LE HAVRE – Aki Kaurismaki

Aki Kaurismäki lands in Le Havre

Aki Kaurismäki © CR

 Le Havre takes us straight into the Finnish cinematographer’s wild world, at once despairing and heart-warming. This is the second film Aki Kaurismäki has made in France; the first one was La Vie de Bohème. He won the Grand Prix for The Man Without a Past; this is his fourth film in competition for the Palme d’or. 

 When you go to see an Aki Kaurismäki film, you know you’re guaranteed a bit of fantasy. In Le Havre, we meet up again with Marcel Marx (André Wilms), the main character in La Vie de Bohème (1991). He has retreated into voluntary exile in the town of Le Havre, where he has definitively buried his dreams of becoming a writer. He lives a quiet life with his wife Arletty, going to the local bar and working as shoe shiner, until the day when a young African illegal immigrant comes into his life.  

The issue of refugees was already present in La Vie de Bohème with the deportation of Rodolfo, the character of the Albanian painter. Behind the dark humour and just a touch of cynicism, Aki Kaurismäki is a deeply human film maker, and the idea of dignity always plays a role in his films.

The film maker has long wanted to tell the story of an African youth seeking asylum in Europe. He had previously thought of a port in Spain, Greece or Italy as the setting, but after looking the length of the Genoa coast and all the way to Holland, he finally found in Le Havre what he was searching for – “blues, soul and rock and roll”. 
Just as in the cult classic Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989), rock and roll is part of the adventure. “Le Havre is the French Memphis, and Little Bob is Elvis in this kingdom” says Aki Kaurismäki, whose work is also rich with references to cinema. His team of favourite actors includes Lean-Pierre Léaud, and in Le Havre he is joined by fellow French actor Pierre Etaix. Jean-Pierre Darroussin may be a newcomer to the group, but this is one of two films he plays a role in that is part of the Official Selection at Cannes, along with Les neiges du Kilimandjaro (The Snows of Kilimanjaro), directed by Robert Guédiguian.


“I always liked the version of the fairytale where Little Red Riding Hood eats the wolf and not the other way around .”


Dir/scr: Aki Kaurismäki. Finland-France-Germany. 2011. 93mins

Since the early 1980s, Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismäki has been mining his own peculiar seam and achieving a quiet miracle – making films that gladden the heart the most when they’re at their most unflappably lugubrious. Le Havre essentially offers us the director’s usual menu – poker-faced acting, weather-beaten faces, political compassion, hyper-stylized staging and decrepit barroom interiors lit con amore. But there’s something fresh in this new film, which sees the Finn fully venting his Francophilia for the first time since 1991’s La Vie de Bohème.

The film hits a delicate balance between real-world exteriors and stylized, studio-bound scenes.

Taking on both the Gallic cinema tradition and a current French political issue, Kaurismäki works with a superb Franco-Finnish cast to bring us a typically modest but shining French-language gem that sees him magnificently back on form after the slight dip of 2006’s Lights In The Dusk. Francophone audiences will especially be tickled, but Akiphiles worldwide will be in heaven.

The opening shots set up the tone – a succession of laconic sound and sight gags, establishing a world in which sinister figures wear trenchcoats and fedoras. We’re somewhere between real modern France and the stylized noir world of Kaurismäki’s beloved Jean-Pierre Melville.

Protagonist Marcel Marx (veteran Wilms) is a philosophical ex-artist in the Northern French port, trying to eke a living as a shoeshine man in a world where everyone wears trainers. He lives in impoverished happiness with wife Arletty (Outinen) in a working-class neighbourhood seemingly left over from a Marcel Carné film, with a faithful neighbour in the shape of big-hearted boulangère Yvette (Didi).

While Arletty is away in hospital – unknown to Marcel, her condition is incurable – the shoeshiner befriends Idrissa (Miguel), a young African immigrant on the run from police; the film is set against the background, glimpsed in TV coverage, of the French authorities’ controversial and drastic closure of the refugee camp known as ‘Le Jungle’.

Marcel offers Idrissa shelter with himself and his faithful mutt (played by Laika, the fifth generation in a dynasty of Kaurismäki regulars), and tries to find a way to reunite Idrissa with his mother, who’s living in London.

