes spliced in a double screen. It is the height of artifice. It is artifice putting on a dress and singing a song from a Japanese play. Lovers of Stanislavsky should steer well clear.
In fact what emerges from this audaciously experimental film is that Resnais is delivering a mediation on love, loss and death, something like Michael Haneke did (much more brilliantly, in my opinion) in a realistic vein with Love. As he hires old actors to play the young lovers who are doomed to lose each other not once but twice, and whose vital instruction is that the male lover, Orpheus, not look back at his beloved or he will lose her forever, it is impossible not to see this film as a staging of artistic death, and to perceive the lover as Resnais’s previous oeuvre, not to be dwelt on but to be left behind, for him to move on to other things. His wife, Sabine Azéma, plays Eurydice, and it is also clearly a love letter to her and her eternal youth as Resnais approaches his final years. In this, the film is touching. Finally, it shows a morbid and fascinating obsession with death, with Resnais being substituted here by the dead friend who directs a cast from beyond the grave. It is dizzyingly conceptual.
It is also very well made, showing the extraordinary vitality that Resnais appears to be blessed with as he approaches his nineties. The sets are gorgeous, theatrically lit allusions to the old cinema sets of the French expressionist cinema of the 1930s and 40s - the years of Resnais’s youth. The form of the film is daring, showcasing not only a film within a film but dual performances of many lines, offering multiple interpretations of the same text.
The film does begin to wear thin, and the dialled-up-to-eleven performances (particularly Azéma’s) start to grate in the later stages, and it is very much a niche film — but there is a lot here to enjoy, and Resnais is still a talent to be reckoned with, lending a real weight to this film’s title.
La pirogue — dir. Moussa Touré
Moussa Touré’s poignant, unassumingly stylish film La pirogue is topical: as recently as March, dozens of African migrants were allowed to die onboard a boat off the coast of Tripoli, after several security units — including, allegedly, NATO — ignored their cries for help. A significant number of Africans die each year during the dangerous and terrifying migration to Europe, having braved the seas in search of a better life.
The film fictionalises this terrible statistic with a plot centering on 30 villagers who are scheduled to leave Senegal aboard a pirogue (which is a massive kind of motorised fishing canoe — massive for a canoe, that is, but hardly suitable for 30 men to live on for seven days in stormy weather). As we meet them in the 48 hours before departure, we come to learn all of their reasons for leaving, and see their attachment to the country they are leaving behind, often reluctantly. Some, such as the young Abou, are young and tired of the old continent; others, like his stepfather, are leaving out of necessity and sorry to wave goodbye to the village. In a handful of opening scenes, Touré lightly sketches his characters so that their concerns and hopes are vivid by the time they set out on their trip.
This is where we meet the boat, perhaps the central character of the film — cramped, sturdy and colourfully decorated, it is clearly not adapted for a long journey. Touré films almost all of the remaining scenes of the film onboard, adroitly capturing good angles and giving a sense of the close-quarters living the men (and one stow-away woman) have to endure. The hardship is clear from the outset, but the characters share stories, song and prayer, and the film is able to kick off to a rousing beginning. As the ship runs into trouble however, and tragedy strikes as it has clearly threatened to right from the start, the film is touching in its level-headed, serious and gentle poignancy. It also builds up some mightily exciting action scenes, as the boat is buffeted by huge waves.
The picture is clever, and very justly written, in the way it crystallises decisive human moments: its examination of human sacrifice is excellent, and the way it shows a developing compassion amongst its two main protagonists is lovely. There are also unbearably poignant moments, such as when the men run into another boat that is stranded in the high seas, full of men whom they cannot help and who will surely die. Touré also films his able cast very well, with a gorgeous use of colour and close-ups. Regrettably, the only plausible ending for a film such as this makes for an unsatisfying storyline, after 90 minutes of beautifully constructed drama.
Jagten - dir. Thomas Vinterberg
I’ve only ever walked out of three films in my life, to which I now have the honour of adding Thomas Vinterberg’s film screening in competition here, called Jagten, or The Hunt. I know it’s not strictly the done thing when you’re reviewing a film, but I ran out of patience around the 20th minute or so, and therefore present this micro-review as an assessment merely of the quarter of the film I saw, with my apologies for not being able to stomach this manipulative, deeply stupid and dishonest film for any longer.
Jagten is about Lucas, a primary school teacher who in the first five minutes of the film is presented as kind to his friends, lovely with his girlfriend, having a good relationship with his son, adored by his pupils and well-respected by his neighbours and community. The film takes a turn for the worse — in every sense — when one of his pupils, a child called Klara who has an innocent crush on him, tells the headteacher of the school that she has seen Lucas’s junk. From this half-decent premise, the film swiftly — and I mean in roughly three scenes — degenerates into an absurdity, as the head teacher immediately fires Lucas without an investigation, recruits a suspect amateur psychologist to reinforce the child’s lie, and the child’s parents (Lucas’s best friends) immediately believe their tiny daughter’s word against that of this intelligent, kind man. I left the cinema just as the child confessed to her mother that she had told an untruth and her mother held her to her breast and said, “No, you didn’t. It happened.” I’m sorry, but there’s only so many absurd plot developments I can take, and I do not trust a film of such outrageous idiocy to develop the story properly, or convincingly. This is a shame, because Mads Mikkelsen in the main role was doing a creditable job. But the film was not sufficiently well-made - it’s a perfectly plain thing, of very classical form, looking like a high quality TV film - to compensate for these terrible flaws in the story. How difficult would it have been for Vinterberg to throw in a few scenes where people doubt the story but the girl maintains her fiction, and to create a scenario in which there could be some narrative doubts as to Lucas’s innocence?
