REVIEW ROUND-UP: ‘All is Lost’, ‘Grigris’, and ‘Bastards

All is LostBefore you call me out on it, I’m not doing a review round-up for Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra. Not because it’s not a legit film entry of the festival, which it is, but because it seems odd to do a round-up for a film we’ll be getting to see rather soon for ourselves. It plays on HBO this Sunday at 9 pm EST, so expected a review from us sometime shortly after.

Getting back to the festival favorites, or not so favorites, we won’t get to see until much later on this year, one film I wasn’t particularly excited for was All is Lost. The second film from writer-director J.C. Chandor, whose Margin Call was quite well received by my colleagues here at Film Misery (though not by me), it’s currently being received in a similar manner to that debut feature. A couple may love it while many just like it. It’s an ocean survival epic, though not in the more fantastical brand of Life of Pi, I assume. Brad Brevet at Rope of Silicon is of the lovers branch, citing striking visuals and a surprisingly good performance by Robert Redford.

Visually, the film is striking as it balances beautiful underwater shots with ominous watery collisions combined with a tremendous sound mix. The score from Alex Ebert also blends so perfectly well with the film, most of the time you hardly notice it and even then it adds just that little extra layer of atmosphere to either set the audience at ease or raise your pulse. Considering this is a nearly dialogue free feature with only one actor, I can’t help but believe this is going to be a mainstream hit. It’s an existential exercise that everyone can connect with, but it’s a thriller at its core. Just watching as “Our Man” has to manually pump water out of his boat, you begin to feel his pain and connect with his struggle. You wish you could help and not only do you believe his plight, you believe he can survive, as the terrifying situation weighs heavy on your heart.

Greg Ellwood of Awards Campaign wasn’t so captivated, wishing that the lone man we were stranded with for an entire film had more character for Robert Redford to work with.

Disappointingly, while he creates one realistic peril after another, Chandor’s screenplay does not give Redford much of a character to play with. The audience learns little about this man except for his perseverance to survive. He does not talk to himself. He is focused and calm and rarely gets emotional about his situation.  And, when he hits his lowest point, Redford isn’t the sort of actor who will deliver one big emotional outburst to win over an audience’s sympathy. Instead, the material dictates his performance be very much of the old school Clint Eastwood variety; just get the job done.  That being said, Chandor puts the legendary actor and filmmaker through the ringer and Redford uses that to his advantage.

GrigrisBack in competition, one film that was speculated beforehand as a Palme d’Or frontrunner (particularly by Neil Young of Jigsaw Lounge) is Grigris, about a partially paralyzed dancer living in Chad. Certainly sounds like the richly sentimentalist feature that would be in Spielberg’s wheelhouse. It might have if the reception was stronger, but enthusiasm seems to be merely respectful about the film. Guy Lodge at Variety notes that deficiency of sentimentality may indeed be the film’s problem.

Unlike in “A Screaming Man,” sentimentality is strenuously sidestepped: Even Souleymane’s ailing stepfather is scarcely mentioned once the money for his care has been secured. As a result, the film is easier to admire than it is to invest in emotionally, though its pulse quickens with a dramatic, and boldly untelegraphed, feminist twist in the rural-set final reel, which is all the more surprising coming from a director whose previous films have been overwhelmingly male-dominated. Cinematically, “Grigris” comes alive most electrically in Souleymane’s dance sequences, the camera lingering on the performer’s muscles as they knot and break with near-hypnotic suppleness. Cinematographer Antoine Heberle treats Deme’s body as a landscape nearly as expansive as that of Chad itself. Outdoors, the sense of social desolation is captured in serene wide shots; as in so much African filmmaking, regional fabrics punctuate the parched, sandy earth with explosions of saturated color.

Peter Bradshaw at The Guardian is equally as charmed, but no more and no less so than Lodge.

The film is quite as gentle and accessible as the rest of Saleh-Haroun’s work, and there are some terrific dance sequences. (Along with Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty and Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, this is proving to be quite a festival of dance scenes.) But I had the impression that having discovered Deme, and decided to build a film around him, Saleh-Haroun wasn’t exactly sure where his story would go. We actually get a scene in which Grigris works out some dance moves on the stage of a theatre, but where this theatre is, and what relationship Grigris has with it, is left undeveloped. This is a minor work set alongside something like Our Father, but the director’s compassion shines out, and so does the charisma of Souleymane Deme.

BastardsOf course if you were to ask me what single film I’d see at the festival if I had the chance, it would be Un Certain Regard contestant Bastards. That the latest film from French director Claire Denis, my favorite filmmaker working today, has been skewing towards the negative range changes nothing in my disposition. She got a similar response more than a decade back to Trouble Every Day, and both films seem to share a grisly edge few would expect of a female director. As ever, Denis’ desire to break typical constrictions brings a smile to my face. To give the critics their day, though, David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter says the film plays better to Denis’ fans than to the uninitiated.

Had this been directed by a man, it’s not unlikely that charges of misogyny might be hurled at the film. While Lindon’s compelling performance gives his character psychological gravitas, Marco is drawn as a flawed but noble victim. The women, however, are all weak or calculating. Mastroianni’s role is sorely lacking in nuance; Creton’s character is so thickly cloaked in ambiguity that it muffles any possible core of innocence; and Bataille plays Sandra as a self-justifying bitch, exposing her brother to danger while assuming none of the responsibility herself. All that makes this a punishingly dyspeptic drama that offers not a glimmer of redemption.

Meanwhile thank David Jenkins of Little White Lies for providing one of the few deeply positive assessments of the film, even calling it a masterpiece.

Pictorially, it’s beautiful and repellant at once, with the sublime technique at the service of images that are militantly downbeat. The film’s dreamlike quality – and this is a movie where much of its plot could be a dream – is enhanced further by Stuart Staples droning synth soundtrack. Put simply, Bastards offers confirmation were it needed that Denis remains one of the most exciting and innovative directors working today.

Well that’s all the good news. The bad news? Ryan Gosling couldn’t make it to Cannes because he’s working on his own directorial debut, How to Catch a Monster! I guess we’ll have to reach back to Cannes 2011 to find your daily bit of gorgeous!

Nicolas Winding Refn, Ryan Gosling

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