The 70th Cannes Film Festival wrapped Sunday with jury prizes, including best director Sofia Coppola for her film “The Beguiled.” The Palme d’Or went to “The Square,” a Swedish satire set in the art world. See the full list of winners here.
Charles Ealy, who attended his 20th Cannes Film Festival this year, wrote about the challenges facing the storied event as it reacts to changes in viewing habits and technology. There were no high-profile studio films to draw mass attention, but Ealy says the lineup, with an emphasis on arthouse and European titles, was one of the fest’s strongest in its 70 years. Read that story on MyStatesman.com.
Also on MyStatesman.com, Ealy writes about going through a virtual reality installation by Oscar-winning filmmaker Alejandro G. Iñárritu, titled “Carne y Arena (Virtually Present, Physically Invisible).” The experience puts participants with migrants on a journey across a desert border. From Ealy’s story: “They’re old and young. Some are injured and tired. Most are scared of what lies ahead. You can’t make conversation with them, but you can go up to them, and if you get close enough, you can see their hearts beating.”
Cannes is always full of odd happenings and strange controversies. Here are few to savor:
At the screening of “Carol” last year, keepers of the red carpet prevented women who were wearing flats to walk the stairs. Heels are supposed to be mandatory, and men must wear tuxes. But last year’s huff caused a couple of funny moments this year. Susan Sarandon, who is always outspoken, reportedly wore flats on her trip up the carpet. And Julia Roberts, who was here for the “Money Monster” screening, took off her heels and walked barefoot. It was probably more a matter of practicality than protest.
Lots of disputes still surround British director Andrea Arnold’s “American Honey,” which was shot in the U.S. and features mostly unknown actors, except for Shia LaBeouf. A Variety critic speculated that it could be a contender for the Palme d’Or. But others still dismiss the film as overlong and repetitive. It features a group of kids going around the country, selling magazine subscriptions. They have lots of sex, do a lot of drugs, and get drunk no matter the time of day. It offers a fairly dim view of young adulthood in America, And some Americans have been huffy that Arnold is misrepresenting life in the States. That’s not my concern. At nearly three hours, it’s simply too long and repetitive for me. Sasha Lane of Texas has the starring role, even though she’s a newbie to the film scene. She was reportedly discovered on a scouting trip by Arnold’s team to Panama City, Fla., during spring break.
With all the glitz and glamour of the south of France, you’d think you might be able to go two weeks without thinking of “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson. You’d be wrong. Robertson is in town to sell his new movie, “Torchbearer,” which had a screening in the market, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The trade daily reported that the poster for the film “shows Robertson clutching a Bible in one hand and a rifle in the other, with a tagline that reads, ‘When man stops believing in God, he’ll believe in anything.’ ” He also reportedly misses Miss Kay’s cooking and predicts he’ll lose weight while here. No quiche for this dude.
Since 2001, a group of dog lovers have picked the best performance by a canine in Cannes, and this year’s frontrunner is the English bulldog from Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson.” The bulldog plays a crucial role in the film’s plot and makes all sorts of weird noises throughout the movie. The dog’s name is Nellie, although he’s in a transgender male role in “Paterson.” And if the dog wins, she won’t be able to accept the honor. She died a couple of months ago, says the “Paterson” star Adam Driver. Rest in peace, Nellie.
“Toni Erdmann,” a German comedy from newcomer Maren Ade, has to be one of the early favorites in the annual race for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
It screened Friday night, and even at 2 hours and 42 minutes, it constantly kept engaging the audience. Part of the reason: It’s a woman’s film, directed by a woman, with all sorts of nuances about the corporate life of a seemingly money-grubbing capitalist, Ines, played with much depth by Sandra Huller.
She exudes the corporate mentality, staying on the phone constantly, ignoring other people even at family gatherings, obsessing over how to get ahead, putting work above all else. She wears the same old black pantsuit, and does everything she can to fit in with her corporation team. But she’s trying a bit too hard, and the casual sexism that she faces is demoralizing.
But Ines’ biggest problem isn’t sexism in the workplace. It’s her dad, Toni (Peter Simonischek), who’s a practical joker of the highest order. And when he sees what’s happening to his daughter, he thinks she needs to lighten up, to make more time for her private life, and to laugh a little. So he shows up unexpectedly at her Bucharest office, where she’s trying to negotiate a corporate downsizing.
