Cannes 2011 Daily Report

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15 December 2011


PALME D’OR: AMOUR (director, Michael Haneke)
GRAND PRIX: REALITY (director Matteo Garrone)
BEST ACTRESS: ex aequo, Cristina Flutur, Cosmina Stratan (BEYOND THE HILLS)


MOONRISE KINGDOM (USA, Wes Anderson) COMPETITION. Wes Anderson’s indefinable gave Cannes an engaging and warming opening for Cannes. True, critics are general discountenanced by his consistency, his stubborn determination to create his own universe, even to its physical appearance. Here it is transported to 1965 and a more innocent era, and an island off New England, seemingly inhabited only by the characters of the film. Two 12-year olds (characters totally inhabited by the Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward), pen-pals for a year, agree to escape together – Suzy from her disappointed family, myopic orphan Sam from the aimless disciplines of his scout camp. While they manage things – even their nascent adolescent urges – admirably, the grown-ups, in their panic search for them are absurd and oppressive. They are played by a fine emsemble of veteran character players – Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, with Tilda Swinton as the sadistic ‘Social Services’. The children’s created Moonrise Kingdom is doomed by the adult world; but an apolyptic flood reassures us that there is a greater wisdom and justice. Anderson’s survival in the movies as his own man and his own poet is a marvel to be treasured

22 May 2011


left: DRIVE (Best Direction, Nicolas Winding Refn)



Palme d'Or: THE TREE OF LIFE (director, Terrence Malick)

Grand Prix:
Ex aequo:
BIR ZAMANLAR ANADOLU’DA (Once Upon A Time In Anatolia; director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
THE KID WITH A BIKE (directors: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)

Best Director:
Nicolas Winding Refn (DRIVE)

Jury Prize:
POLISS (director: Maïwenn)

Best Actor:
Jean Dujardin (THE ARTIST, director: Michel Hazanavicius)

Best Actress:
Kirsten Dunst (MELANCHOLIA; director: Lars von Trier)

Best Screenplay:
Joseph Cedar (FOOTNOTE)


Palme d'Or
CROSS-COUNTRY (director: Maryna Vroda)

Jury Prize
BADPAKJE 46 (Swimsuit 46; director: Wannes Destoop)

LAS ACACIAS (director: Pablo Giorgelli; Critics' Week)

ARIRANG (Director: KIM Ki-Duk)
HALT AUF FREIER STRECKE (Stopped on Track; director: Andreas Dresen)

21 May 2011

Day Eleven

The festival saved to the end the longest and in many ways the most satisfying competition film. In BIR ZAMANLAR ANADOLU’DA (ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA) Nuri Bilge Ceylan shifts his unyielding gaze to rural Anatolia, with its mysterious hills and endless, deserted roads. The action takes place through a night, as the police drive a confessed murderer around the countryside, as he tries vaguely to recall where he has buried the body of the man he killed on account of a woman. The action moves from characteristic, leisurely landscape shots to the interiors of the three cars whose headlights are the only illumination of the road ahead. The dialogue moves, with unobtrusive but sophisticated sound design, from one car to another, gradually revealing the characters who from time to time come together as another wrong spot is investigated and dug. These are small-town dignitaries, who know each other well, but keep their secrets: the explosives-savvy police chief, the prosecutor, pedantically recording every insignificant and bizarre moment in his note-book, and the doctor, who gradually emerges as the protagonist. A continuing discussion, about a woman who died without apparent cause, proves to be a story with a denouement.
The body is finally found, and there is a moment of rural comedy since the police have forgotten to bring a body-bag.
Ceylan keeps us constantly held and attentive with mysteries that remain unsolved at the end: in the final scene the doctor conducts an autopsy on the murder victim. We do not see the corpse – only the instruments, the body-parts removed, and a conclusive piece of evidence which – mystery to the end – the doctor discards.

20 May 2011

Day Ten

THIS MUST BE THE PLACE is a bewilderingly disappointing follow-up to Paolo Sorrentino’s 2008 Cannes triumph Il Divo. Sorrentino seems to have fallen victim to the European mythification of Hollywood and its stars, having met Sean Penn when he was President of the Jury that gave Il Divo its Special Jury Prize. Penn is cast as Cheyenne, a 50-year-old retired rock star, living off his royalties in Dublin, a ridiculous figure in his Goth get-up, ragged shoulder-length hair, mascara and lifeless utterance. He returns to the States on the death of his father, and thereupon resolves to seek out the former Nazi concentration camp guard who had subjected his father to a humiliation which he could never forget. A meeting with a professional Nazi hunter and a road-movie sequence brings him face to face with a frail, blind nonagenarian, who proves to have been only subservient small-fry in the Nazi system. Though it turns out that the “humiliation” of his father was a slight and casual gesture, Cheyenne subjects him to a cruel and possibly fatal punishment, which gives the film a peculiarly sour tone. Penn himself cuts a pretty grotesque figure in a performance restricted to half a dozen mannerisms and a whining monotone, with an occasional smart line (the script is by Sorrentino and Umberto Contarello).

19 May 2011

Day Nine

LE PIEL QUE HABITO (THE SKIN I LIVE IN), directed by Pedro Almodovar is, as only to be expected, beautifully crafted at every level, charged with his fascination for transexuality and transgression , and – set in stunning mansions – staged with bewitching extravagance. As a story, it is in the direct line of horror from Nosferatu through Universal and Hammer, with reminiscences of Phantom of the Opera and Eyes Without a Face, but updated to an unsqueamish present. Antonio Banderas plays Dr Robert Ledgard, an eminent and brilliant plastic surgeon, who lives alone with his loyal old nurse, and a beautiful young woman, Vera, kept under lock and key. Through a finely orchestrated flashback structure, we discover the history behind the household. After Ledgard’s daughter was seduced (at invitation) by a hapless young man, Ledgard kidnapped the offender, changed his sex and remodelled him to resemble the doctor’s late wife, burned to death in a car accident. Since then this newly created “Vera” has been a guinea-pig for experiments with a new type of skin, resistant to flame. Somehow and improbably, the story, adapted from the novel “Mygale” by Thierry Jonquet, thereafter extricates itself.

French politics came under scrutiny in a couple of films. Pierre Schoeller’s L’EXERCISE DE L’ÉTAT begins with the transport Minister rushing to the scene of a major road accident, equally driven by duty and the need to promote his own political image. From this the film moves into a neatly written and persuasively acted drama about the functioning of government, and the everyday wheeling and dealing, alliances and betrayals that (as it seems) are the stuff of politics THE CONQUEST, directed by Xavier Durringer is a tough and more specific speculative dramatisation of Nicholas Sarkozy’s rise to power, with all its trickery and emotions. Chirac and Villepin are the other combatants in this Shakespearean plot, which sees the protagonist losing his wife as he gains France. Even for non-French it is a fascinating, disillusioning backstage revelation of the way we are led.

