By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
The jury has its awards, and I have mine. Sometimes they even coincide. Palme d'Or winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul's modest Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives — the acme of no-budget, Buddhist-animist, faux-naive magic realism — towered over a shockingly mediocre competition. (Distant runners-up were Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy and South Korean director Lee Chang-dong's overwritten but screenplay-winning Poetry.) Set, like many of Weerasethakul's movies, mainly in the jungles of northeast Thailand and materializing late in the festival as a kind of soothing cinematic balm, Uncle Boonmee is a movie in which conversing with spirits and watching TV have much the same valence. The protagonist is dying of kidney failure; the ghost of his first wife and a red-eyed, human-size monkey, who is the manifestation of his long-lost son, arrive to guide him toward death, with several delightfully inexplicable digressions into past (and possibly future) incarnations.
Let the sound of one palm clapping herald the best movies not in competition: Aurora and Tuesday, After Christmas; Michelangelo Frammartino's Le quattro volte, a wordless, but hardly silent, evocation of the Great Chain of Being (men, goats, trees) as manifest in rural Calabria, which was the shining light of the Directors' Fortnight; and mainly Assayas' five-and-a-half-hour docudrama, Carlos, evidently removed from the competition because someone complained that it was produced for TV. Big mistake.
Carlos is more fun than Steven Soderbergh's Che — to which it has been routinely compared with regard to length, historical period and revolutionary protagonist (in this case, the eponymous Venezuelan-born terrorist Carlos the Jackal) — in part because it is considerably less conceptually rigorous. Its controlled, rock-fueled tumult evokes Assayas' thrillers like demonlover and Boarding Gate. French critics, in particular, adored Carlos. Had it remained in the competition, it might well have won the Palme; indeed, the extended account of Carlos' most elaborate operation, holding hostage a full conference of OPEC oil ministers, would make a terrific movie in its own right.
Cannes is more often about dashing expectations than exceeding them. Better-than-expected movies eligible for La Quelle Sur-Prix include Amalric's likably rowdy backstage homage to striptease and pulchritude, Tournée (surprise winner of the international press's FIPRESCI prize, as well as a jury award for best direction), and, to a lesser degree, Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó's highly crafted, overbearingly solemn rethinking of the Frankenstein story, Tender Son. By contrast, Doug Liman's Sean Penn–starring Fair Game and Ken Loach's Route Irish fell below even my lowest expectations.
The undisputed La Quelle Sur-Prix winner, however, was Certified Copy, Kiarostami's first venture into European art cinema, shot in Tuscany with an international cast — basically of two. A tricky acting exercise that would have been a pure hell of sodden duplicity in the hands of David Mamet, Certified Copy proved remarkably adroit in developing a rumination on authenticity, using nonactor William Shimell (an opera singer by trade) as a foil for festival diva Juliette Binoche, who hilariously told interviewers that, as directed by Kiarostami, she wasn't actually acting but only being herself.
As welcome as those movies that exceed expectations are those that confound them. Weerasethakul is Cannes' reigning baffler, Aurora and Le quattro volte are full of mysteries, and South Korean prankster Im Sang-soo sowed confusion with The Housemaid, remaking a ferociously tawdry and moralistic local classic as a parodic French art thriller. But this year's Grand Whatzit belongs to American indie Lodge Kerrigan for his precisely opaque Rebecca H. (Return to the Dogs), another Un Certain Regard selection. As inexplicable as it is enjoyable, Rebecca H. has all the earmarks of a failed project mash-up reclamation job, and shares several interests with Certified Copy — an acting exercise that climaxes with an extended real-or-Memorex simulation of Grace Slick lip-synching barely audible words during Jefferson Airplane's Monterey Pop rendition of "Today" (To be any more than all I am would be a lie ...).
They say that some performances are bad enough to win an Oscar; Cannes '10 would seem to be stocked with movies that are too good for the competition.
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