Cannes Day 4: Early standouts are ‘Toni Erdmann’ and ‘The Student’

Sandra Huller and Peter Simonischek in "Toni Erdmann"
Sandra Huller and Peter Simonischek in “Toni Erdmann”

“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.

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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.

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 9: ‘The Assassin,’ ‘Dheepan’ and ‘Love’

Cannes is a lot like a series of emotions, ranging from meh, to yeah, to nope.

First, the “meh.”

Hou Hisao-Hsien is one of China’s most artful directors. His framing of scenes is flawless, and he embraces the singular Chinese aesthetic of stillness.

CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 21:  Zhou Yun, Chang Chen, director Hou Hsiao Hsien and Shu Qi attend a photocall for "Nie Yinniang" ("The Assassin") during the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2015 in Cannes, France.  (Photo by Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images)
CANNES, FRANCE – MAY 21: Zhou Yun, Chang Chen, director Hou Hsiao Hsien and Shu Qi attend a photocall for “Nie Yinniang” (“The Assassin”) during the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2015 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images)

That’s a wonderful thing, up to a point. And it’s especially wonderful in some of the scenes in “The Assassin,” a martial arts tale that takes place in 9th-century China. Some of the unspoiled landscapes are beautiful to behold. But Hou holds them and holds them and holds them.

After the screening, two North American critics said that it was like watching paint dry. Yet they acknowledged that there were moments of beauty.

But since this is a martial arts movie, shouldn’t there be some good action? Yes, there should. But no, there wasn’t.

The story centers on Nie Yinniang (Shu Qi), who was abducted as a child by a nun and raised to be a vengeful assassin who will eliminate corrupt local officials at the behest of Dame Tian (Zhou Yun). But when Tian tells her assassin to kill a local official from her hometown, the assassin begins to have second thoughts. That becomes even more clear when the man she’s assigned to kill turns out to be the same man to whom she was “promised” as a child.

There are a few slice-and-dice scenes early on that catch your interest, but the choreography of the later fight scenes is rather fake-looking, with lots of swooshing sound effects replacing viable swordplay.

It’s hard to guess how the jury will react to this one. But I was squirming in my seat, debating whether to get up and leave. I stayed, mainly because I needed to meet several fellow critics after the screening for dinner. And then I was bombarded by Chinese TV crews asking my opinion as I left the theater. I declined to speak.

Don’t expect this film to have much of an impact in the States.

The successful “yeah” movie is French director Jacques Audiard’s “Dheepan.”

The main character, Dheepan (Jesuthasan Antonygthasan), is a former Tamil freedom fighter in Sri Lanka who has moved to Paris in an attempt to leave his violent past behind. He takes a woman and a little girl with him, and they try to begin a new life as a family. After a series of setbacks, he finally gets a job as a caretaker of a housing block in the suburbs. But his past begins to haunt him, in violent ways.

If you’ve seen David Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence,” then you’ll notice the similarities. But “Dheepan” has more social relevance, especially in France, where the troubles of immigrants have loomed large in recent years.

U.S. moviegoers can expect to see this one show up in arthouses, and it could well win one of the major prizes that will be handed out on Sunday.

CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 20:  (L-R) Aomi Muyock, director Gaspar Noe, Klara Kristin and Karl Glusman attend the "Love" Premiere  during the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 20, 2015 in Cannes, France.  (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)
CANNES, FRANCE – MAY 20: (L-R) Aomi Muyock, director Gaspar Noe, Klara Kristin and Karl Glusman attend the “Love” Premiere during the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 20, 2015 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

The big “nope” movie is Gaspar Noe’s “Love.” Few movies have arrived on the Croisette with as much buzz. The midnight screening, which I did not attend because of dinner plans, was reportedly packed, and more than 500 people were turned away from the Lumiere theater, which holds about 2,000, one L.A.-based critic said Thursday morning.

So the only press screening on Thursday was jammed.

Karl Glusman stars as Murphy, an American who’s attending film school in Paris. He talks and talks about his goals as a filmmaker, saying that he wants to portray loving sex on the screen and doesn’t understand why there isn’t more of such things in cinema.