No less disillusioning in terms of political exposé, Josh and Rebecca Tickell’s THE BIG FIX is a documentary that no horror film could outdo, in its exposure of the corruption that led to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of Aprio 2010, and the still wider web of corruption that since then has been used to hide up the causes and disastrous consequences to man and to nature. The film is deeply alarming and depressing in its conclusion of the hopelessness of a world controlled by oil, with the helpless collaboration of Wall Street and the White House.

18 May 2011

Day Eight

The reception of Lars von Trier’s MELANCHOLIA was disrupted by his press conference gaffe. Referring to the mood of Wagnerian romanticism that dominates his film, he talked about his personal racial confusion between Jew and German, and recklessly opined that along with all the evil, Hitler must have done some useful things – Alfred Speer’s architecture for example (Mussolini after all made Italian trains run on time and was very good to his fellow-journalists). The festival leapt to a level of self-righteousness of which only the French are capable, and instantly condemned Von Trier as persona non grata for evermore. It is hard to know which was the sillier party.
Like most Von Trier films, MELANCHOLIA is a mixed bag. It opens with a strange, stunning prologue, with the two main characters, sisters played by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Rampling wandering through dream-like landscapes. The tone suddenly shifts to the central sequence of the wedding of the younger sister, Justine – so unenthusiastic for the event that she wanders off for sex with a stranger in the park of the castle where the event takes place. Though excessively long, the wedding provides a comedy of manners reminiscent of Von Trier’s Festen. Manners is perhaps the wrong word since the wedding guests and family are almost without exception rich, gross and unmannerly. None is concerned to discuss the impending end of the world, as the planet Melancholia hurtles towards the earth.
The final sequence, with the two sisters and the child of the elder left alone in the park to await the end – which comes – justifies the undertaking in its skin-freezing effect.

17 May 2011

Day Seven

Whatever expectations one had from Aki Kaurismaki, it was not perhaps a film which proved the most endearing, irresistible and (however unrealistically) optimistic film of the festival, an instant and unsurpassable hit with public and critics alike. Publicly Kaurismaki made clear that in an ever-darkening world he wants to hold on to a belief in the human solidarity and brotherhood of his film, “otherwise we are already living in that ant society, which Ingmar Bergman often mentioned coming next”. His protagonist Marcel Marx (a superbly understanding performance by André Wilms) is a one-time author and bohemian who has withdrawn to be a shoe-black in Le Havre, happily existing in a little hovel with his loving wife Arletty (the veteran Kaurismaki actress Kati Outinen) and haunting the local bar, bakery and greengrocer whose bills he can rarely pay. Fate throws him together with a 12-year-old boy who has escaped from a consignment of illegal African refugees seized by the immigration authorities.
While the police, led by the unrelenting Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) pursue the boy with the dedication they might devote to a serial killer, Marx’s community close in to protect him and ship him to England and his family. At the last moment they find a very unexpected ally in this brave battle of ordinary people against a soulless, inhumane and morally dead establishment. In other hands the story, with its touches of magic realism, could have sunk to insupportable sentimentality. Kaurismaki’s humanity and dead-pan wit triumph, offering scenes of high comedy and genuine emotion.

Oliver Hermanus’ second film SKOONHEID (BEAUTY) explores a special and secret corner of the Afrikaans legacy, after the successive traumas of Apartheid. Hermanus explains, “The reality of this character in post-apartheid South Africa is that he represents a minority grouping in a country that was ruled by the minority for centuries and now is ruled by the majority. Francois speaks a language that is not spoken in any other part of the world, he has a heritage that is stigmatized as being racist and hateful. He was raised to be wary of the black man and to embrace conservative values”.
Francois van Heerden (Deon Lotz), is a prosperous and respected family man, but is secretly humiliated by his sexual orientation. His homosexual yearnings can only find guilty expression in the privacy of virtual secret societies of similarly troubled men. A natural voyeur, he becomes obsessed by his daughter’s 23-year-old boy-friend, Christian, himself the son of an old family friend. Desire and envy of Christian’s beauty and the success it attracts in every aspect of life, lead Francois to a desperate and violent act.

Where Do We Go Now

16 May 2011

Day Six

A new film by a major cult-director who has made only five films in 38 years is an event by any standards ; and Terrence Malick’s THE TREE OF LIFE, with its cosmic images, Old Testament references and religio-philosophical aspirations has inspired ecstatic superlatives ( “this epic hymn to life … this phenomenal neo-Christian piece of work celebrating what’s precious about life…”), and at the least, reverence or respect. This writer opts for respect – respect for the grandeur of the concept and the genuinely poetic quality that imbues each element – while experiencing unease that the elements do not come fully together as a whole. There is an impression that Malick has had trouble in condensing an even larger concept (there was talk of an earlier, 4-hour version: it now runs 138 minutes).

Central are the O’Briens, a decent God-fearing nuclear 50s family living in small-town Texas. Father (Brad Pitt) is stern, his occasional cruelty reflecting his own disappointment in life. Mother (Jessica Chastain) is forgiving and angelic; Jack (Hunter McCracken) is the eldest of three sons, active, bright, contained. The family seems a direct reflection of Malick’s own childhood – even to the early death of the middle brother – a catastrophe, never explained, which opens the film, alongside flash-forward to the middle-aged Jack (Sean Penn), now an architect, alone, trapped in the chill glass world of urban sky-scrapers.

From this we move startlingly to a long and brilliant special effects sequence – created by Douglas Trumbull and a specially dedicated team - showing the creation of the world and the coming of the dinosaurs, before returning to the smaller dramas of the O’Briens’ back-yard and hearts. With the dramas played out and the young brother dead, the film closes on an other-worldly strand where the older Jack mingles silently with the people of the vanished past.

Everything is poetic rather than literal, with minimal dialogue: we scarcely hear the voice of Chastain, except as voice-over. We are asked to sense rather than understand, and to succumb to Malick’s apocalyptic vision., which is easier for some than for others of us.

L’APOLLONIDE (HOUSE OF TOLERANCE), directed by Bertrand Bonello, is a painstaking but somewhat purposeless evocation of a fin-de-siècle Parisian brothel, with diligent recreation of the locale and costumes. The life of the inmates is cheerless; the dictatorial madame struggles with her books in an unfavourable economic climate; the clients are polite and subdued, except for the high-society sadist who whips out a knive to carve a smile into the face of an unfortunate girl. The sound-track uneasily veers into modern pop, in a heavy-handed message that this is not only the oldest profession, but the most durable – a point needlessly reiterated at the close, with shots of present-day Parisian ladies of the pavement.

