Eyes crammed with images, ears filled to the brim with sound, and the brain jet-lagged, over-tired, over-joyed, and over-wearied—instant festival criticism is a talent of the rare stalwart few. This year I'm thinking of a different approach, leaving to the inexhaustible and comprehensive David Hudson the brilliant but unenviable task of up to the minute roundups of all from that Croisette that's fit to print (on your screen). Centering our on the ground coverage of the festival will take the form primarily of my favorite moment missives—the festival being such a sloppy, overwhelming explosion of cinema that anything but short impressions of memory seems imprecise and over-eager. So stay tuned til after the fest for a more indepth rundown. But for now, cine-critique fired from the hip!
On Tour (Mathieu Amalric, France): Behind the Looking Glass
The first film I caught at the festival, and the first of a projected four directed by notable actors acting in their own directed films. This one—set behind the stage of a touring burlesque company—had a great thing for the occasional mirror, and specifically the reflections of mirrors opening up strange bitsof offscreen space. It was never used in exactly a literal-spacial sense though, nothing as simple as a normal dramatic scene happening in the reflected space. Instead, Amalric keeps the tone of the mirror-drama and mirror-hints hovering subtly at a slightly imaginary or enchanted level quite well fit to the theatrical setting.
Chongqing Blues (Wang Xiaoshuai, China): Hilly Hikes
Like most mediocre films, Wang's is at its best at its beginning, when every new shot suggests a potential direction—spatial, narrative, thematic, aesthetic—the film could go. The first shots we get of the city of Chongqin review a cityscape and cityfeel foreign to most films imported to the States from the mainland. The lighting is overcast and dappled, and space bobbles downward as actor Xueqi Wang explores the city, its hills and vistas, all creating an usually lumpy and damp look and feel before the story and cityspace finds itself—and, not coincidentally finds cliché—and everything returns to normal.
The Strange Case of Angelica (Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal): Ghosts, Cats, Cinema
Is it any coincidence that ghostly love stories seem to have the best scenes with cats in the cinema? (A topic worth of a dissertation!) Although there is probably no one better than Nevermore's fascination with the boom mic in Rivette's The Story of Marie and Julien, Oliveira's beautiful new film also has a most impressive feline glamorized in a marvelous coordination of animals (transfixed by a caged bird, startled by a barking dog, and preceeded by a bowl'd fish) which, like the Rivette film, prompts that most crucial and mysterious question in the cinema: intended or happenstance? Did the camera happen to catch a magic, impromptu moment? Or was this take 37 of a scene where a cat simply couldn't place himself so precisely in the frame, so fixedly attend to the bird's movements, look out the window precisely at the right bark? As they say, the world will never know.
Tuesday, After Christmas (Radu Muntean, Romania): Bedroom Eyes
At first I wasn't too moved by Mimi Branescu as the lead actor in this supra-realist drama of marital infidelity by the director of Boogie; his closely shorn bullet head is only the beginning of a thick, uninteresting face that does little to bodily characterize or define the film's cheating protagonist. But his face, while physically dull, ends up attracting a lot of weight in Muntean's long, long takes, letting us move beyond an inexpressive physicality to subtly eloquent mouth and eyes. Radu Muntean's kind of realism requires being, actors inhabiting characters to an entirely unself-conscious degree, intended so that you forget you are watching actors, even watching a drama. Branescu is remarkably able to tell micro-stories within each take (usually meaning each scene) of his embarrassment, self-reflection, confidence, and stress through minute naturalistic and introverted facial expressions.
The Eagle Path (Jean-Claude Van Damme, Thailand/HK/USA): Examples of a Bicameral Mind
Little did I know this gem would be the next entry in the Cannes 2010 next actor/director/actor ouevre. And what to choose in this insane medley from the market, about which Van Damme said, before the film, that it expressed his desire to bring equilibrium to the world. Frankly, I thought of Alain Resnais throughout the film—though Christoph Huber made a cryptic reference to Sternberg's The Shanghai Gesture before pointing out the finale's similarity to Bruce Conner. My favorite thing about this film which Van Damme wrote, directed, starred in, and edited, was, aside from the occasional searing image (for instance the yellow smeared freeze frames of the titular eagle, so far the most raw image of the festival), was the Resnais-by-way-of-giallo character Van Damme plays. This psychopath lays out a mental reality, a flashback-ridden traumatic schizophrenia, over our natural reality (or perhaps the film's straight-to-video action movie world). This forces the man to re-live and re-stage the world he sees through his insanity—continually torturing his mind—in the real, or sane world. All with notably manic, bloody, and self-destructive results, of course. Could Philip K. Dick have done any better?