Cannes 2011. Snapshots: Critics' Week Opening Night Film & Two Special Screenings from Directors' Fortnight

Declaration of War (Valérie Donzelli, France) — Opening Night, Critics' Week

It’s a love story, an action and war movie, where fantasy fights against a descent into hell. After La Reine des pommes (The Queen of Hearts), her first feature with a hint of Chaplin and French New Wave, Valérie Donzelli proves with La Guerre est déclarée (Declaration of War) that we were right to bet on her. The film is the hand-to-hand fight between a carefree couple – his name is Romeo (Jérémie Elkaïm), her name is Juliet (Valérie Donzelli) – and their son’s brain tumor. A declaration of war on this enduring illness, devouring cells, all kinds of cells and even family units. Donzelli films this moral and physical marathon (running, fainting, slipping from a French cancan to an open kiss, a tender version of the open bar) like a comedy. People sing like in The Queen of Hearts (“I like your knees and your brains”) when they should talk, they establish the sacred union of social environments (well-adjusted lesbians on one side, bourgeois family on another) and empirical defence strategies (“no half-assed speculations and no Internet), and they always give a final extra kick to keep hoping despite the odds. This Full Metal Jacket of hospital hallways brings tears to your eyes but portrays a contagious vitality for life. They won the War. Spread the word. —Critics' Week

Something like a quiz for cinephiles, perhaps?  Truffaut (the voice-over), Varda if not Demy (the songs), Rohmer (the dialogs and the off-beat acting)...but also Sautet (the family and friends), or even Moretti (The Son's Room's version of acting oneself in one's own drama). Lost in quotations and "in the style of," the cinephile viewer may miss the point: in various moments, Donzelli (also her own lead actress, and good too) does try to make a film of her own. Her excellent casting and directing for the doctors' characters, the melancholy of the ending, the close-to-documentary way of dealing with the illness...something there says that the director is struggling to make a film—an interesting and brave one. The filmmaker is still struggling though, because taking directly from the "masters" can be a trap. Unless, that is, the choices are radically dealt with—come anarchy, come non-conformism, come some showdown with the fathers' figures.  But Donzelli is not the type. Yet—elegantly dancing around her own risky choices, Donzelli does tackle a challenging film project.

***

El Velador [The Night Watchman] (Natalia Almada, USA/Mexico) — Directors' Fortnight 

From dusk to dawn "El Velador" accompanies Martin, the guardian angel who, night after night, watches over the extravagant mausoleums of Mexico's most notorious Drug Lords. In the labyrinth of the narco-cemetery, this film about violence without violence reminds us how, in the turmoil of Mexico's bloodiest conflict since the Revolution, ordinary life persists and quietly defies the dead. —Directors' Fortnight

Well, another tale of the Cartel. Almada's documentary shows great qualities in describing a half-absurd, half-horrifying situation. The most interesting moments show how the bosses' mausoleums are carefully and richly built, decorated and looked after. A city of showy tombs that lives also at night for parties...and more murders. The editing has unfortunately remained too loose to justify the overall duration, at the risk to make things come close to "picturesque." Yet we all know that one cannot film what one wants in the realm of the Drug Lords—and, as in most carefully-produced docs, reality is there, stronger than any remarks about the filmmaking of it.

***

Kids of Töday (Jérôme de Missolz, France/Belgium) — Directors' Fortnight

A legendary 70’s rock critic takes hold of a group of young counter-culturalists. From Paris to Beijing, by way of New York, Montreal and Hong Kong, the night dwellers ride a William Burroughsy wave. As the decadent pasts and urban futures interlace, music from yesterday and today pave a revolutionary road. With his skeleton silhouette coiffed with a big black fur hat, the bizarre sixty-something introduces himself : 69-x-69, Yves Adrien’s testament executor, the inventor of punk, of novö, the famed music critic of times past.  —Directors' Fortnight

For all those who never heard of Yves Adrien or Alain Pacadis, this voyage through the French musical and counter-culture scene of the 1970s could remain a total mystery. Yet one would still enjoy the presence and the evocations of great artists and musicians (The Stooges, Genesis, Joy Division and many others) and above all some of the visual-musical sequences that punctuate the story.  Documents, clips, excerpts, animation and video clash and play into beautiful moments that are much more efficient in evoking the context and the zeitgeist than the film's fictional story involving the old critic and his descendants.

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