SIGNIS FILM REVIEWS CANNES 2010
AMOURS IMAGINAIRES, Les
BURNT BY THE SUN 2: EXODUS
DES HOMMES ET DES DIEUX (OF GODS AND MEN)
HOMME QUI CRIE, Un
LIFE, ABOVE ALL
LUNG BONMEE RALUAT CHAK (UNCLE BONMEE WHO CAN RECALL PAST TIMES))
ABEL (Screening out of Competition)
(Mexico, 2010, d. Diego Luna)
A brief debut film from actor, Diego Luna, friend of Gael Garcia Bernal, who acts as one of the producers.
This is a modest film about a young boy with mental and behavioural problems seemingly caused by his father’s abandoning the family to work in the US and who is not heard from in two years and walks in on the problem and compounds it.
9 year old Abel (a persuasive performance from Christopher Ruiz- Esparza, whose younger brother in the film is his own real life brother – who is also persuasive) has been hospitalised and does not speak. The devoted mother agrees to his coming home in the hope that things could be normal and that he will speak. His younger brother is afraid of him. His older sister is annoyed with him much of the time. Abel watches television – and suddenly makes a breakthrough.
We realise before the family does that he has got it into his head that he is the father and the head of the family and acts the part. There is a lot of wry humour as we see this young boy aping strict and commanding patriarchal rule. Since the doctors advise not confronting or upsetting him, mother and children go along with it. In fact, he is a much better father than his actual father and the children thrive under his tutelage.
The film builds to an anxious climax – but leaves open how Abel is going to get along after he is returned to hospital.
Lots of contemporary Mexican flavour. A first film that Diego Luna can be pleased with and proud of.
LES AMOURS IMAGINAIRES (Un Certain Regard)
(Canada, 2010, d. Xavier Dolan)
'In Your Dreams!’ That is where most of the action of this 20-somethings’ romantic comedy takes place. Not in their literal dreams, but in their unfulfilled wish fulfilments.
Very much a young adults’ film with older audiences admiring the writer-director’s zest but finding the two central characters in their search for love and their being lost in their fantasies more than a bit trying.
A 25 year old woman and her gay friend, Francis (Xavier Dolan himself) become infatuated with a young man who is filmed as if he were a statue of a Greek god. He befriends them but not in the way that they hope of imagine and they keep projecting the wish fulfilment on to him. Though friends, they do their bit to edge out each other from the pursuit.
A lot of partying, a lot of soulful introspection, on the road to disillusionment.
ANOTHER YEAR (Competition)
(UK, 2010, d. Mike Leigh)
Another fine Mike Leigh portrait of real human beings, one of his best.
When Mike Leigh says ‘Another Year’, we surmise, rightly, that he does not mean a happy new year. It is for some, not for others. In fact, one of the characters says, ‘same old, same old’. While there are three characters for whom life is miserable – one replies, when asked what would make her happy, ‘a new life’ – the central characters are not only happy, they are comfortable in the best sense with their lives and they not only love each other, they are patient and kind to their friends, no matter what their friends’ woes (and capacity to irritate).
There are four parts to the film, each season labelled (and photgraphed with different shades and lighting) and work in the allotment garden reminding us of sowing, ripening and harvesting.
There is a wonderful opening sequence with a depressed housewife suffering from insomnia, interviewed by a pregnant doctor and then, quite unwillingly, speaking with a therapist. The woman is played by Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) and it is pity that we do not see her again. She is a means of introducing the counsellor, Gerri (Ruth Sheen who has been in several Leigh films but shines here in a central role). Gerri is married (40 years) to engineering geologist Tom (a forthright but benign Jim Broadbent). And, in case you are thinking it, Tom remarks that they have got used to the Tom and Jerry quips over the years.
We see Gerri in her dealings with long-term friend and office secretary, Mary (Lesley Manville in a tour-de-force performance as an unwillingly ageing, lonely and drinking woman prone to unrequited flirting) and we see Tom with his drinking and greedily over-eating friend, Ken (Peter Wight), who has nothing in life except his job. Gerri and Tom are also good parents and relate well to their son, Joe (Oliver Maltman), and his eventual girlfriend, Katie. Mary’s antipathy towards Katy is palpable.
