Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Bru's Premature Take on the Cannes 2012 Line-up - A Prejudiced Preview

The line-up for the upcoming shindig on the Croisette was announced a couple of weeks ago. It is incredibly phallocentric. It is also somewhat safe, as always. But Cannes remains the crown jewel of all film festivals and this year (at least on paper) looks to be one of the stronger ones. In this premature and prejudiced preview, I will go through every film 'in competition'. There will be trailers (where available), brief synopses, and my take on their chances of tanking or triumphing. I'm not going to predict any winners, because I haven't seen any of these films - the festival will be the first time anybody will have seen most (if not all) of them. So, without further ado, here is the line-up for the Cannes Film Festival 2012:

Moonrise Kingdom (dir: Wes Anderson)

What's going on? - Two teenage lovers run away and the small New England island town organises a search party to find them.
What's my prejudice? - Wes Anderson is a divisive figure and haters gonna hate. I have not fully made up my mind about him, but I'm probably on the side of those who love and cherish him. Although, I probably just appreciate and respect him (I'm not ready to break out the l-word yet). My problem has always been the slow erosion of his quirkiness as his films progress: they tend to get sour fairly quickly. Having said that, he does manage to keep it all together in most cases. I'm pretty certain this film will not change my (or anyone else's) perception of Wes Anderson as a filmmaker. And I'm also certain that it will generate at least a handful of chuckles even from the most anti-Andersonites out there. I must also point out that Edward Norton and Frances MacDormand (foghorn in hand) look to be genius casting choices.

De Rouille et d'Os (dir: Jacques Audiard)

What's going on? - Not sure. Over at The Playlist there is a very rough and confusing synopsis.
What's my prejudice? - Audiard is a previous winner with the masterful A Prophet and he has also made a decent effort with The Beat That My Heart Skipped, so it is a safe bet that this will be another great effort. The aforementioned films owed as much to their leading actors as they did to Audiard and the scripts. It wouldn't surprise me if Marion Cotillard delivers a tour de force performance and cements her reputation as one of the leading actresses of her generation. I'm really, really looking forward to this.

Holy Motors (dir: Leos Carax)

What's going on? - Denis Lavant darts from one character to another in what appears to be a mind-fuck of a drama.
What's my prejudice? - Well, it's been a while M. Carax. 13 years to be more precise. Where have you been? Are you finally done with your short films? I hope you are, because ever since I saw Lovers on the Bridge I have been dead certain that you were here to stay and mesmerise us with your incredible talent at telling heartbreaking stories. Yes, my opinion of your films will forever be filtered through my unending love for your film about the blind girl and the homeless man (no, Mr. Chaplin, I'm not talking about your film, as perfect as it may be). Hopefully, this will be half as good. Because, if it is, you have a fan here.

Cosmopolis (dir: David Cronenberg)

What's going on? - A wealthy young man drives across Manhattan to get a haircut. Shit goes down.
What's my prejudice? - Cronenberg's latest was a massive failure on many fronts. After two of the most interesting films of the last 5 years, Canada's greatest ever director came up with the doodle that was A Dangerous Method. It was pale, boring and downright embarrassing. Here, though, we see him go back to this Crash days. With a title sequence reminscent of Enter the Void and an atmosphere not far removed from Lost Highway, Cronenberg may be going back to his best. Casting Robert Pattinson and subsequently drawing the ire of many people (except for Twifans, of course) is a bold and risky move. Not sure he'll be able to carry a film on his shoulders (let alone something that requires more from him acting-wise), but I'll be more than happy to be wrong.

The Paperboy (dir: Lee Daniels)

What's going on? - A reporter investigates a death row case in a Florida town.
What's my prejudice? - And another film with another teenager-heartthrob, this Zac Effron-starring vehicle looks to be a smart, 'important' film with a cast that may see a few nods in the next awards season. The likes of John Cusack, Nicole Kidman and Matthew McConnaughey will turn heads, no doubt, but likely for the star wattage than for the film itself. Lee Daniels wowed the critics with Precious, but this one lacks the gimmick of an unknown teen having a one-off performance. One to miss, probably.

Killing Them Softly (dir: Andrew Dominik)

What's going on? - A professional enforcer investigates a heist that goes wrong (courtesy of
What's my prejudice? - The New Zealand-born Dominik's second foray in Hollywood is set to be another winner. With Brad Pitt in tow once again (he also directed him in the amazing The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) and a supporting cast that includes tough guy heavyweights, such as James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta, I can't see a reason why this cannot be one of the best films of the year. Sure to be tough-as-nails and in-yer-face (remember, Dominik also directed Chopper), Killing Them Softly will hopefully be this year's The Departed.

