19th

THURSDAY 19th MAY
 
 

HORROR VACUI

De roemruchte Situationist en cineast Guy Debord – die in 1994 zelfmoord pleegde – noemde het “de vloek van de Spektakelmaatschappij”. Het feit dat de mens in onze hedendaagse samenleving gedoemd is zijn kaken stuk te kauwen op de laatste gedroogde restjes van zijn ziel. Geopiatiseerde stimorol, dootrokken van seks, leugens, schandalen en een vleugje suiker en arsenicum waarmee we ons moedwillig drogeren om onze alledaagse blaséheid te parereren.

De homo ludens, die misschien wel nooit echt bestaan heeft, is van kop tot tenen homo consumens geworden. We verorberen het nieuws, zoals we alles in dit leven tot ons genoegen consumeren. We verschalken het zolang het vers en smeuiig is en we er opgewonden van raken. Lang is dat meestal niet. We snakken naar de smaken van het Echte Leven dat we niet meer kennen, en verlangen naar een Ziel die we niet meer hebben. De Leegte in ons wezen gaan we te lijf met de schandalen en faits-divers die ons als spektakelstukken op tv of op het witte doek pasklaar worden aangereikt. “See how we muse at other’s misery, so that by musing we only might forget our own”, laat Shakespeare een van zijn karakters zeggen in Anthony & Cleopatra.

Hier in Cannes, waar momenteel voor de 64e maal het grote festival van de Sublieme Illusie wordt opgevoerd, is er dit jaar geen ontkomen aan. Op en rond de Rode Loper van het Palais des Festivals aan de Croisette, verkeren de kaken dezer dagen in een gegȇneerde kramp. De werkelijkheid heeft de fictie een ongehoorde loer gedraaid. En we zijn er, ondanks al ons onophoudelijk gekakel, stil van. En pisnijdig dat de grootste en meest scandaleuze film die zich op deze magistrale editie van het festival voor ons aller ogen voltrekt – met kersverse meesterwerken van Terrence Malick, Aki Karismaki, Gus van Sant, Pablo Almodovar en Lars von Trier – , de smakeloze actualiteit betreft. DSK. Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Het ultieme drama in kwadraat: A Bronx Tale vermenigvuldigd maal Het vreugdeveur der ijdelheden. Shakespeare maal Molière. Stieg Larsson maal James Ellroy.

De ironieën zijn talrijk. En een daarvan is dat juist gedurende de jaarlijkse hoogmis van de glamour, glitter en vertier, de grootste rol op aarde niet is weggelegd voor Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz of Charlotte Gainsbourg die speciaal naar Cannes zijn gekomen om onze bewondering af te dwingen. Maar dat die rol blijkt weggelegd voor een speler hors concours. Een bronstige politicus en financiële mogul met stoppelbaard, een gokker met al te groot libido die inmiddels zit weggestopt achter de tralies van een New Yorkse bajes, ergens op een eiland tussen Harlem en The Bronx.  

Wat de intrinsieke waarde van dit schandaal moge zijn, is voorlopig even diffuus als de waarheid die er wel of niet aan de beschuldigingen ten gronde ligt. Maar zelfs als de helft ervan waar blijkt te zijn, staat de mégatude van het nieuws niet in verhouding tot de relevantie of gravitude van de gepleegde misdaad. Want terwijl er in Congo iedere minuut een vrouw of kind wel ergens bruut wordt verkracht en dit in volstrekte stilte aan ons voorbij trekt, vinden wij de mogelijke aanranding van een kamermeid in Manhattan door IMF-president DMS een miljard maal belangrijker, omdat het alle elementen van het ideale spektakel en ultieme drama in zich herbergt: seks, macht, roem, tragedie, de val van een gevenereerd politicus en (zelf)-vernietiging van een president-in-spe. In het Palais des Festivals in Cannes gaat het in de wandelgangen, heel uitzonderlijk, net als in gans Frankrijk, al vele dagen nergens anders over. De films vormen voor deze keer niet meer dan pauzes tussen de echte voorstelling daarbuiten, ginder, op de tv die constant overal loeihard aanstaat.