He meets a young artist, Electra (Aomi Muyock), and they proceed to have a passionate affair, with lots of explicit sex. It’s rare to see so much male genitalia in a movie, but there’s a lot of it. And since this is a 3-D film, you can probably imagine, if you wish, some of the 3D special effects.

At any rate, Murphy and Electra are quite the couple, experiencing everything from sex clubs to three-ways to encounters with transgendered prostitutes.

Most of these scenes are told in flashbacks, since Murphy got another woman pregnant and their affair broke off. Murphy is remembering Electra because he got a call from Electra’s mother, saying she was missing.

I’m not sure what the director is trying to do with “Love,” unless it’s what the aspiring director in the movie says: to portray loving sex on screen. But scene after scene of lovemaking gets old, especially when the plot focuses on nothing but getting to the next sexual encounter.

There has been much speculation among the media as to whether the movie will even be shown in the States. It probably will, but it’ll probably be released without a rating. All I can say is, don’t waste your time. The dialogue is lame. The sex scenes aren’t that hot. And this kind of “Love” is a rather big bore.

Cannes Day 6: The strange tale of ‘Marguerite & Julien’

You have to hand it to the French. Nothing is out of bounds when it comes to love and passion.

“Marguerite & Julien,” a story of children who grow up loving each other and begin a passionate but brief life together as adults, has all the markings of a 17-century romance: beautiful costumes, castles, gorgeous actors, sweepingly beautiful music, dramatic cinematography.

But as Marguerite and Julien discover, society rejects their love. They’re brother and sister.

Dad, who’s the Lord of Tourlaville, does not approve of the budding romance between the brother and sister. So he sends the brother (Jeremie Elkaim) off to boarding school in various European countries. But when he returns, it’s obvious that the love is still there, and that he’s ready to take it to the next level with his sister (Anais Demoustier).

So Dad intervenes, and forces Marguerite into a marriage with a nasty nobleman who carouses with prostitutes and beats poor Marguerite. In the dark of night, Julien rescues her and the two flee through the woods for a ship to England. But they stop a lot along the way to make love in the leaves.

The nobleman husband is not amused and sends out the hounds. Oh dear.

Director Valerie Donzelli makes strange choices throughout the film. And even if you were inclined to get wrapped up in the romance, which she clearly is trying to portray as timeless, then her aesthetics are way off. We see a 1965 Mustang, a helicopter, and all sorts of modern gadgets throughout the movie. And it takes away very much from atmosphere. It’s clear that she’s trying to make the previously mentioned “timeless” statement, and she wants us to see the story as “beyond morality,” as she says in her director’s statement in the official Cannes program.

But it’s just downright odd and doesn’t work.

I know my last few posts about Cannes have sounded negative, and I’m not sure whether I’m being cranky or whether these movies really are as seriously flawed as I believe. I think it’s the latter. But I’m sure other critics will have differing opinions.

Maybe tomorrow will be better. Canadian director Denis Villeneuve will present the Mexican drug cartel story “Sicario.” I have high hopes.

But to end on a positive note, “Carol” and “Son of Saul” are outstanding.

Cannes Day 6: ‘Inside Out’ provides much-needed laughs (and a few tears)

inside_out_movie-wide

At a festival known for its serious arthouse fare, it’s great to see something that makes you laugh out loud. And that’s probably why Disney/Pixar’s “Inside Out” got such a rapturous response Monday after its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

The movie has an imaginative premise: that five emotions reside in our brain and respond to various situations. We get to see the five emotions at work in the mind of a young girl, Riley, as she copes with her family’s sudden move from Minnesota to San Francisco.

Joy (Amy Poehler) tries to keep Riley happy by mastering the controls in the brain. But she has to contend with other emotions, mainly Sadness (Phyliss Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black) and Fear (Bill Hader.)

