Wednesday 9 June 2010

Can the Cannes... 2010

A few days in Cannes at the world’s biggest film festival, to screen Down Terrace and talk through future projects. We got to see a number of films also... some in competition, mostly in the market. Screening times and meeting schedules being what they are, you never get to see all the films you want to, but we tried to sample a cross section of what was on offer. Here's some thoughts on what we dis see: In alphabetical order:

A US “remake” of the 1970 Robert Fuest movie. The original was a kind of giallo, a rarity for the UK film industry. Set in rather bleak northern French landscape it had a pair of girls on a cycling holiday who fall foul of a killer who prays on blondes (which one of the girls is…). Fuest’s film all takes place over the course of one day – hence the title. It has a brooding atmosphere of menace and some kind of a surprise ending. This Argentina-set “remake” had neither. It was one of those films where the cast all do really silly things to put themselves constantly in danger. There was a fabulous lakeside location, all parched trees and derelict buildings, that was like a character in itself but one desperately in need of a better film. The presence in the cast of two current (so they tell us) “hotties” might attract a die hard horror audience with low expectations.

Apparently someone called this “the Australian Down Terrace”, or words to that effect. It occupies similar territory in that it’s about a family of rather amoral crooks whose family life starts to spiral out of control into a vortex of violence. Nice performances all round and a convincingly down beat atmosphere... and they all love their mum! Guy Pearce, sporting a strange moustache, appears as the good cop who sorts it all out. Sort of… At last a decent film! First time director David Michod is a name to watch.

One of a number of films screening at Cannes on the subject of the internet and youthful suicide (the other we saw was Chatroom). This French film from Gilles Marchand (of Who Killed Bambi?) plays pretty much like an American thriller with few arty or European edges. In fact, I can’t believe it won’t be rapidly picked up for an English language remake. It’s really a film about seduction that uses the internet as a contemporary hook for its actually rather old fashioned plot. A young couple on holiday find a lost mobile phone. A series of text messages leads them to a mysterious femme fatale who appears to be snaring vulnerable young men into a suicide trap that is connected in some way with an online game. It begins rather better than it ends but was entertaining enough.

Documentary about the late 70s/early 80’s New York “No Wave” film making scene. All the usual suspects, Jim Jarmusch, Richard Kern, Lydia Lunch, James Chance etc are featured. Some interesting interviews and lots of clips. Made one realise how much independent movie making has advanced over the last 30 years and how much digital technology has improved the look of no budget productions. On the other hand, looking past the rough edges of much on display here, there was a commitment, an energy and sense of transgression in those early films that does seem to be missing today when every You Tube posting seems like a calling card for a Hollywood career.

Directed by Hideo Nakata of Ring fame, scripted by Enda Walsh who wrote Hunger and Disco Pigs, with Aaron Johnson heading a cast of youthful UK talent, this must have seemed like a no brainer. The sad truth is that it really REALLY didn’t work. Nakata’s depiction of the virtual world as a series of grubby corridors and bizarrely furnished rooms was effective, but when he moved outside this to show the “real” lives of his protagonists it all started to fall apart. The hideously earnest over acting didn’t help either. It’s unclear what audience the film was aimed at. Kids will surely reject its finger wagging message about the dangers of the internet and adults won’t need their fears underlined. The film attempts to redeem itself by turning into a chase thriller at the end, but that just underlines its paucity of ideas.

Solid, mainstream US film making from the liberal wing. In a way, this is a kind of real life reworking of its director Doug Liman’s Mr and Mrs Smith, in that it concerns the doings of a couple who both worked for the US government, but played straight. Very well scripted by Brits Jez and John-Henry Butterworth and faultlessly acted by Naomi Watts and (in particular) Sean Penn, this is an examination of the WMD scandal as played out in the US, based on the true story of Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson. Although we may question the true nature of some of the “facts” presented (the film is based on the autobiographies of the two main protagonists) it works well as a tense, globe trotting thriller not a million miles away from the Bourne franchise (which was kicked off by Liman’s 2002 movie). The final flag waving for American democracy comes across a bit gung ho, but maybe now in the post-Obama US it’s OK to be a little optimistic.

We’re big fans of cheesy Frenchy movies and this one is ripe camembert. Set in the early 60s world of Pigalle, lesbian cabarets and gangster pimps, it’s a riot of archness. Lou Doillon, looking the dead spit of her mum, Jane Birkin, plays the titular character, a promising student who is “turned gay” by a female teacher and enters the lesbian underworld, making money from prostitution and drugs. The whole preposterous thing is like a Michel Lemoine or Max Pecas movie from days long gone, but one that aims for “art” and significance rather than mere titillation. Recreations of the glory days of lesbian cabarets such as Chez Moune, some surprisingly “risqué” sex scenes and an impossibly catchy title theme (hey..we're still whistling that one) add to the period fun. A good laugh, if you’re in the right mood, but really they should have got Lemoine to direct it, especially as it’s produced by Denise Petitdidier who was behind several of his early movies…