Bruno Dumont’s HORS SATAN is an odd, elusive parable, set on the bleak Cote d’Opale on France’s north-west Atlantic coast. A strange gaunt vagrant, identified in the credits only as “Le Gars” (David Dewaele) comes and goes on the edge of the little community, from time to time dropping to his knees into what may or may not be an attitude of prayer. It remains uncertain whether he is himself Satan or a second coming of the Saviour. Befriending a solitary young girl, he helpfully shoots her abusive parent, and hospitalises a guard who makes passes at her. With rather less reason he commits a horrible sexual assault on a too-forward backpacker. It is slow, maybe pompous, but watchably intriguing.

Nadine Labaki’s Lysistrata-style fable ET MAINTENANT ON VA OÙ? (WHERE DO WE GO NOW). has its script flaws, but is irresistible for its wisdom, good-nature and bright comedy. The story is set in an isolated village (presumably in Labaki’s native Lebanon), where Muslims and Christians co-exist peacefully, with mosque and church side by side, and their clerics good drinking friends. The women are united by a sense of shared loss for their men killed in successive conflicts. The men booze and play and gossip together – or did until the village got its first television receiver: now the news can sometimes spark mediterranean machismo into murderous hostility. The woman ingeniously plot to distract their belligerent menfolk, by any means, including sex, drugs and a passing troupe of blonde Ukrainian “dancers”. There is a moment of high drama where the laughter stops; but the film as easily turns back to an enchanting improvised musical number. The optimism may be a dream – but it is a very endearing and energising one.

The Artist

15 May 2011

Day Five

THE ARTIST is an interesting new turn for director Michel Hazanavicius and his stars Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo after their work together in two OSS:117 spoof spy films (Bejo was only in the first). Their new film is a pastiche of a 1920s silent film, in black and white, 1.33:1 ratio, with intertitles and a musical score. The story incorporates elements of Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino and the love affair of Garbo and John Gilbert. Dujardin plays George Valentin, a swash-buckling super-star of the 20s, who gives a helping hand to Peppy Miller, a young extra trying to break into movies. This is the moment of the arrival of sound films. Valentin resists the new craze, and makes a final silent film, which bombs miserably, ruining him financially and ending his screen career. Meanwhile Peppy has risen to stardom in the talkies. The proud but destitute Valentin resists her help, until an accident (his films on inflammable nitrate stock catch fire) brings them together for the mandatory Happy End.
The film sticks quite faithfully to silent traditions, and Dujardin and Bejo act without exaggerating or seeking to ridicule the techniques of silent film acting. Sound and voices are used at two or three moments with very clever effect: the real denouement of the film is the first brief phrase uttered in the voice of Valentin. All Cannes adored it, not realising that they would have enjoyed it even more if Hazanavicius had found a composer/arranger with an understanding of the marriage of silent film and music, and the extra subtleties the right accompaniment could have given the performances.

LE GAMIN AU VÉLO (THE KID WITH A BIKE) Having won the Palme d’Or twice, it was unlikely that the jury would dare to let Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne pull a hat-trick; but THE KID WITH THE BIKE shows the brothers at the very peak of their form. Their work is unique in cinema. The technique is simple, unobtrusive, faultless and entirely at the service of the story, or rather of the people within it. More than technique or story their films bestow the privilege of seeing the world, in tiny segments of life, through the eyes of men of humbling humanity, generosity, compassion, faith in human redemption. Whatever “good” may mean, that, you feel, is what they are. They themselves describe the story in all its simplicity: “We had had the story in our head for a long time: a woman who helps a boy emerge from the violence that holds him prisoner. The first image was this kid, this ball of nerves, pacified and soothed thanks to another human being”. Our first sight of 12-year-old Cyril (the unforgettable Thomas Doret) is in a furious escape bid from the home to which he has been consigned after being abandoned by his father, whom he will not believe has not only run away, but has sold Cyril’s most precious possession, his bike. By chance he runs into a hairdresser, Samantha (Cécile de France), who, for no other motive than that she is a generous, impetuous soul who takes to the boy and his troubles, gets back his bike, helps him find his father (whose cowardly indifference only fuels Cyril’s wild fury) and agrees to take him for the weekends.
Cyril is no easy assignment: his pitiable but unquenchable anger messes up Samantha’s life with her boy-friend, and leads to other, more dramatic troubles, before the first signs that her faith and love may finally be having some effect upon this deeply injured child.

In HALT AUF FREIER STRECKE (STOPPED ON TRACK), Andreas Dresen (best known for his study of sex at 70, Cloud 9 which won Cannes’ Un Certain Regard prize in 2008) uncompromisingly faces the subject of death. The film opens with Frank and Simone at the hospital, receiving the prognosis that Frank has a brain tumour and no more than four months to live. The rest of the film’s 110 minutes describe the process: the effect on family (small son, daughter, parents) and friends; the constant search for some small distraction; the progressive physical and mental deterioration – just coping till the end. Dresen works in a manner comparable to Mike Leigh, conceiving and supervising the narrative but allowing the actors to improvise their dialogue. The result is an entire ensemble of wholly believable performances, most notably by the leading players, Milan Peschel and Steffi Kuhnert. The film is exemplary in its execution and truthfulness – which does not make it any easier to watch a story so painful and private.

Sean Durkin’s MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE , a Sundance success, is an assured first feature, as well-crafted in its visual quality as in the manipulation of the performances. The unmanageable title reflects the personality rupture in the life of the protagonist, a young woman (Elizabeth Olsen) who has spent two years in a rural commune and is now trying to escape from the exploitation and violence that masquerades as utopianism, to return to her middle-class family. The reintegration is made more difficult by MMMM’s paranoia and constant hallucination that the commune and its vulpine patriarch are in close pursuit. It is technically impressive, though in need of a more concentrated structure.

14 May 2011

Day Four

In LES NEIGES DE KILIMANJARO, Robert Guédiguian takes on a rare and risky subject – people who, in the most uncomplicated way, want to be good. The script is a skilful updating of Victor Hugo’s poem “Les Pauvres Gens” (“How Good are the Poor”). The central figures are Michel, a veteran trades unionist and his wife Marie-Claire, living and working in the port of Marseilles. After officiating at a lottery for redundancies, in which he himself loses his job, the couple and their two best friends are attacked, brutally beaten and robbed by two masked men. Michel is able to lead the police to one of the perpetrators – only to find that he is one of the redundant workers, a young man struggling alone to raise his younger brothers. Defying the protestations of their friends and grown-up children, and the persisting resentment of the young criminal, they dedicate themselves to help the family: the final irresistibly moving moment returns to the closing lines of Hugo’s poem.