As we begin to see, Anger raises his somewhat nasty head when he senses that fairness has been jeopardized. And Sadness just keeps intruding into places where she’s not wanted. When she touches some of the golden memory balls in the control center, they immediately turn blue and cause Riley to be sad. So Joy has to try to keep the various emotions in check.

There’s a vault for long-term memory. And there’s an Abstract room, as well as an Imagination room. There’s also a funny character called Bing Bong, who tries to help Joy and Sadness get on the Train of Thought back to the Brain Control Center once they get lost and separated from Fear, Anger and Disgust.

But that’s getting a bit ahead of the story.

Much of he humor comes from the unexpected trips into the Brain Control Centers of the mother and father, as well as in other characters.

Like the best Pixar movies, “Inside Out” speaks to adults and their memories of growing up. This one, in particular, takes us through the rather sad process of leaving the familiar behind and facing new challenges, as Riley must do in San Francisco.

It’s a very moving tale, and at the end of Monday’s screening, it’s safe to say that nearly everyone was trying to suppress tears. It didn’t work.

Thankfully, the movie ends on a happy note, and the outtakes following the ending are hilarious, especially when director Pete Docter takes us into the Brain Control Centers of a dog and cat. Any animal lover will get a good laugh.

Cannes Day 5: Bad melodrama and ‘Mon Roi’

Director Maiwenn (R) and cast member Vincent Cassel react during a news conference for the film "Mon roi" in competition at the 68th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, May 17, 2015.       REUTERS/Yves Herman
Director Maiwenn (R) and cast member Vincent Cassel react during a news conference for the film “Mon roi” in competition at the 68th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, May 17, 2015. REUTERS/Yves Herman

I might be in the minority, but I couldn’t stand Maiwenn’s latest movie, “Mon Roi,” which premiered in the Cannes competition on Sunday.

It’s self-indulgent claptrap about a failed romance and marriage.

The movie focuses on Tony (French actress and director Emmanuelle Bercot), who falls madly in love with Georgio (Vincent Cassel.) She’s a lawyer, and when Georgio looks impressed, Tony’s sister says that he must not be accustomed to meeting people who are intellectuals. Excuse me! Since when did being a lawyer put you in the intellectual class?
Oh well. I can overlook that stupidity, but such silliness keeps piling up. Both of the characters are at least in the late 30s or early 40s, and by that time, you should be able to have literate conversations that don’t dwell on possible sexual inadequacies. But in the first romp in the sack, poor Tony starts crying, wondering whether her vagina is too big. Really?
But they still act cute, and Georgio assures Tony that she’s perfect, and he woos her by showing us his fancy flat and his presumed wealth. She seems impressed, and they’re both goo-goo-eyed. Strangely, neither Tony nor Georgio talks much about work — an odd thing since both are presumably successful and committed to their careers. (He’s a restaurant owner.) It’s all about love and cuteness. They get numerous eye-rolling montages.
Georgio says he’s ready for a child. So he and Tony conceive, and then marry. But Georgio’s former lover tries to commit suicide when she hears about the pregnancy. And Georgio tends to the woman’s every need, causing much trouble with Tony.
All of these events are told in flashback, after we see Tony atop a snow-covered mountain, skiing perilously fast down the slope. In the next scene, she’s in a rehab hospital for a seriously messed-up knee, and she’s reflecting on her life with Georgio while going through physical therapy.
So the question becomes: Will Tony be healed, both physically and mentally? If you’ve bought into the story and feel that it rings true, then you will care. I did not. I just wanted Tony and Georgio to shut up.

Cannes Day 5: More bad news for ‘Sea of Trees’

THE SEA OF TREES

“The Sea of Trees,” starring Austin’s Matthew McConaughey, continued to take lumps Sunday in trade publications in Cannes.