While nothing much changes on the surface (‘same old, same old’), Tom’s sister-in-law dies in Derby and he and Gerri arrange the funeral for Tom’s taciturn older brother, Ron (David Bradley). This sequence, interrupted by Ron’s estranged and angry son, is powerfully real.
The dialogue, created by the cast in rehearsal and then carefully crafted by Leigh, is like life and often moving. And to see such genuinely and unobtrusively good people like Gerri and Tom on screen is really heartening and shows Leigh as a film-maker, not just of themes of unhappiness and failure, but of hope and joy as well.
AURORA (Un Certain Regard)
(Romania, 2010, d. Cristi Puiu)
Puiu’s previous film, The Death of Mr Lazarescu, was a fine cinema experience and contributed to the flowering of the contemporary Romanian film industry. Anyone familiar with the earlier film would be looking forward to Aurora.
Puiu has done it again, in the sense that he takes his time with developing characters and plot, spending a great deal of time and attention on minute details of behaviour, with minimum musical score. However, with the theme of death and ambulance and hospital care with Mr Lazrescu, audience attention is willingly given. This time, with the film at three hours, audiences may find the experience admirable but sometimes trying (even often!).
When we have to spend three hours observing closely a character who is enigmatic to the point of an audience not wanting to understand him, taciturn and abrupt in behaviour, who, we realise, as he purchases a gun, has killing in mind, it is very difficult. Puiu plays the central character himself, so it is very much his film.
(Spain/ Mexico, 2010, d. Alejandro Gonalez Inarritu)
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has made some arresting and thought-provoking films: Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel. This is also arresting, thought-provoking – and very sad.
The setting is Barcelona (after a moving opening sequence of two hands and a ring and father and daughter talking about family, then a scene in the woods between Uxbal and his father, both scenes forming the end of the film as well). Uxbal means well, but is involved in all kinds of shady deals, especially with illegals from Africa and from China. He is divorced from his wife who is bi-polar and irresponsible and he tries to care for his two children, quite demanding on manners and good behaviour from them.
We follow him around the city as he tries to deal with street selling Africans who are also selling drugs, with a Chinese sweat factory and with his brother’s links with supplying unqualified illegals for the building industry. There is enough material here for several films and the director’s vivid picture of mundane, everyday life in Catalonia.
But, very early we learn that Uxbal has terminal cancer and the film is about his dealing with this and his trying to get everything in order, especially for his children. Uxbal also has a gift of communing with the dead and relaying messages to the bereaved. For his own counselling, he goes to a kindly woman, also gifted, who is able to offer him sound advice.
Uxbal is a good man, not without considerable faults, but presented as something of a secular saint (someone reminds him that he is not Mother Teresa), trying to do good and to undo the consequences of what he has done wrong – with the wife of a Senegalese deportee and her baby, with a dormitory of Chinese who are victims of an industrial mistake.
And the title is Biutiful (which Uxbal’s daughter asks him how to spell). Actually, Malcolm Muggeridge’s portrait of Mother Teresa was ‘Something Beautiful for God’. Uxbal, according to his lights is trying to do something beautiful for those he encounters.
BLUE VALENTINE (Un Certain Regard)
(US, 2010, d. Derek Cianfrance)
Director Derek Cianfrance has said that one of the major fears of his childhood was his parents getting a divorce. This is evident in the film with passionate sequences of love and the loss of love, even of hatred. The title gives it away as does the song that the husband sings when wooing his wife but is sung again, most ruefully, over the final credits, ‘You always hurt the ones you love...’.
The screenplay has action that takes place over 24 hours in the present but, within that framework, retraces the early history of Dean and Cindy, their meeting, love, his saving her, their marriage. The counterpoint of both periods highlights the contrast, often quite harrowingly.
So, in a way, nothing new. The strength of the film is in the episodes and in the performances – though at times they seem to be improvised and somewhat repetitive and strained. However, Ryan Gosling as Dean and Michelle Williams as Cindy really enter into their roles with vigour and empathy which makes the break-up more tragic, especially for their little girl who loves them both so much. If only Dean could have read the situation and Cindy’s latter feelings better, and if only Cindy had had the patience and understanding that Dean deserved.