Reality (aka Big House) (dir: Matteo Garrone)

What's going on? - A Neapolitan father, who is obsessed with the TV show "Big Brother", decides to live his life as if he's on it.
What's my prejudice? - Garrone's follow-up to the (frankly) bizarre and odd gangaster epic Gomorra feels like it will have only one thing in common with the latter: the setting. The city, once again, is sure to play an important part in this film and Gomorra certainly did have its funny bits. But, this feels like a very safe and unsettling Wes Anderson-homage, Italian style. How much of a balance there will be between the fantasy elements (assuming there will be some fantasy elements) and the dramatic undertones (will the father neglect his family?) is something we will yet to see, but my extremely prejudiced opinion is that this will not be a worthy successor to Garrone's previous film.

Amour (dir: Michael Haneke)

What's going on? - An old retired couple's life is derailed by a sickness.
What's my prejudice? - Very few directors will make me want to giggle like a teenage girl when I hear news about their new films. Haneke is definitely one of them. I love his films. I'm extremely prejudiced. And when you add in Isabelle Huppert to the mix (the very epitome of screen goddess in my book), you can't really go wrong. Haneke very rarely screws up (let's all collectively forget his ill-advised shot-for-shot remake of his own masterpiece, Funny Games) and he has delivered one of the very best films of the last 10 years in White Ribbon, winner of Palme d'Or in 2009. Reunited with Huppert once again (he directed her in the devastatingly beautiful The Piano Teacher, for which Huppert walked away with the best actress award in the 2001 festival), Haneke's new film will not only be one of the favourites to win it all, but will also potentially be the highlight of 2012 as a whole.

Lawless (dir: John Hillcoat)

What's going on? - A bootlegging gang in Depression-era Virginia is threatened by the police.
What's my prejudice? - Another strong cast here (Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman, Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska, amongst others) and a director whose films are highly atmospheric and unsettlingly beautiful. Yet, dramatically short. This could easily be a by-the-books period drama, with catchy old-world tunes, but it could also be violent (hopefully), free-wheeling (unlikely) and bucketloads of fun (highly unlikely, considering the sombre outlook of Hillcoat's other films). Yet, it's good to see Tom Hardy in a leading role once again and with a support cast that's sure to deliver, I may be completely wrong. I must also point out that I'm looking for the other film of the same title, due to come out in 2013 by a little known director named Terence Malick.

In Another Country (dir: Sangsoo Hong)

Trailer: In Another Country by scottpurin
What's going on? - 3 different women (all played by Isabelle Huppert, all named Anne) visit the same place and meet the same people, but each of them experience the events differently.
What's my prejudice? - Well ... it's all a bit episodic and the trailer (as well as Sangsoo Hong's track record) won't likely to generate and oohs or aahs from anyone. The only thing I'm really looking forward to is (drum roll, please) Isabelle Huppert, for whom I've been going all wax-poetic lately. Still, there is a niche market for the kooky indie romantic dramas and this may very well fill the gap. Also, Korean cinema has a reputation for short bursts of violence in highly stylised dramas, so this could be a wake-up call for everyone to introduce another side of Korean cinema yet unleashed in the West.

The Taste of Money (dir: Sang-soo Im)

What's the story? - A young man finds himself embroiled in a web of money, desire, lust, and sex. Lots and lots of sex. Things get worse when he gets a crush on the boss's daughter.
What's my prejudice? - This looks absolutely gorgeous. Korean cinema does the dark underbelly of uber-class eroticism like no other and the sepia-toned atmosphere and the eerie modern setting could make this a dark horse of the festival. Having said that, if it tries too hard to be edgy and American, it will fail miserably (see A Bittersweet Life). There is a slight hint of The Graduate about the plot as well, but I'm sure that's just conjecture and this will be the better of the two Korean entries in this year's competition. I, for one, cannot wait to see this.

Like Someone in Love (dir: Abbas Kiarostami)

What's the story? - A young woman prostitutes herself to pay for her studies, but things get a bit messed up when she gets involved with an ageing scholar.
What's my prejudice? - I have none. I must admit, I have not seen a single film by Kiarostami and that is downright embarrassing. I know. Now, moving on to what I know about this, which is the incredible trailer that you see above. I don't know if the film will half as interesting as what we have here (as far as Kiarostami's reputation goes, the answer is yes it will be), but I must admit if this will be my initiation to the Iranian master's cinema, then I'm in for a ride. Will this be the Japanese Lolita shot by an Iranian? Maybe. But there's no doubt that it looks gorgeous.

The Angels' Share (dir: Ken Loach)

What's the story? - After narrowly escaping a prison sentence, a new father decides to turn his life around by distilling whiskey with a group of mates with similar situations.
What's my prejudice? - Well, it's Ken Loach film, after all. So, it's bound to be good. What's a little puzzling, though, is how the trailer above starts like another downtrodden young man from the Scottish underclass, who is trying to survive in a dog-eat-dog world, but then turns into a very British comedy. I'm a little nervous about that. Not that Loach cannot do light comedy, but his best work is arguably when he (and his protagonist) is the angriest. I'm not expecting another Kes or Land and Freedom (both with very subtle comedic touches), but I like my Loach pent-up with rage. Still, it'll be a good chuckle. And it's a Ken Loach film, so it's bound to be good.