 De realiteit van de spektakelmaatschappij heeft ons zelfs in het claustrum der spektakelstukken fors voorbijgestreefd. Met kinnesinne als gevolg. Want plotseling verdampte de schandaalwaarde van een film als La Conquȇte, over Sarkozy’s calvarietocht naar de toppen van de macht, als sneeuw op de flanken van de Kilimanjaro. Plotseling verbleekte de provocatie van schandaalregisseur Lars von Trier tijdens de persconferentie rond zijn nieuwe apocalyptische toekomstfilm Melancholia (“Ik voel me soms een Nazi met sympathie voor Nietzsche en Hitler”) tot zijn veritabele proportie: aandachttrekkerij van een geniale kleuter in regisseurstenue. En ook de andere films die normaliter op hun eigen manier het festival van kleur hadden voorzien met enig sappig schandaal, zoals The Fix Up over falen en corruptie in de VS rondom de Deepwater olieramp in de Golf van Mexico, of de film over de moord op prinses Diana (Unlawful Killing), de uit Iran gesmokkelde pellicules van Mohammad Rasoulof (Goodbye) alsmede de nog nagloeiende documentaires over de Arabische Lente in Tunesie en Egypte: allemaal zijn ze  roemloos en geruisloos in alle DSK gekrakeel ten onder gegaan.

De vloek van de spektakelmaatschappij is niet onze behoefte aan drama en schandalen waar we ons zo wellustig aan over weten te geven, want onze driften zijn even onuitroeibaar als natuurlijk. Maar wel het feit dat we er beetje bij beetje ons gevoel voor wat relevant is ons eigen leven door verliezen. “We leven in een glazen huis”, horen we acteur Denis Podylades zeggen in zijn subliem gespeelde rol als Nicolas Sarkozy in La Conquȇte. “We zijn publieke figuren, die een openbaar ambt vervullen in een gemediatiseerd tijdsgewricht. We leven in een glazen huis, en dienen daar vrede mee te hebben.” Gedurende de film, blijken Sarkozy en zijn naasten steeds meer gebukt te gaan en te leiden onder dit overmoedig voorgehouden credo. Sarkozy wint de verkiezingen maar verliest de liefde van zijn leven. Het prototype van, om in Cannes-termen te blijven, tragische ironie. Hoeveel zon- en flitslicht er ook door moge dringen in de vertrekken van het glazen huis, in de harten van de bewoners heerst steeds meer verdriet.  

Dat is triest, maar de echte tragedie die hier in Cannes dezer dagen zowel in La Conquȇte als dankzij het schandaal rond DSK aan de oppervlakte is gekomen, is van een veel fundamentelere aard. De echte tragedie is dat er in het hart van dat glazen huis niet of nauwelijks iets te vinden is van reëele subtantie. In een volledig gemediatiseerde samenleving, blijkt alles voorbehouden aan de vorm. Het imago. Het uiterlijk. De verpakking. Het drama. Het schandaal. De ziel blijkt even afwezig als onzichtbaar. Transparant als de lucht of de weerspiegeling van een lichtprojectie. In het hart van de spektakelmaatschappij regeert de leegte van het Horror Vacui.

© Serge van Duijnhoven, Cannes, 19 mei 2011

voor De Gedachte, De Morgen

 

CANNES – Lars von Trier has accepted his ban by the Cannes Film Festival but said he’s no Mel Gibson.

The Danish director was named persona non grata by the Cannes Festival after provocative remarks in a press conference for his Competition title Melancholia in which he called himself a Nazi and said he “sympathized a bit” with Hitler. Speaking to Serge van Duijnhoven from Cinema Redux, Von Trier said he was sorry for any damage his comments, which he says were meant as a joke and misunderstood, have done to the Cannes Festival’s reputation.

“It’s a pity because (Jewish festival head) Gilles Jacob is a close personal friend of mine,” Von Trier said. “What I said was completely stupid but I am absolutely no Mel Gibson … What I meant was I could imagine what it was like for Hitler in the bunker, making plans. Not that I would do what Hitler did. But it’s a pity if it means I will lose contact with Cannes.”

Von Trier pointed to his own background – his stepfather is Jewish and he grew up thinking he had Jewish roots – to indicate how ridiculous it would be to call him an anti-Semitic.

But Lars Von Trier wouldn’t be the enfant terrible of the European cinema scene if he didn’t spice his mea culpa with another zinger.

“I have to say I’m a little proud of being named a persona non grata. I think my family would be proud,” he quipped. “I have a French order. Now they will likely tear it off my chest.”

It is still unclear what Cannes ban, the first applied to a director in living memory, will mean for Von Trier. The director said he would not be allowed “within 100 meters” of the Festival Palais and red carpet, meaning he will not attend the Cannes awards ceremony on Sunday, but was not certain if his films would also be banned.

“I hope not,” Von Trier commented. “Because even if I was Hitler – and I must now state for the record I am not Hitler – but even if I was Hitler and I made a great film, Cannes should select it.”

It seems unlikely that Cannes will ban Von Trier’s films. The Festival has kept Melancholia in Competition even as it has banned the controversial Danish director.