The American-born Israeli Joseph Cedar’s HEARAT SHULAYIM (FOOTNOTE) is a far cry from his 2007 Beaufort, a memorable reflection on the futility of war. His new film employs comedy and irony in a sad-going-on-tragic story of the rivalry of a father and son, both explorers in the mine-field of Talmudic studies. The father is vocally bitter after years of being passed over for recognition and honours (except for the titular foot-note in someone else’s book); the son, whose scholarship is not admired by his father, sails away with the highest academic awards. Cedar’s own script is well-written (with its own form of footnotes, when the film pauses for witty inserts that helpfully sketch in characters and background) and handsomely directed. The casting is interesting: the older academic is played by a popular comedian, Shlomo Bar Aba, and his more outgoing, yet still academic son, by Lior Ashkenazi, mostly known for much more macho roles. The film’s only inexplicable short-coming is a rudely overbearing musical score.

13 May 2011

Day Three

Nanni Moretti’S much anticipated HABEMUS PAPA finally does not go anywhere, but so long as you know this in advance, the trip is quite enjoyable, thanks largely to a magisterial performance by Michel Piccoli, in the title role, and the great Polish comic actor Jerzy Stuhr as a sly Vatican spokesperson. The look and the life of the Vatican are recreated or invented with wonderful conviction. The film begins with the College of Cardinals processing into the Sistine Chapel to elect a new Pope, as all Rome watches anxiously for the auspicious smoke. The choice falls upon the gentle and modest Cardinal Melville (Piccoli). With ever greater reluctance he is taken to the balcony for the public announcement, but flees before the words “Habemus Papam” may be spoken. While he succeeds in giving his guards the slip, and wanders Rome, encountering the shocks of real life and real people, the Vatican imports an unbelieving psychiatrist, who teaches the holy fathers the therapies of volley-ball.

POLISS purports to be a dramatised recreation of the daily work of the Paris Police Department’s Juvenile Protection Unit, and is directed by the actress Maïwenn, who co-wrote it with Emmanuelle Bercot: both also have roles in the film. Though the film proved exceptionally popular with press and public in Cannes, too much of it is devoted to a soap opera treatment of the personal relations of the police, which seem to be so unreasonably impaired by their chosen daily work that it looks as if they would do better to quit. In contrast, there is in this 128-minute film comparatively little about the children, and that often seems over-simplified or exploitative: even the film’s admirers were startled by a scene in which a girl’s admission that she had to give oral sex to retrieve a stolen phone is greeted, to her face, by the uncontrollable hilarity of the entire department. At other points, however, paedophile abuse is treated with more creditable subtlety, as in a sequence where the “victim” recognises only support and kindness from his convicted “abuser”. It is a film of muddled structure and mixed messages.

The fine South Korean director Kim Ki-Duk stopped film-making after Dream, succumbing to psychological break-down, in part on account of an accident during the shooting, which almost led to the death of an actress, and for which he blamed his own negligence. After two years of solitary existence in a mountain hut, isolated with his thoughts and much drink, he has acquired a Canon digital camera and, in a totally solo effort, attempts to record his life and feelings. The viewer learns something from the monologue – about feelings, fears and creation – but much feels simply like the maudlin ramblings of a drunk, who from time to time goes into increasingly raucous renderings of the title song

12 May 2011

Day Two

Is it a sign of the times that some of the leastexpected film-makers are drawn to the theme of death, with its traumas and mysteries (which now rarely include speculation on after-lives)? Cannes gave us several instances, including Gus Van Sant’s unexpectedly gentle and elegiac RESTLESS. The film begins at a funeral, among whose mourners is young Enoch, who is already, it seems, marked as a compulsive funeral groupie. He catches the eye of the beautiful and vivacious Annabel, and in time becomes her funeral companion – though at first reluctantly, since their temperaments are so opposed. Enoch has lost interest in the business of living, while Annabel is passionate about all forms of life, and her best-loved author Charles Darwin Their stories emerge: Enoch lost both parents in a car accident, in which he himself technically died for a brief spell, and his only companion now is Hiroshihi, the ghost of a long-dead kamikaze pilot. Annabel admits that she attends the juvenile cancer hospital not as an employee, but as a terminally ill patient, with only three months to live. These three months the two pass together, mutually supportive, with gaiety and gallantry. It is a big tribute to Van Sant that he so elegantly manages a story that in most hands could not avoid the maudlin. In this tightrope effort he is greatly helped by his endearing actors, Henry Hopper (son of Dennis, to whose memory the film is dedicated) and Mia Wasikowska.

Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel is somewhat in contradiction of its own title, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, since in the film, nobody ever succeeds in talking about Kevin. The original novel, on the contrary, was formed as a series of letters from Kevin’s mother to her uncomprehending husband. In the film this subjective, self-exploratory narrative is transformed into an objective observation of Kevin’s tormented mother, Eva Khatchadourian, as she copes with the wreckage of her life, shattered by a terrible act of her teenage son. Though the precise details of this act – a Columbine-style high-school massacre - are not revealed until the end of the film, the fragmented script, shooting backwards and forwards in time, very early gives us the clue to the denouement. The thrust of the film, like the original novel-in-letters, is Eva’s tormented self-examination of her own part in bringing forth this unhappy sociopath. She ends up no wiser than the audience. As an ambitious career woman, did she unconsciously resent this child, even though born out of love for her dullish husband? From the start the child delights in revealing his hostility towards her, while feigning some kind of affection for his father and small sister. As a baby he simply screams; as an infant he defiantly refuses toilet training; as a teenager he is sulky and withdrawn, his eyes betraying the mischievous plots festering in his head (three young actors, with startling resemblances to one another, play the three ages). Mother and son acquire an apparent brief bond when she introduces him to Robin Hood; but archery will give him his weapon for murder.
The Scottish Lynne Ramsay has made only three films in twelve years: Ratcatcher (in Cannes, 1999) and Morvern Caller (2002) – both films about critically troubled people, and distinguished by the same qualities as this: virtuoso film-craft and self-consciously wrought images (her cinematographer here is Seamus McGarvey). Eva is played by Tilda Swinton, an actress irresistible to public and critics alike, though some may find her technique too openly exposed here.

