Sunday, May 22, 2016

2016 Cannes Film Festival Aftermath

At last year's edition of the Cannes Film Festival, it concluded with an upset win and the overall celebration of global filmmaking was largely uneventful. Apparently, that thick air of disappointment has descended upon the festival again, as the Main Competition jury went completely opposite from the critical body and handed out prizes to films that were among the worst received with audiences. When you have a body presided over by George Miller and filled with the likes of Kirsten Dunst, Mads Mikkelsen, Vanessa Paradis, Donald Sutherland, Valeria Golino, and last year's Grand Prix winner László Nemes, you would think they would have chosen more wisely. Of course, my and other's opinions might change once these awarded films reach our viewing platforms but considering the close-to-being-severe outrage from professional observers, and the fact that previous big winner Dheepan just came out here in the States to a large meh response, I don't really see the tide turning at any time.

Legendary British director Ken Loach received the Palme d'Or for I, Daniel Blake much to his and everyone else's surprise. This win makes him one of the few double Palme winners in the history of the festival, as he won previously for The Wind That Shakes The Barley. Many theorized that Jimmy's Hall would have been Loach's last film, especially after its dismal reception here, but he was able to churn out another. Now, as for the film itself, it was politely respected but found a bit disposable, as it is just another one of his social realistic dramas, with a unhealthy dollop of depression on top. In this cookie-cutter entry, the titular character is fighting to earn disability benefits, only to be caught up by red tape and mismanagement. Along this sad path, he meets up with a single mother and her kids, who also are having problems dealing with the people controlling the welfare department. Sounds like a barrel of laughs, doesn't it?

The Grand Prix, a.k.a. the 2nd place ribbon, was stunningly given to It's Only the End of the World, the latest from the annoyingly smug Canadian director Xavier Dolan. He is sadly a prolific presence at this festival, earning a spot in 2015's main jury and last seen in the winner's circle in 2014 with his divisive Mommy a.k.a. the movie with the 1.1 aspect ratio. However, like fellow Cannes "favorite" Naomi Kawase, Dolan's reach and popularity does not extend beyond the French Riveria. His new whiny movie, involving an ailing writer who reunites with his family and expected tension come bubbling up, was lambasted and booed by critics and given some of the worst reviews of the entire festival. Further jeers came bellowing out when he was announced as the winner at the ceremony.

The Jury Prize, a.k.a. the bronze medal, went to American Honey, the long-awaited new film from Andrea Arnold (Red Road, Fish Tank). Clocking in at an outrageous time of 162 minutes, it is a road picture involving a reckless teenage girl who joins along in the wild and crazy adventures of some traveling magazine salesmen, including Shia LaBeouf, and getting caught up in a love affair amid all of the partying. Largely given a mixed response, the attention was more focused on newcomer Sasha Lane, who was lauded for her lead performance, and LaBeouf, who was expectedly sneered at for his scene-chewing actions.

Best Director went to a tie. First up was acclaimed Romanian director Cristian Mungiu for Graduation, a cagey drama where a doctor's daughter is too traumatized by a sexual assault to do well on an academic test, so he must bribe his way in order for her to succeed. Sharing in the accolade with Mungiu was Olivier Assayas for Personal Shopper, a strange horror thriller but played like a drama. Assayas teams up again with actress Kristen Stewart, who won a César in their last film together Clouds of Sils Maria, to craft a flick where Stewart plays a personal assistant/spirit medium who believes she is in contact with the ghost of her twin brother. Containing a long, long sequence where the heroine has a text message conversation with an unknown number on a train trip, the film was booed by the press (what film isn't here?) but earned minor press mainly for Assayas' audacity and Stewart's acting.

Best Screenplay normally goes to a serious downer but Asghar Farhadi's The Salesman is a straight up Iranian thriller. An acting couple, who perform daily as Willy and Linda Loman in a production of Death of a Salesman, move into a new apartment only for the wife to be surprise attacked by a stranger while in the shower. Hoping to help his loved one, the husband follows the clues until reaching an emotionally tense confrontation. Farhadi's frequent collaborator Shahab Hosseini also nabbed up the Best Actor award for the film.

