Sunday, May 24, 2015

2015 Cannes Film Festival Aftermath

This year's Cannes Film Festival ended with a shocking win but for the most part was largely uneventful. The only major news story from the event didn't come from any of the films but from the controversy of several female viewers being delayed at screenings because they weren't wearing high heels, apparently breaking a so-called unwritten rule of the festival. As for the films, save for a couple of acclaimed features, a colossal failure, and a 3D porno, the selection was mixed at best. The Coen Brothers were the Presidents of the Main Competition jury and had an eclectic body to preside over: actor Jake Gyllenhaal; actresses Sophie Marceau, Sienna Miller, and Rossy de Palma; directors Guillermo de Toro and Xavier Dolan; and strange outsider/singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré. After viewing the 19 films, they proceeded to give out the awards in a most puzzling fashion.

The Palme d'Or was given to Dheepan, much to the chagrin of film critics everywhere. The French movie was directed and co-written by Jacques Audiard, best known for A Prophet and his last Cannes entry Rust and Bone. The film follows three Tamil strangers, one of whom was formerly a child soldier, as they escape Sri Lanka and pose as a family in France. Though lightly praised, it was mocked for its strange concluding moments, where the somber drama suddenly turns into an action affair.

The Grand Prix, a.k.a. the 2nd place ribbon, was given to Son of Saul, a movie that I expectedly rolled my eyes upon first hearing (it's another Holocaust drama) but was met with a ton of acclaim post-premiere. The debut feature of László Nemes, the Hungary film in set in Auschwitz, where a Sonderkommando tries to perform the Jewish last rites on a body he believes to be his son, all the while his fellow forced laborers plan an uprising. Though other films have told the story of the Sonderkommandos before (The Grey Zone comes to mind), this film was lauded for its horrific quality and its expert cinematography and soundtrack. Expected to be the odds-on favorite to win the Palme, it instead wound up missing the chance to rip the tape.

The Jury Prize, a.k.a. the bronze medal, went to The Lobster, the latest from international cult favorite Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth). His English-language debut, the surreal sci-fi rom-com has Colin Farrell must search all over a hotel for mate within a 45-day time limit or else risk being turned into an animal. With that plot description, I am already right on board to check this one out. The film also picked up the Grand Jury Prize for the Palm Dog Award and a special mention for the Queer Palm.

Best Director went to Hou Hsiao-Hsien for The Assassin, a wuxia flick that had film lovers salivating due to its cinematography. Some critics even went as far as calling it the most beautiful film ever made. It too was highly favored to win, most likely ending up with the Grand Prix, but it just missed the podium.

Best Screenplay of course always goes to a downer, with this year being handed off to Chronic. Tim Roth stars as a possibly deranged nurse working in the ward for the terminally ill. Roth was pointed out as the only highlight of the dour drama.

César-bridesmaid Vincent Lindon finally got to earn a major win for once, taking the Best Actor award for his performance in The Measure of a Man. Here, he plays an unemployed man desperately looking to provide for his family, only to gain the position as a security guard of a department store and slowly start to unravel.

Best Actress yet again was split between two performers but not from the same movie this time around. First up was Rooney Mara for her work Carol, the latest from Todd Haynes. The most acclaimed film of the entire festival, the romantic drama had Mara playing a department store clerk in the 1950's, as she enters into an affair with Cate Blanchett. Observers predicted the film to be next Blue is the Warmest Color, winning the Palme and either a special award or this category for Mara and Blanchett. The jury had other plans, however, and only Mara was praised. Her co-owner of the title was Emmanuelle Bercot, who plays a woman caught up with the highs and lows of love in Maïwenn's Mon roi. Reading from some notices, it looks like both the film and her acting are completely overwrought, telling nothing new or worthy enough to win in a category. The award was a 2nd honor for Bercot this year, as her latest directed film Standing Tall was selected to be the opening film of the festival.

Before we go over the other unloved films in the Main Competition, let's talk about the elephant in the room: Gus Van Sant's The Sea of Trees. The movie had a famous director, a pedigreed cast (Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe, Naomi Watts), and was set in the "Suicide Forest", a real-life area in Japan where many people venture to in order to kill themselves. And it was booed out of the building. It was so badly received, it was earning below one-star ratings in the polls. Many jeered at its screenplay, for its long monologues and twist ending; in the case of the latter, critics alluded to it as being somewhere between M. Night Shyamalan and Nicolas Sparks. What did you expect from Chris Sparling, the guy whose last produced script was ATM?

Now, as for the others: Matteo Garrone (Gomorrah) furthered his experimental side with Tale of Tales, a fantasy-horror film consisting of three pre-Grimm fairy tales; Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario, about a FBI agent trying to take down Mexican drug cartels, unnerved some critics but Emily Blunt's passive lead performance and Roger Deakins' cinematography earned raves; Michael Fassbender got to do Shakespeare with the latest filmed adaptation of Macbeth; Hirokazu Koreeda returned with Our Little Sister, an adaptation of a shoujo manga about a trio of female siblings taking in their unknown half-sister; Italian film My Mother had a hard time picking a tone, as it jumps between a satire about moviemaking and a sober drama about a dying parent; Joachim Trier (Oslo, August 31st) returned with Louder Than Bombs, his English-language debut about a family trying to come to terms with the suicide of their mother/wife; Jia Zhangke's Mountains May Depart continued his sharp attacks on China's masking of capitalism through communism; Paolo Sorrentino tripped up with Youth, where Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel hang out at a spa; Valley of Love has Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu wandering around Death Valley for dumb reasons; and one of Truffaut's forlorn projects was brought to life in Marguerite & Julien, an incest drama that was thankfully derided by viewers.

Additional highlights and those in Un Certain Regard: Rams, a dramedy about two estranged brothers coming together to save their flock, won the Un Certain Regard Award; French provocateur Gaspar Noé premiered his 3D autobiographical porno Love but the unsimulated sex scenes couldn't overtake its terrible script and acting; People got to have their first taste Inside Out and Irrational Man, with many praising the former more over the latter; Jeremy Saulnier followed up Blue Ruin with the premiere of Green Room, where a punk rock band tries to fight their way out of a bar filled with skinheads, who are led by none other than Patrick Stewart (!); Takashi Miike unleashed Yakuza Apocalypse, a gonzo yakuza flick filled with vampires, kappas, and a mascot-wearing badass; Kiyoshi Kurosawa won Best Director for Un Certain Regard yet had everybody snoring with his low-key ghost drama Journey to the Shore; and Apichatpong Weerasethakul was regulated to the minor leagues for no real reason yet earned his usual praise for Cemetery of Splendor.

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