The Australian SLEEPING BEAUTY arrives with the cachet of “Jane Campion presents” and the reputation of the debutante director, Julia Leigh, as the author of a best-selling novel “The Hunter”. Thereafter it frustrates by placing at the centre of its colourful explorations of top-price commercial sex, an apparently quite unmotivated character. Lucy (former child star Emily Browning) does a number of undesirable odd jobs (the film opens with her gagging on unexplained equipment as a laboratory guinea-pig) but does not pay her rent, and sometimes burns her earnings. Her impassivity breaks down only on periodic visits to a dying man-friend, with whom her relationship is never clear. In response to a newspaper advertisement, she takes a job at a high-class brothel in a rural mansion, presided over by grande dame Clara (Rachael Blake, in the film’s most amusing performance). She graduates from waiting at table in scanty lingerie at banquets for dignified old lechers, to star role of sleeping beauty: heavily drugged she sleeps beside rich old gentlemen who may only touch: “Your vagina will be a temple” Clara solemnly informs her. One night she avoids her potion, to stay awake and witness the sleeping beauty routine … but it hard to say where that has taken her or us.

11 May 2011

Day One

The 64th Cannes Film Festival pulled off the almost unprecedented coup of opening with a film of effortless artistic mastery and almost irresistible charm, Woody Allen’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. Those who complained that it was a “touristic” view of Paris missed the point that that is precisely what it is about, and why it starts with an extended montage of the sights of Paris in sunlight and in rain, with a haunting Allen jazz accompaniment.. Gil (Owen Wlson, a natural Allen hero, very much at ease with the Allen dialogue) is a successful Hollywood writer, still dreaming of writing the Great Novel, which will be set in a nostalgia store. He is besotted by the city, which his travelling companions, his cut-glass fiancée and her Tea Party parents, reluctantly there for business, are not. One night, bored and tipsy, he wanders the streets, and is accosted by a gang of merry drinkers in a handsome vintage car. They sweep him off to a party, and introduce themselves as Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Cole Porter is playing the piano, and Ernest Hemingway declines to read Gil’s novel , but suggests he show it to Gertrude Stein …. In the days that follow, Gil finds that he can make regular midnight visits to his legendary heroes, as their number is enlarged by the likes of Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso and Luis Bunuel (who cannot grasp the point when Gil tries to suggest to him the plot for The Exterminating Angel). There is even a brief romance with the model and muse of Braque, Modigliani and Picasso, but she complicates issues with her nostalgia for la Belle Epoque, which results in their being swept off in a horse-drawn landau to encounter Gauguin, Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec …
The film pursues its single idea with elegance and wit, and for all its apparent lightness, does have a point and a moral, paradoxically uttered in the film by an odious intellectual bore: “Nostalgia is denial”. (The bore is played by Michael Sheen, who has a choice scene disagreeing with the Rodin Museum guide, played by France’s First Lady, Carla Bruni). Gil comes back from the past, sadder but sufficiently wiser to escape his prospective bride, in favour of a sweet Parisian bookseller.

The gala opening programme also marked the 150th anniversary of the birth of France’s and the world’s first true film artist, Georges Méliès with a screening of a remarkable restoration of his 1902 masterpiece, Voyage dans la Lune. The film is well-known, of course, but this print is exceptional for the exquisite hand-colouring throughout. It was found in 1993 in the Cineteca of Barcelona, but in such a state of deterioration – the reel appeared to be glued together in a solid block – that there seemed no hope of restoration. It passed to Lobster films, who began the delicate process of separating each of the 13,375 images. Every frame presented different problems of copying onto duplicate negative. The restoration of this single reel – 14 minutes – of film finally involved more than a decade of work, financially supported by the Technicolor Foundation and the Fondation Gan. It must have been some reward to the restorers that the black-tie audience was evidently amused and delighted by this 110-year-old film, even though they may not have recognised it as a landmark in the restoration of the perilously ephemeral medium of film.

20 February 2011

61sr BERLINALE - 2011


Golden Bear for Best Film
Jodaeiye Nader az Simin (Nader And Simin, A Separation)
by Asghar Farhadi

Silver Bear - The Jury Grand Prix
A torinói ló (The Turin Horse)
by Béla Tarr

Silver Bear - Best Director
Ulrich Köhler
for Schlafkrankheit (Sleeping Sickness)

Silver Bear - Best Actress
to the actress-ensemble in
Jodaeiye Nader az Simin (Nader And Simin, A Separation)
by Asghar Farhadi

Silver Bear - Best Actor
to the actor-ensemble in
Jodaeiye Nader az Simin (Nader And Simin, A Separation)
by Asghar Farhadi

Silver Bear - Outstanding Artistic Achievement
Wojciech Staron for the camera in
El premio (The Prize)
by Paula Markovitch

ex aequo

Barbara Enriquez for the production design in
El premio (The Prize)
by Paula Markovitch

Silver Bear - Best Script
Joshua Marston and
Andamion Murataj for
The Forgiveness Of Blood (The Forgiveness Of Blood)

Alfred Bauer Prize, for a work of particular innovation.

Wer wenn nicht wir (If Not Us, Who)
by Andres Veiel

The Jury was headed by Isabella Rossellini and included the Canadian avant-garde film maker Guy Maddin and the British costume designer Sandy Powel,l who began her career with Derek Jarman and other British independent film makers, and has gone on to win three Oscars and eight nominations in the past decade. The Jury’s number was reduced to six by the absence of Jafar Panahi, now undergoing a six year prison sentence and twenty year ban from film-making in his native Iran: his place on the Jury was kept open as a demonstration of support and solidarity.

The Festival’s Golden Bear, as well as both acting prizes (for the female and male ensembles) went to the Iranian NADER AND SIMIN, A SEPARATION, directed by Asghar Farhadi, who took the direction prize at the 2009 Berlinale with ABOUT ELLY. Certainly no other film in this year’s competition approached the universal acclaim of NADER AND SIMIN. The film’s overall qualities of conception and execution made the elements of contrivance acceptable or irrelevant. The story begins with the divorce appeal – rejected – of Simin, who wants to emigrate (for reasons which are hinted, rather than stated). Nader refuses to emigrate, because he will not abandon his severely senile old father. The pawn in this game is their 11-year-old daughter Termeh (played by Farhadi’s daughter, whose intellectual and moral sophistication is one of the toughest factors to credit in the film). Each parent hopes for her support, but each is too civilized consciously to manipulate her.

