"I was not angry since I came to France / Until this instant." Yes, that's how this article started out last year and lest the Ferroni Brigade be accused of (self-)plagiarism, let us point out that the only conceivable way of representing the grinding experience of the eternal Cannes rerun is by conjuring the endless feeling of repetition, be it standing in line or staring at the lineup, with its unchanging core of brand names, few of them inspiring real interest. Make no mistake, despite constant assertions to the contrary, this is a truly cursed place—last year upon arrival, the representative of the Ferroni Brigade was robbed on the first evening, this year one of our best friends suffered a compound fracture of her leg moments after she arrived in her apartment—and the toasted programming mostly just bears it out, really. One should not be deceived by a shocking series of acceptable awards for the second year in a row, giving a couple of standouts from the usual meager quota of actual contenders (three serious competition entries, a handful of scattered notables elsewhere, more often than not in the market) their due, including the Most Heideggerian Palme (MHP) in history and a deserved director's prize for Honorary Viking Nicolas Winding Refn, contributing this year's prestigious literary adaptation in the guise of an almost ephemerally abstract action shadowplay, Drive.
Still, in the spirit of the entire enterprise, we have no qualms about repeating ourself: Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life may have been the film that overshadowed the competition, but—while the press gorged itself on something called Polisse, which is many things, including (pace South Park's Stan) shit, but certainly not anything remotely resembling an actual movie—in a near-empty market screening room unspooled an epic no less (in fact: even more) cosmic than the eventual MHP winner, only lacking marquee (or even Western market) value. Frankly, there was not even another option to consider. And so...
The Golden Donkey for the Most Ferronian Film in Cannes 2011 goes (again) to Mišen' (Target) by (master) Aleksandr Zel'dovič
Yes, folks, we're serious. This monumental achivement was buried in the Berlin Panorama (cf. the previous Golden Donkey), so slim chances of catching it again. Just do it if the possibility miraculously arises. There may have been other pleasures, major and minor, in the market, not least Miike Takashi's wise and wacky Nintama Rantarô (Ninja Kids, although the schedule claimed confidently this was only a "working title"—and we certainly wouldn't mind a retitling along the lines of Goofiness, Guts and Glory) or The Innkeepers, proving Ti West one of the few truly honest contemporary B-Horror-Auteurs (and allowing a glimpse of our beloved Kelly McGillis). But no contest: Target remains undisputed.
A Silver Donkey goes to L'Apollonide (Souvenirs de la maison close) (House of Tolerance) by Bertrand Bonello
We should at least mention the long cut of Koi no tsumi (Guilty of Romance) by Sono Shion, but since he got a Silver Donkey just half a year ago, that pretty much clears the field for the third outstanding competition entry (a certain Joseph Cedar film seems also worth more than a footnote, though we would have wished it delved even deeper into Talmudian paradoxes): French eccentric Bonello's finest film to date, an oneiric and opulent evocation of a Parisian fin de siècle brothel's last days, its inhabitants' rituals and chores, hopes and crushing delusions, steeped in the glories of decadent literature, yet almost unique in its gaze, alternately tender and shocking, hallucinating itself into a state of uncanny grace that seems to disavow the mere existence of sleaze. Instead you get the unforgettable laughing woman at the center of the only—if ersatz—family in this year's Cannes marathon of parents and enfants terribles showing solidarity, an amusing commentary on the state of French filmmaking as some form of pimpdom and/or prostitution (fellow filmmakers of both genders deliciously round out the supporting cast), and last but not least, a feast of a film. For L'Apollonide was one of maybe three films spotted by the Brigade that was actually presented in glorious 35mm—and the shimmering glow of its dark-tinted hues, the supple flow of images, the graceful tableaus, the impalpably pulsating light make the most of what seems to be a dying art.
Which is why, dear reader, you will have to forgive us the absence of a Grey Donkey this year: Yes, it was a pleasure to see Elio Petri's delicious debut L'assasino (The Ladykiller of Rome, 1961) again, in what we guess must be called a flawless digital approximation—after all, the only work at Cannes to feature serious donkey presence! (Although there were one or two donkeys in the far background of master Peter Chan Ho-Sun's Wu xia, curiously neglected despite being a desperately needed fresh breath of air—and solitary sign of intelligence—during the brainless, but painful first days of the fest.) But since Cannes Classics shows little interest in discovery and steers more and more towards "gala"-event-like presentations of (rightly or wrongly, but that is not even up for debate in the climate engendered by the festival) enshrined canon fodder there's not much to find. Meaning: the only screening of the only film we hadn't seen before—Ömer Lütfi Akad's Hudlutarın kanunu (The Law of the Border, 1966)—was scheduled in a slot impossible to attend due to work obligations. As compensation, we shall hand out Grey Donkeys instead from the only Festival the Ferroni Brigade attends as a holiday: Bologna's "Il cinema ritrovato", whose embarrassment of (historical) riches feels like the exact opposite of Cannes' zeitgeisty poverty.