BURNT BY THE SUN 2: EXODUS (Competition)
(Russia, 2010. D. Nikita Mikhalkov)
Burnt by the Sun won the Cannes Palme d’Or and the Oscar for 1994. It told the story of a family in Stalin’s Russia prior to World War II. The story now continues into the war, ending in 1943, with the promise of the part 2 of part 2 to follow. (this part runs for two and a half hours.)
Sergei Bondarchuk and Mikhalkov used to make films like this in the Soviet Union of the 1960s and 1970s (Waterloo, War and Peace). It is large in scope, sweeping in its several plots and presenting war and battles most impressively. The standout in this film is a lengthy sequence of a Red Cross boat sailing with German planes doing exercises overhead but not bombing the boat. When an individual does something stupid, and one of the German bombers is doing something stupider, everything changes and there is a heart and gut wrenching attack on the boat. There are also effective scenes of political prisoners in the gulags and the outbreak of war and another wrenching sequence where a group of soldiers deemed criminals are joined by a brash group of tall young elite groups to help stop the German advance – which comes from behind them with tragic results. And there are other war episodes.
This is what Mikhalkov wanted to do, to show aspects of Russia’s experience of the war and its unpreparedness and what it suffered, especially in casualties from military to civilian. German soldiers do not come out well in this film.
But, there is political background as the central character of the original film finds himself in prison, escaping at the outbreak of war and serving as a simple soldier. He thinks his wife and daughter (played by his daughter as she did as a young girl in the 1994 film) are dead, but his daughter survives the bombed Red Cross boat.
While showing the war experiences of 1941-1942, there is a sub-plot concerning Stalin’s hearing that the general is alive and his sending an officer to track him down. The actor playing Stalin is very effective, appearing in two scenes, one the opening where the General offers Stalin a cake when he visits his house and serves the cake in a way Comrade Stalin would not expect, the second where he makes the officer keep playing the piano while he instructs him on the search for the General. The sly, political nous is suggested quite sinisterly.
So, old-style film-making with more than an influence of Saving Private Ryan’s war scenes, offering a lot to reflect on with Russia’s harsh war experiences.
(Argentina, 2010, d. Pablo Trapero)
Pablo Trapero has kept his eye on social issues in Argentina for over ten years. He has been concerned with justice, crime and the police. He offers a different angle on these issues this time: accidents, ambulance chasers, litigation and legislation that allows ‘foundations’ to skim large amounts from insurance payouts.
Carancho starts with an accident where Sosa (popular Argentinian actor, Richard Darin) trying to get a client but being beaten up by his boss’s henchman as he is trying to get his independence back – and to do the right thing by clients. He encounters a strict and hard-working doctor (Martina Guzman) who initially disapproves of him but comes to trust him and fall in love. We see from the outset that, despite her hard work (which does not preclude mistakes) and her tiredness, she is also drug dependent.
Many accidents, clients and bashings later (including of the doctor), Sosa and Lujan and the audience are ready for a dramatic showdown. It is violent and highly emotional and, safe to say, problems are not resolved. Darin is a strong screen presence but it is very surprising that Guzman’s initially determined doctor turn into an emotional and mushy mess by the end.
CHONGQING BLUES (RIZHAO CHONGQING) (COMPETITION)
(China, 2010, d. Wang Xiaoshuai)
A personal journey by a father who has abandoned his family long since. An investigation by the father into his son’s death, like a detective story except that the puzzle is not who did it but who was the personality who did it and what were his motives.
An impressive film in performance, visual style and humane content.
The city of Congqing is photographed in broad cityscapes and in great detail, making the city and its environs like a character in the plot. However, it is Wang Xuequi as Lin, the now dignified and restrained older man, that gives the film its power. As he moves from encounter to encounter, with his working friends, his angry abandoned wife, his son’s best friend, the victims in the supermarket hostage situation, the doctor taken as hostage, the wounded security guard, the young man’s estranged girlfriend and the policeman who shot the son, we are continually building a portrait of a character as well as a re-creation of the crime which is available only in newspaper articles and in security TV footage.
