The festival really came alive for me for the first time since Omirbaev's Student—not including what's obviously the best film here, but playing in Cannes Classics: Andrey Konchalovskiy's Runaway Train (1985)—with another film about the anguished-to-bursting suffering of students. Only, this was a high school musical gang film by Takashi Miike, For Love's Sake. Set in 1972, cracking with vibrant colors (and one of the handful of films here show on 35mm), images densely cluttered with classroom-alleyway bric-a-brac and as appreciative (and full) of constant brawling as a Raoul Walsh picture, the film takes its source manga and brings high school drama to the level of emotional sincerity and endless violence of the director's time traveling samurai epic, Izo. Each character devotes their love and themselves to one who cannot return that love, setting in motion a series of songs (and fights) pitting bad boys against nerds, bourgeois against orphans, preppy kids against street thugs. Boisterously funny and silly but never less than respectful about the earnestness and self-seriousness with which teenagers act, the film does the most appropriate thing for making movies about this age group: treat their lives with the vivid extravagance and gratuitousness of violence (of emotion and of bodies) in which they believe they live. Why this great film is ghettoized to an Out of Competition midnight screening slot when, last year, Miike had the subpar but more ostensibly respectable Harakiri remake in Competition seems obvious: the main program can only tolerate “arty” takes on genre: Drive, Lawless, and Killing Them Softly. (Recall that the excellent Miike film of Cannes 2011 was Ninja Kids, shownin the Market.) Yet when the real thing appears, originating from and enmeshed in the popular cultural landscape, like last year's excellent Wu Xia, you need to show up at the witching hour in order to see it.
Coming off of this onslaught of imagery and action, I was caught off-guard by the relatively tempered level of audacity from Leos Carax's otherwise totally bizarre first feature in over a decade, Holy Motors. Inspired by the digital freedom and prank-based plotting of the filmmaker's brilliant Denis Levant-starring short for the Tokyo! omnibus, Merde, his new feature is episodically structured as Levant travels around Paris in a gaudy white limo meeting several “appointments” which involve donning disguises, taking on elaborate impersonations and integrating himself into different social strata and activities. (Some of which are based on unrealized feature film ideas by the director.) These include several assassinations, re-living a past love, taking the place of a dying old man, bringing Merde in Paris (thankfully! Hopefully a tour is in the works...), fighting and fucking in a motion capture studio, and performing roles ranging from corporate banker to beggar woman. The premise is paranoid and suggested by a cameo by Michel Piccoli—not just an Alps-likeuse of performance as therapy or a necessary part of the social tapestry, but also that all of Levant's impersonations are being filmed by invisible microscopic cameras for someone's enjoyment, digital cinema ubiquitous, life, genre and performance blending imperceptibly. (Shot in high definition digital, the film brings continuous and varied broadsides against this very medium, as if Carax regretted his own use of it and integrated his fear into his creation.) Based on Merde, one would expect much madness from this scenario; and based on Carax's previous works, more romantic anguish. Instead, 13 years after Pola X, the conceptual richness of Carax's free-wheeling oddity is tamed by a calm, undramatic mise-en-scène in tune with the nocturnal melancholy suffusing the limousine—which is driven by a forlorn Edith Scob, as a direct Eyes without a Face reference—in which Levant constantly changes costumes, checks the files for his next performance, getting wearier, older, disappointed and unfulfilled. Perhaps this is why the strangest and most moving episode is one where he simply impersonates a father picking his daughter up from a party, and the argument that ensues over a lie of her's—a moment seemingly too intimate and human within a film of an unreal, prankish nature, but in fact a direct expression of the tone of vague foreboding and restrained tenderness.
Despite operating under a new director of programming this year, I have not had the opportunity to explore the Directors' Fortnight outside of the requisite Raúl Ruiz. Almost at the tail end of the festival I finally caught another, Jaime Rosales'Sueño y silencio. Shot in a demandingly spare and spatially contained and compressed 35mm black and white 'scope, it counts the slivers of moments, both private and social, of a couple who lose one of their two daughters in the film's first act. The husband is involved in the accident too and loses his memory not only of the experience but of the girl's existence, which leaves the wife to experience her grief alone. Shot directly to face his actors or pin down his space, and usually keeping only one character in frame (or partially in frame) and others, even those in involved in long conversations, out of it, the film presents the family and their story as discreet fragments isolated both narratively—as there is no decoupage in scene, each shot is a scene unto itself—and spatially, as people are left alone in quietly suggestive but nevertheless separate environments. I am not sure this technique entirely works for the section of the film that precedes the girl's death, but once she does leave the film Rosales' approach movingly isolates direct and indirect moments in such an experience—unlike, for example, Joachim Lafosse's À perdre la raison in Un Certain Regard, whose crafty script writes itself around scenes where obvious communication between people would clear up narrative mysteries. Here those mysteries are addressed but admitted as unsolved by the unequal experiences related between the husband and wife, and between the couple and the family and friends around them. Brief, beautiful dream sequences mobilize the camera and release some of the film's energy of taut, highly specific but elliptical and unresolved sadness.