FESTIVALS

CANNES DAYS 8 and 9 | “La fille inconnue,” “Personal Shopper,” “Inversion” and “Juste la fin du monde”

More misses than hits in fest's second half
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The second part of the Cannes Festival is turning out to be harder to love than the first one, an enlightened epoch when “Ma Loute” and “Mal de Pierres,” an off-kilter comedy and a love drama respectively, were easy to stamp as good cinema. Week two isn’t all gems.

Yesterday, the Dardenne Brothers’s “La fille inconnue” (“The Unknown Girl”) received a lukewarm response. In it a young woman doctor, overcome by guilt after a murder takes place near her cabinet, leads her own investigation in parallel with that of the police, which brings her unwanted attention. The film is unequal and sometimes bogged down by poor writing.

The main character of Jenny is hardly believable: the actress playing the part (Adèle Haenel) is too young to play a doctor and wears the same expression throughout the film. As usual in a Dardenne film, dialogues are deliberately slow, as if the filmmakers had instructed the actors to speak exclusively in a monotone.

The music-free “La fille inconnue” is realistic, almost documentarian in nature—again, this is Dardenne country. But a little music could go a long way in enhancing their cinema. One good thing is that the Dardennes’s favorite actor, Jérémie Rénier, makes an appearance in the second half of the film, playing a key role in the story.

Other misses in this second half of the festival, Olivier Assayas’s “Personal Shopper.” Have I ever been a fan of his recent films? The characters that the sixty-one-year old French filmmaker puts on the screen leave me cold. That was the case with “Sils Maria,” and it is so with “Personal Shopper” which stars Kristen Stewart. Rather than being drawn into the story, I was made to feeI like an outsider, looking at a foreign land. But that’s not the only issue with his “Personal Shopper,” shown this past Monday.

Where the film finds some heft and caught my interest is the suspenseful forty-five minutes or so during which Stewart’s Maureen quickly attends to her boss Kyra Gellman (Nora Von Wäldstatten) while also trying to reconnect with her dead brother. She researches seances and clairvoyance and looks out for signals telling her that her brother’s spirit may be following her around. We’re in want of a resolution, of finding out who the brother is and whether he’ll make an appearance. Then the film collapses with a strange scene that begs explaining. Instead of which, Maureen ups and leaves for Muskat to visit a friend.

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“Varoonegi”

Things improved this week with a winner, Behnam Behzadi’s “Inversion” (“Varoonegi” in the original Persian title), screened yesterday in the Un Certain Regard selection and starring Sahar Dolatshahi as Niloofar and Ali Mosaffa. In “Varoonegi,” a drama about a family in turmoil after a parent falls ill and an important decision needs to be taken by all. The parent’s doctor prescribes good, clean air, so the mother will have to be moved to the family’s holiday home in the north. Ongoing issues with a previous heritage cause complications and more bad blood between Niloofar and Mosaffa’s Farhad. Comparisons to Asghar Farhadi can hardly be avoided, Behzadi creating an ersatz of “A Separation.”

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“Juste la fin du monde”

The new Xavier Dolan film “Juste la fin du monde” was shown last night, a major event that saw a number of journalists turned away from a Debussy Theater quickly filled to capacity.

After using independent actors, Dolan has treated himself this time to a lineup of A-listers: Vincent Cassel, Gaspar Uliel, Nathalie Baye, Léa Seydoux and Marion Cotillard. “Juste la fin du monde” is about Uliel’s character, Louis, returning unannounced to his hometown. He’s come back to tell his family that he’s going to die soon.

The thrust of the film is that of a family getting back together but there’s a complicated history between several of the family members–among others, Cassel’s Antoine and Uliel’s Louis–which leads to some pretty spectacular shouting matches. It’s hard to know what to make of this film, there aren’t many clues about how to handle it.

Dolan doesn’t give us much information about what caused the rift beside cryptic flashbacks experienced by Louis. Most of the strength of the film comes from how Dolan has directed his actors.

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