Cannes Day 11: ‘Macbeth’ closes the competition

Director Justin Kurzel, Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender pose for photographers during a photo call for the film Macbeth, at the 68th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)
Director Justin Kurzel, Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender pose for photographers during a photo call for the film Macbeth, at the 68th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)

Director Justin Kurzel has a way with visceral action, as was seen in 2011’s “The Snowtown Murders.” That same verve is keenly present in his new adaptation of “Macbeth.”

Unlike the play, the movie opens with the death the child of Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) and Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard). The three witches appear later with their prophecies, but the opening scenes are virtually wordless, with the child’s cremation on a funeral pyre leading into a dramatic battle scene featuring Macbeth’s loyalist forces battling Macdonwald, the traitor.

The battle is furious, with stabbings and swordplay worthy of the TV cable series “Spartacus.” And only after the battle is over does Macbeth hear the prophecy that he’ll become king.

Kurzel’s strategy in changing the opening of the play highlights what he sees as a central theme of “Macbeth” but that others may not so readily endorse: that Macbeth was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, not only from his brutal battles but also from the death of his child.

Certainly, Shakespeare is open to interpretation, and Kurzel has every right to make such an assertion. But this strategy also nearly wanders into the territory of justification, or perhaps empathetic explanation, rather than focusing on Macbeth’s tragic ambitions.

At the press conference after the screening, Fassbender said he thinks Kurzel’s PTSD interpretation is valid. “People say it’s a story of ambition, but I think it’s a story of loss … of a child and of their sanity.”

As Macbeth, Fassbender is excellent, especially in the scene where he kills Scotland’s King Duncan (David Thewlis). And we immediately begin to sense that Macbeth is descending into madness, perhaps out of guilt but also out of a lust for power.

As Lady Macbeth, Cotillard has a bigger challenge in mastering the rhythms of Shakespeare’s language, but she has always had the ability to reach out to an audience and make even unlikable characters somehow appealing.

The movie was filmed in Scotland, during the winter, and the landscape adds a brutality to the already-brutal war scenes.

But while the fighting is well-staged and the actors are nearly flawless, there’s one problem. The score intrudes on some of the soliloquies, and it’s sometimes hard to hear the actors. That doesn’t make the movie significantly flawed, especially if you know the play. But it’s irritating and easily fixable. Let’s hope they do so.

“Macbeth” closes the Cannes competition, with the awards being handed out Sunday. It has a shot at the Palme, but many critics are still leaning toward “Son of Saul,” “Carol” and “Dheepan.”

CANNES DAY 10: U.S. woman wins top shorts competition prize

For the second year in a row, a U.S. woman has won the top prize in the Cinefondation shorts competition at the Cannes Film Festival.

Pippa Blanco, representing the AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women, won the student shorts competition for “Share.”

Last year, Annie Silverstein of the University of Texas won for her short, “Skunk.”

“Share” focuses on a 15-year-old girl who returns to school after someone shares an explicit video of her.

“Skunk,” last year’s winner, focused on a teenage girl who had to save her dog from a dogfighting ring.

Second prize in this year’s¬†competition went to “Locas Perdidas,” directed by Chile’s Ignacio Juricic Merillan.

CANNES DAY 10: Good things happening for Texas filmmakers, including ‘Krisha’ director Trey Shults

After starting with the rather gloomy (but powerful) “Chronic,” my day at Cannes got brighter.

After “Chronic,” I met with Trey Edward Shults, the director of “Krisha,” which won the narrative feature competition at South by Southwest and was picked up for the Critics Week sidebar in Cannes.

Shults, 26, grew up in Houston, and still lives with his mom in Montgomery, Texas. A lifelong film fan, he started studying business at Texas State before dropping out. That’s when he started studying movies, not just watching them, he says. “I learned about film grammar,” he says. And while he was staying in Hawaii with his aunt, who stars in the film and is named Krisha Fairchild, he got a gig with Terrence Malick as a film loader for his upcoming documentary-style “Voyage of Time.” (His aunt has been a longtime actress and she has gotten to know the Malick family, who often stay in Hawaii, where they’re part of a small film community.)

At any rate, Shults got other gigs with Malick, most notably an internship, and he was able to travel around the world while Malick was filming his movie.

The experience helped inspire him to make a short, starring his aunt as a woman who comes to a family reunion/holiday event after a long absence. She clearly has a past with the family members, and they hope she can stay sober long enough to make it through the holiday. The short went on to get recognition at the 2014 SXSW festival, and this led Shults to begin a Kickstarter campaign for a feature-length film.