The very simple plot involves Marcel trying to raise money for Idrissa’s escape – which he does by arranging a charity gig by antique French rocker Roberto Piazza aka Little Bob. Meanwhile, a malevolent neighbour (legendary veteran Jean-Pierre Léaud) has snitched to the authorities, but luckily Inspector Monet (Darroussin), the cop in charge of bringing in Idrissa, conceals a warm heart under his hard-bitten, taciturn exterior.

Together, Wilms and Darroussin bring the freshest new notes to Kaurismäki’s world. Wilms, at one point making an overt nod to his role in La Vie de Bohème, adds an impish courteousness to the film’s otherwise uninflected acting style, while Darroussin’s hangdog phiz and world-weary sang-froid are a sublime fit for the Kaurismäki universe.

The moment when Darroussin walks into a bar holding a pineapple is one of those priceless moments of Tati-esque comedy that defy explanation.

Highlighting the political themes that have been foremost in Kaurismäki’s hard-times fiction at least since 1996’s Drifting Clouds, the director adds a new quasi-documentary element to his cinema, filming one sequence at what appears to be a genuine refugee detainment centre.

The film hits a delicate balance between real-world exteriors and stylized, studio-bound scenes, notably the spit-and-sawdust bar frequented by a memorable variety of grizzled seamen (presumably real dockside faces). The director’s regular cinematographer Timo Salminen shoots with meticulous style, bringing an almost comic-strip economy both to exteriors and to the sets in Kaurismaki’s favourite muted blue and red.

The handling of anachronism is brilliant as ever, and it’s typical of the director’s sour attitude to modernity that the one outright baddie (Léaud’s informer) is the only character who owns a cellphone.

Regular faces Outinen and Salo bring a laconic tenderness to their roles, and newcomer Blondin Miguel has a solemn appeal. French comedy legend Pierre Etaix contributes a sympathetic cameo, and as ever, Laika is the best-lit mutt in European cinema.  Music is a typical Kaurismäki mix, including tangos, blues, melodrama-redolent selections from compatriot composer Einojuhani Rautavaara – although viewers may balk at the director indulging his taste for mediocre French rock, in the shape of a live and lukewarm performance by Little Bob.

Production companies: Sputnik, Pyramide Productions, Pandora Film
International sales: The Match Factory, http://www.matchfactory.de
Producer: Aki Kaurismäki
Cinematography: Timo Salminen
Production designer: Wouter Zoon
Editor: Timo Linnasalo
Main cast: André Wilms, Kati Outinen, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Blondin Miguel, Elina Salo

André Wilms: 'Aki is a filmmaker who uses voices.'

Aki Kaurismaki, Jean-Pierre Darroussin © CR

Aki Kaurismaki presented Le Havre, alongside the actors Jean-Pierre Darroussin, André Wilms, Kati Outinen and producer Fabienne Vonier.

Aki Kaurismaki on the film’s humour, which is less ironic than his previous feature films:

“When I look at the people in this world, I hold out no hope for our planet.  So to avoid adding to the mess, this film is primarily designed to be an entertaining escape.  I had already been disenchanted by some things at the age of 10, but back then I pretended in order to create hope in others.”

Jean-Pierre Darroussin on Aki Kaurismaki:

“Aki’s charisma communicates without words.  Aki is the opposite of a French President. He brings together a few bits and pieces and creates a world, while Presidents reduce the world to a few bits and pieces.”

André Wilms on the director’s films:

“These are no big cinema voices like Gabin left today… Everything gets whispered.  You make fewer mistakes if you talk so quietly, but it’s not the same thing.  Aki is a filmmaker who uses voices.”

Aki Kaurismaki, with a touch of humour, on the camera he films with:

“The camera used to belong to Ingmar Bergman. But he made 2 films with it, and I’ve done 18, so it’s not his camera any more (…).  May he rest in peace.”

Fabienne Vonier on Aki Kaurismaki:

“He is a genuine master craftsman in everything he does in film, and he works like a Trojan. He’s a true poet who mixes humour with modesty.”


