The third and final part of Eftihia Stefanidi‘s 64th Cannes Film Festival reviews, entitled “Let Me Entertain You (Straight from the expats)”… Enjoy and stay posted for an interview with Eftihia coming soon!
PART 3 – LET ME ENTERTAIN YOU (STRAIGHT FROM EXPATS)
A variety of themes and genres were explored at the festival this year, and many appreciated the effect of some less highbrow films that provided an uncomplicated indulgence. Coincidentally, most of them came from directors who shot outside their native countries.
Unanimously labelled by critics as the guilty pleasure of the Official Selection, Drive by Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn was the one that entertained the most. With the right amount of adrenaline, over-stylised violence and a dash of romance, the film is an instant cult classic. Ryan Gosling plays a dexterous stunt driver by day and get-away driver at night. An enigmatic and low-key character, he doesn’t open up much, not even around the company of his charming young neighbor (Carey Mulligan), yet their electrifying connection is tangible. The wonderfully contained performances are partly responsible for the success of Drive. Though, the real credit goes to Refn (rightly awarded for Best Director) whose skilful vision materialises in splendor. From the pink credits and the feminine 80s soundtrack to the smooth and elegant driving scenes around a superbly lit L.A., this is work with a signature style that visual stimulates.
Italian director Paolo Sorentino came in prominence through his acclaimed political drama Il Divo in 2008. With This Must Be the Place he now delves into an ambitious experiment that blends a Hollywood actor of unlimited repertoire (Sean Penn) with the conventions of the road movie genre, wide-ranging traveling shots, pop architecture and a cameo by Talking Heads’ David Byrne (hence the film’s title). Set mainly in America (with a little bit of gloomy Ireland), Penn plays Cheyenne, a former Goth idol in his 50s who remains as childish and extravagant as when he was in fame. Suffering from boredom, his life finds meaning as he embarks on a journey to track down an elderly Nazi; a man who had humiliated his father back in the days (creepily enough, the Nazi yarn was in perfect timing with Lars Von Trier’s provocative comments on the subject). Nevertheless, This Must Be the Place is not a film on anti-Semitism, the concept being rather used as an excuse to undertake the ride. The focal point here is the character – and that is a magnificent Sean Penn – whose story is about the discovery of those hidden qualities lying behind first impressions and public facades. Even if some of Cheyenne’s encounters with the people he meets along the way do not always appear concordant, on the whole, the film juggles its heterogeneous elements decorously.
America seems to be the first destination for the expatriate directors screening at Cannes, amongst them French-born Michael Hazanavicius whose film was positively the most endearing of all. The Artist is a black and white silent movie like those made in the late 1920s, masterfully recreating that Hollywood era of stardom. George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a successful silent movie star struggles to accept the arrival of talking pictures, while Peppy Miller (Bérénice Béjo), his female young competitor, steadily climbs the ladder of fame. A precarious venture by nature, one could make a long list of things that could go wrong with this one. However, when creative vision meets vastly talented contributors, the sky is the limit. The Artist is pure, unadulterated cinema of sensations, providing the minimum tools of narrative, yet the rest is up to your imagination. In great collaboration, makeup, costumes, set designs and props are charmingly reflecting the spirit of that golden period, bringing some on screen vintage nostalgia. As for the wonderful score by Ludovic Burce, which runs throughout the film, it simply fits like glove.
THE BEST FROM THE REST
It is highly improbable to watch everything in Cannes, not only because there are numerous screenings running in tandem, but also because we are humans and we sometimes need a break. The good thing with breaks is that one is likely to meet with other like-minded people doing exactly the same thing as oneself: socialising over a glass of French wine, share the guilt for not being after the next screening, and compensating for it via exchange of information on the films already seen. This is, by the way, a safe and quick technique to fish for the ones that slipped through your attention.
Las Acacias is an example of an underdog little gem that fortunately ends up winning the Camera d’Or (a prize given to the best first feature) and striking attention. Argentinean-born director Pablo Georgelli worked on a subtly touching story with a very simple plot: a truck driver heading from Paraguay to Buenos Aires is appointed to transport a woman and a baby that he meets for the first time. The 15,000 kilometres covered are captured effectively, as the director rather integrates the viewer within the action instead of making us the ‘outsiders’ of the journey. His camera gets physical; placed inside the car next to the couple, it invites us to join them and feel what they feel. With very little dialogue or musical aid, what we are incrementally trained to notice are silences, gazes and pauses, exchanged to great effect. No further explanation of who the characters are or where they are coming from seems necessary, as it is in those delicate gestures and glances that the answers are found. This silent force of a road-movie, selected at Critic’s Week, makes Las Acacias a ride that burns slowly, yet warms your heart and sharpens your senses.
On a similar unhurried tempo – indicative of contemporary South American cinema – we found Porfirio, a film by Alejandro Landes, screened at the Directors’ Fortnight. A fusion of documentary and fiction, Porfirio Ramirez Aldana is a real character playing himself, his story going back in 2005 with the headline: Paralysed Man in Diapers Hijacks Plane in Bogotá. Out of creative inquisition, Landes interviewed Porfirio in jail and ended up inviting him to play the lead in a film that took five years to develop. The result is a reverential portrait of a man confined at the outskirts of the Colombian Amazon, trying to survive by selling call time. His son and woman next door are both faithfully supporting his daily wheelchair-bound routine, though real life for him is about dreaming to fly. A film whose central character lacks mobility is usually a challenge, but the Brazilian director overcomes the limitations by picking the joy in the mundane. Rigorously framed with washed out colourful locales, Porfirio sincerely unfolds with lightness and simplicity.
Words & Holga Images by Eftihia Stefanidi