Probably the most perplexing win other than the Palme was Best Actress being given to Jaclyn Jose for her performance in Ma' Rosa. Lambasted by critics for its dirty morality and ugly cinematography, the Filipino joint involves a connivence store couple who are arrested by the cops for selling meth and forced to have their own children get the hush money, by any means necessary, in order to bust them out. The fact that Jose beat out a large amount of competition this year is astonishing.

Now it comes time to talk about those that were unloved, starting with the big one: Toni Erdmann. This was the odds-on favorite to win it all, as it quickly became the breakout film of the entire festival. This three hour comedy (!) had crowds applauding with joy, as it chronicled a working woman who's hounded by her prank-playing father, only for him to leave for a bit and return as the titled figure, a so-called life coach who walks around in public wearing a bag wig and teeth. Despite earning the distinction of having the highest average critical rating in the history of Screen International with a 3.8, it was snubbed beyond belief. At least Sony Pictures Classics sees something in it, as they are set to distribute it later this year. Take that, Loach!

As for the others: Paul Verhoeven made his welcome return to the center stage with Elle, an f'ed up thriller starring Isabelle Huppert as a CEO who tracks down the rapist who attacked her and who she neglected to inform the police about; Nicolas Winding Refn finally unleashed The Neon Demon, a dark Hollywood fable where Elle Fanning is the new It Girl; Jeff Nichols went 2 for 2 this year with his second feature and Oscar hopeful Loving, with Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga as the real-life interracial couple who fought the law for their love; Jim Jarmusch and Adam Driver came together like peanut butter and chocolate with Paterson, a slack existential journey into the week of a poetry-writing bus driver from New Jersey; Severe guffaws were handed out with Sean Penn's The Last Face, his sheer dumb attempt to have a torrid romance set during the Second Liberian Civil War; Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) returned to Korea and his normal grindhouse ways with The Handmaiden; Pedro Almodóvar showed off Julieta for the first time outside Spain, where its twisty melodrama and short story structure earned it some praise; The Dardenne Brothers returned to their usual spot in the Competition with The Unknown Girl, a serial murder mystery that is nothing like their usual work; Cristi Puiu (The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu) had to be the odd Romanian out, as his funeral family drama Sieranevada did him no favors with its eye-level cinematography and near three hour running time; Alain Guiraudie followed up his queer favorite Stranger By The Lake with Staying Vertical, an insane-sounding film where a young screenwriter is caught by sudden life changes, gay flirtation and surreal predicaments; Disturbing auteur Bruno Dumont tried and failed to do black comedy again with Slack Bay, which crosses a Romeo and Juliet scenario with cannibals; French actress Nicole Garcia continued her blah directorial effort with From The Land Of The Moon, a stupid sounding movie where Marion Cotillard has no life beyond going crazy at the sight of men and suffering from kidney stones; and finally Aquarius gave Sonia Braga a meaty role as the last tenant in an old apartment building.

Additional highlights and those in Un Certain Regard: Woody Allen opened the festivities with Café Society but his mediocre at best attempt at doing The Apartment with some gangsters thrown in was absolutely overshadowed by his disturbing interviews and a rape joke that was thrown at him at a party; Steven Spielberg premiered The BFG, whose early word is that it works as an average fantasy flick riddled with CGI; Chris Pine and Ben Foster robbed banks and had shootouts with Texas Ranger Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water, David Mackenzie's follow-up feature to Starred Up; Studio Ghibli and Wild Bunch showed off their animated collaborated effort The Red Turtle; Hirokazu Koreeda was relegated to the minor leagues this year with the feel-good dramedy After The Storm; and The Happiest Day In The Life of Olli Mäkiwon, Finland's answer to Rocky but shot in 16mm B&W, won the Un Certain Regard Award.

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