Jodie Foster : 'If it had been a different actor than Mel, I might have gone a different direction'

Jodie Foster © AFP
Jodie Foster nurses a family living through a crisis

Jodie Foster © AFP

The star of Silence of the Lambs (1991), now known for her work as a director, is presenting her third feature length film Out of Competition, her first at Cannes. She co-stars in The Beaver with Mel Gibson, who hasn’t been in the running for the official selection since 1984.

Jodie Foster made her first appearance for the Official Selection at Cannes alongside Robert De Niro for Taxi Driver (1976, Palme d’or). Thirty six years later, it is no longer as an actress, but as a director that Foster returns to the Croisette. As fate would have it, The Beaver is being shown the same year that her mentor from her early career is president of the Jury for Feature Films.
The Beaver also marks a reunion for the director with her friend Mel Gibson, to whom she already starred opposite in Maverick (1994), by Richard Donner. Here Gibson is playing Walter Black, a family man suffering from depression who is unable to talk to those he loves. When his wife (Jodie Foster) kicks him out, the forty-something decides to get his life back on track again. He’s able to do that thanks to a beaver puppet, through which he’s finally able to talk about his feelings.

For her third film, Jodie Foster again explores family relations, a theme central to Little Man Tate (1991) and Home for the Holidays (1996), her other two full-length films. Visually, she chose a “realistic and natural style, without any grandstanding” that balances out the sometimes “dark and tragic” tone of the script. “I think that people create a sort of alter-ego for themselves” explains Steve Golin, producer of The Beaver. “The film is just a heightened example of that phenomenon”

Jodie Foster, director of The Beaver, held a press conference on her movie – presented Out of Competition  – with screenwriter Kyle Killen. Highlights from the press conference.

Jodie Foster spoke about her double role as director and actor:

“It’s a very bad idea to direct and act at the same time. The advantage is you know the characters extremely well and know where the movie is supposed to be going. But the bad side is you don’t get surprises.”

The director praised Mel Gibson’s performance:

“I knew that Mel wouldn’t have a problem with my directing. If it had been a different actor, I might have gone a different direction. Mel had a deep understanding of Walter’s character. He was prepared to show himself going through a struggle, something he has experience with. We talked about that a lot when we were shooting. For Mel, it was very important to shoot this movie. I know he’s incredibly proud of it.”

The movie-maker explained her penchant for psychology:

“Actors love psychology. That’s why we’re actors. The root of psychology is family. (…) I make movies about spiritual crises. That’s what Walter is going through. Making movies is my own way of coming to terms with my own crises. It allows you to move through issues in your own life. It’s a healing process.”

On the subject matter of the movie:

“Walter has a choice between a death sentence, through suicide, and a life sentence. His illness is a real psychological breakdown stemming from chemical depression. If there is one final thought in the film, it’s the idea that you don’t have to be alone. Being alone is a choice that we make.”


Pater: a dialogue between Alain Cavalier and Vincent Lindon





Pater: a dialogue between Alain Cavalier and Vincent Lindon

Alain Cavalier © AFP

The filmmaker Alain Cavalier, who won the Jury Prize with Thérèse in 1986, examines the interaction between a director and an actor and the nature of power relationships in Pater. It is the fourth and final French film in Competition and is a particularly unusual work somewhere between fiction and a documentary.

Thierry Frémaux got people talking about the film at the press conference announcing the Selection – “It’s an extremely unusual and incredibly inventive film – one of the strangest films you will see at Cannes this year.”

In Pater, Alain Cavalier and Vincent Lindon play themselves – a director and an actor, two friends with a father-son relationship who discuss what film they should make together.  From time to time, they make films of themselves playing powerful men. “Just for fun”, says Alain Cavalier. And to raise the eternal unanswerable question of cinema – is it true or not?

Alain Cavalier has had a funny career. At the height of his success (Mise à Sac (Pillaged), La Chamade (Heartbeat)) he decided to stop making films. Eight years later he made his comeback with simpler more experimental pieces like Le Plein de super (Fill ‘er Up with Super – 1976) and Martin et Lea (Martin and Lea – 1978). After the unexpected success of Thérèse, which won the Jury Prize at the Festival de Cannes in 1986, he retired again for a few years and turned away from fiction, actors and stories to focus on people and their lives.