Any attempt to describe the father’s antics will sound cliched, like the bucktooth mouthpiece he keeps in his front pocket. Yet there’s genuine pathos in his attempts to reach his daughter. And she’s amazed that he keeps showing up in disguises wherever she goes.
Two scenes in particular are laugh-out-loud: When he father forces her to sing a cheesy pop song before a crowd, and when she melts down and decides to through a birthday party where she and all the guests must be naked. It’s absolutely nuts.
Many more competition films have yet to screen, and there are always surprises. Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson” sounds promising. So does “Loving” from Austin director Jeff Nichols. And then there’s the enfant terrible Nicolas Winding Refn, who’ll be screening “Neon Demon,” and French-Canadian whiz kid Xavier Dolan, who’ll be showing “It’s Only the End of the World.”
In the Un Certain Regard sidebar, where films are eligible for the Palme d’Or, there’s still another early standout. It’s “The Student” from Russia’s Krill Serebrennikov. Once again, he’s a newcomer to Cannes, but his movie packs a wallop.
It deals with a teenage Russian boy who abruptly decides to obsess over the Bible and memorize various passages. He begins quoting these passages to his befuddled teachers, and he warns that the young women in swim class should be wearing one-piece swimsuits rather than sexually proactive bikinis, which he finds sinful. He continues to battle his science teacher over evolution and sex education, and he starts a protracted battle with her that borders on dangerous.
She’s just as adamant that the student will not sidetrack her progressive teaching methods, and it’s pretty much all-out war.
As the student, Peter Skvortsov is full of rage, spouting off verses that he has memorized. But there’s a big difference between memorizing the Bible and comprehending its meaning, and he’s falling far short in the latter category.
As the teacher, Victoria Isakova delivers another fine performance, showing a stubbornness that matches her student’s. And you end up with a preachy Bible student and a strident science teacher amid a movie that’s remarkably not didactic.
But make no mistake. There’s a clear undercurrent about the dangers of fanaticism, and that’s a timely message for a festival that’s facing heightened security because of perceived threats from Islamic fundamentalists in France.
One other movie deserves a shout-out. It’s Park Chan-Wook’s “Mademoiselle,” or “The Handmaiden.”
The Korean film takes us back to the 1930s, during the period of Japanese occupation, and it deals with a Japanese heiress, Hideko (Kim Min-Hee), who has recently employed the services of a handmaiden, Sookee (Kim Tae-Ri).
Sookee plays all dumb, and Hideko plays like she’s sexually innocent. But neither woman is what she seems. And in the middle of the action is a fake count (Ha Jung-Woo), who is wooing Hideko and seeking some way to get all of her money.
The movie unfolds in three acts, and the cinematography is drop-dead gorgeous, as is the set design. There’s a bit of overlap in the storytelling, as we see the events from different perspectives, and there are far more twists and turns than expected.
I suspect this has the potential to be a cult arthouse favorite. But the sexuality and nudity are strong elements, and its distribution will probably be limited. If it opens in the States later this year, it’s well worth your time.
Park’s most famous movie is another cult favorite, “Oldboy,” which played in Cannes in 2003.
Oh dear, another day, another trending Internet falsehood. Here’s the latest, and it has to do with a movie called “100 Years — The Movie You Will Never See,” which is a joint project of John Malkovich and Robert Rodriguez.
Back in November, a cognac company that ages its spirits for 100 years said that the two movie celebrities had made a film that was being put in a vault and would not be seen for 100 years. That original story had all sorts of reasons for raising an eyebrow. For instance, just exactly what kind of technology do they think will be available in 100 years?
And today, folks started saying that the Cannes Film Festival would be “showcasing” or “displaying” the movie. Um, no.
If you care to look, you’ll find that it’s not screening in any way, with any connection with the official festival. The competition and official selection can be found here.
The screenings for Critics Week can be found here. The screenings for Directors’ Fortnight can be found here.
The reason for skepticism: Do you see in any of these reports who’s actually making the statement?
As anyone who has ever been to the Cannes Film Festival knows, there’s a concurrent Market, where anything can screen, and where all sorts of promotional events happen, usually with a corporate sponsor. That’s probably what this is. But in no way is the Cannes Film Festival screening or showcasing this movie. A company is probably screening some footage as part of a marketing event. Sigh.
We’ll have a preview of what’s happening at the Cannes Film Festival in our Sunday editions. But here’s some extra stuff to whet your appetite.
