Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Cannes Quasi-Preview: Titles to Watch

Well, Cannes is officially here again, with the premiere of Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood kicking it off last night. Now, I’m sure you’ll forgive me if I can’t exactly work myself into a lather over yet another Robin Hood movie, especially one don’t in grimy Gladiator style. However, Cannes being Cannes, there ought to be plenty of goodness to come in the next couple of weeks.

Surprisingly, a relatively small portion of these titles are in the actual Competition slate. Of course, the disappointment that followed last year’s much-hyped “all-star competition” just shows to go you that usually-dependable names don’t always deliver the goods. Nonetheless, sight unseen, it’s hard not to latch on to some names you know.

This year, even if Competition isn’t as jam-packed with world-cinema favorites as it was last year, there are still a good number of recognizable auteurs. Then again, not all name directors are created equal: Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu may have an Oscar nomination to his name, but I’m not really looking forward to his latest effort, aside from an idle curiosity to see what he can do unencumbered by a lame-ass Guillemo Arriaga screenplay. Bertrand Tavernier and Takeshi Kitano have touched greatness in the past, but neither has been at an artistic peak lately- Tavernier is a good decade or so past his prime, while Kitano appears to have gone off the deep end creatively. And the less said about Doug Liman- yes, the sole American film in Competition was directed by the dude who made Jumper- the better.

No, the heavy hitters in this year’s lineup, at least to my eyes, are Mike Leigh’s Another Year, Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, and Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Cannes favorite Ken Loach’s latest film was added to Competition at the last minute, but when it comes to Brit filmmakers represented this year, Leigh’s work excites me far more than his countryman’s (he’s a better storyteller, and less politically didactic to boot). Another Year is Leigh’s first film at Cannes since 2002’s All or Nothing, but he’s been fairly solid in the meantime with Vera Drake and Happy Go Lucky. Leigh’s one of the more reliable directors around, and if his latest somehow manages to scale Naked-like heights, that’d be doubly exciting.

Like Leigh, Kiarostami was last seen in Competition back in 2002 with Ten, the film that kicked off his recent experimental phase. And while I haven’t managed to catch up with Five or Shirin yet, I’m nonetheless relieved to see him working in a more narrative-driven vein, mostly because he’s damn good at it. Additionally, Certified Copy excites me because it stars Juliette Binoche, one of my favorite actresses, and one of the most adventurous performers of either sex currently working. As you can imagine, I’m curious to see these two working together.

But the Competition title that intrigues me the most- by a long shot, if I’m being totally honest- is Uncle Boonmee. Many hardcore cinephiles would probably agree that Joe was the most exciting filmmaker to emerge in the past decade, and in my opinion he’s riding a streak as hot as anyone in world cinema today. While it’s been four years since his last feature, Syndromes and a Century premiered, he’s made a number of wonderful short films in the meantime, including one about Uncle Boonmee as well as Phantoms of Nabua, one of the best films I saw last year. So far, Joe has yet to be less than awesome, and I’m hoping he hasn’t waited until this film to show me.

If the Competition slate seems to be light on the name directors, the Un Certain Regard sidebar has done its level best to compensate. The big news here is, of course, Jean-Luc Godard’s Film Socialisme, the first feature in six years from the old master. Like many people, I’m more of a fan of Godard’s sixties output (especially Band of Outsiders and Week End) than his more recent stuff. However, I’m happy as hell to see him still out there fighting the good fight, and the stunning opening to his last film, Notre Musique, shows he’s still got the magic.

Godard is of course the most established of the UCR talents, but there are plenty of gifted (relative) youngers in the mix as well. Lots of people are excited by I Wish I Knew, the latest work from Jia Zhang-ke, but while I’ve liked all the Jia films I’ve seen, he doesn’t exactly blow my hair back either. The same cannot be said for Cristi Puiu, whose The Death of Mr. Lazarescu was one of my favorites of 2005, and who’s back this year with Aurora. The film’s three-hour (and one minute!) run time will no doubt send Mike D’Angelo into seizures, but I for one can’t wait.

At the other end of the duration spectrum is Rebecca H. [Return to the Dogs], the new film by Lodge Kerrigan, which runs a whopping 75 minutes, which is just about the shortest a film can be and still count as a feature. No matter- after Clean, Shaven and especially Keane, Kerrigan has shown that he’s a director worth watching, and here’s hoping that this one is worth the wait.

Then there’s the case of Hahaha, the latest from Hong Sang-soo. There’s a running joke among myself and a handful of Hong-loving buds that Hong’s movies are all pretty much the same, and while that’s oversimplifying the matter, his films do feel less like discrete entities than as a series of dispatches from Hong-land. It all comes down to whether you’ve acquired the taste for Hong, which I have so, I certainly won’t complain about more of the same.

Normally, the independent sidebar Quinzaine des Réalisateurs (or Director’s Fortnight) is the odd man out at Cannes, snapping up the movies that weren’t good enough for the main events but wanted a Cannes premiere anyway. However, after both Tetro and a new Hong bowed in the Quinzaine last year, clearly anything goes. This is certainly true of Frederick Wiseman’s Boxing Gym, whose director is legendary enough to make it into the Competition slate if not for the selection folks’ aversion to picking documentaries that aren’t directed by Michael Moore. As it is, Boxing Gym should be in keeping with Wiseman’s already-prodigious filmography.

Somewhat less of a known quantity is Jean-Paul Civeyrac’s Des Filles en Noir. Civeyrac first came to my attention with 2005’s Through the Forest, an eerie mood piece which played at NYFF then promptly disappeared. However, the film has stayed with me for the past half-decade, and seeing Civeyrac’s name on the Quinzaine schedule sent a tingle of excitement up this movie lover’s spine. It would be especially cool if he reuinites with his Through the Forest leading lady, the lovely Camille Berthomier, who also hasn’t been seen much since ’05. But I shouldn’t ask for too much, should I?

Finally, a number of notable films are showing in the Out of Competition section this year. In a year with precious few American films in Cannes, the mainstream hype machine will no doubt be paying lots of attention to Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger and Oliver Stone’s Wall Street sequel. But why get all worked up over a couple of movies that will be playing everywhere in a few months?

No, the one I’m looking forward to is Olivier Assayas’ Carlos, which is not a big-screen adventure starring Daniel DeSario’s dwarfish Dungeons & Dragons character, but rather Assayas’ much-anticipated epic about the infamous international terrorist Carlos the Jackal. I’ve always been something of a junkie for long-form cinema, and Carlos fits the bill- 5 ½ hours- but I’m also curious to see what sort of take Assayas has on this story (like Steven Soderbergh, Assayas is a first-rate filmmaking chameleon). If I somehow found my way to Cannes this year, you can be sure I’d make time for this. As it is, I can at least take comfort in the fact that IFC will be releasing this thing, and that it may even eventually find its way onto a Criterion DVD.

Naturally, I’ll be keeping my eyes on the Cannes press for the next few weeks. But for now, that’s all I’ve got. Your thoughts?