The arrival of small digital video cameras was a turning point in his career, as they let him film things up close and gave him his unusual style somewhere between documentary and fictionalised autobiography.

Since Vies (Lives) in 2000, he has been producing films more regularly.  Two of his most recent films were selected for Un Certain Regard: Le filmeur, an exercise in self-analysis that won him the appropriately-named Intimacy Prize, and Irène (Irene) about a former lover who tragically died. He returns to the Competition with Pater.

Vincent Lindon: 'There was no shooting. There was no set. There are no words for what happened.'

Alain Cavalier et Vincent Lindon © AFP

The press conference for Pater, screened yesterday In Competition, brought together Michel Seydoux (producer), Vincent Lindon (actor and the Prime Minister) and Alain Cavalier (director and the President). The three approached the task mischievously.

Vincent Lindon  on the birth of the project

“We all have dreams. My dream was to be filmed by Cavalier. Alain began by filming everything and wondering what would emerge, and then the sheer drama and suspense of the film ended up telling us what we had to do, the scenes which remained to be shot.”

Michel Seydoux  on the production
“You’re always stepping into the unknown with Alain but you have to give him carte blanche. I try to make sure the production disappears and that the artists have total freedom.”

Alain Cavalier on politics
“There is nothing sacred, difficult or daunting about running a country. Anyone can do it.”

Alain Cavalier on the wish to film with actors again
“You film actors because they represent what’s best about humanity.”

Vincent Lindon on the development of his acting

“I take nothing seriously. Everything is tragic. That’s what I’ve learnt from Alain.”

Vincent Lindon on improvisation
“There was no improvisation. We knew whether the camera was on or off. As in a regatta, there are buoys you have to pass and between the buoys, you can do what you want.”

“There was no shooting. There was no set. There are no words for what happened.”

Alain Cavalier on the rushes
“We kept shooting and we knew that there would be moments of grace in the film. We set out to achieve a certain familiarity, a resemblance to real life.”

Vincent Lindon on the reception of the film at Cannes
“A 15-minute standing ovation, that’s what you call a triumph. In today’s language we sometimes mix up ‘bizarre’ with ‘annoying’. No-one expected this film to be a comedy.”


Cinema as a forum for political debate





Oil Change

17 May, 2011

CR talks to the directors of controversial documentary The Big Fix about the BP oil spill.

If you’ve seen a woman with an elegant parasol on the Croisette this week, that’s not just a fashion statement.

She’s Rebecca Tickell , one of the directors of controversial documentary The Big Fix, about the BP oil spill and a vast network of corruption surrounding it. When she was in Louisiana, with her husband and fellow director Josh Tickell, researching the documentary when the contamination there. When she got extremely sick from the contamination. There are stil parts of her skin that can’t be exposed to sunlight. She’s not alone – the filmmakers estimate there are 4 to 5 million people in the spill’s impact zone.

“That was just the beginning,” Josh Tickell says, of their trip to see oil washing up on Louisiana beaches when the government had said everything was cleaned up. “Then we did an investigation in to the real cause [of the disaster and the spin].” The journey takes them to Capitol Hill and the White House.
The pair made the movie in 9 months (compared to the average doc incubation of 7 years), independently funding it so there would be no restrictions on content.

They met Peter Fonda when he became a fan of their last film Fuel, about the need for green energy. Actress Amy Smart and musician Jason Mraz also came on board. All of them were down with the filmmaking team in Louisiana to see the disaster for themselves. Now, Tim Robbins has also come on board as an executive producer.
The film screens tonight at 8 pm with Mraz and Fonda also in attendance.
Josh Tickell paid tribute to Cannes for providing a platform for important social issues. “Cannes is creating a place for these highly controversial and highly politically charged movies,” he said, pointing to past screenings like Lucy Walker’s Countdown To Zero. “The entertainment factor is there, but also we need to have that social commentary.”

