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Cannes 2017 — Part 2

This is Bro on the World Film Beat Once Again “Break­ing Glass” at the Cannes Film Festival.

The prizes are in at the fes­ti­val and first prize, the palme d’or, goes to The Square, a Swedish film about the per­sis­tence of big mon­ey in the art world. Mean­while, the con­tin­u­ing break­ing sto­ry at Cannes con­cerned migrants, two of whom turned up dead in Cannes dur­ing the fes­ti­val while onscreen the Hun­gar­i­an film Jupiter’s Moon opens with a unarmed Syr­i­an migrant gunned down by the local police who then acquires the pow­er of, no pun intend­ed, flight in a kind of cross­ing of the Mar­vel comics series Legion with the stark­est Euro­pean social reality.

Else­where French direc­tor Michael Toesca brought four migrants to Cannes to call atten­tion to their plight as the police for­bid them from tak­ing their place on the red car­pet with the direc­tor. This famous tapis rouge on which Nicole Kid­man, in four films and hon­ored by the fes­ti­val, was a fash­ion sen­sa­tion was in a way mocked in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks where agent Coop­er seems to be trapped in a red velour cur­tain, like the car­pet, and can­not find his way back to real­i­ty as so much of the event seems to both want to embrace the social ills of con­tem­po­rary Europe and to at the same time deny them, sub­sum­ing then in a wash of con­sumerist glamour.

The order of the day in week two was tele­vi­sion as Cannes screened what was claimed as its first, not one but two, tele­vi­sion series; the sec­ond sea­son of Jane Cam­pi­ons’ Top of the Lake in its entire six episodes and the sequel to Twin Peaks with episodes one and two screened days after open­ing on Show­time in the U.S. Foot­note, this is not the first series screened at Cannes, that hon­or goes to Bruno Dumont’s P’tite Quin­quin, a four episode series which screened in 2014 but was not a high pro­file Amer­i­can series and even ear­li­er to 2010s Car­los by Olivi­er Assayas. The Top of the Lake screen­ing was unique. We were sit­ting in a Cannes the­ater watch­ing TV for six hours with direc­tor Cam­pi­on and her actors and crew and snack­ing after every two episodes with can­dy and gra­nola bars sup­plied by the screen­ers. I con­sid­er these two series along with Cannes bad boy Lars Von Trier’s The King­dom the three cru­cial series for the estab­lish­ment of a more com­mit­ted and crit­i­cal form of ser­i­al tele­vi­sion, the most dynam­ic con­tem­po­rary nar­ra­tive form, which Cannes by hold­ing the screen­ings was acknowledging.

Top of the Lake sea­son two began well, with the first two episodes, this sea­son with the female detec­tive Robin Grif­fin now back in her work­place of Syd­ney Aus­tralia inves­ti­gat­ing the death of a Chi­nese sex work­er and as well the mid­dle class exploita­tion of migrants as baby incu­ba­tors, sur­ro­gates, with both some­how tied to a frus­trat­ed phi­los­o­phy professor/pimp who ini­tial­ly holds the place of the drug lord patri­arch of the first sea­son. A very promis­ing start but the series then dis­solves into a haze of ambi­gu­i­ty and con­fu­sion as the patri­arch him­self becomes a frac­tured truth teller and the upper mid­dle class Nicole Kid­man char­ac­ter instead of being evil as is hint­ed in her ear­li­er appear­ances in the series becomes instead mere­ly obnox­ious, weak­en­ing what was a very promis­ing beginning.

Twin Peaks unfor­tu­nate­ly has a sim­i­lar tra­jec­to­ry. The ques­tion here was, would the series return to a refash­ion­ing of the “Who Killed Lau­ra Palmer” frame­work which made it the best and most influ­en­tial series ever on the air or would it lan­guish in the demon Bob after­math of the mess that was the final episodes post the rev­e­la­tion of the incest behind and at the root of the Amer­i­can expe­ri­ence and that car­ried over into the exper­i­men­tal but non­sen­si­cal Fire Walk With Me. There is more than the germ of a great series here, not only in the return to the Twin Peaks char­ac­ters but also in a South Dako­ta sto­ry involv­ing a seem­ing­ly inno­cent high school prin­ci­ple, his lawyer and his wife. The sec­ond episode though remains con­sumed in the demon Bob tak­ing over agent Coop­er non­sen­si­cal skull­dug­gery. Lynch’s explo­rations of the uncon­scious are always best, in Blue Vel­vet, Twin Peaks and Mul­hol­land Dri­ve, when they are ini­tial­ly ground­ed in the social world and episode two dis­dains that ground­ing. The series does explore two cru­cial ques­tions. One is, giv­en the series’ con­scious­ness of itself as aging 25 years, does the uncon­scious or how does the uncon­scious age? The sec­ond is, what is the impact of the dig­i­tal age on the uncon­scious, or rather, do we have any uncon­scious left or are we all sim­ply pre­or­dained images mixed in a con­sumer morass that is now our minds? A New York sec­tion quotes Andy Warhol’s Empire as a watch­er of the now dig­i­tal sky­line of the city is then pun­ished for his watch­ing in a way that sug­gests we are all now couch pota­toes per­haps await­ing our comeuppance.