Simin leaves the marital home to stay with her parents, but hires Razieh, accompanied by her 4-year-old daughter, to come daily to take care of the old man. Nader and Simin are comfortable bourgeois, not overly constrained by religion; Razeh and her workless husband are poor, and piously dedicated to their religious ethics.
One day Nader returns home, to find his father abandoned, unconscious and tied to his bed. When Razeh returns he roughly ejects her from the apartment. When Razeh subsequently miscarries he finds himself charged with the murder of the unborn child. The film now moves into the process of the investigation and the shifting positions of the various antagonists, turning into a fascinating and absorbing disquisition on personal and religious ethics, the nature and flexibility of truth and of gender and class in Iranian society. Finally the focus of moral dilemma is 11-year-old Termeh. We have seen her compromised; but at the end we are left to guess which of her now-flawed parents she will choose.
The film also received the Ecumenical Jury Prize, whose citation rather justly specified that it “addresses its subject-matter with equality, respect, and sincerity. Its themes include parent-child relationships, separation, ethical decision-making, justice, and religious commitment. . . The film communicates different moral viewpoints effectively in a realistic, and culturally sensitive way”.

Both the Jury Grand Prix and the FIPRESCI competition prize went to festival-favourite Béla Tarr’s THE TURIN HORSE. The title is derived (as the film explains in a voice-over introduction) from the trauma that struck Nietsche on 3 January 1889, when he stepped out of his lodgings in piazza Carlo Alberto, Turin, to see a cabbie brutally beating his horse. Nietsche flung his arms protectively around the animal, but then collapsed and declined into dementia from which he never recovered: he died in 1900. After the introduction there is no apparent connection between the Turin horse and the Tarr horse, which belongs to a poor peasant and his daughter, surviving in the same bleak Hungarian countryside as SATANTANGO. In 149 minutes and no more than 30 shots, Tarr follows the ritualistic monotony of their daily life, of the peasant and his daughter, broken only by the visit of a grouchy neighbour in quest of palinka and the passage of some gypsies. Tarr – who has announced that this will be his last film - is a director whose work you either love or leave.

Two of the festival’s outstanding films were out of competition, though Yasemin Samdrelli’s ALMANYA – WILKOMMEN IN DEUTSCHLAND could readily have jostled for several awards. The narrative moves easily back and forward in time, between the arrival in 1964 of Germany’s million-and-first gastarbeiter from Turkey (the millionth had turned out to be less moviegenic) and the same man, Huseyin’s old age, as patient, loving husband and paterfamilias to a large brood, all still entrapped to a greater or less degree in the process of integration. Almost half a century after the migration, Huseyin’s 6-year-old grandson Cenk finds himself accepted neither by the German nor the Turkish infant school football team.
The film starts as a robust comedy with alien-culture gags (mistrust of foreign toilets; a child’s nightmares at the horror-image of the crucifixion) that indicate the debutante feature director’s apprenticeship in tv comedy series. As the film progresses, and the forceful old patriarch takes his unwilling brood back to their roots in Anatolya, with a mixed onset of shocks, memories, divisions and reconciliations, the mood grows darker and deeper, with probing reflections on identity, race and place. Starting easily and seductively, it develops into a film of great charm and wisdom.
Response to Wim Wenders’ PINA depends wholly on one’s response to Pina Bausch’s provocative dance creations with their choreographies of collapse, collision and inner angst which already have a period air (it is almost four decades since Chantal Akerman’s documentary on the company). Wenders had long planned to collaborate with Bausch on a film, but only felt he had the right resource for a dance film with new stereographic technology. Bausch’s sudden death in 2009, when the production was first under way, changed his concept from a documentary to a memorial tribute. Now the film consists mostly of dancing, using Bausch’s preferred works, Café Müller, Le Sacre du printemps, Vollmond and Kontakthof. Sometimes the filming seems to be in rehearsal rooms; sometimes before a barely-glimpsed audience. Other dance sequences are filmed in the bleak industrial streets, parks, a school and a swimming pool in Wuppertal, the home of Bausch’s Tanztheater. Between times her dancers – some rather elderly though still game – pay their tributes to their late mentor, though all find it difficult to convey the particular nature of her inspiration. The film is not totally persuasive of Wenders’ view that 3D is the ultimate and only satisfactory way of recording dance. Many photographers have effectively captured the patterns of dance on the two-dimensional screen, while 3D, even in Wenders’ careful hands, can seem to distort the stage picture into disparate planes.

In CORIOLANUS, actor-director Ralph Fiennes takes his chance on the old adventure of transposing Shakespeare to a contemporary setting. In the theatre Henry V has been updated to present-day Iraq and Macbeth to Stalin’s Russia, while Baz Luhrman has set Romeo and Juliet on 20th century Verona Beach, all with varied effect. Fiennes updates the ever-problematic CORIOLANUS to a modern fantasy place called Rome but looking like the sadder outskirts of an East European city (it is in fact Belgrade), inhabited by a supporting cast speaking English in many accents. Sometimes the contemporary dress fits the old text quite snugly - mainly in the dialogue of scheming politicians. But elsewhere, particularly in scenes involving warfare, the anachronisms are persistently uncomfortable. Modern audiences retain a taste for period films, and the imaginative ability to enter into other worlds; and frankly this story of the warrior who will not bend to seek political favour would probably have been easier for them done in period, without the contemporary trip-ups. The film is retrieved by the central performances, of Fiennes himself as a (persuasively) modern Coriolanus, Brian Cox as a diplomatic Menenius, and Vanessa Redgrave as a magnificent Volumnia, sagely dressed in timeless dresses which do not too much conflict with the archaic sentiment of her ferocious militaristic materialism.

INNOCENT SATURDAY (ON SATURDAY is the literal translation of the Russian title) is the second film as director by Alexander Mindadze, a notable scenarist since the Soviet era; and looks back, in the 25th anniversary year – at the Chernobyl disaster of 26 April 1986. The reactor explosion however is only a glow in the sky: Mindadze follows the reactions and fortunes of people close to the event, yet still unaware or evasive of its implications. The plant and party officials cover their backs and play down the event (as happened historically: human lives were deemed less important than the coming May Day celebrations). The action focuses on a young party official sworn to secrecy, whose sharper-witted intentions to take a train out of the place are frustrated by his girl-friend’s broken heel, a wedding party, encounters with old music friends who persuade him to take the place of the dead-drunk drummer in the band in which he used to play, and reawakened resentments about his party loyalties. It’s all a case of fiddling while Rome burns.
Perhaps betraying his anxiety as a sexagenarian late-comer to direction, Mindadze strives for a relentlessly hectic style, with ever-racing camera, fast cutting, and quick-sketched, unexplored characters. Anton Shigan, a favoured newcomer to the Soviet screen, is forceful but here perilously unsympathetic.