Cinema as a forum for political debate

Josh Tickell et Rebecca Tickell © DR

Presented amongst the Special Screenings, the documentary, The Big Fix, revisits one of the biggest ecological scandals of the last year. The two directors investigate the oil spill which occurred in the USA last year, polluting the Atlantic Ocean in an irreversible manner.

On the 22nd April 2010, the oil rig Deepwater Horizon run by BP sank into the Gulf of Mexico, causing the worst oil spill in history. Until the definitive closure of the well on the 19th September, 779 037 744 litres of crude oil, and over 7000000 litres of dispersants were released into the sea.

As the two directors investigate deeper, the more they discover about the covert politicking and corruption at work, placing financial imperatives above any other interests. Josh Tickell already made a film about the new fuels: Fuel, a documentary about a “veggie van”, a bus which ran on used cooking oil, in order to make the general public aware of the new biocarburants. For the director, “films enable an awareness to be developed about contemporary issues thanks to the fact that they are personal and accessible. No other form of report or study could impact your mind as much as a film.” For Josh Tickell, cinema is hence a forum for political debate which can lay bare the aberrations of the contemporary world.

The Festival pays tribute to Jean-Paul Belmondo

Jean-Paul Belmondo © DR

The Festival de Cannes pays tribute to Jean-Paul Belmondo this year, by dedicating a special evening to him this evening. The evening rundown includes the screening of a documentary, a dinner followed by a party to celebrate the actor and his career.
Alongside Jean Gabin and Michel Simon, Jean-Paul Belmondo is one of the greatest French actors of all time, thanks to the diversity of the roles he has played, his charismatic personality, the accuracy when acting, his cocky humour and easy elegance”, said Gilles Jacob and Thierry Frémaux. The Festival de Cannes is paying tribute to Jean-Paul Belmondo today, with a special evening. The actor has always worked with the greatest film-makers, regardless of the genre of film in which he has starred, and won a Caesar award in 1989 for his role in Itinéraire d’un enfant gâté (Itinerary of a Spoilt Child) by Claude Lelouch. His career is traced back in the documentary to be screened tonight, Belmondo, itinéraire…by Vincent Perrot and Jeff Domenech.
Tribute will not just be paid tonight, as the actor was put in the spotlight last Thursday when the film 100 000 dollars au soleil (Greed in the Sun) by Henri Verneuil was screened at the plage Macé. The Cinéma de la Plage will screen another film tomorrow, this time, Le Magnifique (How to Destroy the Reputation of the Greatest Secret Agent) by Philippe de Broca.


A Palme d’Or for Jean-Paul Belmondo





A Palme d’Or for Jean-Paul Belmondo

Jean-Paul Belmondo © CR

Last night the Festival de Cannes paid tribute to Jean-Paul Belmondo by dedicating a special evening to him whereby he was awarded a Palme d’or. The screening of a documentary, a meal and a party was the order of the evening to celebrate the actor.

“I am very moved by this Palme d’or which has touched my heart”. Jean-Paul Belmondo, surrounded by his acting colleagues, including his “pals from the Conservatory” Jean Rochefort, Pierre Vernier and Jean-Pierre Marielle, received wide acclaim from audiences and directors alike, who were present yesterday in the Debussy Theatre. “I’d like to thank all those here today, people I know or don’t know. A big thank-you from the bottom of my heart”.
Earlier in the day, “the international photographers had laid down their cameras in order to applaud  him on the red steps” recalls Thierry Frémaux who explained: “We had been trying to persuade him to accept this tribute for several years”.
Regardless of the film genre he acted in, Belmondo, who won a César in 1989 for his performance in Itinéraire d’un enfant gâté directed by Claude Lelouch, has worked with the biggest directors. “He already has a long history with the Festival”, with 6 films In Competition, in which he appears. His cinematic and theatrical career has been retraced in the documentary, that was screened yesterday and which was dedicated to him, Belmondo, itinéraire… directed by Vincent Perrot and Jeff Domenech.
Today, the tribute continues with screenings of Stavisky directed by Alain Resnais in Cannes Classics and with Magnifique directed by Philippe de Broca in Cinéma de la Plage.