James Franco stars as famed “beat” author Allen Ginsberg in this docu drama about the legal case surrounding the publication of his long poem Howl. Although he might seem a surprising choice, Franco is outstanding in the role of Ginsberg and really manages to get across the radical spirit and charm of the man. The film tells the story largely through Ginsberg’s words, speaking to an unseen interviewer and reading Howl to an enthusiastic beatnik audience in a late night club. Although it is centred on Howl, the film does manage to fill in some of the background to the beat movement, why Ginsberg started as a poet and how his work developed. Jon Hamm (Don Draper from Mad Men) turns up as a lawyer defending Howl from obscenity charges. Very enjoyable although we kept expecting Mickey mouse to show up in the animated sequences which disappointingly, were less transporting...more Manhatten Transfer LP sleeve.

First US outing for Norwegian director Patrik Syversen. Part of the After Dark Originals slate, of which several were on display at the Cannes market. Amber dreams of escaping her boring small town and persuades her friends to accompany her apartment-hunting in the big city. When their van breaks down, Amber and friends gratefully accept a ride in the back of a container truck. But when the driver refuses to stop and they discover the cargo is cartons of blood, they panic. Low budget and unpretentious, this is straight down the line genre fare for horror fans. A tad predictable, but it delivered what it set out to.

A film, made by a French music video creator, about a psychotic car tyre… This has to be some sort of post modern joke, right? It doesn’t begin too promisingly. A car drives along a stretch of desert road knocking over a series of wooden chairs; a man, dressed as a cop, gets out of the trunk and delivers a straight to camera lecture about randomness in the movies. Then the “audience” is introduced. A motley band of all ages who stand in the desert and watch the film through binoculars, commenting on the action as it unreels. One of the film’s achievements is to rise about all this potentially annoying trickery to deliver a thoroughly entertaining movie. And, yes, it is about a psychotic car tyre. There are those who expressed the opinion that it would have made a better short. Well, you can say that about almost any film, I guess. For me, this one was almost too short at 75 minutes. I kind of look forward to part 2. When you see it, you’ll understand what I mean. The concept, the setting, the crystal clear cinematography, there was something about this one that all seemed right. Who cares what it means? Or even if it means nothing. Seeing the tyre (apparently called Robert) bowling along the desert highway in the early morning sun to the sweet soul sound of Just Don’t Want to Be Lonely filled me with a kind of strange joy that I don’t often get from more conventional dramas. That’s surely enough… (Watch out for this from Magnet later in the year)

Had missed this on previous festival screenings so we were pleased to finally catch up. Had read some varying reports, so not sure what to expect. What we got was, frankly, amazing. Amazingly good or amazingly bad? That depends entirely on your state of mind. But let’s just say that there are scenes here that you really don't expect to see. A couple that push the boundaries of taste in a highly enjoyable way. There was a certain feeling that the film makers were trying to do what for example David Cronenberg did with The Fly. That’s to say, take a pulp sci-fi plot and push it until it becomes some kind of grand existential statement. Well, if that was what they were going for, the peels of laughter ringing out over the croisette from our audience meant they certainly didn’t hit that target but what they did do was make a film that is thoroughly entertaining and surprising and certainly had us arguing its merits for quite some time afterwards. If you thought Birdemic was funny... you ain't seen nothing yet. A must see, I would say.

The first Indian film in competition for seven years. This was an attempt to make an indie style film that aimed for dour realism rather than fantasy escapism. Good acting, particularly from the young lead Rajat Barmecha, but a rather sentimental story that had some of the audience in tears by the end. No actual singing or dancing but, surprisingly for an Indian movie, the music was mostly awful. The backing of the powerful UTV media corporation is what probably got this one into Cannes, but there are way better films than this coming out of the real Indian indie scene. Let’s hope some of those get the much needed festival spotlight in the coming year or so.

Australian Bill Bennett made an interesting road movie a few years back about a renegade couple (Kiss and Kill) and then headed for Hollywood with Tempted in 2001. He’s been quiet for some time, so this “young couple on an uninhabited island” yarn sounded worth seeing, in spite of its rather hackneyed premise. Unfortunately, it actually delivered even less than it promised. The scenery was stunning, and nicely caught by Bennett and his cinematographer, Lachlan Milne. Unfortunately the predictable and rather clumsy script let this one down and some rather ludicrous moments, like the “ghost voices on the cell phone” scene, compounded the felony. There was an interesting idea in there somewhere, but it didn’t really come through.


  1. Thanks for the dope on Udaan..
    It's releasing next month in India :)

  2. or, as my sister used to say: "Little things please little minds, big pants for big behinds"

  3. Nice lineup report! I heard some cool things about Rubber, so I definitely had that as a target already, but now I want to see Black Heaven based on your review.

  4. BH was OK. Lots of people hated it. It was a bit of a disappointment after the same director's Who Killed Bambi. And with the involvement of Dominik Moll, we kind of expected more. But it was entertaining enough