But his comments, and the reaction to them, are certain to have long-lasting effects, both on the reception of Melancholia and Von Trier’s career. Already the Argentine distributor of the film, citing Von Trier’s comments, said it would not release Melancholia. The director himself admitted he may now have trouble “raising money or getting certain actors to work with me” because of the incident.

Von Trier however played down the reaction of Melancholia stars Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, who were sitting to either side of him at the press conference and seemed shocked by what he was saying.

“I think Kirsten sees me as very European and crazy,” he said. “But I don’t think Charlotte was shocked. Her father (singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg) was known for being provocative. She said to me ‘My father would have been proud of you.’”

Von Trier said he has not yet talked to Martin Scorsese, with whom he is planning a collaborative documentary: The Five Obstructions: Scorsese vs Trier. Von Trier said he is confident the project, which Magnolia pre-bought for North America just hours before the controversial Melancholia press conference, will go ahead.

“I haven’t spoken to him yet but Martin is very open minded,” Von Trier said.

Trying to explain his press conference comments, Von Trier admitted that, in part, he was playing his old role as Cannes’ agent provocateur.

“It sounds strange but I don’t like conflict. When I went into the press conference I felt like I should entertain people there,” he said. “Everyone comes to see what crazy thing Lars is going to say. And then I started a sentence which I couldn’t get out of. At the time I didn’t think much about it. Everyone seemed to understand and they was laughter. It’s only afterwards, when you read it: ‘I sympathize with Hitler’ that I thought ‘oh boy.’”

 
 

In Somebody Else’s Skin

 

 

 

 

In Somebody Else’s Skin

Pedro Almodovar © AFP

Pedro Almodóvar makes his fifth appearance in Cannes. His fourth In Competition offering, La Piel que Habito, is a disturbing film noir which reunited him with Antonio Banderas 20 years after Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!

Inspired by the novel Mygale by French author Thierry Jonquet, the Spanish director explores new territory in adding a quasi-horror story to his filmography, navigating a new style characterised by violence, vengeance and twisted motives. While this is his first foray into directing a thriller-cum-horror, he has previously produced thrillers by Alex de la Iglesia (Acción mutante, 1992) and Guillermo Del Toro (The Devil’s Backbone, 2001).

Eager to work with Antonio Banderas again for a number of years now, Almodóvar seized the opportunity to direct the actor in his role as Robert Ledgard, a psychopathic surgeon who holds a young woman hostage to serve as guinea pig. He wants her to model a skin of his own creation, the invention that could have saved the life of his wife a dozen years earlier after a car accident left her disfigured.

This is the fifth time Antonio Banderas and Pedro Almodóvar have worked together, ending the long hiatus that followed their previous collaborations, Matador (1986), Law of Desire (1987), Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990).

Pedro Almodóvar told newspaper El País that this was one of the toughest projects of his career. He described the film as: “Close to a horror like never before, pushing the boundaries of the genre, with no screaming or terror.”

Pedro Almodóvar: “It’s a story about surviving under extreme conditions, which is the story of humanity, too.”

 

Pedro Almodóvar: “It’s a story about surviving under extreme conditions, which is the story of humanity, too.”
Pedro Almodóvar © CR

Pedro Almodóvar presented his film, La Piel que habito (The Skin I Live In) in competition at Cannes, at a press conference, accompanied by actor Antonio Banderas, actresses Marisa Paredes, Elena Anaya and Blanca Suárez and producer Augustín Almodóvar. 
 

Pedro Almodóvar, on the family in his film:
“I wanted them to be a family of savages, who weren’t brought up with a Judeo-Christian culture like I was. I wanted them to have other roots because they all have something extraordinarily violent and a sort of madness inside them.”

On thrillers, a new genre for him:
“This genre suits where I am in my life right now. When I started, I made mostly poppy comedies. I wanted to move into different film genres, even though I don’t strictly follow all of their rules. I think I’ll do more of them. And for this film, one of my influences was Fritz Lang.”

About the film’s plot:
“It’s a story about surviving under extreme conditions, which is the story of humanity, too.”
“I thought about the myth of Frankenstein afterwards and especially about the myth of the Titans and Prometheus.”

Antonio Banderas, about working again with the director and about his character:
“I’m meeting up with Pedro again after 20 years. In this film, as he requested, I worked on the character’s interiority and sparingness. I want to publicly thank Pedro for bringing me to territory that was new and unknown to me.”
“Working with Pedro again was like returning to my roots. He was responsible for my early artistic education.”
 