THE FUTURE. Miranda July is an idol of Sundance, and her film is the epitome of Californian independent. It has an irritating framing commentary in the screechy voice of a terminally ill cat in an animal shelter, who has 30 days to wait for adoption by Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater, an appealing poker-face comedian who turns out to have played Hamlet in repertory). The couple decide to use the thirty days to leave their jobs (dance teacher; computer counselor), forsake the internet, and learn about life. The upshot is that Sophie embarks on a graceless affair with a square married man; Jason is devastated; and the cat, forgotten, expires. The dialogue and playing is cute but inconsequential; and the big walk-out rate from the Berlin press show was no surprise.

Lee Yoon-ki’s SARAGHANDA, SARAGHAJI ANNEUNDA has the English title COME RAIN, COME SHINE, though the Korean title seems literally to mean, “I LOVE YOU, I DON’T LOVE YOU”. To its credit the film has deployed its minuscule budget (three weeks’ shooting; no music score) to achieve a very elegant and stylish surface, but at the price of a fairly excruciating minimalism – starting with a reel-long opening shot from a fixed camera on a car bonnet, observing a duologue through the obscuring wind-screen. The two quite personable principals, en route to drop the wife at the airport, discuss her intention to leave him for another man. The rest of the film is set in their apartment, presumably on their last day together. Besieged by heavy rain, they discuss their situation at length, while the wife packs and maybe experiences second thoughts. A kitten wanders in and its owners come to claim it. This all takes up 105 minutes. The script is based on what must be a very short story by the Japanese Inoue Areno.

In THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD Joshua Marston again demonstrates the rare gift of his first film MARIA FULL OF GRACE in achieving a totally authentic work while working in a foreign culture and a foreign language. MARIA (2004) was set in the world of Colombian drug smugglers. His second film gets right inside a contemporary society where modern technology and primitive ancient custom uncomfortably co-exist. In a remote village in Northern Albania the kids have motorcycles and computers and constantly chat on their mobile phones. 17-year-old Nik dreams of opening the village’s first internet café and his younger sister Rudina plans to go to university.
All dreams are shattered when a neighbour is killed in the course of a property dispute, and Nik’s father and uncle are the prime suspects. The Kanun – the centuries-old Albanian traditional code of laws – dictates that the male members of the family – even Nick’s 6-year-old sibling - must remain confined to their house or risk authorized instant execution by the aggrieved. The family risks becoming prey to shifty and venal professional go-betweens; Rudina must struggle to be bread-winner; as their situation becomes more desperate, Nik risks his life to break the feud.
At all levels it is a very accomplished film (and took the Silver Bear for best script, co-written by Marston and Adamion Murataj). Marston has largely used Albanian talent in every department of the film; and wins wholly convincing performances from the mainly non-professional actors.

UN MUNDO MISTERIOSO. Rodrigo Moreno won the Alfred Bauer prize in 2006 with EL CUSTODIO, but the only mystery here is how his new film made it into the 2011 competition. The agonizingly nondescript protagonist is pushed out (temporarily) by his girl-friend, wanders Buenos Aires, encounters friends, buys a crumbling old Romanian car, grows a beard, trips to Montevideo to visit someone who turns out not to be there. It seems unlikely that the 107 minutes would have been much less tedious even if the screening viewed had not been in some remarkably hazy and washed-out digital format

The Austrian MEIN BESTER FEIND is another film which hardly seemed to merit a place in a major international competition, though Wolfgang Murnburger is a very competent commercial director, with a narrative command that at least commands audience attention. But his aim for a comedy drama misfires in this story of anti-Semitism in post-Anschluss Austria. The story focuses on the son of a rich Jewish gallery owner and his Aryan boyhood friend who opportunistically joins the Nazi party, to become his “best enemy”. The Hitchcockian McGuffin is a precious Michelangelo drawing which acquires diplomatic importance for the Nazis; the “comic” twist is when the two antagonists switch identities and roles (a reminiscence of THE GREAT DICTATOR).

LES CONTES DE LA NUIT. The French master of animation Michel Ocelot uses digital technologies without compromising the distinctive human personality of his silhouettes; though it seems an odd contradiction to use 3D for a form whose whole point is its two-dimensionality: the effect, bizarrely, is only seen in the subtitles which stand proudly forward from the image. The charm is familiar: he breaks no new ground. Six fairy stories, with varied ethnic settings, are linked by the framing conceit of a dilapidated projection room where an old technician helps a boy and girl dress up and disguise themselves as the princesses, peasant boys, werewolves, monarchs, monsters and magic that inhabit these tales told in black silhouette against subtly coloured backgrounds. Is it too optimistic to hope that there are still audiences able to respond to these ravishing images and enchanted tales?

Canadian-born and largely British-educated Israeli director Jonathan Sagall’s ODEM (LIPSTIKKA) has had a troubled history and is likely to have a critical future. Israeli funding was long delayed; and the film’s portrayal of perilously liberated Palestinian women and Israeli soldiers as rapists is not calculated to please everyone. Sadly the film is not accomplished enough in execution to win the sort of critical acclaim that might help overcome nationalist resentments.
The story involves the abrupt and uncomfortable reunion of two former Palestinian friends in London, when the excessive Inam irrupts into the ideal bourgeois home of Lara, where she lives with her unloving husband Michael, big car, small son and a supply of comforting vodka. As Lara copes anxiously with Inam’s eccentric behaviour, past histories emerge – Lara’s former yearning for Inam and stealing of Michael’s affections, and an earlier, more traumatic incident of the young Lara’s witnessing Inam’s rape by an Israeli soldier during the Intifada. Perhaps production difficulties go some way to explain the film’s short-comings – cursory handling that is more TV-style than minimalist; uneasiness with English dialogue by the experienced Clara Khoury and Nataly Attiya (though the debutantes Moran Rosenblatt and Ziv Weiner do better); and a creaky melodrama payoff that undermines all

