Cannes Film Festival Report and Reviews - Part Deux
by Marco Cerritos
May 24, 2008
The Cannes Film Festival 2008 is currently underway in France and our friend and contributor Marco Cerritos has been covering the fest and catching screenings since it started on May 14th. Marco is a 28-year-old writer who lives in San Francisco and has been working as a professional film critic for over 10 years. He's covered the Sundance Film Festival since 1999 and this is his second year at Cannes. While neither myself nor Ken were able to make it this year, Marco will be providing us first hand reports and reviews of some of the most anticipated films playing at Cannes this year. In this second of three articles, Marco reports back on Steven Soderbergh's Che, Marina Zenovich's Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired documentary, and Jennifer Lynch's Surveillance. Let's continue this adventure!
Director: Steven Soderbergh
While planning my Cannes screening schedule, the thought of a four hour and eighteen minute Che Guevara biopic by Steven Soderbergh seemed exciting and scary at the time. This project had originally been planned as two separate films, The Argentine and Guerilla, but was instead assembled as one epic adventure simply titled Che with an intermission built-in for restless moviegoers. The result is something beautiful and simplistic, a sampling of one of the most controversial figures of the 20th century.
Loved by many and hated just as much by others, Ernesto "Che" Guevara (played with complete confidence by Benicio Del Toro) begins the film with the innocence of a man full of ideas and no clue how to execute them. As he grows into a substantial leader, the film itself grows in scope, showing Che befriend (and eventually become a strong ally of) Fidel Castro. Much has been made of this relationship, specifically how Che and Castro orchestrated the Cuban revolution, but Soderbergh does not use kid gloves in showing the small steps that led to the controversial movement. We meet the women who will marry him and the men who will idolize him, but we are also shown the figures that he will offend, persecute and betray. One of the best sequences in the film comes early on when an aggravated Che arrives in New York City to address the U.N. spouting politics like they were bullets. Soderbergh handles the scene modestly and lets Del Toro command the screen with his bear-like presence.
Che is a film that has a lot going on and practically demands repeat viewings in order to catch it all. However, at more than four hours, some moviegoers might find it a chore just to sit through once. I will be returning to Che sometime in the future and hope that it's release isn't tainted by the perplexing reviews coming out of recent screenings. Soderbergh has admitted that the film was rushed to make its Cannes deadline, so Che's overstuffed sensibility may come from that. My guess is most reviews will focus on two things: its length and Soderbergh's ambivalent approach to fleshing out Che as a human being.
To respond, the film IS long but the length is hardly felt at all. Second, Che continues to be as divisive in death as he was in life but as depicted in the film, Benicio Del Toro creates a conflicted man who sought to change the world in his own way. Hopefully when Che is finally released (in whatever incarnation), it will invigorate serious debate on his accomplishments and not just serve as a face on a T-shirt.
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired
Director: Marina Zenovich
The infamous sex scandal that plagued director Roman Polanski thirty years ago is put under a microscope in the new documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. The film made it's controversial world premiere at Sundance earlier this year and is now playing at the Cannes Film Festival, where Polanski calls home and is sure to win over sympathizers.
To set the scene, it was February 1st, 1978 when renowned filmmaker Roman Polanski was on trial for the alleged rape of a thirteen year old girl. The proceedings had been plagued with ups and downs but it now seemed that Polanski had his back against the wall and would be facing serious jail time. In a desperate move, Polanski boarded a plane from Los Angeles to France (under the guise of scouting locations for his next film) and never returned. Unfortunately Polanski is not actually interviewed in the documentary, but there is plenty of archival footage and friendly testimonials to make up for it.
The girl at the center of the rape charge, Samantha Gailey, does speak on camera and offers her candid opinion on Polanski and where she stands in life thirty years after the incident. She recollects what's mostly public knowledge, being invited by Polanski to a photo shoot at Jack Nicholson's home (while he was away) and after being given a mix of champagne and quaaludes, was allegedly abused.
The most fascinating aspect of the documentary is the legal battle inside the courtroom months before Polanski boarded the plane out of the US. Director Marina Zenovich paints an unflattering portrait of Judge Laurence Rittenband, one of the central figures in the case and according to the film, a power-hungry monster. A man not concerned with the facts but only looking out for himself and playing to the courtroom cameras for attention. Rittenband passed away in 1993, so there are only select audio files depicting his menacing tirades to the press.
The title Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired refers to the fact that love him or hate him, Polanski has made some great movies but also allegedly committed a heinous crime. It's up to you to decide your stance on the issue, but the facts are these. In the US he is "wanted" for criminal charges and is a constant debate of moral issues. In France (where he fled to and currently resides) he is "desired" for being the man responsible for making Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby and The Pianist. Any reference to his controversial past bears little to no relevance. Maybe if the French took a closer took at Polanski's versions of Oliver Twist and The Ninth Gate, they'd have a change of heart.
Director: Jennifer Lynch
I have been in a lively mood the last few days after seeing a collection of good-to-great films at the Cannes Film Festival. I am leaving soon and was hoping to end my stay on a happy note, but along came Surveillance, a film so inept and downright atrocious that it's as if the movie gods decided to screw up my winning streak on purpose.
This is the kind of movie that takes place in a small town in the middle of nowhere where all the locals know each other and aren't keen on outsiders. But when a brutal crime takes place in the otherwise quiet borough, it forces outsiders to intrude anyway in the form of FBI agents Hallaway (Bill Pullman) and Anderson (Julia Ormond). Apparently the FBI suspects the small town psycho is connected to one of their unsolved cases and sends these two to investigate. Big movie clichés are later exploited when the fancy agents clash with the locals and havoc ensues but that's not a true cinematic crime, it's just incompetence.
The real slap in the face is how Surveillance demands to be taken seriously when it is clearly sloppy and extremely pretentious. In addition, it tries way too hard to be clever by playing mind games with the audience in the form of flashbacks and hidden clues. This might work if the clues were meaningful, or at the very least interesting, but they're not, resulting in overacting by the two leads and raising more questions than the film answers.
I should have known there was going to be trouble when I noticed the director's name was Jennifer Lynch (daughter of auteur David Lynch). Her only filmmaking credit prior to this is 1993's Boxing Helena, the film that single-handedly destroyed Kim Basinger's career and put her in bankruptcy. I'm not saying the only reason Surveillance premiered in Cannes is because of Jennifer Lynch's name and who her famous father is, but it might be a strong possibility.