Shults shot the movie in his mother’s home, and it took a little over a week. He raised money through a $15,000 Kickstarter drive, and he came to SXSW this year with no publicist and no expectations. Then it attracted the attention of publicist Adam Kersh, and Kersh started pitching it to various critics. It went on the win the top prize in the narrative feature competition. And Kersh urged Shults to enter it into Cannes, where it made the Critics Week sidebar, despite being submitted late.

“It has been a surreal experience,” Shults says of being in Cannes with “Krisha,” which stars not only his aunt but also his mother, Robyn Fairchild, and other friends and family members.

The week in Cannes has paid off. The independent film distribution company A24 picked up the rights to distribute “Krisha,” and it also promised to finance his next project, a horror movie.

In other Texas-related news, Sony Pictures Classics has acquired the distribution rights to “Truth,” starring Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett. Redford plays Austin resident Dan Rather, and Blanchett plays Dallas’ Mary Mapes, who was Rather’s producer on the controversial September 2004 report that George W. Bush had received special treatment while serving in the Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.

The report was based on documents that were later suspected of being forgeries, and the uproar led to Rather’s departure from CBS. After the incident, Mapes wrote a memoir, “Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power,” on which the movie is based.

Sony Pictures Classics reportedly paid $6 million for the rights to the film, which is directed by James Vanderbilt, a former screenwriter who is making his directorial debut.

CANNES, DAY 10: ‘Chronic’ takes on a tough subject — the end of life — with powerful results

CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 22:  Actor Tim Roth (L) and Michel Franco attend the press conference for "Chronic" during the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 22, 2015 in Cannes, France.  (Photo by Horcajuelo - Pool/Getty Images)
CANNES, FRANCE – MAY 22: Actor Tim Roth (L) and Michel Franco attend the press conference for “Chronic” during the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 22, 2015 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Horcajuelo – Pool/Getty Images)

Mexican director Michel Franco has been a rising star in Latin America, and his fourth film, “Chronic,” is one of the main films in competition this year at the Cannes Film Festival.

His previous movies include “Daniel and Ana” (2009), “After Lucia” (2012) and “A Los Ojos” (2013). But “Chronic” is his English-language debut, and it’s powerful. It’s also depressing, with a rather big twist.

Tim Roth stars as David, a nurse who provides care to terminally ill patients in their homes. It’s clear from the beginning, with his patient Sarah (Rachel Pickup), that he’s emotionally invested in his patients’ care. He has been with Sarah, who suffers from AIDS, for a long time. And when she dies, he moves through a succession of clients.

In all the cases, we see a close-up view of dying, from the accidental soilings to the bathings and in-bed exercises. David goes about his duties with care, even though he ends up being accused of sexual harassment in one case — unjustifiably so.

His most heartbreaking case is with Martha (Robin Bartlett), a wise older woman who has children who never visit her — and look for any excuse to stay away. We don’t know the reasons for this alienation, but Martha doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

When she begins chemotherapy, she hires David to help her get through the difficult days and nights. And the two begin to form a bond through the horrors that she starts facing. And when she gets the final diagnosis that her cancer has spread, she turns to David and asks the unthinkable.

As David, Roth does his usually expert job, trying to maintain a professional demeanor while facing some of life’s indignities.

But Martha is the one who’ll break your heart.

I doubt that this movie will play well in the United States, at least among most audiences. But Franco does a good job of taking us inside the lives of people who are dying, and the movie deserves a chance.

Cannes Day 8: Sorrentino’s ‘Youth’ looks at old age

Italian director Paolo Sorrentino is only in his mid-40s, but since “The Great Beauty,” he has been reflecting on old age. His latest, “Youth,” stars Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel as two men nearing their 80s and looking back on love and life.

"Youth"
“Youth”

As Fred, Caine has settled into retirement, and keeps pestering his old friend Mick (Keitel) about whether he slept with a woman whom Fred loved. Both of them are spending the summer at a resort in the Alps, where Mick is working on a screenplay for his new movie. (He’s a prominent American director, although his last few movies haven’t been great successes.)

Fred, meanwhile, just wants to be left alone to contemplate life and savor the quiet moments. He was once a world-renowned composer and conductor, and his reverie at the spa is being continuously interrupted by an emissary from the queen, who wants him to conduct one of his greatest pieces one last time, as a special favor. He refuses. The emissary returns. They argue over and over, and finally, he admits that he wrote the piece for his currently institutionalized wife, and that she’s the only one who has ever sung it, so he doesn’t want anyone else to have the role.

