Follow-Ups from Cannes Alumni: A Report Card

Follow-Ups from Cannes Alumni: A Report Card

May 29, 2012

For a director, the only thing better than being invited to the Cannes Film Festival is being invited back. The 65th edition of the world's most prestigious fest featured works by several filmmakers who'd already walked the red carpet at the Palais des Festivals at least once. How did the alumni fare this time around? A brief report.

Director: Cristian Mungiu

Previous Cannes entries: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007, Palme d'Or winner); Occident (2002).

Cannes 2012 entry: Beyond the Hills.

The report: Mungiu's last film, about a woman seeking an illegal abortion in 1980s Romania, catapulted the previously little-known director into the international spotlight, at least within the art-house circuit. Very few critics panned 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, but the ones who did might be pleased to know that everything they said about it -- too slow, too bleak, too repetitive of its one major point -- is true of Beyond the Hills.

This time we're at a rural Romanian monastery, where a 25-year-old novice named Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) is visited by lifelong friend Alina (Cristina Flutur), who grew up with her at an orphanage and shared an extremely close relationship with her. While Voichita has found God and inner peace, Alina doesn't know what path to take with her life, only that her happiness revolves around Volchita. For 2 1/2 hours, Mungiu subjects us to dull, lifeless sequences of the priests thinking Alina is possessed by the devil; of Alina deciding to become a nun; of Alina changing her mind; of the priests trying to get the devil out of her again; and so forth, forever. The director wants to indict the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church for its benighted, antiquated views, which is a reasonable position to take. But he does it with such excruciating tedium and repetition that Beyond the Hills becomes a chore.

Step up or step down?: Definitely a step down from the effective intensity of his last movie.

Director: Takashi Miike

Previous Cannes entries: Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (2011)

Cannes 2012 entry: Ai to makoto, aka For Love's Sake, aka The Legend of Love & Sincerity.

The report: Miike is best known worldwide for his tales of gruesome horror (Audition, Ichi the Killer) or tremendously bloody violence (13 Assassins), but the prolific filmmaker -- he's directed more than 50 movies since 2000 alone -- works in many genres in his native Japan. For example, Ai to makoto is an intentionally cheesy musical about a rich teenage girl who falls for a punk, which chagrins her parents and the nerdy boy who loves her. The plot is strictly formulaic, the songs written to be as generically forgettable as possible. ("I'll love you as long as the sun is in the sky" is a typical lyric.) What's entertaining, at least potentially, is Miike's whacked-out, gloriously Japanese style: campy, absurd, bizarre, and noisy, evolving into huge fight scenes. (Yes, even though it's a musical, it's also violent.) For me, this loud madness wore thin inside of a half hour -- and the movie runs 133 minutes. I can't imagine anyone, even the movie's most ardent fans, not thinking it's a least a little too long. If you're not enjoying it, it's a lot too long.

Step up or step down?: Step down. But you're bound to strike out occasionally when you come up to bat five times as much as everybody else.

Director: Jacques Audiard

Previous Cannes entries: A Prophet (2009, Grand Jury Prize winner), A Self-Made Hero (1996, best screenplay winner).

Cannes 2012 entry: Rust and Bone (De rouille et d'os).

The report: Rust and Bone, based on Canadian author Craig Davidson's book of short stories and a little loose in its plotting, is bolstered by two exceptional lead performances. Matthias Schoenaerts (recently of Bullhead) plays Ali, a shiftless ex-boxer who's primarily interested in fighting, secondarily interested in having sex with beautiful ladies, and only slightly interested in being a father to his 5-year-old son. A selfish, animalistic character like this could have been despicable, but Schoenaerts makes him sympathetic in the way that Marlon Brando's Stanley Kowalski was sympathetic: his bull-in-a-china-shop mentality isn't malicious; it's simply how he is. Meanwhile, there is Marion Cotillard as Stephanie, an orca trainer at a French Marineland amusement park who suffers a horrific injury that leaves her depressed and angry. Again, here's a character who could have been a morose downer; in Cotillard's hands, though, she's fierce, vulnerable, and beautiful. It's a shame the movie kind of forgets about her in the last act.

Step up or step down?: It's a half-step down from A Prophet, but only because A Prophet was so good. Both are better than Audiard's previous work, which wasn't bad to begin with. The guy's on his way up.

Director: Matteo Garrone

Previous Cannes entries: Gomorrah (2008, Grand Jury Prize winner), The Embalmer (2002).

Cannes 2012 entry: Reality.

The report: Garrone's Gomorrah caught people's attention a few years ago for its stark, Neo-Realist view of organized crime in modern Italy -- a sort of anti-Godfather. For his next trick, Garrone pulls a 180 and comes up with Reality, a glossy satire of celebrity culture and a dark commentary on our obsession with fame. In it, a Neapolitan fishmonger named Luciano (Aniello Arena) earnestly strives to become the famous entertainer he thinks he was born to be. Inspired by a Big Brother contestant who has extended his 15 minutes of fame into a lucrative career, Luciano auditions for the show and grows obsessed with proving himself a worthy candidate. Then the movie becomes surreal, with Luciano endeavoring to show the Big Brother people that he's a good person, in much the same way that people of yesteryear sought to impress God. In the 21st century, Garrone says, fame is what we worship. Reality makes the point with humor, subtlety, and imagination, not to mention razor-sharp social commentary.

Step up or step down?: Neither. This is a step sideways -- totally different from Gomorrah, but just as good.

Categories: Features, Reviews
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