In Cannes, the tremendous excitement when discovering new talent is precious, but – let’s face it – there is nothing like that adrenaline rush when watching the latest film by an established director. Anticipation meets the joy of identifying styles and mannerisms; signifies and signifiers. A potential sense of trepidation of being disappointed is also part of the deal, but when and if the picture lives up to one’s expectations, then its pure bliss.

(part one available here)


Pedro Almodovar’s new brilliant suspense thriller The Skin I Live In, cements his proficiency in turning soap operas into formidable ambient dramas. His decipherable self-referential aesthetics, choreographed in perfect tune, were absolutely thrilling. Set in contemporary Madrid, a plastic surgeon (Antonio Banderas) has imprisoned a young woman (Elena Anaya), using her as guinea pig for his enigmatic experiments. At the same time, he seeks revenge against the man who raped his daughter. Anaya, Almodovar’s surrogate muse, shimmers with indulgent passion, delivering a dynamic performance that could easily pave her way to Hollywood. Banderas is also one of the pleasant surprises, managing to perfectly balance his character’s obsession, eroticism and vengeance. As the genre dictates, there are moments of excruciating loiter, similar to the ones in the variously received Broken Embraces. This might disappoint the impatient viewer, but should they hang on, they will be rewarded with an utterly gripping twist.


Palm d’Or winner and also the most anticipated film of the festival, Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life, was a transcendental experience in its own unclassified category. The genesis of cosmos, the history of the universe, the development of the first single-celled life forms, the era of dinosaurs, all provided the cosmological tapestry for a father-and-son story to unfold. Narrated largely by a spellbinding voice-over, Jack O’Brien (Sean Penn), a businessman lost in a modern city, recounts his childhood memories of growing up in the 50s, where the majority of the film takes place. A stream of consciousness on how to come to terms with the loss of a younger brother and the traumas from a militant father (Brad Pitt) gives way to the more existential questions of what, when, where and how we humans got here, but also where we are going. Despite the overly archetypal characters involved in under-developed storylines, Malick creates an intergalactic world of impeccable imagery that dissolves fluidly into the deep subconscious. Jack’s inner voice may ring bells with one’s owns inquisitions and be intimately resonant, yet, due to the film’s opaqueness, whether it all makes sense is a subjective call.


What’s best to complement a treatise on the genesis of the world than an overture about the end of it all? Lars Von Trier’s discharge note from depression is Melancholia, a stunning audiovisual experience of over-dramatised vignettes inspired by German Romanticism and dressed with Wagnerian grandeur. Trier stretches the anticipation of an upcoming abyss as planet Melancholia follows its trajectory towards the Earth, dichotomising the story between the points of view of two fundamentally different sisters: the depressive Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and the ‘normal’ or non-depressive Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). The Danish provocateur’s slick visual style has matured; his themes appear slightly more mainstream, and his female leads are in excess of dominance. To some surprise, both of the sisters’ male companions (Kiefer Sutherland and Alexander Skarsgård) end up disappearing off screen without a decent excuse, but the strangest part is that we actually don’t miss them….Accepting the minor flaws of Melancholia as a work that may not make any literal sense, is a prerequisite, it’s the visceral aesthetic quality that makes it haunting.


Part of the Cannes’ usual suspects, the Dardenne brothers were also competing with their latest work, a mature coming of age tale set in Seraing. The Kid With a Bike is Cyril, a 12-year old boy in search of his father. Samantha, a hairdresser who becomes his foster family on weekends, tries to ease his anger with purely unconditional love. Incessantly mobile, the camera follows Cyril (beautifully acted by Thomas Doret) cycling his way out of his trauma and embracing a new reality. Even if most of the elements in the film appear to be in harmony, there are still some incongruities found in the narrative, elements not properly introduced, yet meant to be taken for granted. We have to admit though that one can become too pedantic after watching a barrage of high quality films. What we should acknowledge is that the Belgian duo’s filmmaking has undoubtedly evolved; their camera movements are more elegant, and an imposed soundtrack has now become an option, dramatically underling emotions, yet eschewing sentimentality.


Finally a film that gave us some good laughs, Le Havre scored high amongst the critics, deservingly receiving the FIPRESCI award. The truth is that many feared to wake up at the crack of dawn for the Aki Kuarismaki film, projecting some obligatory heavy duty that the plot suggested. What would one expect when reading about a former author in voluntary exile, who serves as a shoe shiner and “fighter against the cold war of human indifference as well as the blind machinery of the Western constitutionally governed state…”? That’s right: bleakness. Instead, Le Havre is not just highly enjoyable, but it also comes with a sharp critical vision on the issue of immigration. Marking Kuarismaki’s first film outside Finland (set in the Normandy port town) it is a delight to hear his characters speak French with that low key humour they are renowned for. Finally, the vivid and atmospheric set designs – otherworldly places that exist only in Kaurismaki’s universe – uniquely enclose the film’s social realism, masterfully downplayed by the proverbial deadpan performances.

For more, check out part three here.