Cannes Film Festival Report and Reviews - Part Un
by Marco Cerritos
May 23, 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 first of three articles, Marco reports back on Clint Eastwood's Changeling, Fernando Meirelles' Blindness, James Toback's Tyson, Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and the Tokyo! triptych. Let's begin!
Director: Clint Eastwood
Continuing to impress at age 77, director Clint Eastwood has made another film to add to his prestigious roster of accomplishments - Changeling. Dripping with tension and suspense, the period crime thriller accomplishes two things: to successfully bring a disturbing true story to light and to immerse lead actress Angelina Jolie with a role she really sinks her teeth into.
The year is 1928 and Christine Collins (Jolie) is a hard-working single mother supporting her young son Walter in Los Angeles. Any notion of a safer, happier time is quickly washed away the moment Walter disappears from the family home without a trace. Distraught and desperate for answers, Christine lights a fire under the police department to find her son, an organization that is not used to taking orders from a woman. Under pressure and a media spotlight to do something fast, the department declares victory months later, announcing that Walter has been miraculously found alive. But when mother and son reunite, something in Christine's heart keeps telling her the same thing. This is not her son.
What follows is a long string of physical and psychological abuse as Christine challenges the system to find her real son. Aided by a local minister (played by John Malkovich), Christine's search for the truth uncovers levels of corruption that suggest this is not an ordinary cover-up. Her pleas for justice even land her in a mental institution, as a last hope by the police that Christine will just shut up and go away. Also serving as a cruel reminder that in 1928 women were seen as unstable and disposable in a man's world.
At almost two-and-a-half hours it's almost strange to say that Changeling feels like one of Eastwood's less padded films. There are a few courtroom scenes that slow the pace here and there but for the film dazzles for most of its running time. Congratulations are mostly due to Clint Eastwood for constructing a tightly wound thriller and Angelina Jolie for knocking her lead performance out of the park and not playing a busty cartoon.
Director: Fernando Meirelles
There is a moment in the new film Blindness where confusion and chaos are running rampant in the streets of an unnamed city, the result of a highly contagious disease that blinds anyone who comes into contact with it. The ensuing panic is a mixture of people who have already gone blind and those who are trying desperately to avoid it. All order is dismantled leaving people to fend for themselves, and it is that kind of hysteria that is the thesis for this film.
The disease is referred to as the "white blindness" and spreads quickly to others before hitting a doctor (Mark Ruffalo) who falls apart on the spot. His wife (Julianne Moore) turns out to be mysteriously immune to the sickness and becoming scared, makes a crucial choice to fake her condition. Residents are told of a government sanctuary where the blind are being treated which turns out to be a blessing and a curse. What at first seems like a safe place to rehabilitate. later turns into an overcrowded prison with no escape. It's here where the gears of Blindness start to shift and we follow this unnamed survivor as she navigates a world only she can see, witnessing the horrors that play out when civilization is backed against a wall. The residents of this new society do whatever they must to survive, including raping and stealing, eventually making their own rules as they go along.
Blindness is directed by Fernando Meirelles, a man who has in the past worked with both a fast, kinetic style (City of God) and a more subdued one (The Constant Gardner). The pace and tone of this film lands between the previous two, but has just as much emotional and psychological impact. But in the end, the film rests on Julianne Moore's shoulders. As the only person who can see the chaos around her, she serves as our eyes to this doomed society as well.
Director: James Toback
Former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson has learned a lot from life according to the new documentary Tyson, a portrait of the infamous boxer by maverick filmmaker James Toback. In addition, what might at first glance be perceived as a conflict of interest (Tyson and Toback are close friends), quickly turns out to be just the opposite as we are thrust head-first into all the gory details of the man's life.
The film begins as most documentaries do, starting at the humble beginning and working its way up to fame and glory before the inevitable crash and burn when the spotlight goes away. But while the film's narrative structure may be predictable, the subjects and events depicted here are not. It's very clear early in the film that "Iron Mike" (as he was once called) has demons in his closet to spare. For every heartwarming look we get at his origins with old coach Cus D'Amato, we get turbulent rumors of rape, debt and overall insanity.
