Fruitvale Station: Helmed by newcomer director Ryan Coogler, Fruitvale Station was one of the most talked about films at Cannes. Starring Michael B.Jordan, Octavia Spencer, and Melonie Diaz, the film has a circular narrative, starting with the now well-known police brutality incident at Fruitvale Station, and then leading us through the life of Oscar (Michael B. Jordan) and how he ended up at the wrong place in the wrong time. Personally, it is the film that touched and impressed me the most, and the creative storytelling is its main asset.
Le Passé: Asghar Farhadi’s passion for family melodrama was evident in A Separation and even more in his new film, Le Passé. Focusing on newly-divorced Marie (an astounding Berenice Bejo), the movie portrays the complicated relationships between her, her ex-husband Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), her new partner Samir (Tahar Rahim), and her eldest daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet). Le Passé starts very slowly, but the last 40 minutes of the film are when the interrelations between the characters get even tighter instead of unwinding. It’s a slow burn, but the movie sticks with you, and Bérenice Bejo’s performance especially.
Inside Llewyn Davis: I still can’t decide which film presented at Cannes was my favourite, but the new Coen brothers vehicle is definitely in my top 3. The music is great, the casting is impeccable, and the cinematography is beautiful. Alexander Payne, whose Nebraska was one of the most-talked about features at Cannes, was at the same screening that I attended on the last day of the festival. Inside Llewyn Davis reunites Oscar Isaac and Carey Mulligan since they played husband and wife in Drive, and one thing the movie needed more of was Mulligan. She is a scene-stealer; look out for her stone-cold “you should wear condom on condom” speech. John Goodman, who has proven to be Hollywood’s lucky charm, has a short cameo, which probably guarantees the film some Oscar attention. Bathed in blues and greens, Inside Llewyn Davis has an old-timey, washed-out photograph, feel. Recounting the misfortunes and misadventures of a beat-up musician, it is a touching dramedy and unlike anything recent that the Coen brothers have produced.
Nebraska: It has been two years since The Descendants and Alexander Payne comes back with another family dramedy. Shot in black and white, Nebraska has a poetic feel to it and plays out as a fable more than a traditional story. Starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte as Woody and David Grant, the film chronicles the journey of father and son from Montana and Nebraska, in order to claim a million dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize that Woody thinks he won. Of course all of their neighbours and long-forgotten friends suddenly show an interest in the Grants and everyone they meet seems to have a different motive for cashing-in on the inexistent prize. Nebraska’s forte is its characters and dialogue, and although nothing much happens, the film draws you in because you really feel for the Grant family. It’s that small movie that won’t draw in the big crowds, but will have movie lovers talking.
Only God Forgives: This is the movie I wanted to see the most, so imagine my shock when it got booed and walked out on. I met people who loved it and people who absolutely hated it, and the critics were equally divided. Mark Adams of Screen sums it up best: “The slow-moving camera shots, portentous atmosphere, mannered and graceful performances and astonishingly vibrant production design all combine to make the film a darkly immersive experience, but the intermittent violence – especially in a grim torture sequence – is a tough watch for some.” Like Drive, Only God Forgives is a very quiet film, but then again I would argue that it aspires to the ‘actions speak louder than words’ philosophy. Everything that is said, counts. Especially when it comes to Kirsten Scott Thomas’ performance as a vengeful mama who goes to Bangkok to convince her younger son Julian (a tight-lipped, tight-fisted Ryan Gosling) to avenge his older brother’s murder. The words that come out of her mouth are as vile as the violence we see on screen. Nicolas Winding Refn has crafted a hard, but impossible not to watch, revenge drama, and it is clear from the beginning that revenge, and not justice, is what drives the characters. Personally, I appreciated the film, because it is exactly what I expected after Drive, but I would agree that there is more style than substance. I just don’t see why that has to be a bad thing.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints: Sundance darling Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was shown out of competition during Critics’ Week at Cannes. Directed by David Lowery (St. Nick), the film stars Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara as two star-crossed outlaw lovers. After Bob (Affleck) takes the fall for a murder that Ruth (Mara) commits during a shootout with cops, the two are separated for years before Bob manages to escape jail in order to try and reunite with her and their now four years-old daughter. Things get more emotional when police officer Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster) begins to take care of Ruth and the little girl. It’s a beautiful and unique love story that has a certain Terrence Malick feel to it in the way it is photographed, especially the close-ups of Ruth which give her a saintly aura. Definitely a must-see.
Venus in Fur: Based on the play by David Ives, which is in turn based on the eponymous novel about sexual submission by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Venus in Fur by Roman Polanski takes place in a theater auditorium in Paris where an actress, coincidentally named Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner), tries to convince a director, Thomas (Mathieu Amalric), that she is perfect for the role of Vanda in the mentioned play. While unconvinced at first, Thomas decides to give this scattered-brained, foul-mouthed actress a try and he is amazed by her skill. He lets her re-enact the entire play, with him playing the lead male character. Soon,however, the parts switch and it is Vanda commanding the play. Venus in Fur is an elegant and witty spectacle not about the war of the sexes exactly, but rather about their irrelevance.
Only Lovers Left Alive: Four years after The Limits of Control, Jim Jarmusch is back, this time with a story about vampires – Only Lovers Left Alive. Starring Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton as the fittingly named lovers Adam and Eve, the film is a character study about a relationship that has literally stood the test of time. With a terrific score, just like any other Jarmusch film, Only Lovers Left Alive is a mood piece that gives homage to art through the ages. Dressed impeccably, Eve always in white, Adam in black, sporting gloves and sunglasses, the two complete each other like the ying and the yang. Casting-wise too, I thought Swinton and Hiddleston looked like the same person. Only Lovers Left Alive is a stylish and witty ode to hipster culture through the ages. The movie got a standing ovation, and I felt that most of the people who attended were Jarmusch fans to begin with; the director was been a Cannes favorite ever since his 1984 film Stranger than Paradise which won him the Caméra d’Or.
La Grande Bellezza: Directed by Paolo Sorrentino, La Grande Bellezza is a lush, colorful film about hedonism and the obsession with youth. The charming Toni Servillo (whose performance as ‘Il Divo’ Giulio Andreotti in 2008 had critics raving) plays an aging writer who no longer knows what to write about and whose life has been reduced to partying, sex, and intellectual thought in the wee small hours of the morning. The most impressive thing about La Grande Bellezza for me is that it really is a beautifully photographed film, every frame could be freezed and admired. However, at 2 and a half hours, the movie became sort of a drag with its over-the-top philosophical ponderings on excess, art, and the meaning of life.
Sarah Prefers to Run: Quebec’s own Chloé Robichaud is behind Sarah Prefers to Run, her first feature film, but not her first time in Cannes. At 25, the young director has had three of her short films presented at the festival in 2010, 2011, and 2012. In this first long-métrage, we have Sarah, a shy and socially awkward young girl who goes to Montreal in order to join McGill University’s running team. She is not after a trophy, nor does she ever mention becoming a professional athlete, but rather she just wants to run. Running in the film is treated as a metaphor for escaping the expectations of her family, but also as a metaphor for finding oneself and coming of age. It is a promising debut for Robichaud and an interesting portrayal of a female hero who fails all clichés about femininity.
By Radina Papukchieva