Though Top of the Lake attempts to map the bat­tle­field of con­tem­po­rary male-female rela­tions three oth­er films at the fes­ti­val do it bet­ter and with less ambi­gu­i­ty. First is Sophia Coppola’s remake of the Clint East­wood film The Beguiled with wound­ed Union sol­dier Col­in Fer­rell res­cued by a Girl’s School near the end of the Civ­il War and which we heard a clip from in the open­ing of the show. Four dif­fer­ent ages of women with­in the school all become enam­ored with the sol­dier with this remake told not through his eyes, as is the Don Siegel orig­i­nal, but through theirs. This is a com­ing-of-age film for direc­tor Cop­po­la, award­ed the best direc­tor prize at the fes­ti­val, where the past as in Marie Antoinette is still not real­ly the past, but a screen on which to project post-fem­i­nist strug­gles, but here those strug­gles and the women’s abil­i­ty to fight back and to form a col­lec­tive is what is empha­sized in a deep­en­ing of the post-fem­i­nist position.

Sec­ond in this fight-back line is the remark­able Indone­sian film Mar­li­na, The Mur­der­er in Four Acts by Mouly Surya, a com­bi­na­tion of the rich her­itage of Indone­sian folk tale and the visu­al and icono­graph­ic her­itage of the 1970s Ser­gio Leone Ital­ian Spaghet­ti West­ern. The land­scape for this tale of a woman set upon by thieves who steal her prop­er­ty is the flat arid Old West plains of the island of Sum­ba, far from the usu­al trop­i­cal rain­for­est that is the image of the coun­try. Mar­li­na, tri­umphs over the men in a way sim­i­lar to that of the tri­umph of the Girl’s School in The Beguiled but that is only the begin­ning of her tale which fea­tures equal­ly the awak­en­ing of a preg­nant com­pan­ion along the way, all in the face of the inert fig­ure of Marlina’s mum­mi­fied hus­band, no help in con­fronting wan­ton male ener­gy in a cru­el land­scape where the human scale is reduced to a sin­gle hori­zon line in shots that betray the majesty of a direc­tor emerg­ing onto the world stage.

Final­ly, there is the won­drous blood­let­ting of the South Kore­an epic, screened as a mid­night film, The Vil­lain­ess, which first depicts the sav­age fight­ing skills of its gang-trained female assas­sin then tames and domes­ti­cates her as she moves to a legit­i­mate posi­tion inside a gov­ern­ment secu­ri­ty agency and falls for one of its oper­a­tives. Final­ly though, betrayed by both the agency and the gang, she exacts her revenge in a death-defy­ing armored car sequence before being tak­en by the police as the last shot clos­es in on her smile as she is cuffed, the smile seem­ing­ly her excite­ment at the pow­er she wields rather than the more sim­pli­fied sat­is­fac­tion of revenge.

“The Vil­lain­ess”.

I would like to con­tin­ue my cov­er­age of Cannes 70 with a trib­ute to the range of films the fes­ti­val screens. In one day I first saw An Incon­ve­nient Sequel, Al Gore’s fol­low-up 10 years lat­er to his Acad­e­my Award win­ning doc on cli­mate change. In the decade between, Gore has become, not embit­tered, but sharp­er and more direct in his mes­sage, point­ing out that there are now places in Africa where because of the increased pesti­lence caused by the heat which pro­motes the Zika virus women are being told to wait two years to have babies while in the U.S. for the same rea­son preg­nant women are warned not to vis­it Mia­mi where Gore explains the flood­ing com­ing from the melt­ing of Green­land may sink that city faster than Venice. He iden­ti­fies the fos­sil fuel indus­try as the vil­lain and though still guilty of con­sort­ing with known Democ­rats like Chuck Schumer does point out that his her­itage, where his father opposed LBJ’s War in Viet­nam, is from a time when Democ­rats had both a heart and a spine.

Next, on the same day, I saw in the Cannes Clas­sic Sec­tion African direc­tor Med Hondo’s Soleil O, the first restora­tion by The African Project, par­tial­ly fund­ed by George Lucas and intro­duced onscreen by Mar­tin Scors­ese which will even­tu­al­ly restore 50 African films from the Gold­en Peri­od of the 1970s and 1980s. Hon­do one of the key African direc­tors in that cinema’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary peri­od was a stu­dent in France and the film observes French racism first­hand in its main nar­ra­tive while a remark­ably pre­scient open­ing pan­tomime has African war­riors fight­ing each oth­er for the approval of a Euro­pean gen­er­al. They all col­lapse in a heap in front of the wily brigadier and he smiles as divide and con­quer, employed now more stri­dent­ly than ever on the con­ti­nent, works wonders.