“Belmondo, itinéraire…”, the genesis of the documentary

'Belmondo, itinéraire…', the genesis of the documentary

Jean-Paul Belmondo © CR

A documentary about Jean-Paul Belmondo’s career will be screened, on the occasion of the tribute paid to him by the Festival de Cannes. Belmondo, itinéraire… was co-directed by Vincent Perrot and Jeff Domenech, and was initially a pure coincidence.
Jeff Domenech, a fast-food restaurant manager, made an encounter which was to change his life. He met the film-maker, Georges Lautner when with three friends who were hunting for autographs during a festival in Monte-Carlo. The two men got to know each other and one day, Lautner invited Domenech to lunch. That was the day Domenech met his idol, Jean-Paul Belmondo, who has since become a friend. Domenech managed to convince Belmondo to agree to his project of making a documentary about his career. As Domenech was so sincere, Belmondo agreed to this for the first time in his life. This was how Belmondo, itinéraire…, co-directed with Vincent Perrot, a host on the French radio RTL and author of several documentaries and works on cinema, came into being. The scenario begins with the actor going to the film screening. He sees the whole of his career flash before his very eyes, with extracts of his films combined with testimonials from actors from both his generation and the current one, all narrated by Jean Dujardin.


The first Afrikaans film in Un Certain Regard

Oliver Hermanus © AFP

Developed during the 19th session of the Résidence de la Cinéfondation, Skoonheid is the second feature film by Oliver Hermanus, a filmmaker born in Cape Town, South Africa. The fifth South African feature film presented at Cannes and the first in Afrikaans, it is a sign of the emergence of a new cinematography in the Cannes selection.

While François is convinced that he has wasted his life, a chance encounter completely turns his neat and tidy existence on its head. Christian is a good-looking young man of 23 years of age, the son of an old friend. François is secretly troubled, consumed by a devouring passion. By accepting these new feelings, he starts out towards something quite novel… happiness.

At only 27 years of age, Oliver Hermanus is the youngest director in Un Certain Regard. Having studied cinema in Europe, he returns to his country of origin and describes characters torn between the contradictions of their desire to live, and the weight of a miserable daily existence. The director was identified by international critics in 2005 with the feature film Shirley Adams, the story of a woman bringing up her handicapped child alone in poverty. “We are born into a society in revolt, and we need our own cinema to echo our battle for rights and freedom,” the director states.

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It was a downhill day at Cannes. It began with the dependably engaging Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki. But each successive movie was less and less engaging. Oh well, not every day can boast The Tree Of Life. On the other hand, if the international press were voting, Aki’s Le Havre would be a contender for the top prize.

LE HAVRE ** 1/2 out of ****

In this typically eccentric and charming comedy by Aki Kaurismaki, the people of a small port town come together to help an adorable illegal immigrant get from France to England. That hardly captures the oddball goofiness of Aki (I’m having trouble spelling his last name, so I hope he’ll forgive my informality). Our hero is a shoeshine salesman with a loving wife who takes care of him completely. He’s always a dime short but full of good cheer. In Aki’s deadpan way, we see our man interact with his friendly fellow neighbors, whether it’s the woman with a bakery who lets him take bread on credit (“Your bill is as long as the Congo,” she complains. “I’m your best customer, ” he blithely responds) to the grocer who hurriedly tries to close shop when he sees our hero coming. They all stand ready to help a teenage boy be reunited with his mother in London. No one seems terribly wound up by race or politics (it simply never comes up), not even the policeman assigned to track the kid down after the boy makes headline news. The warmth of the people in the town is palpable the Aki’s goofy style is fully on display. Fans will be pleased. I’m fond of his style but this movie ranks a tad lower than his best. It was a little too slow at places; I certainly didn’t need a complete song from the “trendy benefit concert” starring Little Bob. More crucially, the entire film is about seeing immigrants — even illegal immigrants — as people instead of criminals or just unwanted faces to be turned away. That makes the fact that the teenage boy has virtually no personality a major negative. Instead he’s just a doe-eyed kid, which stereotypes him in another way by not letting this kid come to life in the same eccentric manner as everyone else. However, the film was very warmly received by Aki’s fans and the international press. One can never predict what the jury will vote for, but if the Europeans were voting, they’d have Le Havre in a dead-heat with The Artist.

