Of Gods and Men (Xavier Beauvois, France)
With Beauvois’ inspired, sober film, one of the growers of the festival, reaching its steady hand around the film flack since its screening and maintaining its grip, gaining respect in the Cannes-wane, it would be too easy to choose the kind-hearted presence of Michael Lonsdale, who brings a smile whenever he’s on screen. But for such a grounded film, my favorite moment was one in the sky, when the monastery in Algiers, under siege from local insurgents, gets a helicopter flyover by the national military. The monks gather in their chapel to pray for strength, and Beauvois cuts between the military’s god’s eye view of the monastery and the men under cover on the ground, holding out and together against this strange force from above.
Young Girls in Black (Jean Paul Civeyrac, France)
This film is as one note as Léa Tissier’s single aspect of burnt out depression—but what a look! It is the most mysterious element in a film that is supposed to be exploring the depression of two high schoolers. Tissier’s eyes register something outside of the world, something of the soul that’s been lost, an expression unconquered and independent of the story. Her sad, distant eyes turn down towards the corner of the frame and slowly leak her muted despair out into the cinema.
Chantrapas (Otar Iosseliani, France/Georgia)
Simple: the audacity of a Georgian filmmaker making a co-production split between France and Georgia about a Georgian filmmaker and how compromising and disappointing it is to make a co-production shooting in both France and Georgia. Alas!
Two Girls on the Street (Andre De Toth, Hungary, 1939)
This early De Toth is a real find, most especially in the confident and cohesive style of the film. In an era where many non-Hollywood and non-Western filmmakers were ungainly experimenting with mainstream cinema (think of Mikio Naruse’s careening stylistics in this era), Two Girls on the Street demonstrates a high sophistication and distinct style in its construction of space, its beautiful camera movements (especially a lovely tracking shot bouncing back and forth through an empty apartment two girls are looking to rent, a scene that could be out of Pitfall), its intrusions of forceful editing, and its terrific soundtrack. Distinct, unhomogenized form is completely understood and expressed, creating a very modern looking film that bares tremendous resemblance to De Toth’s more well known films of the 1950s.
My Joy (Sergei Loznitsa, Ukraine)
A close-up of cement being mixed, a vortex of grey; a shot of a body being dragged across the ground; the next shot of the body being thrown in a ditch; and final a shot from the ditch of cement covering the body and filling the hole. This opening, pre-title sequence is entirely unrelated to the rest of the picture; the dead man is never identified, the cover-up never explained. What is explained is done so through the film’s branching story structure, leaving the film’s protagonist to explore the story of another character in the area, or the history of a place the man travels through. The opening is the most mysteriously motivated of these sidetracks, but absolutely sets the dreary, conniving, and murderous tone of this film.