Final­ly, my day con­clud­ed with the already dis­cussed Vil­lain­ess, which begins with an open­ing mon­tage in sub­jec­tive cam­era, that is, we see not her but only what she sees, of her blades mow­ing over the gang of men who oppose and mock her. The first time we see that this tal­ent­ed assas­sin is a woman is when she looks in a mir­ror, echo­ing The Lady in the Lake, a Hol­ly­wood ‘40s noir which uses this tech­nique. The audi­ence claps at the car­nage she exacts sim­i­lar to a male assas­sin who becomes known as the killer of 100 in Tashio Mike’s Blade of the Assas­sin also screened at the fes­ti­val. This time though the destruc­tion is engi­neered by a woman as a tour-de-force set­tling of accounts for a whole cin­e­mat­ic and actu­al his­to­ry of male vio­lence against women. A tru­ly remark­able day at a fes­ti­val which real­ly did con­tain multitudes.

In the grip­ing sec­tion though I will say that secu­ri­ty which last year in the wake of the Bate­clan Paris attacks was spec­tac­u­lar and showy, this year was omnipresent and con­stant­ly inva­sive. A team of experts man­aged to detect and deac­ti­vate the threat posed at one point by my dou­ble choco­late muf­fin, instruct­ing me that I could not go into the Palais with a weapon like that and so I had to eat it out­side. And of course, as in the wider uses of the secu­ri­ty state, fight­ing ter­ror­ism could con­ceal and ratio­nal­ize any num­ber of oth­er restric­tions which can­not be ques­tioned. I was told I could not take my com­put­er into a screen­ing which seemed to have much more to do with piratage and record­ing than with a secu­ri­ty threat. Even The Hol­ly­wood Reporter could not but be struck by the way the heavy pres­ence of the police in what has become an armed state con­trast­ed sharply with the sup­posed “free­doms” being laud­ed on the red car­pet of film­mak­ers to pur­sue their per­son­al whims and fantasies.

I will con­clude with three French films that were in var­i­ous ways less than meets the eye. The first was Rodin which like five years ago’s Renoir falls into the stul­ti­fy­ing genre of the French Her­itage film, which as opposed to its British cousin val­i­dat­ing empire, val­i­dates the Repub­lic through its artis­tic pre­oc­cu­pa­tions. This film has a bit more going for it than Renoir with Vin­cent Lon­don, so good in 2015’s The Law of the Mar­ket, as the brood­ing 40-year old sculp­tor about to embark on his grand­est cre­ation, The Gates of Hell. Unfor­tu­nate­ly it often dis­solves into Rodin’s sex­ca­pades and his­tor­i­cal myth as when he tells “Paul”, Cezanne that is, to stay true to him­self and Cezanne falls to his knees and kiss­es Rodin’s ring which even if true has a very false ring to it, sub­sti­tut­ing artist star-fink­ing for a social­ly com­plex recount­ing of the events.

Fran­cois Ozon’s L’amant Dou­ble, on the sur­face a Hitch­cock­ian tale of a woman who falls for two oppo­site psy­cho­an­a­lyst broth­ers, is unfor­tu­nate­ly real­ly just 100 Shades of Grey, more errat­ic than erot­ic thriller which doesn’t ulti­mate­ly make much sense even as the tor­tured images of its obsessed hero­ine. Fleshy, fash­ion pho­tog­ra­phy dis­guised as psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic fable.

More insid­i­ous but also more inter­est­ing was Markala, a doc­u­men­tary shot in the Con­go about a char­bonier, that is a vil­lager who cuts down the mighty baobab tree and turns it into char­coal bri­quettes which he loads on his bicy­cle to make and make us feel the long and ardu­ous trip to town to sell at an African mar­ket, part of the old­est mar­ket sys­tem in the world. The cut­ting down of the tree and the jour­ney in a neo-real­ist style are well told but there is a ten­den­cy by the French direc­tor to fetishize the African cus­toms with the film end­ing in a reli­gious fren­zy which the French cam­era observes some­what dis­dain­ful­ly with the film unable to pen­e­trate the cul­ture or to view it as any­thing but exot­ic. At the screen­ing the direc­tor Emmanuel Gras called his five white French com­pa­tri­ots onstage where he cel­e­brat­ed his film­mak­ing and final­ly got around to thank­ing his Con­golese lead, not at Cannes, “with­out whom this film would not have been pos­si­ble.” Duh. That’s like Elvis Pres­ley “thank­ing” Chuck Berry and Lit­tle Richard with­out whom his rip­ping off of a more authen­tic cul­ture would also not have been possible.

This is Bro the World Film Beat Break­ing Glass and sign­ing off from Cannes 2017.

I’ll be back with a recap of best of the films in the fes­ti­val beyond the main competition.

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