SKOONHEID/BEAUTY ** out of ****

This South African drama directed by Oliver Hermanus looks at the simmering racial resentment among white South Afrikaners through an unusual lens: the simmering frustration of a married and closeted male pillar of the community. The “beauty” in the film is Christian (ably performed by the handsome and masculine Charlie Keegan, who nicely underplays his few but crucial scenes). Christian is the nephew of Francois (Deon Lotz), a married man who works in lumber. Francois is pinned to the ground with desire for this young man who is in college studying for his law degree when he’s not modeling on the side. Francois is not new to gay desire: he meets clandestinely with a group of middle-aged men who disdain fags and coloreds but then have group orgies. But Francois’s obsession with Christian is something new. He follows his nephew around town when relatives are there for the wedding of Francois’s daughter. Then he travels to Cape Town on a flimsy excuse so he can spy on the kid some more. What’s truly enraging is that everyone keeps joking that Francois’s other daughter and Christian would make a good couple and it might even be happening. Lotz and Keegan are good, though the film and script ultimately let them down. The movie suggests that Francois’s behavior (he becomes a real bastard) is due to his repressed desire; if only he could have been open about his sexuality the way young people are today. While plenty of people have led repressed and sad lives, most of them don’t become loathsome. Society forcing some people to live stunted lives is wrong. But so is Francois. It’s unlikely anyone but LGBT festgoers will stumble across this one, I’m afraid.

BONSAI ** out of ****

This romantic drama starts out promisingly but grew weaker and weaker as the film progressed. Writer-director Cristian Jimenez shows a light touch by opening his film with the line, “At the end of the movie, Emilia will die and Julio will remain alone.” So, no spoiler alerts on this review because that’s exactly what happens. Getting to that point is fun for awhile. Julio is a college student who had a romance with Emilia. Now he’s dating another girl who believes he’s working as a typist for a famed novelist. Julio jumped the gun on that job, so to keep the fiction going, he has to actually write a novel. That means telling his new girlfriend the story of his first love. It’s a clever conceit and the movie is peppered with literary touches. Unfortunately, we are clearly supposed to believe that Emilia was Julio’s great lost love. But the more we see of their relationship, the more believable it seems that their dating simply reached its natural conclusion. That makes it hard to feel poignant when the sad news reaches Julio that Elena is dead. (We, of course, knew it from the start.) The leads are able, especially Diego Noquera as the slightly hapless Julio. This screening was bedeviled with technical difficulties (including bad audio that brought the film to a halt at the half hour mark), but funnily enough the portions marred with those problems were the best of the film, so I don’t think it kept me from getting a good sense of what Jimenez was going for.

HANEZU NO TSUKI * 1/2 out of ****

This turgid drama from writer-director Naomi Kawase is a complete disappointment, one of those movies that puzzles you. Why exactly was it accepted for Competition at Cannes? Some movies benefit not being in the white hot spotlight that brings and would do better in a sidebar. This movie would be received poorly in any context. We’re told of a Japanese legend in which two mountains famously vied for the love of a third. This is compared to our main story in which two men compete for the love of a woman. One man is married to her but a bit prosaic, going on and on about the local produce of their town and how they should market it better and maybe open a restaurant. The other man is an artist, a sculptor who wanders about in the rain and takes his shoes off at an archeological dig because he’s just that funky. She bounces back and forth between the men repeatedly. Then we’re told in voice-overs about that legend about the mountains again. To drive the point home, the woman’s story is contrasted with her grandmother, who apparently was in an arranged marriage but loved another man. Then we’re told about the legend again, just in case we’ve forgotten about it. This movie is rather like Terrence Malick in its use of musing voice-over and “pretty” shots of nature. It just demonstrates that a pretty image is meaningless and actually quite dull if it doesn’t somehow move the story forward or capture some essential emotion. It ain’t as easy as it looks, in other words, something Hanezu proves in spades. This trailer is subtitled in French, not English, but there’s very little dialogue anyway.

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