Academic journal article Film Criticism

Cannes Film Festival, 2007

Academic journal article Film Criticism

Cannes Film Festival, 2007

Article excerpt

Cannes had its share of moody films this year: movies which seemed to exist only to draw spectators into a universe of surreal emotion. The best among these mood pieces was Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park. Acclaimed cinematographer Chris Doyle's camera follows an introverted adolescent as he languorously skateboards in slow-motion swirls, avoiding the conflicts around him, which include a murder as well as his own troubled family. The poetry of Doyle's shots--the burning confessional letter, the orange autumn leaves drifting slowly in the wind, the boy as he lies flat on the driveway, hands flailing, chest divided, Christ-like, by his skateboard--are far more incisive, however, than the story. The most thrilling moment occurs when this boy awakens from his slumber, the water washing down his hair during a cathartic shower scene--"one which will go down in the history of shower scenes," joked Chris Doyle sipping his rose over lunch.

The Coen Brothers offered a lively mood piece in their adaptation of Corman McCarthy's No Country for Old Men. "Another great Coen Brothers film, finally!" exclaimed many critics, comparing it to Fargo and Blood Simple, overlooking how this new film might have the craft and energy of Fargo but none of its sinister double-take critique on American culture. No Country for Old Men does not have such resonance: the story of a man who chases a serial killer--why, exactly, we do not know--it excites the blood with suspense, but then sizzles to an end. In the last sequence, the Coens tack on McCarthy's sober message about how "old men" are no longer viable in a world of violence, a message that comes too late and superficially to bear much weight.

Nonetheless, No Country for Old Men is zany and enjoyable--especially because of the outstanding performance of Spanish actor Javier Bardem, playing the serial killer. The same cannot be said for Bela Tarr's expressionist film-noir The Man From London, an experiment in black and white shadows that will certainly enchant Bela Tarr fans or aficionados of chiaroscuro, but few others.

Other mood pieces like Alexander Sokurov's Alexandra and Andrei Zviaguintsev's The Banishment attracted the public, momentarily, with their dense sense of time, then faded from the competition. Alexandra tells the story of an old woman who visits her grandson soldier stationed in Chechnya. One senses in her journey the alienation of the war operation--the disenchanted soldiers dutifully cleaning their guns, the market women selling cigarettes--but then leaves the screening in confusion. Banishment, on the other hand, is clearer: a man (Konstantin Lavronenko, who won best actor for his performance) makes a terrible mistake in judging his wife to have betrayed him, then inadvertently causes her death. The movie is a long soulful passage of moody Russian landscapes and anguished faces, all to show the gloom of what happens when love in a couple dies.

The Japanese film Mogari No Mori, directed by Naomi Kawase, is another half-achieved mood piece: it begins at a hospital for the depressed and mentally ill, and proceeds as a forest journey taken by a nurse and a sad old man. The film won the Grand Prix, which shows that its tender message of rejuvenation--the key moment: the old man dancing crazily in the woods with an open music box--touched the jury. I myself got lost somewhere in the green branches of the forest, only to wake when the nurse and the old man cross a raging stream.

After so many mood pieces, the screening of the Rumanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days created a sensation. Christian Mungiu's film not only has mood, it has story, point, and urgency. It begins in a girls' dormitory, with two girls speaking somberly as a goldfish swims trapped in its aquarium--hinting at the story to come. The fish is important: the film exposes the claustrophobic impossibility of being a human being in Rumania under dictatorship. It shows what can happen in a regime of fear. …

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