Almodóvar Takes A New Direction With ‘The Skin I Live In’

But Will His Fans Follow Him?

It is almost a given that detractors of the newest from Pedro Almodóvar will blurt out the film’s baroque twists in their contortions to craft the glibbest dismissal possible; at the same time, a reluctance to spill those strange story points shouldn’t be taken as an unequivocal endorsement. Of all the great modern European filmmakers, Almodóvar has recently felt like the one in most peril of turning his groove—sumptuous surfaces, a tone between the operatic and the soap-operatic, each frame glossy with the delight of cinema like a lipstick smear from an ardent lover—into a rut. With “The Skin I Live In,” he’s clearly jolted and wrested himself out of any potential rut; the concern is now, rather, what to make of the new territory he, and we, are in.

If the opening title—“Toledo, 2012”—weren’t enough to fix us in the near-future, the unfolding plot soon moves the film to the more jagged edges of the near future. Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), a brilliant plastic surgeon, is working on a new form of artificial skin—burn-resistant; insect-repellent; tougher and better than the mere membrane God or nature made us, and tested on mice. Meanwhile, at his residence and private clinic in the hills, a young woman who is most decidedly not a mouse, Vera (Elena Anaya) is both the beneficiary of Ledgard’s genius and the captive of his madness. …

If Cinema is the art form of our age, its obsession with mad scientists—from Caligari to Frankenstein, from “Metropolis“s’ Dr. Rotwang to “Dead Ringers”‘s doctors Mantle—may reflect our age’s greatest anxiety, as cool calculating monsters that not only prove God dead, but endeavor to improve upon His handwork. The George Franju 1960 psycho-chiller “Eyes Without a Face” is a clear influence here—but so is George Bernard Shaw‘s 1912 “Pygmalion” (as well as the myth that inspired Shaw), where the search for the perfect woman involves making her out of whatever raw materials one can find at hand, and how ‘perfection’ is in the eye of the beholder.

Many of Almodóvar’s stylistic crutches are here—huge chunks of exposition bit off and spat in the audience’s face, a penchant for the kind of plotting that requires those huge chunks of exposition to support them, flashbacks so long that the present-tense action loses some of its present tension. But in a grim, fascinating change, Almodóvar’s script (based on Thierry Jonquet‘s 2003 novel) isn’t about his usual mothering maternal women, but, rather about Banderas’ bad, mad dad, a man whose desires are second only to his desire for control. Ledgard lost his wife to fire after she went off with a lover, and his daughter to madness after she was raped; his efforts with Vera seem like an attempt to recapture some aspects of both, until the way the kinks of the story twist out make it clear that something much more complicated—and much worse—is happening.

As much of a departure as “The Skin I Live In” seems to be on a story level, Almodóvar smartly chooses to work with frequent collaborators. José Luis Alcaine‘s cinematography is lustrous and lush; Alberto Inglasias’ music evokes the slashing, spooky strings of Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Hermann, and not by accident. “The Skin I Live In” can easily be seen as an Almodóvarian spin on “Vertigo,” one where sanity and gender are both bent until broken, and both later cut to order. At one early point, Vera stands entirely too close to Ledgard and purrs “I’m made to measure for you …”; as past events make us replay and re-parse those words, the movie snaps between bright glittering glamour and dark, doomed horror.

Much like its fellow Cannes Competition selection entry “Sleeping Beauty,” The Skin I Live In is an unsettling dance of thanatos and eros, death and sex; unlike the Australian film’s slow and swooning ballet, Almodovar gives us a swift and shimmering tarantella, the dance that began as a folk remedy for venomous spider bites. There’s something poisonous in “The Skin I Live In”—you have to wonder if it’s an unparalleled example of misogyny or an unparalleled refutation of it, if Almodovar’s embracing the pulp and pop melodrama of the material or mocking it—and something in it lingers even when you try and shake it.  Almodóvar’s film may seem thin at first glance, but it’s exactly as thin as the skin we wear between the outer world and the blood in our bodies—and just as uniquely beautiful and distinctively imperfect.

L’EXERCISE D’ETAT

PIERRE SCHOELLER IN THE VORTEX OF POWER
 
Pierre Schoeller in the vortex of power

Pierre Schoeller © FIF/LF

Three years after Versailles, the French director returns to a Certain Regard with L’Exercice de l’Etat, his second feature film. A film about the exercise of power, against a background of state bankruptcy and the crisis of democracy.