Renewed curiosity about German radical terrorist movements of the 60s and 70s has already been explored in BAADER (2002) and THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX (2008). Andres Veiel’s WER WENN NICHT WIR is a more sober investigation of the foundations of the Red Army Faction and some of its leading figures than its predecessors, as befits Andres Veiel’s background as a distinguished documentarist - he covered some of the same ground a decade ago in BLACK BOX BRD. Maybe his documentary background is also something of a handicap in trying to combine careful historical recreation with speculative psychological portrayal of historical figures. This makes for an often disconcerting shifting of focus as the lives of the three main characters frequently drift in different directions, apart and together. Their switch-back political and emotional allegiances do not make for neat dramatic exposition. Based on Gerd Koenen’s triple biography, Vesper, Ensslin, Baader, the film opens with a flash-back to the childhood of Bernwald Vesper, as the son of Will Vesper, a favourite poet of the Nazi era. Later, in his student youth in post-war Germany, Vesper’s eagerness to rehabilitate his father’s literature leads him to found his own publishing house. Here he is joined by Gudrun Ensslin, already fired by disillusion with the new Republic and committed to far-left politics. Their turbulent love affair produces a son. Both inevitably drift to the extreme left, and Gudrun commits herself to the Red Army Faction, embarking on an affair with the charismatic Andreas Baader. Nevertheless, when Gudrun goes on trial, Vesper gives evidence in her defence. Institutionalised with a permanent mental collapse, he nevertheless writes his autobiographical noval Die Reise, which was to be published and acquire classic reputation in 1977, when all the protagonists had met violent ends. (Die Reise was filmed by Markus Imhoof in 1986). As Gudrun, Lena Lauzemis is the film’s strongest asset. August Diehl cannot overcome the chameleon confusions of Vesper; and Veiel seems to intend the brief, dashing performance of Alexander Fehling as Baader to hint at the emotional and intellectually deficient political rationales of the RAF.

Western audiences – but above all Berlin’s – appear reluctant to believe the essential premise of Seyfi Teoman’s film, adapted from a novel by Bizim Büyük, that two middle-aged male former school friends can cohabit in a perfectly platonic mutual affection; and Teoman’s press encounters were consistently confused by this disbelief. However, that is what he and Büyük want to show us: intellectual Ender (Ilker Aksum) and engineer Çetin (Fatih Al) live in cosy domesticity (their bourgeois Ankara apartment is a credit to the film’s designer), with thoughtful visits to the supermarket. The film opens as their fellow school-friend Fikret’s parents are killed in a car accident, and he begs them to take in his student sister Nihal. At first uneasy and even resentful of their ward, in time they warm to the newcomer, and there is even mutual suspicion of burgeoning love – quickly brought to an end by the appearnce of a younger admirer. Making unusually good use of Ankara locations, the film is charming and watchable, though ultimately inconsequential.

UNKNOWN clearly owed its out-of-competition inclusion in the festival to its setting in a wintry Berlin, with the Hotel Adlon as a glamorous contrast to the shelters of illegal immigrants. The film is bound for commercial success, even if the hero and heroine’s repeated unscratched escapes from the roller-coaster car smashes which the director, Jaume Collet-Serra relishes provoked laughter with in Berlin. The story is an over-stretched saga of search for lost identity: Liam Neeson plays a distinguished bio-technologist who turns up in Berlin with his wife for a major international conference (early signaled as a likely location for terrorism). In no time he has been in a car-crash, hospitalized, and on his return to the conference finds himself unrecognized and unacknowledged: another man has completely assumed his identity and both professional and marital roles. In company with an East European taxi driver (Diane Kruger) his quest to solve the mystery finds him on the run from ruthless killers. The film’s only real distinction is the presence of the septuagenarian Bruno Ganz, as a crumbling ex-Stasi agent, still able to call on his old contacts when needs demand.

Shown in the Panorama section of the festival, RUNDKOPF (BULLHEAD) is a notable first feature by Michael J.Roskam, as writer and director. With the unlikely setting of a Flemish dairy farm, Roskam builds up a tough and gripping crime story, at the centre of which is the character study of a tough, ferocious and deeply disturbed man, acutely unlovely, but still a figure of tragedy. Jacky – a masterful portrayal by Matthias Schoenaerts – has inherited his family dairy farm which he runs with the ruthlessness of a mafia boss. His dealings with the illegal hormones trade, to boost his meat production, is paralleled by his alarming personal consumption of testosterone and a laboratory of other drugs. The mafia connection catches up on him after the murder of a veterinary inspector (suggested by, but not recreating a comparable historical crime of 1995). Mysterious past events and a menace-filled present close in upon him.

Also in the Panorama, the Bengali very-independent GANDU does leave one at something of a loss for words. Kaushik Mukherjee, aka “Q”, with a background in music videos, preceded this film with a documentary LOVE IN INDIA, which declared his very personal exasperation with the hypocritical contradictions between India’s repressive moral codes and the country’s historic tradition of spiritual sexuality. His one-of-a-kind musical is a provocation, flaunting aspects of life and sexuality that are unlikely to be seen on Indian screens, where until recently the notion even of a kiss was more than controversial. GANDU certainly goes beyond kissing, and to the limits. The title character, Gandu, played by the odd but likeable Anubrata, generally lives up to his name (lit.trans., “Asshole”). He lives under a bridge, steals from his mother’s clients while she is purveying sexual services, and dreams of being a rapper. He makes fast friends with a rickshaw boy obsessed by Bruce Lee, who introduces him to the world of drugs. He wakens from a massive trip in which he has sex with a garish incarnation of Kali, to find that his dreams are about to be fulfilled – by Kaushik Mukherjee, aka Q. It is all manic, aggressive and at the same time amiable. At times the screen is shot with multiple images and English-language titles, obscene or ironic. Like it or not, Gandu is an experience.

Kaspars Goba’s HOMO@LV is something of a horror documentary. In 2005 an attempt to stage a gay pride parade in Riga brought to the surface wide-spread prejudice which, along with church opinion, has subsequently been successfully manipulated by politicians into a massive but politically profitable hate campaign. The establishment of the “no-pride” movement has resulted in homosexuals and lesbians being submitted to physical as well as verbal abuse, social and professional bans and the defrocking of priests. Latvia now represents an intolerance probably unparalleled in Europe. Lithuania however runs close behind, and 20-year-old Roman Zabarauskas’ PORNO MELODRAMA, programmed in Panorama with HOMO@LV, is courageous as the country’s (and probably the Baltic states’) first fiction short on a homosexual subject – an anecdote about a man who seeks to leave his wife (and partner in porno film acting) for another man.

INVISIBLE (LO ROIM ALICH) is an impressive feature debut from the already well-established Israeli documentary film-maker, Michal Aviad. This wise and elegantly-composed reflection on the lasting trauma of rape victims is only strengthened by the underlying element of fact and painful first-hand knowledge – Aviad’s own experience, and the documentary record of a notorious serial rapist (“the Polite Rapist”), sentenced in Tel Aviv in 1978. (The film actually integrates contemporary recordings of this rapist’s victims). In Aviad’s film, twenty years after, two of the rapist’s victims – a television editor and a political activist, both now established and with families of their own – meet by chance on a documentary shoot. The meeting awakens the editor’s suppressed traumas, and though at first the activist resists her familiarity, eventually they come together to find catharsis and liberation in a shared exhumation of the feelings and facts of the past. Two actresses, Ronit Elkabetz and Evgenia Dodina, are exceptional.