By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
It’s no exaggeration to say that Colossal Youth was the single most divisive film at Cannes in 2006. Even before anyone had seen it, some Costa detractors were badmouthing the film up and down the Croisette, accusing the director of being a fraud championed by a few highbrow critics said to get off on his films’ impenetrability. It was a sentiment summarized succinctly by the Variety review, which opined that the film would “hold the Portuguese director’s coterie of fans in rapt attention while proving a colossal bore to everyone else.” But does the fact that a movie is destined to reach only a limited audience prevent it from being great? I grant that Colossal Youth isn’t for everyone: The pacing is slow (there are maybe 30 or 40 shots over the course of two and a half hours of screen time), and sometimes we are looking, for minutes on end, at two people lying on a bed watching TV, or sitting in a cramped, dimly lit room playing cards. Yet in the week since I saw the film, it has haunted my dreams and is still with me upon waking. If there were many good movies in Cannes this year, and perhaps even a couple of great ones, Colossal Youth is the only one I would venture to call heroic.
The decision of the Cannes programmers to include Colossal Youth in the official competition struck even some of the film’s admirers as perverse, but to my mind it is the very sort of radical gesture by which Cannes continues to define itself. Like several other filmmakers who premiered new films at the festival this year — including the Argentine Lisandro Alonso and the Paris-based American expat Eugène Green — Costa is a director whose work is scarcely known within the borders of his own country (let alone elsewhere) and who needs a stage like Cannes upon which to present it, lest he follow in the footsteps of so many great artists not duly recognized in their own lifetimes.
At the end of the day, it was another Pedro — Almodóvar — who proved the audience favorite of Cannes 2006, even if he left the closing-night awards ceremony a Palme d’Or bridesmaid, just as he did back in 1999 (when All About My Mother earned him a best-director trophy but lost out on the top prize to the Dardenne brothers’ Rosetta). This year, the Spanish director copped a screenwriting award for Volver, one of his typically lush, femme-centric melodramas, starring Penelope Cruz (who shared the best-actress prize with five other women from the film’s ensemble) as a Madrid cleaning lady whose aunt and husband depart this world at the same moment that her long-dead mother suddenly returns from the grave. I can’t say all that much against Almodóvar’s heartfelt and sometimes absurdly funny tribute to solidarity among women, nor can I share in the fits of ecstasy it inspired in some of my fellow critics. But since Volver is scheduled to open in U.S. theaters later this year, I won’t spend any further time now on its merits (which are considerable) and its flaws (which are many).
Suffice it to say that, whatever one thinks of it, Volver is sure to meet with greater box-office success than this year’s Palme d’Or winner, Ken Loach’s somber The Wind That Shakes the Barley, which was the first film to screen in the competition and, 12 days later, still the most staggeringly powerful. Set in Ireland in the early 1920s, it’s about the struggle for Irish independence from England and the early days of the IRA, and it was one of several visions of war and remembrance that dominated this year’s Cannes awards. A collective best-actor prize was presented to the male cast of Indigènes, a big-budget French production about the Algerians and other North Africans who fought bravely — and in the face of virulent racism — on the side of their colonial occupier during the Second World War. The actors are strong, but the movie itself is the sort of stolid, devoutly old-fashioned war picture (dubbed Saving Private Akbar by some dissenters) that a Raoul Walsh or a Sam Fuller would have dispensed with in half the running time and with twice the punch.
More to my liking was Bruno Dumont’s stark and unforgiving Flanders, in which an inarticulate young farmer from the French countryside goes off to fight in a vaguely defined war in an unspecified Middle Eastern country. Like Dumont’s masterful second feature, L’Humanité, Flanderswon the festival’s Grand Jury Prize (a Cannes euphemism for “runner-up”) amid cries of outrage from those who find Dumont’s reduction of human behavior to its basest, most bestial impulses too much — or too truthful — to bear. Still, in its discussion of the seeds of terrorism, of centrism at odds with extremism, and of political interests placed ahead of human ones, it was The Wind That Shakes the Barley that had more to say about the world of today than any other film screening in Cannes — no matter that it takes place more than 80 years ago. As Loach himself observed while accepting his award, “Maybe if we tell the truth about the past, we tell the truth about the present.”
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