Things move fast at Cannes, and that allows a lot of films to slip through the cracks. Yes, much of the focus is on the films in competition, but the sidebars are often just as crucial aspects of the festival. Last year revealed Joaquim Lafosse’s Our Children in Un Certain Regard and Pablo Larrain’s No in Director’s Fortnight, the former of which still hasn’t found US distribution. Seriously? They better speed things up, or I’ll just go and throw it on my Best of 2013 list with the UK release as my justification.
Still, one competition film that could very well make a slam with Spielberg’s jury slipped past my radar ever so slightly. I’m not sure why, since Hirokazu Kore-eda’s last film, I Wish, was a particular favorite of mine last year. Like Father, Like Son should fit like a glove, and Guy Lodge’s review for TimeOut London certainly hints that it could, but perhaps too much.
There’s typical grace and good humour in Kore-eda’s handling of this all-but-impossible situation. But the film’s critical lack of dramatic nuance undercuts its emotional resonance. Moreover, the hoary contrast between the chilly white-collar family and the cheerier, less privileged brood is upward classism at its most patronising. And while the director’s evident rapport with child performers is always a delight to observe, he hasn’t written actual characters for the kids this time: they simply laugh, smile and twinkle on cue. Audiences will respond similarly, but Kore-eda is made of smarter stuff than this.
Sounds right up Spielberg’s alley, doesn’t it? Apparently the feeling is mutual to many other critics charmed by Kore-eda’s latest, including The Telegraph‘s Robbie Collins.
One of the great themes of Japanese cinema, and perhaps the greatest, is family: particularly our place within it, and its within us. More than 80 years have passed since Yasujiro Ozu first set his camera on a tripod, lowered its legs slightly and made I Was Born, But…, and you might well assume that by now the subject would be pretty well exhausted. But Hirokazu Kore-eda has found a fresh perspective on this durable theme, and he surges into it like a child playing inside a duvet cover, feeling his way right to the corners.
Collins also has plenty love to spread on The Selfish Giant, another film about childhood relationships, focusing on three boys who take to collecting scrap metal. In his review for The Telegraph, Collins hails The Arbor director Clio Bernard for her honest tackling of social themes.
Unlike her first film, an abstract documentary called The Arbor, Barnard is working in a more straightforward social-realist style, but like Ken Loach’s Kes, the film knells with myth: we get a keen sense of an older, purer England buried somewhere underneath all this junk, from the early wide shots of horses in meadows, idling belly-deep in morning mist, to the extraordinary, almost wordless final sequence that hints at redemption and reincarnation. The Selfish Giant is cinema that tells an unsure nation who we are.
Focusing on the talents of the child actors, Derek Malcolm of London Evening Standard, too, calls on potent neo-realist strands in Bernard’s film.
If there’s one reason to be cheerful it lies in the performances of Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas as Arbor and Swifty. Neither has acted before and both are great at suggesting the essential humanity that lies behind their rough and ready exteriors. If this hadn’t been so, Arbor in particular might have become thoroughly dislikable. The strength of Barnard’s direction is everywhere apparent. It is almost remorseless in detailing the lives of the two boys and those of the adults they face. If there are some illogicalities, which towards the end make The Selfish Giant seem as much a fable as a realist drama, it is very clear that Barnard’s voice is both strong and original. We knew that before but now she confirms it.
On an even darker side of the Quinzaine lineup is Blue Ruin, a revenge drama that’s already been picked up by Radius-TWC. Justin Chang at Variety guarantees its credentials as a hard piece of genre cinema.
The backwoods-gothic terrain may be familiar, but the jolts are doled out with an expert hand in “Blue Ruin,” a lean and suspenseful genre piece that follows a bloody trail of vengeance to its cruel, absurd and logical conclusion. Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier shows impressive progress from his funny-scary 2007 debut, “Murder Party,” with this tense, stripped-down tale of a Virginia drifter who finds himself in way over his head when he tries to exact payback for his parents’ deaths. Potent homevid rewards will likely follow modest theatrical returns for this buzzed-about Directors’ Fortnight entry.
Meanwhile Allan Hunter of Screen Daily concedes the film’s ace craftsmanship, even if parts of the story fail to entice.
Blue Ruin is distinguished by the way it allies solid storytelling to fine craftsmanship. We are fed just enough about what happened to Dwight’s parents to put us on his side even if what happens lacks the mystery or originality that would have made the film even more of a commercial proposition. The widescreen cinematography is attractive, the musical score by Brooke and Will Blair helps to sustain the tension of key scenes and the soundtrack is effectively deployed to capture Dwight’s initial sense of alienation from the world around him and the sense of that world beginning to crowd in on him.
Wrapping up our catch-up activities on a bright and attractive note in Un Certain Regard, Grand Central was one of the few sidebar movies that openly appealed to me ahead of Cannes. That’s no doubt due to the presence of such attractive leads as Tahar Rahim and Lea Seydoux, both of which have their own films in competition. Director Rebecca Zlotowski’s film focuses on workers at a nuclear power plant, with potentially tragic consequences, but Jessica Kiang at The Playlist says that isn’t even what makes the film special.
In fact, while the performances are strong from leads and supporting cast (especially Rahim, whose role is rather more substantially written than Seydoux’s), what really worked a spell on us was the way Zlotowski delivers what feels like an utterly authentic glimpse into the behind-scenes, below-stairs aspect of a secretive and unfamiliar industry, while never compromising the slightly dreamlike tone. To create a sense of poetry when you’re shooting the hard, worn edges of a staff dressing room, or a decontamination shower, is no mean feat, and both the director and cinematographer Georges Lechaptois deserve praise here.
Gregory Ellwood of Awards Campaign definitely sees the magic in the performances, including lesser known supporting player Nozha Khouadra.
Rahim hasn’t starred in an English-languge film since Kevin MacDonald’s unfortunate “The Eagle” and that’s too bad. His role here and in another Cannes title, Asghar Farhadi’s “Le Passe” (The Past), are just two more examples of how talented and charismatic he is on screen. Rahim remarkably communicates most of Gary’s plight with little exposition laced dialogue, a challenge not many actors could pull off. Seydoux, who previously starred in “Epine,” gives a powerhouse performance as a woman slowing realizing her life may have no real happy ending. Among the supporting players, Nozha Khouadra deserves special praise as a team member who is exposed to extremely high radiation and is forced to shave her head to decontaminate.
So there you have it! Four films that have been playing like gangbusters on the croisette, many of which aren’t even in competition. There’s plenty still to come, and plenty too that we’re still overlooking. Stay tuned for more snapshots of what’s going on in Cannes! In the meantime, here’s your healthy daily dose of gorgeous!
PREVIOUS CANNES ROUND-UPS:
Heli (Dir. Amat Escalante)
Young & Beautiful (Dir. Francois Ozon) and The Bling Ring (Dir. Sofia Coppola)
The Congress (Dir. Ari Folman)
The Past (Dir. Asghar Farhadi)
Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian (Dir. Arnaud Desplechin)
Inside Llewyn Davis (Dir. Joel & Ethan Coen)