This picture takes all the shortcuts it can, safe in the knowledge that with its highly basic shock ingredient — paedophilia — it will find an audience willing to overlook its various manipulations and credibility gaps. It leaves a very sour taste in the mouth.
Despues de Lucia - dir. Michel Franco
Despues de Lucia by Michel Franco, showing in the Un Certain Regard section of the festival, is part of a new wave of Mexican cinema, following in the steps of Cuaron and Inarritu et al. It is a stylish, simply made film that at times, in its unblinking look at the effects of bullying on a young girl, becomes almost untenable. I don’t want to detail the various humiliations visited on the poor girl, shown here in totally unsparing shots for a large portion of the film, but it begins with a tape of her having sex being passed around the school, and goes from there to much, much worse. The horribleness of her ordeal — which became physically too much for me in a revolting birthday cake scene — is what may keep this film from winning a large audience, but it received furious applause here and is a well-made, interesting film.
After the death of his wife in a car crash, a chef (Hernan Mendoza) and his daughter Alejandra (Tessa Ia) move to a new town far away, so as to remove themselves from the trauma they have undergone. The father takes on a new job in town, which he finds difficult to concentrate on, and the daughter enrols in a new school. In a handful of scenes shown in long, fixed shots, the sweet chemistry and inter-dependence of the father and daughter is shown, with Alejandra supporting her father in his trouble at work, and her father trusting her despite her testing positive in a drugs test at the new school. They are evidently kind, bright, shy people, united in their grief.
Alejandra soon makes friends with a group of kind young people who welcome her into their midst, only for one of the boys to film himself having sex with her during a weekend away from town, at a party. The next day, the scene is sent around the school and Alejandra’s existence becomes a living nightmare, with ceaseless vile text messages, sexual humiliations and mockery attending her, every day. Anxious not to distress her father, she stays silent about the bullying she is enduring, until a school trip with her class brings everything to a head. I can’t reveal anymore, but the story takes a disquieting, enthralling turn, which is perfectly described by Franco with some highly involving, difficult scenes that evince tremendous performances from his young cast.
The last scene of the film, involving a classmate of Alejandra’s and her father, all filmed in one breathtaking shot, will have you gasping out loud. It’s a measure of the confidence that Michel Franco shows in his subject and his abilities as a director. He allows action to take place in his scenes, with a still camera capturing everything diligently, rather than forcing the action in with editing: it can be mesmerising. I think the film slightly overdoes the torment, slightly indulging in the horribleness of it all at times. It is a small film, no great masterpiece, but quietly potent in its way.
Like Someone In Love — dir. Abbas Kiarostami
It takes a lot of skill to make something so pared down, yet so naturally loose and light as Abbas Kiarostami’s new fable of a movie, Like Someone In Love. It’s like a novella compared to a novel — everything gently suggested, connections made without many complications, and in a minimal set-up, a great study of character and human interaction. Michelangelo once said that he thought sculpture was superior as an art to painting, because where painting involves the addition of paint to the canvas, and therefore a building of something, sculpture requires the subtraction of rock from the block of stone. It is this process of hewing-away that Kiarostami seems to me to be enacting in this film.
A first-time foray into Japan for the Iranian director, Like Someone In Love opens in a long, almost immobile restaurant, where Akiko (Ryo Kase) is in the midst of being found out by her boyfriend, who has called her on her mobile: he suspects her of not being out with a friend, and of lying to him about her whereabouts. Indeed she is lying: Akiko leads a double-life as a call-girl. A small-town girl who arrived in the city a few years ago, she has begun studies in a college in Tokyo and seems to be estranged from her family. Later that night, she heads by taxi to a client in the suburbs of the city: a kind, old professor whose house the young girl sleeps in. The next day, the old man drives her into university, where he meets her boyfriend, who mistakes the professor for Akiko’s grandfather, and confides in him about his relationship with the young woman.
All of this is effortlessly told: human connections are made almost by the by, with characters revealing themselves effortlessly, both in their spoken dialogue (these characters, apart from the professor, seem burdened by a need to confess, to share their problems) and through their gestures and looks. Akiko’s scream in the restaurant opening scene; her tears upon seeing her mother waiting for her in the city centre as she nevertheless ignores the old woman; her childlike innocence in talking to the professor at night; the not-quite sexy outfit she wears; these things and more are casually presented and amount to a brushstroke portrait, splendidly done. In turn, nothing could be so lovely as the old man’s fumbling talk of having made the young girl soup, when she visits him in his flat: he is clearly lonely and seeking to care for someone. The bond he builds with Akiko through the film is simple and touching: as he intervenes in her fraught relationship with her boyfriend, playing along with the idea of being her grandfather, he subsumes his own sweet regard for the girl in his wider concern for her well-being.
The narrative is built so slightly: chance encounters are added to misconceptions that keep the story gently ticking along, and the spectator is breathless to see if this lightly-spun conceit can be withheld to the end. I had a moment in the film when I realised I was having a wonderful time and didn’t want the film to end: during a scene when all three main characters are in the car together, and Akiko’s boyfriend, as a favour to the man who he thinks is his future grandfather-in-law, suggests he’ll mend the old man’s car; he calls the garage he works at and exchanges kindly banter with his colleagues. The misapprehension is allowed to play out, with the young man’s kind character shown for the first time, the old man in a complicated debt to to the young man, and Akiko herself hoping that her boyfriend will not find out the professor is a client. It’s not played for drama: the scene has a sweet, amiable quality, like a song.
Though the film betrays itself somewhat in the very last scene, with an abrupt ending that jars with the overall tone of this delicate concoction, I think Kiarostami has once more given further proof of his ability to allow action to occur in front of his camera, rather than manipulating a story from scratch. It is a pretty, delicate ode to human regard.
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