Various subplots emerge as the two old friends remember their past glories. There’s Lena (Rachel Weisz), Fred’s daughter, who has just been dumped by her husband. There’s Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano), an American actor who wants to achieve glory but is known only for playing a robot beneath 200 pounds of steel. And there’s Jane Fonda as Brenda Morel, the plain-speaking actress slated to star in Mick’s new movie.

As with “The Great Beauty,” Sorrentino is not only making a movie that is distinctly his own, but also paying homage to Italian directors of the 1960s and 1970s. The atmospherics of “Youth” are downright Fellini-esque, with levitating monks and fanciful apparitions. Also like “Great Beauty,” music plays a huge role, especially at the end.

The reception in Cannes was favorable, although a few boos could be heard among the cheers, which is not unusual. But in this case, those who booed need to take another look at this highly imaginative, beautifully photographed film.

Coming up late tonight: “The Assassin,” from director Hou Hsiao-Hsien.

Cannes Day 7: ‘Sicario’ takes on the drug wars

The race for the Palme d’Or heated up Tuesday with the premi√®re of Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s “Sicario,” a violent drama about the efforts to take out the leader of a Mexican drug cartel.

images“Sicario” joins “Son of Saul” and “Carol” as one of the critical hits so far among the competition films. (“Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Inside Out,” both of which are critical favorites screened out of competition.)

The movie, starring Emily Blunt as an FBI agent, focuses on the moral ambiguities of the drug war, a conflict that has taken a huge toll on life along the U.S.-Mexico border.

It opens with an FBI team discovering a house in Chandler, Arizona, where dozens of bodies have been sealed up behind drywall. It’s a grisly scene, and Blunt’s Kate Macer is one of the leaders of the mission.

The mass carnage disturbs Kate so much that she agrees to join a task force formed to track down the cartel leader responsible for the crime.

Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) and Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) are the task force’s two main men. Alejandro looks like he’s hiding something; Kate is immediately suspicious. Matt jokes and acts like he can do whatever he wants in the pursuit of the cartel leader. Kate suspects he’s really CIA, but doesn’t know for sure. Despite these misgivings, she agrees to participate in the job.

The first mission is to get to the local cartel leader in Arizona, and through a series of attacks on his drug trade, make him return to Mexico to discuss the matter with his leader — the ultimate prize of the task force.

Along the way, Villeneuve stages intense scenes of the task force being stopped in traffic along border highway, with cartel gunmen on either side of them. He and cinematographer Roger Deakins also use infrared cameras, reminiscent of the climactic scene in “Silence of the Lambs,” when filming a scene of the task force headed through a cartel tunnel under the border.

But the heart of the movie lies in the tension between Blunt’s Kate and del Toro’s Alejandro. Kate doesn’t understand Alejandro’s motivation, but she begins to understand that he’s a sicario — a Mexican term for a hitman.

And as an FBI agent, she has to play by the rules — having to account for every bullet she fires. In contrast, Alejandro and Matt are willing to spray bullets all over the place.

Villeneuve is raising interesting questions about the war on drugs — and through Kate’s character, he’s questioning American tactics. After seeing the carnage in the early part of the film, many viewers will take the side of Alejandro and Matt. But Villeneuve doesn’t make such a position easy to maintain.

It’ll be interesting to see how audiences respond. “Sicdario” probably won’t be a box-office hit, but it should make significant inroads in the arthouse market — and on the awards circuit.

 

 

Cannes Day 6: The horse race for the Palme

photo.JPGIt’s never easy to peer into the minds of the Cannes jury and predict which film will win the Palme d’Or. But at the festival’s midpoint, it’s fun to debate how the votes might play out, based on the proclivities of individual members.

The British movie journal Screen International provides a list of critical response and publishes a daily score sheet, based on a four-star rating system.

So far, Todd Haynes’ “Carol” is in the top spot. It has an overall rating of 3.5, followed by the Holocaust drama “Son of Saul,” with 2.8.

Italian director Nanni Moretti’s “My Mother” comes in third, with 2.6, followed by Hirokau Kore-eda’s “Our LIttle Sister,” and Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Lobster.”

Matteo Garrone’s “Tale of Tales” has a rating of 2, while “Mon Roi” gets a 1.6 and “The Sea of Trees,” starring Matthew McConaughey, sits at the bottom with 0.6.

Two other movies that premiered late Sunday and early Monday — Stepahne Brize’s “The Measure of a Man” nd Joachim Trier’s “Louder Than Bombs” — got so-so responses, but the critics scores aren’t in yet.

So, what will the jury members think?

