about 10 film critics who have been going to the Cannes Film Festival
(now in its 59th edition) for the last 40 years. It's a wonder
to watch them moving slowly through the rushing hordes of critics
who are struggling to get into the screenings.
last six years, many of us have started wondering what the beef
is all about. We struggle to get into the screenings and then
realise after 20 minutes that the film is not worth staying for.
Costa's Colossal Youth.
Case in point
was a competition film this year called Colossal Youth by Portuguese
director Pedro Costa. Running at two and a half hours, the evacuation
began 15 minutes into the screening and went on till the end of
the film. It was like a virus eating into the brains of critics.
The exodus went on in waves. At the end of the screening, whole
rows of empty seats could be seen. Some rows had only one survivor.
was even talk that jury president Wong Kar Wai liked the film
and told the director so. It was speculated that Colossal Youth
is aesthetically a more extreme In the Mood for Love as most of
the scenes are interior room shots. However, Costa's film ruminates
on alienation and loss, and the structural emphasis on repetition
while making the alienation palpable, also drove the critics mad.
The remaining few however applauded the film loudly and passionately.
of Colossal Youth as a competition entry was compounded by Richard
Kelly's Southland Tales, that also ran for over two and a half
hours. In contrast, the minimalism of Colossal Youth was absent.
Instead, Kelly's vision (he of Donnie Darko fame) was an over-the-top
vision of Los Angeles in an apocalyptic future where Sarah Michelle
Gellar (she of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) is cast as a porn
star. The jokes were a mile a minute but no one laughed. Instead,
critics fled the hall in the same kind of mass exodus as Colossal
Youth. It goes to show that critics can be discriminating. They
dislike equally poor entertainment and self-flagellation.
were on for Wong to award Pedro Almodovar's Volver which starred
Penelope Cruz (and her cleavage) in the role of a single mother.
Cruz saves her daughter from jail when the latter accidentally
kills her lover. And why shouldn't Volver win?
had never taken the Golden Palm and this film seemed made for
Wong's sensibility, a good taste for women, art direction and
performances. It was also funny and sad, the emotions shifting
with drama and humour. But no, it only took the Best Script prize
while all the women of Volver took the Best Actress prize jointly.
instead awarded the Golden Palm to Ken Loach's The Wind That Shakes
the Barley. It's a nice film, made with the same dedication and
care that marks Loach's work but no one saw it as extraordinary.
Thierry Fremaux's ascension to the Festival Director's post in
2001, Cannes had a distinct history-of-the-world feel to it. Loach's
The Wind That Shakes the Barley certainly fits in. The film is
a rare look at the early beginnings of the Irish civil war in
the 1920s when the Irish independence movement split up over those
who sided with a limited engagement with the British and those
who wanted a total disengagement from the British.
film is timely because it mirrors Iraq in terms of an Iraqi government
that the Iraqis don't totally side with, and an independence war
that is labeled terrorist. Loach's film brought the national conflict
down to personal ideals, to a battle between families when two
brothers find that they are on different sides. He makes the battle
less ideological and more personal and shows that people ought
to have some say in how they are being governed.
film sits pleasantly in Loach's filmography without standing out
and this makes the award surprising.
Moretti's The Caiman.
Nanni Moretti's The Caiman also reflects the world today and in
many ways, is a more challenging film than Loach's The Wind That
Shakes the Barley. Yet it walked away with nothing. Many viewers
were turned off by the talkativeness of the male neurotic lead,
Bruno Bonomo (played by Silvio Orlando), who is a kind of an Italian
middle-aged Malcolm in the Middle.
is a B-grade film producer who married his actress. But now his
life is quickly unraveling, his marriage is on the rocks, and
he is debt-ridden from a film he can't finance. The film then
reveals its different layers. From the neurotic Woody-Allen-type
couple satire, it becomes a film about a film. Bonomo becomes
obsessed with a new independent film that he is producing and
it becomes a matter of life and death. His utter defeat arrives
when he sees a magnificent ship from the film he failed to make,
being transported past him on a Rome street. It's a deliciously
surreal Fellini moment.
Moretti himself makes an appearance as the actor who plays Italian
prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, who is the subject of Bonomo's
independent film. Suddenly the outrage of the film becomes clearer.
Bonomo represents the Italian public who for more than 30 years
(beginning from the time Berlusconi started owning the media)
allowed their premier to run amok in their lives. The helplessness
that Bonomo feels has caused him to swallow every defeat.
was released before the recent Italian elections and was a big
hit. Some even speculate that it caused Berlusconi's narrow defeat.
After Moretti's softer earlier film, The Son's Room (2001), The
Caiman is actually a roaring return to form. Nevertheless, juries
are notoriously unpredictable. Who needs a casino when you have
film festival juries?
week: On The Road From Cannes Part II.
here for other movie articles by Philip Cheah:
East Goes West, West Goes East
Finding Asian Film Gems In Locarno 2005
Five Leaves Left: The Last Days Of Kurt Cobain
Imagine There's No Countries...
The Power Of Nightmares
The Year Of Speaking Mandarin