In the Fog (dir: Sergei Loznitsa)

What's the story? - A man is wrongly accused of collaborating with the enemy in the German-occupied Soviet Russia during WW2.
What's the prejudice? - Despite the incredible real-life drama that ensued in the Russian front during the Second World War, cinema (especially Western cinema) has been more enthralled by the battles fought in Western Europe (perhaps understandably). When cameras turn to the East, the results can be very patchy. For every terrible Stalingrad, we have a hit-and-badly-miss Enemy at the Gates. The only film that I remember that looked at that region (and time) in a convincing way was Sam Peckinpah's criminally underrated classic, Cross of Iron. So, I am very much looking forward to this Russian film, which looks like it will be the real deal. Not a lot of information out there about this, so I don't know what it will look like, but for shedding a light of a history that popular culture chooses to neglect frequently, it is worth paying attention.

Beyond the Hills (dir: Cristian Mungiu)

What's the story? - Two women who grew up in an orphanage find it difficult to remain friends when their lives take different paths after leaving the institution.
What's my prejudice? - Two national cinemas have been great revelations in the last decade, those of Argentina and Romania. Much has been said about how both have reached their zenith and produced some of the best films of the decade, by filmmakers of great talent and future. The Romanian cinema may have exhausted its quality output in the last few years (Police, Adjective was arguably the last great one), but Mungiu, who directed the sublime 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, is sure to deliver another gem. The synopsis doesn't bode well for an action-packed thrillfest (or even a plot per se), but if his previous work is any indication, it will be an emotional joyride. Let's hope this re-ignites the Romanian cinema once again.

After the Battle (dir: Yousry Nasrallah)

What's the story? - In the aftermath of the mass protests in Cairo, two people of opposing backgrounds forge a relationship to re-start their lives.
What's my prejudice? - Yawn. OK, the fact that this is the first (to my knowledge) film about the so-called Arab Spring that will be shown in the Western world makes it an interesting socio-political statement. It will be studied in film schools in years to come for at least that reason. And rightly so. But, I don't find anything appealing about this at all. I hope I'm wrong.

Mud (dir: Jeff Nichols)

What's the story? - Two teenage boys try to help a fugitive escape from an island in the Mississippi.
What's my prejudice? - Jeff Nichols teams up with Michael Shannon. This can only be fantastic. For a change, though, Shannon will not be the centrepiece of the action. That role is taken by Matthew McConnaughey. Admittedly an odd casting choice, but I'm open to anything by Nichols at this stage of his career - has there been a more exciting American filmmaker since Darren Aronofsky? No. Nichols's one-two punch of Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter has been nothing short of phenomenal and like the aforementioned Aronofsky back in 2000, it may be too early to call him the next great American filmmaker. But, look where Aronofsky is right now and there is no doubt that Nichols will reach the same dizzying heights and Mud may just be the film that propels him to mainstream success.

You Haven't Seen Anything Yet (dir: Alain Resnais)

What's the story? - A group of actors gather at a dead colleague's house to read his will.
What's my prejudice? - Frankly, I don't give a damn about Resnais. I think his films are pompous, arrogant and too self-centred. Yes, Last Year at Marienbad is an incredible cinematic masterpiece, but as far as emotional connection with a story goes, he is the last person to go to. So, yes, I'm not looking forward to this. Even with Mathieu Amalric in the lead, this sounds like another octogenarian former French New Wave great trying to remain in the vogue.

Post Tenebras Lux (dir: Carlos Reygadas)

What's the story? - An autobiographical experiement where "reason will intervene as little as possible, like an expressionist painting where you try to express what you're feeling through the painting rather than depict what something looks like", says Reygadas.
What's my prejudice? - Brown Bunny, anyone?

On the Road (dir: Walter Salles)

What's the story? - Dean and Sal, members of the Beat generation, embark on a road trip to find the answer to it all.
What's my prejudice? - Salles is responsible for two of the best road movies ever made: Central Station and The Motorcycle Diaries. So, a third road movie can only be at least quite good based on what we have seen from him so far. Despite the association by name and source material, this will not be a portrait of the Beat generation, like Howl (which I still think is an incredible piece of film), but a more traditional road movie. Which is good, because "On the Road" the book is unfilmable. With a really well cast group of actors (it's an inspired choice to have two non-superstar actors as the leads) and a director as savvy as Salles, On the Road could very well be the only other film from this festival to garner mainstream success. It will be good ... but I have an inexplicable doubt about it all. I don't know what it is, but I have a feeling this will fall just short of great.

The Hunt (dir: Thomas Vinterberg)

What's the story? - Around Christmas, the population of a small Danish village turn against one of their members in mass hysteria.
What's my prejudice? - The wunderkid of Dogme 95 returns, with a film starring the inimitable Mads Mikkelsen. What's not to like?

We'll see how my prejudiced opinion stacks up once I get to watch these films. If the previous experience is anything to go by, I won't know the answer to that question until around this time next year. Ooops.

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