Taken about 20 minutes before the start of yesterday’s 7:15 pm screening of No Country for Old Men in front of the Salle Debussy.
Variety‘s Todd McCarthy wrote his rave review of No Country for Old Men last night, and here’s how it leads off: “A scorching blast of tense genre filmmaking shot through with rich veins of melancholy, down-home philosophy and dark, dark humor, No Country for Old Men reps a superior match of source material and filmmaking talent. Cormac McCarthy‘s bracing and brilliant novel is gold for the Coen brothers, who have handled it respectfully but not slavishly, using its built-in cinematic values while cutting for brevity and infusing it with their own touch is one of the their very best films, a bloody classic of its type destined for acclaim and potentially robust B.O. returns upon release later in the year.” Right on, couldn’t agree more.
It’s 9:55 pm and all of Cannes is doing the Friday night mess-around. I’ve been invited to a Soho House party at a medieval castle west of town on the coast called Chateau de la Napoule, but I can take it or leave it. That’s because for the last half-hour I’ve been tripping on dozens of musings and fond recollections of Joel and Ethan Coen‘s No Country for Old Men, all comprising a general awareness that this is a major, major film.
I’m speaking of an obviously brilliant action thriller that’s been made with such exactitude and smart-guy expertise, and is so full of meditative sadnesses and poetic brush strokes, and which exists on a plane so far above your typical violent crime film — the poisoned karma of drug money, a demonic hired gun on the prowl, etc. — that calling it a crime film almost feels like a kind of injustice. The damn thing is just staggering.
Based on the Cormac McCarthy novel, Old Men is all about silences and suspense and delivering the story in visual terms on the level of…I was going to say Alfred Hitchcock but Old Men‘s technique even surpasses some of his best stuff. The plot unfolds with such assured visual panache that it shares many of the virtues of the great silent films of the ’20s.
No Country for Old Men is the Coen’s best dark-places film — fuller and more refined than the classic Blood Simple, more solemn and straight-on emotional than Miller’s Crossing, and at least on par with their exquisite, much-loved Fargo. I have to scoot off to that castle party but I’ll get into this tomorrow morning. But tonight’s screening (it began around 7:25 pm) was my first occasion for true elevation. I still feel like I’m ten or fifteen pounds lighter. Seeing amazingly well-done films makes you forget about a lot of stuff. They put you in another realm.
L.A. Times columnist Patrick Goldstein has seen James Gray‘s We Own The Night, which will debut in Cannes towards the end of next week, and he says that for Gray “it’s a big breakthrough. It’s a searing family drama as well as a cops-versus-criminals thriller with the same sticky web of loyalty and rivalry seen in Martin Scorsese‘s best work.
“Joaquin Phoenix is the family black sheep, running a mob-owned nightclub, while Mark Wahlberg has become a cop like their father, played by Robert Duvall. Although Gray still goes for quiet, underplayed emotion, he also ratchets up the suspense, providing many of the elements of a commercial thriller, most notably a bravura car-chase shootout filmed in the midst of a driving rainstorm.”
Risky Biz Blog’s Stuart Kemp (apparently sharing duties with Gregg Kilday) is reporting that a gang of French thieves is working the Croisette, ” turning over apartments and stealing whatever they can get their hands on. Every year as Cannes kicks off, there are always tales of thievery. It’s a known fact that criminals steal in, take what they can from unsuspecting visitors, before melting away as the first weekend approaches. This year, a movie marketing team awoke one morning to find thieves had been in their room while they slept, spiriting away televisions, computers and cash.”
“Pitch perfect and brilliantly acted, 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days is a stunning achievement, helmed with a purity and honesty that captures not just the illegal abortion story at its core but the constant, unremarked negotiations necessary for survival in the final days of the Soviet bloc.
“Showcasing all the elements of new Romanian cinema — long takes, controlled camera and an astonishing ear for natural dialogue — Cristian Mungiu‘s masterly film plays only one false note in an otherwise beautifully textured story. Further proof of Romania’s new prominence in the film world, pic will attract discerning auds in Stateside and Euro arthouses.” — from Jay Weissberg‘s Variety review, posted earlier today.
There’s a cluster of old-world restaurants sitting behind Cannes’ Grand Hotel, which is where I retreated to last night around 9:30 pm — the voice of hard-core Protestant responsibility told me to go back to work but a stronger, louder voice told the Protestant voice to get bent; Orange Wifi Cafe — Friday, 5.18, 9:25 am — that’s Film Stew‘s Sperling Reich in foreground, Village Voice critic Jim Hoberman to the left.; Old Town — 5.18.07, 7:40 am; Orange Cafe volunteer.
I’m just sitting here in the Orange Cafe, blowing off screening ops and trying to catch up (I didn’t file enough stuff yesterday, due in part to the time-swallowing Jerry Seinfeld Bee Movie presentation followed by two late-in-the-day screenings and then a decision to just go for dinner and forget the damn column already) and waiting for Joel and Ethan Coen‘s No Country for Old Men.
Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old Men
Only three hours and fifteen minutes remain until the the first Cannes screening, set to unspool at the Salle Debussy, begins at 7:15 pm. I’ve been trying to think of other things and not succeeding. I read the Coen’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy‘s novel earlier this year and found it hard, honed and melancholy, and fortified with a theme (i.e., the dissovling of decency and moral fibre in American culture) that sinks in. Cannes press conference host Henri Behar told me this morning that he worked on the French subtitles, a chore that required his seeing it many times, and says also that it’s “brilliant.”
I’m confused about the name of the brand-new Three Amigos production company — headed, of course, by Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu — that has just cut a deal with Focus Features, Universal’s specialty division. Variety‘s story says the company is called Tres, but Indiewire’s story says it’s called cha cha cha. But right-click on the Indiewire portrait photo (which I stole for this story) you’ll see the codeword “tresTRIO,jpg.”
If any of the Three Amigos are reading this and would like a reaction, here’s mine. Please, please don’t call it cha cha cha, which sounds too bon vivant-ish. Tres is just perfect.
The deal says that Focus will finance and sell a package of five movies to be made by Cuaron, del Toro and Inarritu as well as one movie each from Carlos Cuaron and Rodrigo Garcia. Focus Int’d has reportedly has begin pre-sales in Cannes on the first of these films, Cuaron’s Rudo y Cursi, starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna. Pic is in pre-production. The other four projects “have already been identified, but have yet to be announced.”
There is suddenly hope for all anti-Ed Zwick partisans, especially those who are grimacing over Zwick’s intention to make a movie out of “Defiance: The Bielski Partisans” by Nechama Tec, a true story of the Polish Bielski brothers who fought Nazi occupiers and wound up saving 1200 Jews from extermination.
A group of Polish anti-Nazi partisans, in the early 1940s, including I don’t-know-how-many Bielski Brothers.
The hope factor has come in the form of a challenge from director Phillip Noyce — a far more accomplished craftsman (Catch a Fire, Clear and Present Danger, Rabbit-Proof Fence) than Zwick with a demonstrated aversion to the emotional underlining and overplaying that Zwick is infamous for — and his intention to make his own Bielski brothers movie.
Noyce will be working from a script by Kathleen McLaughlin, which is based on Peter Duffy‘s “The Bielski Brothers: The True Story of Three Men Who Defied the Nazis, Built a Village in the Forest, and Saved 1,200 Jews”.
Noyce has pacted with producers Mace Neufeld and Jonas Goodman, and has secured “the life rights of the key surviving Bielski members including the last living Bielski brother,” I’ve been told. With any luck Zwick will get spooked and decide to base his next mawkishly emotional epic on some other true story. These things never turn out simply or without complication, or course, but it should at least be understood that Noyce’s is the more promising Bielski Brothers project and that Zwick’s represents the dark side of the equation.
I’ve got copies of both scripts. Zwick’s Defiance, dated 5.1.07 and runnning 112 pages, says on the front page that it’s based on Tec’s “Defiance” book and “”the screenplay by Clay Frohman.” McLaughlin’s The Bielski Brothers, dated 9.29.06 and running 119 pages, says it’s based on the Duffy book.
There were three “headliner” Bielski brothers — Tuvia, Zus and Asael. Daniel Craig, I gather, will play Tuvia in the Zwick film. (In Zwick’s script Tuvia is the most impasssioned and super-studly of the three.) A voice is telling me that one of the other two brothers will be played by Sean Penn.
We almost certainly won’t see two Bielski brothers films, of course. Either Noyce or Zwick will wind up folding his tent.
How relevant is the Bielski brothers saga in today’s terms? Obviously a story of impassioned locals fighting a big bad invader has echoes in the battle now taking place in Iraq. But I wonder how relevant this story will seem to younger audiences. World War II happened 60-plus years ago. It’s obviously not their war or their father’s war, but their grandfather’s. One can only repeat the old truism that for story-tellers of all kinds, Adolf Hitler is the gift that keeps on giving.
The positive buzz (mostly from Cannes-covering British journalists) and yesterday’s positive review from Variety‘s Russell Edwards aside, I’ve been told that Anton Corbijn‘s Control — a black- and-white biopic of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, who hung himself at the peak of the band’ s success — is a fairly conventional work.
“It follows the usual form,” a critic friend (and a once-devoted Joy Division fan) said this morning. “It tells Curtis’s story going from one chapter after another….the old ‘and then this happened, and then this happened’ approach.” He also said “it’s too domestic,” which always seems to happens when your source material comes from a widow or ex-wife, in this instance Deborah Curtis and her memoir, “Touching From a Distance”. Plus it mainly focuses on the band playing live gigs, which the critic-fan says is wrong since Joy Division was mainly a studio band.
On the other hand, another respected critic friend says Control is definitely worth catching.
I would have gone to last night’s Director’s Fortnight Control screening at 7 pm, but I had to go to an early screening of Leonardo DiCaprio‘s global-poisoning doc 11th Hour, since I’m taking part in an early-afternoon interview session with DiCaprio and co-directors Nadia Conners and Leila Conners tomorrow at the Hotel du Cap. I have to hold on my review until after the public screening that day, which would be sometime around 2:30 or 3 pm.
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