First up, French-Canadian director Xavier Dolan. He’ll probably appreciate the director’s aesthetic choices in “Son of Saul,” with its framing, its long takes and its intimate feel. But as a gay director, he’ll probably also appreciate the exquisite design of “Carol,” as well as its powerful message of being true to yourself.

Rossy de Palma, the flamboyant Spanish star of Pedro Almodovar’s movies, also will probably have a soft spot for “Carol.”

American actor Jake Gyllenhaal is in an unusual spot. He starred in two recent movies by Canadian director Denis Villenueve, 2013’s “Prisoners” and 2013’s “Enemy.” And Villenueve is here in the Cannes competition with “Sicario,” which stars Emily Blunt in a story about a Mexican drug cartel. It screens Tuesday morning. Will he have special insights into Villenueve’s latest, and will he make a case for his friend? Probably not openly. It’s safe to say that he’ll vote for the movie that he likes the most, and he deserves that respect. But he certainly has the background to appreciate Villenueve’s efforts more fully than some jury members.

Then there are the two chairs of the jury, Joel and Ethan Coen. So far, none of the movies in competition has the signature dark humor that the Coens are known for. But I’d bet they will appreciate “Son of Saul.” And then there’s “The Lobster,” which has some dark humor that takes place in a dystopian world. But its narrative arc seems too slow and one-note for the Coens, who have a flair for rapidity and complexity. Or, will they appreciate “My Mother,” which stars John Turturro, who has been in numerous Coen brothers’ movies?

Several high-profile movies have yet to screen. Most notable is Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth,” starring Michael Caine and Rachel Weisz. Oscar watchers will note that Sorrentino’s “The Great Beauty” took home the top foreign-language award in Hollywood a couple of years ago, and Sorrentino is widely respected as one of Italy’s greatest auteurs.

Then there’s Jacques Audiard, the Frenchman who’ll be screening “Dheepan,” which focuses on an immigrant’s efforts to survive in the slums of Paris. Audiard is most famous for his brilliant “The Prophet.”

And there’s been quite a bit of buzz about “Macbeth,” from Justin Kurzel. Rumor has it that the performances from Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are outstanding.

Several other movies are on the competition schedule, and any one of them could break through, as did “Son of Saul.”

It should be an interesting race to the finish.

McConaughey celebrates the right to boo and ‘ovate’

Actors Naomi Watts and Matthew McConaughey attend the "The Sea Of Trees" press Conference.. (Franck Robichon/Getty Images)
Actors Naomi Watts and Matthew McConaughey attend the “The Sea Of Trees” press Conference.. (Franck Robichon/Getty Images)

Matthew McConaughey strode into the pressroom at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday and looked like he just stepped out of the 1800s. That’s because he has grown a long, shaggy beard while filming the Civil War movie “The Free State of Jones.”

But he took a break from the set to promote his latest, Gus Van Sant’s “The Sea of Trees,” which premiered Friday night to boos.

McConaughey didn’t look at all perturbed. In fact, it appeared that everything, from his perspective, was all right.

He was asked about the hostile reception at the Friday press screening, and he replied by saying: “Everyone has a much of a right to boo as they have to ovate.”

Van Sant seemed similarly unfazed, noting that two film critics got into fisticuffs when debating one of his earlier Cannes films, “Elephant,” which went on to win the Palme d’Or.

Van Sant, McConaughey and co-star Naomi Watts all said they were drawn to the story of a failing marriage, and the oblique way that we come to understand how McConaughey’s character has ended up in Japanese forest where he’s contemplating suicide.

McConaughey said that his character, Arthur, was going through purgatory. “It’s a supernatural trip through purgatory where you have to face death in order to actually find life,” he said. Then Watts added: “The journey to the forest puts you in a place that can kill you or heal you.”

McConaughey acknowledged that Arthur’s journey is quite different from that of his character in “Interstellar,” where, he said, his character had a clear goal of getting back to Earth. “This was more of a moment-to-moment” kind of film, he said.

One critic pointed out that McConaughey has made a habit of crying in his last few movies. McConaughey seemed a bit taken aback, but laughed and said, “The one thing I’ve learned is that you’ve gotta relax. Tension is your worst enemy.”

He said he viewed “The Sea of Trees” as a life-affirming story, even if it’s “a hard trip.”

Cannes Day 4: Blanchett, Mara stun Cannes with performances in ‘Carol’

Cate Blanchett stars in "Carol"
Cate Blanchett stars in “Carol”

It’s not often that you hear a room full of film critics erupt into bravos after the screening of a movie. In fact, in my second decade of coming to Cannes, I’ve rarely heard such an overwhelming response.