Each of the persons questioned is given a solid character to reveal even if the time available to them is short.
There is hope at the end although it is puzzling that, while the screenplay makes a great deal of the effect of the father leaving home when his son was ten, Lin himself makes no admission of any guilt. It is the quest that shows the depths of his sadness.
COPIE CERTIFIE (CERTIFIED COPY) (Competition)
France, Italy, Belgium, 2010, d. Abbas Kierostami)
‘What was that all about?’ is a fair question. ‘Who was that all about?’ may be an even fairer question.
This is really a cinema essay, verbal and visual, about art and perceptions of art, about life and about fantasy. It is celebrated Iranian director, Abbas Kierostami, making a non-Iranian film and a film outside Iran (though he did make the short story in Italy which was his contribution to the 2005 Tickets).
A British writer on art theory delivers a lecture in Tuscany. A French art dealer who lives in Tuscany with her young son attends and disagrees with aspects of the book. She takes the author on a drive which leads to much (much) discussion about art, originals and copies, about marriage and relationships. An Italian lady mistakes them for husband and wife and the woman follows through with this role play, the author gradually joining in. They encounter young marrieds with the woman elated and the man surly and unwilling to be photographed, trying to be realistic about change in love and life. They argue about a statue in a piazza and she enlists some tourists to bolster he interpretation against his snobbishness. He is also snobbish about wine in a restaurant and does not notice the woman’s putting on lipstick and earings. Finally, they go to a hotel room which she states is the room of their wedding night fifteen years earlier. Will the author leave for his train or stay with the woman? Here the film stops leaving us to speculate after the credits.
For audiences who like the director and this kind of debate cinema, they will be delighted. Others may not have the staying power, even though Juliet Binoche is the woman and William Shimmell is very good as the man. (Kiersotami fans might be wondering in the first part of the film but there is a Kierostami relief moment when the camera goes on to the front of the car to film the conversation and they indulge in a Kierostami drive!)
DES HOMMES ET DES DIEUX (OF GODS AND MEN) (Competition)
(France, 2010, d. Xavier Beauvois)
One of the finest religious films, and one of the best Catholic films, in years.
The subject is the Trappist community of Mt Atlas, Algeria, in the 1990s. Living their monastic life amongst the local people and minstering to them, especially with medical services, they were viewed more and more with suspicion, especially because they were French expatriates, by government troops who were becoming more active against the increasing terrorist attacks, and by the terrorists themselves. Seven of them were killed in the latter part of May, 1996.
While the film expertly builds up the background of post-colonial Algeria, corrupt government, extreme Islamists, the role of the military, the violence perpetrated by both sides, the centre of the film is the life and preparation for death of the monks.
Filmed in Morocco, the film is both beautiful and austere in its landscapes and in the interiors of the monastery – and in the interior lives of the monks and their commitment to God and to their order.
The director, Xavier Beauvois, shows an instinct for depicting the detail of monastic life with sensitivity and a strong awareness of what it means. The actors look, move, speak and act as if they were authentic monks. Lambert Wilson shows the complexity of a man elected to be superior but who has a tendency to make decisions himself but is willing to be guided in discernment by the whole community. Veteran Michael Lonsdale is the ageing doctor who shows practical wisdom in his medical skills and down-to-earth counsel as well as in his religious life.
The film is able to cover all aspects of the religious routine of the monastery in accurate detail. In fact, it communicates the life and spirit, the prayer, Eucharist, sung liturgy, silence and contemplation, the detachment of the vow of poverty, the taken-for-granted sacrifices of the vow of chastity, the work, the meals and the readings, the community meetings, the outreach. This is shown in episodes throughout the film which are as effective, even more effective, than a documentary.
