Cannes 2006: Global Imbalances

Article excerpt

My two favorite films at Cannes this year were both intensely personal, the director's/writer's angst transparent on screen. One, the Turkish Les Climats, a story of a break-up, shows a husband and wife caught in a dance of disconnected love--a personal story, given that as the couple is played by director Nuri Bilge Ceylan and his real wife Ebru. The film begins in bright summer with the two in Bergmanesque silence, taking a moped ride along the coast. They tumble in the sand, and it is clear by the look in their eyes that the relationship is over. The film ends in winter, after the couple has broken up, returned and broken up once again, each time the one in power begging the other to come back. The last image is in cold blues under a bare light-bulb in a hotel, the man's hand in her hair, the eyes meeting in wariness: the game continues interminably. The movie establishes in the interstices of dialogue, in its silences, what the director acknowledged at the Turkish stand at Cannes: "Yes, I do think love is like that--for everyone."

My other favorite, Pedro Almodovar's Volver (Return), features Penelope Cruz as mega-mother "Raimunda" who forges ahead after her daughter kills her husband, while her own mother, played by a vicacious Carmen Maura, comes back from the grave to haunt her. "It is a homage to mothers," says the director. Volver is also one of Almodovar's most vulnerable films, showing both his return to his maternal roots in La Mancha--to the stories of his own formidable mother--as well as his fears of mortality. The film, while a comedy, features an inordinate amount of deaths: a dying aunt, a neighbor with cancer, a murdered husband, a ghost. "I am afraid of death," the greyhaired Almodovar admitted. "This is one reason I admire women. They collectively deal with life, with death, with rituals of mourning and cleaning."

Both Ceylan's and Almodovar's films exhibit a soulful density and a mastery of craft. Ceylan's high definition digital video and stark colors render each image a haiku of emotions. Almodovar's skillful pacing, rhythm, character, and humor made Volver the only entry at Cannes that received universal acclaim. A pastiche of his earlier films as well as 1940s Italian cinema, it is homage not only to mothers but to the director's well-established gift. "It is a special film for me too," confessed Almodovar. "It has the solemnity of a church."

The same harmonious achievement of story and craft could not be found in many of the films in competition at Cannes this year. Some were downright silly, such as Italian Paolo Sorrentino's The Family Friend, about a repulsive old loan shark who coerces a bride into sleeping with him to reduce the family debt for her wedding. A wrinkled ringed claw scrapes between two lovely breasts moments before the bride says her vows, and by film's end, the girl is madly in love with the monstrous Shylock, feeding into a misogynist beauty-and-the-beast fantasy. The movie lures the public into a fun surrealistic world, more imaginative than most, only to irritate because of the jejune content.

Other weak films in competition included Richard Kelly's Southland Tales, a 160 minute murky story about a new fuel called "fluid karma" that promises to save us from the apocalypse. This film stretched the promise of Donnie Darko, whose popular success had likewise depended on getting the youth vote. Pedro Costa's far more well-meaning but equally long Juventade em Marcha, about Cape Verde immigrants recounting hardship stories in their Lisbon slum homes, pleased intellectual critics but bored beyond measure. A factory line of static monologues, it had the presumption of being an anti-film, without drama or craft, nothing to distract from the drone of hardship.

Oldcomers to the table also disappointed. Aki Kaurismaki's much-awaited new film, Lights in the Dusk, the third in the trilogy after Drifting Clouds and Man Without a Past was a skeleton of his former work. …