But that’s what happened Saturday night, with the world premiere of U.S. director Todd Haynes’ 1950s lesbian melodrama, “Carol.”

Haynes has often been described as a modern-day Douglas Sirk, who specialized in exploring social issues in the 1950s with such films as “Imitation of Life.”

But Haynes, in my opinion, has far surpassed Sirk with “Carol.”

The most obvious achievement is Cate Blanchett’s performance, which is absolutely flooring in its brilliance. A lot of Americans see Meryl Streep as our greatest living actress. And she’s certainly great. But with “Carol,” I think Blanchett has achieved something that few actresses have matched in history.

The supporting performances from Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler and Sarah Paulson are also jaw-dropping. So is the screenplay by Phyllis Nagy. Cinematographer Ed Lachman captures 1950s New York and the luminosity of Blanchett with every frame. Judy Becker .seems assured an Oscar nomination for her production design — flawlessly re-creating the period. Everything is superlative.

The story opens with Carol (Blanchett) shopping in New York for a Christmas present for her daughter. She meets a sales clerk named Therese (Mara), and there’s an unexpected spark between them. They meet for coffee. They start having occasional dinners. They begin to have serious, friendly conversations. And it seems clear that the two are headed for romance, even though 1950s New York society is hardly ready for such a match.

To complicate matters, Carol is estranged from her wealthy husband Harge (Chandler). He wants custody of their child, and he seems prepared to stop at nothing to get custody — or force Carol to come back to him. But Carol resists, inviting Therese on a trip that will have explosive consequences.

The development of the relationship is tastefully handled, and it’s interesting to watch an increasing awareness in the younger Therese, as she begins to see the possibility of a life that doesn’t conform to social norms. But the older Carol must pave the way, especially when she becomes embroiled in a legal battle for custody. She has momentous choices to make.

It’s not at all easy, and Carol momentarily betrays herself and Therese. But as the movie plays out, we get one of the strongest statements for individuality and human diversity that’s ever put on the big screen.

I’m not sure how the jury will view the film, but I can’t imagine that Haynes will leave the festival without a major award. In short, “Carol” is a masterpiece.

Cannes Day 4: Moretti’s ‘My Mother’ is a heartbreaker

Actresses Margherita Buy, Beatrice Mancini, director Nanni Moretti, actress Giulia Lazzarini and actor John Turturro attend a photocall for "Mia Madre" ("My Mother") during the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2015 in Cannes, France.  (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
Actresses Margherita Buy, Beatrice Mancini, director Nanni Moretti, actress Giulia Lazzarini and actor John Turturro attend a photocall for “Mia Madre” (“My Mother”) during the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2015 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

Italian director Nanni Moretti gets at a troubling topic that all of us will face, if we haven’t already — the death of our mothers.

It’s a fictional story, but it has lots of autobiographical elements, especially since Moretti recently lost his mother.

The movie focuses on Margherita (Margherita Buy), a director who’s in the middle of making a movie about unemployment and social unrest in Italy. She’s a demanding director, and she has a troublesome star, Barry (John Turturro), who plays a capitalist who is taking over an industrial facility and coping poorly with sit-down strikes.

But Barry has another problem: Although funny and lively, he can’t remember his lines. And that’s the last thing Margherita needs, because she has a lot on her plate in her private life. Her mother’s lungs and heart are giving out, and the mother has been confined to a hospital. The prognosis is not good.

She and her brother Giovanni (Moretti, who frequently stars in his movies) provide loving care to the mother, visiting her often and bringing her specialty meals. But they gradually learn that their mother is dying and that there’s no hope for recovery.

Margherita has also broken off a relationship, and she has a daughter from a previous marriage. The daughter Livia (Beatrice Mancini) has been having troubles of her own, with her first teenage relationship ending in a shambles.

The movie’s heart lies, however, in the relationship between Margherita and her mother Ada (Giuila Lazzarini), and there’s one particular scene near the end, where she’s trying to help her mother to the bathroom, that will break your heart.

As you can probably gather, “My Mother” won’t be a box-office hit. But it doesn’t try to be. It takes a very humanistic approach to a situation we all face in our lives. And it really hits home.

It probably won’t be released in the United States until much later this year, and it’ll probably be shown only on arthouse screens. But when you pair it with Woody Allen’s comments on Friday about how we use “distractions” to keep us from facing the reality of death, then this movie becomes even more resonant.

Allen says that uses movies as his distraction from reality. But here’s a movie that faces reality head-on. Along with the Hungarian Holocaust drama “Son of Saul,” it should be in the running for one of the festival’s top prizes.