24 May 2019.
In this second week of the Cannes Festival, films and events have risen to a crescendo of talents, duds, glitter and a strong presence of women auteurs this year. With a few great works and some that did not deserve to be in the various lineups, there is too much to report, so we’ll leave it at some reduced reviews of the films I managed to see among the myriad choices in the four major sections.
In the COMPETITION :
ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD ***
Definitely the star attraction in Cannes this year with such heavyweights as Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and the stunning Margot Robbie in the cast. This is Quentin Tarantino’s homage to Tinseltown and the profession of filmmaking of which he is such a passionate fan and expert.
It may also have summed up bits and pieces of his previous films, as he stated in their press conference on Wednesday after the screening of this, his ninth film, which is about the insecurities of a minor Hollywood actor and his stuntman double.
A serious, concentrated DiCaprio lauded Tarantino for his encyclopaedic knowledge of movies and said the film was “a love letter to the outsiders of the industry”, while a more relaxed, smiling Pitt said their two characters (so brilliantly played) were really two sides of the same personality typical of precarious stardom.
Their dual portrayal is stronger than the film itself, an amusing work with an ingenious idea based on an infamous past event. It could be stronger with at least half an hour cut from its 2 hours and 40 minutes which tended to meander in the first half. But the ending is a crazy delight and excitingly satisfying.
PAIN AND GLORY **** (vo Spanish)
Pedro Almodovar is back for the 7th time here on the Côte d’Azur where he feels highly appreciated and has obtained various prizes, but never the coveted Palme.
Even without having seen the rest of the lineup, this was my personal Palme d’Or. More or less based on his life, this quite perfect film has all his trademarks – deep relationships, heightened colors and decor, superb editing, intricate scenario – and favorite actors such as Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz, who both deserve a Best Actor’s award.
The magic of Almodovar is that he can make the most taboo subject beautiful, and can turn sentimentality into art. He is a master, and this is his masterwork.
A HIDDEN LIFE ***
Terrence Malick, the reclusive, intellectual filmmaker who creates lengthy reveries on subjects close to his heart is back again in Cannes with an important film about an Austrian conscientious objector during WII.
The film mixes vintage footage (some certainly from Leni Riefenstahl) of Hitler’s times, magnificent vistas of the Austrian Alps, it’s rural life, and the true story of Franz Jägerstätter, the Austrian farmer who refused to bend to the Führer’s might. Grandiose and serious, it would be far stronger if pared down in length.
SYBIL *** (vo French)
With three outstanding actresses – Virginie Efira, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Sandra Hüller – French director Justine Triet has created a fascinating triangle of love, dependance and emotional treason in this melodramatic story of a psychiatrist (Efira) who wants to be a novelist, and gets too mixed up in the love life of her fragile patient. This roller-coaster ride of feelings is spellbinding.
LE JEUNE AHMED *1/2 (vo French)
I am not a fan of the Dardenne brothers though they are favorite sons of this festival. They make solid, social films about ordinary folk, especially in Belgium, their home country. The acting is ultra-realist, the cinematography is often hand-held, back-of-the-head camera work, dull and grey. Enough to lull you to sleep. They may be the Ken Loach/Mike Leigh of the European mainland, but without the tenderness, humor and charm.
So their latest film – in Competition once again here in Cannes – depressed me as usual, and then it just wiped itself off my mind. Possibly self-preservation. It is about an adolescent who is turning into an Islamic radical under the influence of his charismatic religious mentor, to the horror of his mother. Better films have been done about this subject – the Pakistani “Khamosh Pani” from 2003, and the Belgian “Cowboy” by Benoît Mariage – with far more warmth and passion. But then this is a Dardenne film…
LITTLE JOE *1/2
This sterile fantasy from Austrian director Jessica Hausner about the magical powers of a plant being developed as a happiness drug leaves one cold and quite unhappy. The frozen acting and dialogue don’t help either.
Along with the incredibly amateur “Jeanne” by Bruno Dumont and the boring perversity of Albert Serra’s “Liberté”, both in the Certain Regard section, this pointless film by American Ira Sachs about a final gathering of a family for Isabelle Huppert’s eventual death was truly the bottom of the barrel. The wooden acting and the lifeless scenario was appalling. Why are such miserable films chosen just because of the director’s fame?? It is a travesty towards those who have real talent.
UN CERTAIN REGARD
ADAM ***1/2 (vo Arab)
For me, this was the best film of the Certain Regard section. A Moroccan entry from Maryam Touzani, it was about a bitter woman having recently lost her husband, who takes in a a pregnant runaway who has nowhere to stay. With incredible acting, spare dialogue and beautiful cinematography, Touzani conveys the hesitant friendship that grows between the two women and the woman’s sweet daughter. Somewhat in the vein of last year’s superb “Capernaum” from Lebanon.
ONCE IN TRUBCHEVSK. ***1/2 (vo Russian)
This lovely tale set in a small town in Russia weaves the story of two families living next to each other and the love affair that goes on between the husband of one and the wife of the other. Russian director Larisa Sadilova gives us a taste of life in the backwaters of her country along with the age-old cycle of infidelities versus the pull of family and traditions. Wise and delicate.
New Releases showing in Geneva:
UN TRAMWAY À JÉRUSALEM **** (vo English, Hebrew, French, Arabic)
Amos Gitai is no doubt the grand master of Israeli cinema, and this fictional film that looks and feels like a documentary may be his finest work in a long time. We find all sorts of lives and characters on this tram which he uses as a microcosm of life both in the world, and specifically in Jerusalem.
His clear eye and egalitarian sensibility bring together various people ranging from Orthodox students in deep discussion to militant Palestinians, a quarrelling couple, a father and son listening to a tram entertainer, a lonely woman, and many more types that make up the humanity and diversity he wishes to portray. They all have their place on this tram of life. The lighting, contemplative music and enclosed space that connects the different segments puts one in a hypnotic mood, as we follow his love affair and preoccupation with the Israel that he knows so well.
IMMER UND EWIG (POUR TOUJOURS / A JOURNEY – A STORY OF LOVE) **** (vo German, Swiss German)
Here is the epitomy of true love. This very realistic yet tender Swiss documentary by Fanny Bräuning spans the life of the director’s parents, who met in art school where mother was a painter and father a consummate photographer. Leading an idyllic, bohemian life, they married and started a family.
With beautifully edited old photos, amateur films of their lives, and the events leading up to the present day, Bräuning recounts the calamity of her mother’s Multiple Sclerosis caught soon after the marriage.
But the crux of the film is not the tragedy that struck, rather the incredible, completely loving devotion of her father to his wife. This is not a sad account, but a deeply-felt homage to a family that manages to turn a debilitating condition into one of unconditional love and complete, joyful sacrifice. This is an amazing, beautiful love letter between them and the world.
Superb **** Very Good *** Good ** Mediocre * Miserable – no stars
Neptune Ravar Ingwersen reviews film extensively for publications in Switzerland. She views 4 to 8 films a week and her aim is to sort the wheat from the chaff for readers.