Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Cannes Capsule

I went to the Cannes Film Festival this year (May 2007), and it was the experience of a lifetime. There was a lot of good, but also some bad (long story, e-mail me if you want details). I wish I had lived more in the moment while I was there. It just flew by so fast. Ultimately, I cherish my memories. I would go again in a heartbeat. Anyway, I went through Columbia, and we maintained a blog, so I just wanted to post the parts that actually deal with discussing the films. Enjoy!

The first day of the festival, all of my anxiety just dissolved, or at least took a vacation. The excitement is totally palpable. I’m madly in love with film as art, but I’m not going to lie – I want to see some celebrities. I know that’s extremely shallow, but so be it. I was in a film last night and missed the premiere of Zodiac, so I didn’t get to loiter around the red carpet and drool over Jake Gyllenhaal. Ah well, c’est la vie. There’s always Ocean’s 13, which I really don’t care about as a film, but that sure is a beautiful cast. Besides, how can I leave Cannes without seeing Brangelina? Wow, I didn’t think I would ever use that term…

So let’s talk about films now, because that is what I’m here for, after all. I’m not a partier like a lot of people here. I randomly got into this screening for a Japanese film called The Native Duck, the Foreign Duck, and God in a Lock Box. Actually, I might have switched it around a little bit, but yes, it’s seriously that long. It was really, really wonderful. It’s a very moving and funny coming-of-age film. I also got extremely lucky and got a ticket to the premiere of My Blueberry Nights, the opening-night film. Sadly, it was for the 11:30 p.m. showing, not the main one where the famous people were. Still, it was an experience to get dressed up and sit and watch a movie. Basically, the theater is huge and awesome, but the seats are really uncomfortable. Discomfort is intensified by formal wear, so I felt pretty lousy. Plus, the movie was terrible. Honestly, why does Wong Kar Wai think that using slow motion every other minute is interesting or effective? And I’m totally a fan of melodrama, but this is too melodramatic even for melodrama. Rachel Weisz is tragically misused as a trashy Southern sexpot, but David Strathairn is pretty wonderful in spite of the miserable material. He’s just incomparable, and his performance is really sympathetic. Jude Law and Natalie Portman are good enough, but it’s not anything special. And Norah Jones should stick to singing. She’s somewhat tolerable in a naïve, doe-eyed, clueless way, which sort of fits her character, but she’s just so flat. It makes me wonder why Natalie Portman wasn’t cast as the lead. Overall, it was a really big disappointment.

On a totally different note, I saw Teeth last night, and I loved it. If you haven’t heard anything about the premise of Teeth, I don’t want to ruin it for you. I went into the screening totally blind, and it was exhilarating to discover it as I went along. It’s a horror/comedy, and it’s simply brilliant. Basically, there’s this girl named Dawn who’s super religious and saving herself for marriage, but she has a physical defect, to say the least. Or maybe after seeing it, you might want to consider it a gift or a superpower of sorts, because her ability to come to terms with it and control it by the end of the film is actually inspirational. I was totally rooting for her. It’s so funny and absurd, but there is definitely social commentary there about the way our country views sex. I don’t want to get into it too much, because I saw it with Therese (a fellow Columbia student) and know she is planning on writing a review of it, which I’m so eager to read. We just had a blast watching it. The audience was so fantastic, and it was exciting to feel that kind of energy, when everyone is totally on the same wavelength and experiencing it together viscerally in waves of disgust and delight. I want to talk about the plot, but it should be a surprise for you. I hope this movie gets released, because I’d love to see it again and buy it on DVD. Trust me, this film is unlike anything you’ve ever seen, and it’s more than worth your time. Also, the main actress, Jess Weixler, was perfect. She is really talented, beyond what the part might seem to require, and was able to portray the character’s rather significant transformation. She is funny and sweetly, strangely touching.

I went to two red carpet premieres the other night, which were really exciting because they were the actual premieres with the filmmakers and cast present, unlike the My Blueberry Nights screening I saw. The first was a Russian film that translates to The Banishment. The cinematography is beautiful, the acting is strong (especially by Maria Bonnevie, who looked even more gorgeous in person), and the sound blew me away. Unfortunately, it’s really long, and I was so bored by the actual story. Immediately after that, I saw Boarding Gate, starring Asia Argento and a really fat Michael Madsen. Boarding Gate is perhaps the worst film I’ve ever seen in my life. If not the worst, it’s definitely in the top three. For awhile, it was amusingly bad, but it was just torture by the end. The plot is muddled, the lighting is terrible and inconsistent, and the acting is miserable. These characters are the most unsympathetic people ever. There were these painfully long dialogue sequences between Madsen and Argento that seem like preschool imitations of Mamet or Tarantino. The sex and fight scenes (sometimes one in the same) were awkwardly choreographed, and I’ve never seen two more uninspired performances. Michael Madsen has really let himself go. I know it’s cruel, but he looks like he ate Orson Welles in A Touch of Evil. And Asia Argento strapping a belt around his neck in some sort of bizarre foreplay is an image I’ll be seeing in my nightmares for a long time. Speaking of Michael Madsen...

Yes, I actually got to take a picture with Michael Madsen.
That's me on the left.
It was surreal, to say the least. :)

Thankfully, I cleansed my film palate today with the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men. It is a brilliant, possibly even perfect, film (P.S. It IS perfect.). I’m so happy that the Coen Brothers are back in top form, because I was really disappointed with The Ladykillers. Actually, I hated The Ladykillers so much that I walked out of it. No Country for Old Men is very slow, deliberate, and sprawling – quiet and contemplative, but also violent, visceral, and intense. This is what cinema should be. It devastates me that I still managed to fall asleep during it (very minimally, at least). There is nothing boring about it, and I was loving it, so it kills me. That proves how exhausted I am. I’m not doing myself or these films justice.

The cinematography and the sound (including a wonderful use of silence as an important element of sound) are mind-blowing. And the acting is unbelievable. Tommy Lee Jones has definitely found his niche in these sorts of wise sheriff roles, but here he does it with much more depth and sensitivity. Josh Brolin, who I absolutely adored in Planet Terror, is sympathetic and commanding, Kelly Macdonald is sweet and heartbreaking, and Woody Harrelson is wonderful as always. But Javier Bardem delivers the most astounding and powerful performance of all. He is mesmerizing as a homicidal sociopath. He’s charming and smooth, which makes his violence even more frightening. He’s really quite terrifying. Bardem is genius in this role, and it is an Oscar-worthy performance. I really want to see it again when they repeat all of the films at the end of the festival. This time, I won’t fall asleep. I think No Country for Old Men will win the Palme d’Or. From what I’ve seen, it deserves it. Bravo, Joel and Ethan. (Addendum: No Country for Old Men did NOT win the Palme d'Or. Tsk, tsk.) Another update: I did see No Country for Old Men again at the end of the festival. I have seen it again since it was released. It's still perfect. I'll save that for a special review, though.

So, that's all. It was really hard to find time to write there. But I did see a lot of films - I think 17 was my final count - some awesome, and some were Boarding Gate. But I had a blast. :)

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