All the time, the audience is challenged to wonder what they would do in such dangerous circumstances, especially after official advice from the area is given, recommending the monks leave and return to France. At a community gathering, the superior asks them all to give voice to whether each wanted to stay or leave. Some speak in favour of leaving and explain why: family, illness, the opportunity to continue their work elsewhere. Some are still uncertain. Others wish to stay, intuitively knowing that this is where God wanted them to be. After the advice to leave, the monks listen to the opinions of the local people, especially those who come to the monastery for medical help. Their argument is that the monks remain in solidarity with the people.
For an audience wanting to know and understand something deeper about Christian spirituality, something deeper underlying, desite the sins and failures of the church and of church people and the consequent anger at abuse and scandals, these scenes offer a great deal to ponder.
So does the letter that the superior writes before the monks are abducted in vans, audio-taped for their identity, knowing that they are hostages, and led into the snow and the mountains to their deaths. He goes over the decisions and the motivation but also acknowledges that the monks have lived in a Muslim country with its Quranic ideals and spirituality and its God, far from the fanaticism of those who do not really read their scriptures fully or are caught up in bellicose righteousness.
Faced with the reality of impending death, like many a religious or a secular hero, they found their depths, despite any fear, and discovered a martyr’s saintliness in giving a life for others. The director offers this very movingly, without words, as the community sit to enjoy something of a last supper together, the camera focusing on each, their smiles, then their tears, then their deep resignation, drinking a glass of wine together, and all to the rhythms and melodies of Tchaikowsky’s Swan Lake.
Perhaps this makes it sound as if the film is offering a sermon rather than a movie story. It is a movie first and foremost and that is how it delivers its message, through story and in words and moving images.
FAIR GAME (Competition)
(US, 2010, d. Doug Liman)
Fair Game is the title of the book written by former CIA agent, Valerie Plame, outed by the Bush administration in 2003 as a tactic to divert public attention from the untruths told in the president’s state of the union address and offered as one of the key pieces of evidence for Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction program: 500 tons of uranium bought from Niger. That this was not the fact was reported by former ambassador, Joseph Wilson, Valerie Plame’s husband, who published an expose article about this after the invasion of Iraq.
It is a sign of communications today that a film about this important episode could be made in the US within ten years of the events.
Where the film is of interest is in the covert operations undertaken extensively by Valerie Plame and her teams, in the former ambassador’s uranium fact-finding visit to Niger, in the workings of the CIA in their analysis of data and how the White House exerted pressure to get the information they wanted for the invasion. It is also of interest to see the manchinations against the husband and wife and how the media turned against them as traitors. Joseph Wilson spoke out but Valerie Plame was silent until she testified at an official enquiry, part of which is shown in the final credits.
Noami Watts is Valerie Plame, perhaps too nice a screen presence for the tough woman she had to be in real life. Sean Penn as Wilson doesn’t really have to act (though he does most convincingly) given his own personal views and outspokenness in real life. Direction is by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity and Mr and Mrs Smith) who knows a thing or two about espionage films.
While the film uses familiar conventions for this kind of story, it is still very interesting – and adds to the doubts and scepticism about the motives for the invasion of Iraq (and is linked with Paul Greengrass’s Green Zone which showed the search in Iraq for the WMD).
HAHAHA (Un Certain Regard: Winner)
(Korea, 2010, d. Hong Sangsoo)
A kind of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset (and during the day as well). Two young Korean men (and this is very much a male film from the director of Woman is the Future of Man – this time they are the present of man as well) meet and talk over their experiences during the summer. One plans to migrate to Canada, the other is a depressive character. Their various conversations are introduced in stills of them talking – and many of the conversations conclude with a toast and they have another drink. While there is a lot of talk in the film, there is a fair amount of alcohol drunk as well. By the men and by the women.
The depressed friend is married but has a girlfriend whom he says he is in love with and wants to marry. She is rather patient with him in his talk and in his behaviour. The intended migrant takes a shine to a museum guide who sounds rather profound as she does her spiel but is not so bright in real life. She has had a number of boyfriends but seems to take a shine to her new suitor. There is also a poet who is friendly with a young woman who works part time in a restaurant owned by the migrant’s mother. And some time is spent there.
If you would like to listen to young Koreans and their interests in life, their relationships and their hopes, then you have almost two hours to do so. Not an unpleasant experience – but they still are very young.