The Variety headline said: “‘Sea of Trees’ Goes Down With Ship” and then proceeded to attack the script by Chris Sparling, calling it a “risibly long-winded drama,” with the film’s final passages offering “an insipid pileup of narrative manipulations, quasi-supernatural twists and earnest, whispery philosophical refrains.”
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)
The Hollywood Reporter noted in its headline: “Gus Van Sant disappoints with a sappy, self-indulgent melodrama, officially ending  Matthew McConaughey’s exceptional recent run of top-notch performances.”
In the body of the review, critic Todd McCarthy said: “As the character sinks deeper into wet, self-pitying gushings, McConaughey’s performance conversely becomes less expressive and more ordinary, to the point where you simply don’t care about how he feels and what happens to him.”
In the Rambling Reporter column in the same edition, Gary Baum and Chris Bardner said that “The Sea of Trees” landed “like a toxic stink bomb.”
“People were baffled,” he wrote, “with many noting that it was the worst movie in competition since ‘The Brown Bunny’ gave festivalgoers something like 10 minutes of Chloe Sevigny servicing Vincent Gallo a dozens years ago. They’re wrong: ‘The Sea of Trees’ is worse.”
Critics at Screen International, which has a four-point scale for ratings, gives “Trees” the worst score yet among competition titles. It gets 0.6, not even a one, with four out of 10 critics giving it an X, or no stars. No one gave it more than one star.
Ouch.
Read my Cannes review of “The Sea of Trees” and my report on the film’s press conference, which included McConaughey.


Cannes Day 3: Matthew McConaughey’s ‘Sea of Trees’ gets booed

THE SEA OF TREES

Cannes loves director Gus Van Sant, who’s a regular. It also loves Matthew McConaughey, who has recently become a regular attendee. But the love was nowhere to be found Friday night when their “Sea of Trees” had its world premiere at the festival.

Why, you might ask?

Well, it’s sappy, and in no way original.

Still, there’s much to admire. Kasper Tuxen’s cinematography, much of it filmed in Japan and Massachusetts, is gorgeous. And McConaughey is still a fine actor. And Van Sant is still a fine director. But the screenplay doesn’t work. It rehashes inspirational themes that we’ve heard before, and it plays like a movie on Lifetime. And yes, Lifetime has a loyal audience, and if you’re a part of it, then you’ll like this movie.

The story opens with McConaughey’s Arthur Brennan, a scientist who doesn’t believe in God, headed to Japan, where he plans to visit the Aokigahara forest that’s at the base of Mount Fuji. It’s well-known as a place where people go to commit suicide, and when Arthur finally gets there, he begins his journey, seeing corpse after corpse, some from apparent drug overdoes, some still hanging from trees.

It’s eerie. And it’s supposed to be very spiritual. And we know through flashbacks that Arthur’s relationship with his wife (Naomi Watts) has been rocky since an infidelity. So it’s safe to suspect that Arthur is planning suicide. And when he pops out a bottle of pills and starts taking them, that’s a pretty sure sign this guy is suicidal.

But before he takes too many of the pills, he sees a dazed and wounded man wandering the forest. It turns out be to be Takumi Nakamura, played by Ken Watanabe, and he is also in the forest to commit suicide, but his backstory is never completely filed in. He has a wife and child, and he’s had troubles, but we don’t know much more than that. Arthur, however, feels the need to try to help Takumi, so the two try to find their way out of the forest.

What follows is an emotional journey that leads to an awakening in Arthur. Yep, you guessed it. He wants to live after all.

It’s a tale of purgatory, and Takumi announces that this is what’s really going on. Just call him the mystical Japanese dude. So we know it’s a matter of Arthur either coming back into the world or descending into its bowels.

The music by Chris Douridas (anyone in Austin remember him?) offers clues to which route Arthur will take.

It should probably be pointed out that other Austin folks worked on the film. Jeanette Scott was the set designer, and her talents are on full display in the scenes featuring McConaughey and his wife at home. (She has worked on many Austin-based projects, including those from Terrence Malick.)

McConaughey and Van Sant are scheduled to appear Saturday at a press conference. So we’ll see what they have to say about the film, and what they were trying to do. Generally, the press conferences aren’t too mean. In fact, sometimes they can be fawning (mainly because strange people from far-flung countries ask a lot of the softball questions). But the reaction Friday night was not a good sign.