By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
For all its thematic familiarity, one of the few indisputably original films of the festival was Michael Haneke‘s The Piano Teacher, arguably the most despised competition entry, which nonetheless secured a handful of awards, including Best Actress for star Isabelle Huppert. The story of a sexually repressed Viennese piano teacher with outre appetites (sniffing used tissue in porn parlors, for one), the film takes shape around her seduction by one of her students, a man who may be as interested in fucking with her head as in fucking her body. Both Huppert’s terrifying performance and the filmmaking are cold and controlled; she and Haneke refuse to solicit our compassion for this woman, a gutsy move for which they were rewarded with some of the more obtuse comments at the festival. (“That guy‘s sick! He needs therapy!” bellowed one American critic after the premiere.) Yet despite some narrative burrs (bafflingly, everyone speaks French, and the lovers’ descent into sadism comes too fast), what the Austrian filmmaker really needs for this tough, powerful work is an American distributor.
Far more to many critics‘ taste was the Palme d’Or winner, The Son‘s Room, a wan Italian melodrama about a middle-class family whose son dies in a diving accident. The film, which was directed and written by the usually more capable Nanni Moretti (who also stars), was assured of victory not only because the film is about male suffering but because of its predictability: Time, it seems, does heal all wounds, especially when accompanied by mood music and innumerable close-ups of the frantically emoting star. Still, it was a pleasure to hear rumors that the jury was having a difficult time finding another competition film as good as Francis Ford Coppola’s breathtaking Apocalypse Now Redux, which both improves on and weakens the original. I‘ll have more to say about the film later in the year when it opens; for now, suffice it to say that Coppola’s epic was a gift to festivalgoers, a hallucination of bad politics and brilliant direction that rendered many of the other entries so much grain and nonsense, including the postage-stamp-size No Man‘s Land, an audience-friendly feature about the Bosnian war that was, invariably, picked up for U.S. distribution.
Nothing pointed up the box-office calculation of No Man’s Land better than Claude Lanzmann‘s Sobibor, 14 Octobre 1943, 16 Heures, a 95-minute epilogue to Shoah. Composed primarily of an interview Lanzmann conducted in 1979 with a Holocaust survivor named Yehuda Lerner, which the filmmaker originally slated for the longer work, the documentary tells the story of an uprising at the Polish extermination camp Sobibor -- the only successful Jewish-prisoner uprising of the war. The film is meticulously constructed, and harrowing. Lanzmann intersperses the talking-head interview with images of contemporary Poland and models of the camp itself, pushing along Lerner’s story with offscreen questions remarkable for their journalistic acuity and lack of sentimentalism. Lanzmann isn‘t interested in extracting pity or regret from his viewers; as with Godard, an unlikely ally in many respects, history is present, undeniable and bereft of palliatives. In his press conference, Godard actually mentioned Lanzmann as a director with whom he does not always agree. Somehow, there’s something deeply satisfying about the idea of these two curmudgeons of cinema going at it with hammer and tongs, camera and editing table -- duking it out over dialectics, making art and history at once.
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