I’d like to thank the Coen Brothers for giving me the opportunity to write this post. I’ve just waited sixty minutes in the pouring rain for a chance to get inside the Debussy theater and watch “Inside Llewyn Davis” but the theatre filled up and we got left out in the cold. Fortunately I was with my three colleagues from the French site Abus de Ciné so we got a chance to exchange about the day’s discoveries (there was a lot to cover). But if it weren’t for this major miss in my screening schedule, today would’ve been a writing-free day (I would get to watch the new Coen Brothers film later that night).
The day began with the screening of “Jimmy P, Psychotherapy of a Plains indian” by French filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin (“A Christmas Tale,” starring Catherine Deneuve). The 114 minute-long feature film stars Benicio del Toro and Matthieu Amalric (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) and held more promise than what it ended up delivering. Jimmy Picard (Del Toro), a native American Blackfoot, suffers from some kind of post-traumatic stress syndrome since his last tour in France and gets transferred to a military hospital in Topeka, KS. After doctors found nothing wrong with him George Devereux (Amalric), an eccentric anthropologist-psychiatrist is enlisted to provide treatment sessions.
A kind of camaraderie ensues between the two and much of the film is taken up by these two having conversations on Picard’s past and his relationship with women (his mother, his authoritative sister). And yet in spite of an A-list cast and the choice narrative setting (the end of WWII, Kansas) Desplechin has missed the opportunities presented him. Whatever inner turmoil Picard is affected by, or what his objectives are hasn’t been used compellingly to establish a major conflict, something that someone has to resolve at some point. The film flatlines fairly quickly after the midway point and all you get to watch is a series of conversations between two men, however charismatic.
French filmmaker Rebecca Zlotowski’s “Grand Central” gives us a front-and-center perspective on what it’s like to be lowest in the food chain, at a nuclear reactor. Gary Manda (Tahar Rahim) is an itinerant worker who gets recruited to work at the local nuclear plant. Among the reactors and the constant threat of radioactive contamination he’s found a family (the workers all live in the same trailer park), a salary and even love, even though that kind of love is verboten. Gary has an affair with the beautiful Karole (Lea Seydoux — “Mission Impossible”), herself married to Tony, one of the plant employees.
“Bends” by Flora Lau is every rich person’s worse nightmare: becoming poor. Or, how a broken up marriage leads an affluent Hong Kong bourgeoise to face a life of destitution. I don’t remember seeing a lot of movies shot in Hong Kong, and that city fascinates me, a lot more so than does Beijing: the people in Hong Kong are nicer. It’s the city of commerce, a retail heaven whose topography reminds me of Rio De Janeiro’s. A first-time picture by Hong Kong-native Flora Laura, “Bends” follows the wealthy socialite (played by Carina Lau Ka-ling) getting driven to various places and home by her chauffeur (played by mainland actor Chen Kun) and trying to save face gracefully (to use the words of a fellow journalist) as her various accounts get blocked and her credit-cards declined, the result of her husband leaving her. “Bends” is a slow-brewing and moving drama. Of note, Wong Kar-Wai’s official D.P. Christopher Doyle lensed this film.
The Coen Brothers’ film “Inside Llewyn Davis” was the first event-film of this Cannes Festival. Funnily enough, the film’s a fail. Early screenings got sold out quickly and riots nearly broke out at the later one, which I attended (which my Vine videos for a sense of this).
Why does Llewyn Davis fail? An extremely light narrative (a has-been folk singer makes some half-assed attempt at reviving his career) and an over-knowingness make “Llewyn Davis” one of the weakest films by the Coens in a while. Also, John Goodman, who always brings more than his share to the table had an obscenely shallow role this time.
Brooklyn-based Jeremy Saulnier lensed the horror comedy “Murder Party” a few years ago. “Blue Ruin” is his second feature film and was shown yesterday at the Directors’ Fortnight program. It’s a revenge film which should satisfy the genre’s aficionados as well as anyone trying to avoid the Hollywood cliché movies. The “Blue Ruin” of the title is an old Pontiac in which Dwight (played to perfection by Macon Blair) spends his night. He’s your typical long-bearded homeless guy who gets awakened by a large policewoman one sunny morning. “You need to come to the police station with me. There’s some news I need to give you” (well, I paraphrase). The bit of news is that the man who killed Dwight’s parents is about to be released from jail. The quiet hermit hits the road again–his only goal moving forward, to avenge his parents’ death.
Whereas others would’ve made the entire film last based on this, Saulnier schedules death early in this movie to make room for some later encounters from which no one will escape unscathed. A strong sophomoric turn for Saulnier, a filmmaker that you ought to keep on your radar.
(pictured: still from “Bends” by Flora Lau)
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