“One reason for joy [at this year’s Cannes Film Festival] is that word ‘art,’ which isn’t always mentioned in the same breath, much less the same paragraph, when Americans talk about movies,” writes N.Y. Times critic Manohla Dargis in a good sum-up piece about the best snob highbrow films that have played there.
“One of the sustaining pleasures of Cannes is that it allows you to immerse yourself fully from early morning to evening in the kind of aesthetically adventurous, intellectually exhilarating cinematic practices that end up in the American art-house ghetto or being shut out of theaters completely.”
The reasons for the shut-out are sad or tragic or both, but I’ve always said and still believe that the greatest films are those that appeal to not just the Manohla Dargis crowd but also the somewhat more primitive, less intellectually high falutin’ moviegoers. Most aesthetically adventurous, intellectually exhilarating cinematic practices do not straddle this divide, which is probably inevitable and natural. Almost all truly great films are met (at first) with indifference or derision by the mob.
But I’ve always tried to live in (and keep in touch with) both worlds. All my life I’ve tried to absorb and understand the finest films made by the greatest filmmakers, but at the same time apply the educated but not-overly-elitist criteria that I absorbed from my suburban middle-class New Jersey upbringing, which was influenced by the fact that I was always an all-around B student except when it came to knowing films and the film world. (I was also pretty good in art class.)
“Amid the glamour and the French Riviera sun, more and more Wall Street banks, private equity firms and hedge funds are coming to the 12-day Cannes festival — the world’s largest international film market — to try to arrange and finance entertainment deals,” Liza Klaussmann reported yesterday for the N.Y. Times.
And yet, despite the story’s solid writing and sturdy reporting, it instantly put me to sleep. Money guys in suits put people to sleep the world over every day and night…boring, boring, boring. And what do they get out of it? Massive salaries, absurdly spacious McMansions, nifty cars and the power to attract the tastiest and classiest arm-candy women as prospective wives, girlfriends or mistresses.
“More money is streaming into the industry, and that has helped raise the number of American firms present at Cannes, which is up 7 percent this year, compared with a 3 percent rise in overall participants,” Klaussmann adds.
“Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, Royal Bank of Scotland and JPMorgan Chase, the descendant of Chemical, as well as hedge funds like Atticus Capital and various companies backed by the likes of Providence Equity Partners and the Texas Pacific Group are all here this year, competing for deals”…zzzzzzz.
Woke at 4:30 am and then drove for eight hours — 7:30 to 3:30 pm. I’ve been in Venice for about five and a half hours now, and it’s really great the way almost nothing about this town changes. I feel too whipped to file anything tonight, but I’ll jump into it tomorrow morning. Venice is a fairly dead wi-fi environment, I can tell you that.
My ten days of trying to cover the hard-slamming Cannes Film Festival, which has always involved 18-hour work days broken up by sleep periods of five or six hours, has wound to a close, even though the festival will continue for another three days including today — Friday, 5.15. I’ve been hanging with Jett, who reviewed and covered for the Boston Pheonix online for the last six days, and this morning we’re pushing on to Italy for a few days. I’ll still do my daily filing, but from a somewhat more tranquil head-space. I did and saw many things during the festival that I haven’t yet gotten into, so…
Bella Tarr‘s very slow-moving The Man From London, a Cannes entry, “epitomized what is known as a ‘festival film,’ i.e., one made for no known audience apart from the already converted disciples of a cult director,” Variety‘s Todd McCarthy has observed. “One version of hell for me would consist of being trapped inside the insular world of this film for eternity.”
I was hoping for something much sharper and smarter from James Gray‘s We Own The Night, which showed at the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday, and which Columbia will be releasing stateside sometime later this year. It’s a slam-bang urban action piece by way of a Brooklyn family-ties melodrama. It’s good to see Gray back on his feet after years in movie jail (his last film was The Yards, which opened seven years ago) but this is too often a crude, unsubtle, difficult-to-digest film.
I’m going to say right now that there’s a mild spoiler or two in this piece.
The most recent high-water marks for family crime films, in my book, are The Sopranos on HBO and The Departed. Gray’s film is nowhere near this league. As vigorous and heated as Night obviously is (the two most thrilling scenes are an invasion of a Russian-mafia cocaine apartment and a car chase/attack scene in the driving rain), the writing is thick and pulp. The story felt imposed upon the characters rather than characters driving the story. I kept getting the feeling that the dialogue wasn’t quite there on the page so the actors were improvising all through it.
A “friend” of the film argues that “what [they] were going for was an archetypal throwback to ’70s filmmaking rather than the more complex literariness of The Sopranos. This is not a ‘modern√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√Ç¬ù film’ — it has no meta-commentary going on, and has no literary aspirations. The Departed was complex to a fault (there are several scenes toward the end of that movie that make no sense, but no one cares because it√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s so fun.”
I got into a friendly debate yesterday with this guy, so here’s a list of my quibbles along with his counter-arguments:
Joaquin Pheonix‘s Bobby — a nightclub owner-manager in denial about his familial affinities to a tribe of New York cops, including a hard-nosed detective brother (Mark Wahlberg) and an equally hard-nosed dad (Robert Duvall) — is highly dislikable for the way he refuses to let girlfriend Eva Mendes be involved with anything important– he seems to just wants to fuck her when they’re alone and that’s it.
