Cannes Capsule Reviews: 'BPM,' 'Happy End,' 'The Rider,' 'Nothingwood'
BPM tells a beautiful, tender, sexy and devastating love story against the backdrop of AIDS activism in the early 90s. Written with acute intelligence, the film gradually shifts from rigorously charting the actions of this committed group of young campaigners to honing in on a developing passion between two of its members: Nathan, a gentle and considerate new activist, and the firebrand Sean who is HIV positive. From this point, it interweaves the personal and the political to dizzying effect, showing how societal contempt and the policing of sexual norms have real, wrenching impact on the lives of people.
The film is shot with exquisite intimacy, the camera in symbiosis with its rich set of phenomenally well acted characters, whose lives come to mean so much to us. Robin Campillo pulls off every risky move, every technical audacity; his writing and directing of a final death scene is remarkable for its emotional heft and sensitive restraint. Throughout, the movie deploys wicked, laugh-out-loud humour to leaven the more harrowing elements of its narrative. Exceptional and life-enhancing, the film is also notable for featuring an even better handjob scene than Moonlight.
Michael Haneke’s latest film premiered at Cannes to somewhat subdued reviews — testament, perhaps, to the film’s curious minor mode. This light tone emanates from Haneke’s almost perky storytelling style, which flits from cameraphones to Youtube via Facebook chat, in order to capture the business, but also the disconnection from each other, of his characters. Gone is the austere master of his two big Palme d’Or winners, replaced here by someone having fun, playing games, stretching his legs.
The film focuses on a rich family of industrialists in the north of France: the aged father with a death wish; his implacable daughter (Isabelle Huppert) at the head of the business and her feckless, shameful son; her brother, who welcomes his teenage daughter into the family after her mother, who she had been living with, is suddenly hospitalised. The business is threatened by an accident at work, which looks as if it could lead to family being charged with professional misconduct. Haneke impassively films his characters attempting to extinguish these individual dilemmas, with unforgiving tracking shots and unblinking, spellbinding fixed shots; he is deliciously merciless in his satire of bourgeois privilege.
In the wake of a rodeo accident that put him in a coma, a young horse wrangler is advised by his doctors to rest up, and possibly abandon his former existence as a rodeo champion. This is the set-up of Chloe Zhao’s new movie, set in South Dakota: but what the director does with this barebones conceit is impressive. Using non-professional actors who are all connected to this specific, strange world of horse-riding, she meshes real life material with a devised drama, resulting in something heartfelt and oddly elegiac. In the process, she delivers an aching song for the American male, lost and desperate to taste glory once more. Think Gatsby meets Rocky meets The Horse Whisperer and you’re somewhere there - although Zhao’s detailed, poetic take has no bluster, no grandeur to it. This is evocative filmmaking, that paints a world and creates a full-blooded character; cinema that observes rather than explicates. It’s a pleasure to dwell with these people a while, to see the plains that stretch all around them, and the wild, huffing horses bucking around a dusty paddock as they’re lovingly leashed into domesticity. Zhao doesn’t overwork her material or her metaphors, giving us something fresh and sincere.
Sonia Kronlund’s delightful documentary about Salim Shaheen, a film director with 110 films to his name, known as “the Ed Wood of Afghanistan”, is one of the great finds of this Cannes festival. Kronlund had been filming in Afghanistan for years, documenting the war-torn country in a series of films, before she found out about Shaheen, a filmmaker revered for his low-budget movies starring himself, his friends and his family. Shrewdly, she sees in this great eccentric (Shaheen is a huge man, loud, excitable, permanently on show, and a star through and through) a force of hope, a sign of some life in Afghanistan, some current of culture that we do not perceive. Her film captures this larger than life character in all his preposterous, vainglorious hilarity, as he makes four films at once deep in the mountains of Afghanistan. The film is quite appallingly funny, sitting back and observing Shaheen and all his foibles (for instance, he has the habit of doing something, or saying something, and then shouting, “A round of applause!”, prompting his startled entourage to burst into bewildered clapping); all the while, Kronlund coolly notes the ills in Afghanistan, the violence and the treatment of women, which she relays in a surprisingly mild tone. The message of this touching, rousing, truly funny film is that cinema can quite literally save your life; nothing could be more vital.
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