UN HOMME QUI CRIE (A SCREAMING MAN) (Competition)
(Tchad, 2010, d. Mahamet-Saleh? Haroun)
A film that begins in bright sunlight in a fashionable hotel swimming pool in Tchad, a father and son competing in holding their breath underwater. A film that ends in darkness with father and son at a river after experiencing the horror and wounds of civil war.
The central character is Adam, a former central African swimming champion and the first pool supervisor in Tchad. He is a man of bearing and dignity, well respected. However, with the activity of the rebels and cross-border incursions, sackings go on at the hotel and calm life deteriorates as controlling troops take to the streets, curfews are imposed and the local head collects money to help the war effort against the rebels – while many father volunteer their sons for active service.
This all takes its toll on Adam, his wife, his son who worked with him at the pool, and his pregnant girlfriend.
Well-crafted and generally accessible for a wide audience, the film leaves narrative holes for the audience (who may not be quick enough) to fill in and does not build up dramatically to the war tension in the city.
However, it is a moving story of contemporary African troubles – with no solution in sight.
HORS-LA-LOI (OUTSIDE THE LAW) (Competition)
(Algeria, 2010, d. Rachid Boucharib)
There was double security at the venues in Cannes for the screening of this film, no food or liquids allowed inside the cinemas and bags more thoroughly searched. Even before the screening it had caused protests and debates in France. The subject: the fight for Algerian independence, especially in the 1950s and 1960s until it was achieved in 1962. Needless to say, this involves an indictment of much French colonial action and dominance. It also raises questions of what is Resistance and what is Terrorism – resistance for the French in World War II, terrorism for the Algerian action for independence. A perennial question and one that is still dominant in the world, especially for Israel and Palestine.
Boucharib has made some quieter and intense films, Little Senegal and London River (both SIGNIS and Ecumenical award winners). He also made the striking Indigenes, about the Algerian soldiers who fought with and for the French but were treated as colonials – the film led to the French government awarding belated pensions to some of the Algerian veterans. Lors-La-Loi? follows Indigenes with some of the same cast.
On May 8th 1945, Europe celebrated VE day. The same day there were marches in Algeria for the independence movement which led to protests and fierce shooting into the crowds by police, soldiers and citizens. This film follows the lives of three brothers, each with a different perspective on the indendence movement.
One bcomes something of a spiv in Pigalle, opening a night club and training a boxer to be world champion. Another has experienced the war in Vietnam and French defeat. The third was imprisoned on May 8th 1945 and served ten years in a French jail where he learned protest and strategies.
It is the latter brother who is the focus of the film, an intellectual who is committed to an ideology rather than to people (the actor who plays him remarked that this man is trapped in his own charisma). He is unscrupulous in using terror methods but cannot kill any individual. It is his soldier brother who does this for him.
The film highlights their lives and action from 1956 to 1961 and immerses the audience in the experience of Algerians living in France and of the ruthlessness of the French police in dealing with them.
The film portrays historical events, tells a narrative that challenges the audience to reflect on the importance of freedom, the evils of colonialism and the consequences and, always, to ask questions about the use of violence to win a cause and to free people.
THE HOUSEMAID (Competition)
(Korea, 2010, d.IM Sangsoo)
A remake of a 1960 Korean classic (the same year as Psycho), a suspense thriller in the Hitchcockian sense. As we look at the plot with Hitchcock in mind, we may be reminded of many aspects of Rebecca.
There is a mansion, a huge set rather than an actual house, with many lavish rooms for its arrogantly affluent family. The wife is pregnant with twins, the husband a successful businessman. There is a housekeeper who could be a cousin, dramatically speaking, of Mrs Danvers. Into the household comes an eager new servant and nanny, Euny. She likes the little daughter of the house, is charmed by the piano playing master – and is readily seduced by him.
Gossip, hatred, vindictiveness permeate the household – and even an attempted murder, then another attempt at miscarriage. From then on, mania pervades the film until a grim ending (with a corpse unnecessarily and incredibly bursting into flames). Up to this point the film had combined drama, suspense, critique of the selfishly affluent and their quest for power and prestige, but the incendiary moment spoils the ending, even though an ironic postscript tends to return the audience to moral fable realism.