Counterpoint: “You didn√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢t get the impression that Bobby really loved Amanda but knew that his family (who are quasi-racist, remember) would never let her into the fold because she’s a party girl? Bobby sort of knows deep down she’s just not constitutionally able to be a cop√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s wife.”
Would the wounded Wahlberg, admitted hours earlier into a hospital for bullet wounds, have blood oozing out of his cheek and his hair? Don’t hospital staffers constantly dress wounds to keep everything as sterile and germ-free as possible?
Counterpoint: “Wahlberg√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s post-gunshot look is absolutely real. [The filmmakers] did a ton of research — there was a doctor who worked in ICU in the 80s advising. But if it doesn√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢t play. it doesn√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢t play.”
I know Pheonix has been keeping his family ties a secret in the beginning, but would the Russian mob guys be so stupid as to not have a clue that Wahlberg is his brother?
Counterpoint: “This is the pre-internet age” — Night is set in 1988 — “when people could absolutely keep their familial connections at arm√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s length. In fact, James based Bobby√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s character on a real guy who hid his cop connections. Remember also that he had worked is way up from bartender to manager so there would be zero suspicion. Also, the Russians weren√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢t cunning — they were just brutally violent.”
“Would Jumbo, the big tough guy who excels at beating other guys up, really collapse and start weeping like that when Pheonix starts to lean on him, and when the cops grill him?”
CounterpointVadim Nezhinski — what is that, some kind of perverse mirror-image identity of Njinsky, the famed ballet dancer? The movie is full of little “what the fuck?” irritants.
Counterpoint: “I think the fact that these details irritated you is a sign that you just did not buy into the more operatic core emotions this movie is selling.
“Those critics for whom the movie is properly positioned I think will appreciate the movie√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s lack of irony and gratuitous hyper-reality. This is a very basic story where a lot of the emotions are laid bare. We are hoping that because of the car chase, the overall level of detail, and the deliberateness, critics will key in to the Friedkin/Visconti reference points and not judge the movie against a winking movie like The Departed, which I think sometimes gets confused with √É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√ã≈ìsmartness√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢ and √É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√ã≈ìsharpness√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢ but can sometimes exist in an emotional vacuum.
“The most ironic thing of all is that in research screenings The Departed never tested above a 65 (top two boxes — excellent and very good) whereas We Own The Night has tested in the high 80s. So [the team is] definitely confident about word of mouth. Good Night and Good Luck tested at 48; Monsters Ball got a 23 (norms are about 65); In The Bedroom at 25. And then reviewers told audiences those movies were brilliant so they wound up with great exit polls and word-of-mouth. Sheep…”
Miramax Films has acquired Julian Schnabel‘s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a beautifully made, French-language film that inspires guilty thoughts of escape. Variety is reporting that the distributor paid “midway between $2 million and $3 million for North American rights.” People of taste will go, but Miramax has its work cut out.
Here’s a recording of a chat I had yesterday afternoon with Malcolm McDowell and producer-director Mike Kaplan about their documentary, Never Apologize, which is basically a capturing of a one-man show that McDowell performed in Ojai not long ago about his long, warm, nurturing relationship with director Lindsay Anderson, who directed McDowell in If…, O Lucky Man! and Brittania Hospital. I have to get in line for a 7 pm showng of James Gray‘s We Own The Night, but I’ll share a few comments about the film tomorrow.
One of the pithier comments from this afternoon’s Ocean’s Thirteen press conference came from star George Clooney when he responded to a far-too-serious inquiry about the declining state of screen- writing. “I’m so glad you asked that question about this film,” he replied, adding that Ocean’s Thirteen was “clearly a cry for peace.”
Ocean’s Thirteen-ers at this afternoon’s press conference (l. to r.) Ellen Barkin, Steven Soderbergh, George Clooney, producer Jerry Weintraub, Brad Pitt — Thursday, 5.24.07, 2:32 pm
I asked towards the end of the session if it was fair to compare this revenge film (i.e., about a group of rakish, rascally guys ripping off a powerful, arrogant blue-chip thug) with the last big studio film that succeeded really well with this kind of yarn — i.e., The Sting. And if it’s fair to compare the two, how would Soderbergh & Co. reply? “We’re not going there,” producer Jerry Weintraub said.
“The head’s-on favorite to win the Cannes Filjm Festival’s Palme d’Or, at least to judge from the critics’ poll published by Le Film Francais, appears to be the Coen Brothers‘ No Country for Old Men. It’s the one film that’s attracting support from both the highbrow critics (Positif, Les Inrocks, Le Monde) and the more popular press (Studio, L’Express, Le Point, Premiere).” — from Dave Kehr‘s analysis on www.davekehr.com.
Support for Julian Schnabel‘s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is definitely being heard up and down the Croisette, but there are those, also, who feel as I did. Butterfly delivers a stirring theme and has been directed with invention and assurance, but at the same time it makes you feel just as trapped as former Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), who can’t move or express anything except with the blinking of his left eye. I was saying two things to myself as I watched it: (1) “This is a very sensitive and beautiful film” and (b) “Let me out!”
Amalric will probably win the Best Actor award, though.