It would seem that in France, the Presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy provokes films about political power. After  La Conquête about the rise to power of Nicolas Sarkozy and, more marginally, Pater by Alain Cavalier and Vincent Lindon in the respective roles of President and Prime Minister, L’Exercice de l’Etat by Pierre Schoeller is interested in the exercise of power as such: ministerial responsability and the tensions, power struggles, insomnia involved…

The French Transport Minister (Olivier Gourmet) is woken up in the middle of the night to go to the scene of a coach crash. He goes. He doesn’t have the choice. He has to be on the ground, taking the emergency in hand, amid all the hostility. It’s a scene of chaos which contrasts with the featherbed calm of the ministerial office in which his chief secretary (Michel Blanc) lives his life. Between them, dialogue becomes difficult.

“Words are the lifeblood of the State,” says Pierre Schoeller, who is interested in speech as an instrument of power. Allowing people to be heard who normally are not listened to, is doubtless the guiding thread of Pierre Schoeller’s films: the workers in Zero Défaut, a TV film for the channnel Arte, the poor and marginal in Versailles, and this jobless individual (acted by a non-professional like other characters in the film) who finds himself at the forefront of the stage in L’Exercice de l’Etat

 

Tale of Hanshiro the samurai returns to the Croisette

 

Tale of Hanshiro the samurai returns to the Croisette

Takashi Miike © CR

Ichimei (Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai) by Takashi Miike is presented in Competition at the Cannes Festival. The Japanese director’s latest feature film is a 3D remake of Seppuku (Harakiri) by Masaki Kobayashi, which took the Special Jury Prize in 1963.
Ichimei is Takashi Miike’s 3D retelling of the tale of the samurai Hanshiro, almost 50 years after it was first presented at Cannes with Tatsuya Nakadai in the starring role. Peace has come to 17th-century Japan, and the country is ruled with a firm hand. Hanshiro, an out-of-work samurai played by Ebizô Ichikawa, decides to knock on the door of the powerful Iyi clan. Received by clan quartermaster Kageyu, he begs permission to perform ritual suicide, or hara-kiri, a ruse commonly used to elicit pity and perhaps even employment. In an attempt to dissuade him, Saito recounts the story of Motome who, like him, was an out-of-work samurai who wished to perform the same ritual. When he failed to muster the pity of the Iyi clan, he was forced to go through with his stated intention of suicide. Motome turns out to be none other than Hanshiro’s son-in-law; Hanshiro has in fact come to take his revenge…
Prior to Ichimei, Takashi Miike had directed the samurai remake 13 Assassins, inspired by Eiichi Kudo’s 1963 feature film The Thirteen Assassins, a genre of Japanese cinema previously honoured in Cannes. In 1980, Kagemusha by Akira Kurosawa shared the Palme d’Or with All that Jazz directed by Bob Fosse. With Ichimei, Takashi Miike becomes the first director of a 3D title to contest the Palme d’Or.

 
Thierry Frémaux launched a tribute to Egypt, Invited Country, yesterday evening in the Salle du Soixantième,
 with the world avant-premier screening of Tamantashar Yom (18 Days), a collective work by 10 Egyptian filmmakers made around Tahrir Square, which was given a standing ovation.

 
“Egypt is one of the great countries of cinema, one that has always been represented in Cannes, notably by Youssef Chahine, but by others too. This tribute is to acknowledge the past and the history of Egyptian cinema, its glory and grandeur, but also its present and its future,” declared Thierry Frémaux. He then called up all the filmmakers and actors who particpated in this collective work made around Tahrir Square and comprised of 10 short films, including Yousri Nasrallah’s Bab el Chams (The Gate of the Sun), originally screened in the Official Selection in 2004.

 

Three of the participants spoke, the first in English, the second in Arabic, and the third in French.

Mariam Abou Ouf, who made the film #tahrir 2/2, brought an emotional audience to a standing ovation with her words, “When we shot the film three months ago, I would not have thought we would be presenting it here in Cannes. And I would like to dedicate it to each person who devoted 18 days of his or her life to the revolution, as well as to all those who disappeared.”

Marwan Hamed, maker of 19-19, compared the Egyptian people to a piece of elastic: “You stretch it and stretch it but you don’t know when it is going to break.”

Finally Yousri Nasrallah, who made Interior-Exterior, evoked “the breath of freedom that is carrying us all away at home, but here too. It’s with this desire for freedom and dignity that some sacrificed their lives, and that we have made this film. Today, our thoughts are with Libya, Yemen, Syria, Tunisia. We must stand by them.
The tribute to Egypt continues today with the screening Cannes Classics of Facteur (Al Bostagui) by Hussein Kamal 1968) in a new print and of Cri d’une fourmi (Ant Scream) by Sameh Abdel Aziz (2011) at the Cinéma de la Plage.

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