KABOOM (Screening out of Competition)
(US, 2010, d. Gregg Araki)
Gregg Araki back to his former style of small-budget, heightened slices of life, focussing on young adults and their fears, indulgences, sexuality and identity problems. But, now he is older and has the fine Mysterious Skin as part of his CV, giving him a certain recognition and respectability.
He is not after respectability here but would not be against recognition (as he has been by John Waters). This is one of those midnight movies of the past where sense and absolute credibility are not the order of the day – or night. It is a concoction of campus drama, sex exploration, science fiction, apocalyptic madness and more than a Kaboom ending than we might have expected.
Thomas Dekker (one of the dispatchees in the new Nightmare on Elm Street) is Smith, an undergraduate, gay, with a confidante, Stella (Haley Bennett), who keeps him in line with her sardonic quips but who is herself engangled with vamp Lorelei who may or may not be a witch. There is an ‘end is nigh’ character, Messiah (James Duvall from Araki’s films of the mid-90s) who suggests warnings and doom. There are also pursuers with animal masks, a secret sect, abductions and various spies and agents.
It is all tongue in cheek and happy in its silliness.
LIFE, ABOVE ALL (Un Certain Regard)
(South Africa, 2010, d. Oliver Schmitz)
A moving story based on a novel, Chandra’s Secrets, by Allan Stratton. Chandra is at the centre of this Soouth African story, a young girl going into her teens but who has strong reserves which she needs to take responsibility for all that happens to her family.
The film is particularly geared to a South African audience with its subject of AIDS and HIV infection, its prevalence in Africa and South Africa, the secrecy that can still surround it, community fears and the shame they impose on those infected and their families, and the difficulties in getting effective treatment.
No, Chanda does not have AIDS. Her stepfather does and has infected her mother leading to the death of their young baby. Chanda is full of common sense, arranges for the funeral, retrieves the money down at a bar stolen by her stepfather, and tends her weak and shamed mother as well as looking after her small step sister and brother who want their father and behave badly towards Chandra. Chandra also incurs the criticism of the villagers (most of whom are prone to gossip) by befriending an orphan girl who goes down to the local truckstop to service the drivers. Ultimately, chandra has to confront members of the family, the wealthy woman next door who is a friend of her mother, and stand, with the friend, boldly against a crowd who want to, literally, stone her.
Some austere audiences will find the sentiment presented strongly and feel it is too sentimental. The film is not for them. It is a film of the heart intended to touch South Africans and tell them a story which could encourage change in attitudes and behaviour.
LOS LABIOS (Un Certain Regard)
(Argentina, 2010, d. Ivan Fund and Santiago Losza )
More of a worthy film with semi-documentary overtones than a fiction feature.
Three women leave Buenos Aires to go to the countryside to meet with people, question them about their conditions and then make reports for planning and for statistics. They do this, with the audience going about with them, listening to the interviews, responding emotionally to problems and needs, while getting to know the three woman and the man who has responsibility for them in their work, in their accommodation in an abandoned hospital and in their personal lives in the town.
LUNG BONMEE RALUEK CHAT (UNCLE BONMEE WHO CAN RECALL PAST LIVES) (Competition)
(Thailand, 2010, d. Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
Palme d'Or winner 2010.
Director Weerasethakul has built up a festival following, especially with his recent films, Tropical Malady and Syndromes and a Century. While he does portray the Thai present, he goes into legendary and mythical areas and the past in a way of storytelling that is not familiar to the west. He often juxtaposes elements of story or symbols which audiences have to work on to see or intuit connections.
This is the case here, not only with legends but also with ghosts and spirits – with one ghost acknowledging that they do not live in a place but are connected to people.
The bulk of this story is that of a man who is ill, whose relatives arrive as well as the ghost of his wife and an odd creature, part monkey, part human who is his dead son. They all trek to a cave where he dies.
The last part of the film is puzzling, set in a routine present where a monk has a shower in a hotel and changes into ordinary clothes for a meal and two others watch television at some length. We have to make the connections.