Tyson is very comfortable with the camera, relaxing into a natural rhythm that shows years of practice doing interviews and being himself (he has also had bit roles in two of Toback's films, Black and White and When Will I Be Loved). As we hear his voice guide us through the hell that was once his life, it's easy to understand why Toback would want to set the record straight on such a fallen icon. In fact, I applaud him for not letting friendship get in the way of telling a fair and balanced portrait of Tyson's embarrassing past and eminent victories.
By his own admission, Tyson is at a crossroads. His humble beginnings in Brooklyn were only a stepping stone to the success that awaited him years later, only to be thrown away in the blink of an eye. Now, pensive and extremely candid, Mike Tyson is ready to put the past behind him and start a new chapter in his life. This new documentary is his way of making amends.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Director: Woody Allen
Woody Allen's taste for exotic locales has led his latest production to the titular city of Barcelona, where fairytale romances are exchanged for hot-blooded romps in bed with perfect strangers. At least this is the idea we get from the film, a worthwhile entertainment that is more sexy and fun than some of Allen's latest efforts.
Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Christina (Scarlett Johansson) are American best friends spending their summer in Barcelona and looking to have a blast. While wandering through the city they meet the charismatic Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a professional womanizer who talks them up and invites both girls to spend a few days at his private getaway. Christina wants excitement and Vicky doesn't want to rock the boat with her fiancée back home but after some flirting and coercing, the group is off on a picturesque adventure of sex and culture.
This might be sufficient material to work with under normal circumstances, but this being a Woody Allen picture, there's more than expected. This leads us to Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz), Juan Antonio's fiery ex-wife who shoots out venom like a machine gun and interrupts the group's hope of a drama-free romance. Suddenly alliances are formed in the oddest places and motives are questioned, leading to confusion, comedy and lots of sex.
The cast of Vicky Cristina Barcelona is well assembled, from Bardem giving debonair life to Juan Antonio to the devilish charms of Penelope Cruz as the jilted ex Maria Elena. Some may question Scarlett Johansson, who has worked with Allen twice before to mixed results, but she's fine here. Doing what she needs to do to move the film along and nothing more than that. In fact, the film as a whole sits somewhere in the middle of Woody Allen's recent efforts. Not reaching the pinnacles of success (Match Point) or the embarrassing lows (Curse of the Jade Scorpion).
To be blunt, the new film Tokyo! is an interesting mess. It's an attempt by three filmmakers to create a love letter to the Japanese capital with very mixed results. All of them sincere and heartfelt, but ultimately strange and misguided. The film follows in the footsteps of last year's Paris, Je T'aime and the currently filming New York, I Love You in which a group of filmmakers scatter and make a short film about a certain subject as seen through their eyes. In this case the subject at hand is, you guessed it, the city of Tokyo.
The program starts with Michel Gondry's "Interior Design" segment. Gondry is by far the best known of the three directors in this project (his credits include Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep) and his segment is the most accessible. In the short, Akira and Hiroko are a young couple who have just arrived in Tokyo lost and miserable. Akira has dreams of being a filmmaker while Hiroko is supportive yet aimless in her own ventures. All of this changes when Hiroko goes through a bizarre transformation that radically changes the dynamic between the two lovers.
Leos Carax's "Merde" (literally meaning "shit" in French) is a different story altogether and plays out like a Godzilla-type farce. The "merde" in the title refers to a creature that lives in the sewers of Tokyo and terrorizes its residents. During a city rampage, Merde is apprehended and turned into a flavor-of-the-month sensation leading to confusion and ignorance.
Finally, Bong Joon-Ho's "Shaking Tokyo" segment centers on an agoraphobic who hasn't stepped foot outside his apartment in over a decade. Leading a dull life but at peace with himself, it's all the more jarring when an earthquake literally drops a beautiful pizza delivery girl in his doorway, giving him a chance to conquer his fears and step outside.
While I'm glad the three auteurs have attempted something different, Tokyo! is not an easy film to embrace. As a whole it's very uneven and in separate segments, there is little to recommend as well.