1. Kristen Stewart is far more highly regarded as an actress in Europe than she is in the United States. Part of the U.S. reaction to her abilities probably has something to do with her being the star of the “Twlight” movies, which aren’t exactly art-house fare. But since she rose to fame in the “Twilight” films, she has been making interesting – and smart – choices with her career. She’s carefully picking her roles and making sure that she’s working with a well-regarded director. This year in Cannes she’ll be starring in two movies that are part of the official selection: Woody Allen’s opening-night film, “Café Society,” and French director Olivier Assayas’ “Personal Shopper,” the latter of which is in competition for the Palme d’Or. Interestingly, Stewart starred in Assayas’ last movie, “Clouds of Sils Maria,” which played in the Cannes competition, and Stewart went on to win the French Cesar Award for best supporting actress for her role as Juliette Binoche’s personal assistant. She was also in Walter Salles’ “On the Road,” which screened in the 2012 Cannes competition. And she’s set to star in Ang Lee’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” which is based on the novel by Dallas author Ben Fountain and is scheduled to be released this winter. “Walk” is already getting raves from early screenings for its technological achievements, fyi, and is expected to be a player during this year’s awards season.
2. When someone writes or tells you that a movie played in Cannes, you need to know that such a phrase means little or nothing. It’s all about WHERE it played in Cannes. If it’s part of the official selection, that’s a big deal. If it’s in the competition for the Palme d’Or, that’s the biggest deal possible. If it’s in one of the official sidebars, like Directors’ Fortnight or Critics Week, that’s also a big deal. But it means very little if a movie is playing in the Market – the simultaneous event that takes place in the caverns of the Palais. Anybody can screen anything there, as long as they’re willing to pay. And if someone has a movie showing in the Short Film Corner, it simply means that they’re spending their own money to network and show a short in the basement of the Palais, where various booths are set up for folks to network. Such screenings are NOT curated, and being in the Short Film Corner isn’t a sign of artistic achievement, in any stretch of the imagination, unless you think that the trend of “everybody gets a trophy” is actually worthwhile.
3. Americans are going to be getting far more attention in Cannes this year than they have in some previous years, at least if you’re looking at the official selection. The movies are: Woody Allen’s “Café Society,” Jeff Nichols’ “Loving,” Sean Penn’s “The Last Face,” Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson,” Michael O’Shea’s “The Transfiguration,” Matt Ross’ “Captain Fantastic,” Shane Black’s “The Nice Guys,” Jodie Foster’s “Money Monster,” Steven Spielberg’s “The BFG,” Jonathan Littell’s “Wrong Elements,” Jarmusch’s “Gimme Danger,” with a special tribute to Robert De Niro with a screening of “Hands of Stone,” directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, a longtime friend of Austin’s Robert Rodriguez and Elizabeth Avellan and a former student at the Radio Television Film Department at the University of Texas.
4. Cannes always has some wild movies in the competition. This year, the wildest promises to be Nicoloas Winding Refn’s “The Neon Demon,” which the Danish director filmed in L.A. It’s about cannibalism and supermodels. Refn is hit-or-miss at Cannes. His movie “Drive,” starring Ryan Gosling, was a hit when it played at Cannes in 2011. But in 2013, “Only God Forgives” fell flat with most critics.
Austin director Jeff Nichols is having quite a year. Variety is reporting that his new movie, “Loving,” will have its world premiere in Cannes in May, only a few months after “Midnight Special” had its world premiere in Berlin.
“Loving” stars Joel Edgerton, who was in “Midnight Special,” and Ruth Negga, who’ll be seen in AMC’s upcoming series “Preacher, as an interracial couple who were married in 1958, only to have their home state of Virginia jail them and then banish them. They decided to fight back and took Loving v. Virginia to the Supreme Court. As most people know, the court decided they had every right to be married.
Nichols wrote the screenplay as well, based in part of Nancy Buirski’s documentary “The Loving Story.”
Focus Features, the distributor of “Loving,” obviously has high hopes for the film. It will be released in the United States on Nov. 4, with a larger rollout on Nov. 11, positioning it as a prime contender for next year’s Oscars race.
Other U.S. titles slated for Cannes, which hasn’t yet announced its lineup, are expected to be Jodie Foster’s “Money Monster,” with George Clooney and Julia Roberts; Sean Penn’s “The Last Face,” starring Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem; and Woody Allen’s “Café Society,” with Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg. The presence of these titles in Cannes were first reported by Variety.
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.”
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.
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.