Cannes Film Festival Report and Reviews - Part Trois
by Marco Cerritos
May 25, 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 third and final article, Marco reports back on Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York, Abel Ferrara's Chelsea on the Rocks, and Atom Egoyan's Adoration. It's time to wrap it up and head home after these last few.
Synecdoche, New York
Director: Charlie Kaufman
It seems the Cannes programmers this year decided to save the most divisive film on the lineup for the tail-end of the schedule. The film is Synecdoche, New York and it marks the directorial debut of Charlie Kaufman, whose screenwriting credits include Adaptation, Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. If that list alone would make you think that Kaufman's new film is a trippy, mind-bending affair then you would be right. Nothing is ever straight-forward in Kaufman-land, so why should this be any different.
In addition to directing, Kaufman has also written the screenplay for Synecdoche, New York and evidence of that is witnessed within minutes of the first act. Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a theatre director who is losing his wife Adele (Catherine Keener) to the Berlin art scene while slowly obsessing over every insecurity around him. His less-than-average body, the decaying city he lives in and the unstable women in his life are all literally crashing inside his brain. Caden's only release comes in the form of an abandoned warehouse where he gathers a group of actors to create a working replica of the city surrounding it, in other words a city within a city.
I hope I haven't lost you so far because if you think that last bit was confusing to read, imagine how confusing it was for me to write. This small synopsis might be enough for you to ask "what the hell is going on here?" but it's only a jumping-off point for Kaufman's screenplay. Caden's life within the real world and the warehouse replica of his existence soon come crashing down in the most bizarre ways thanks to visual tricks, gags and hidden clues. Forget all expectations you may have about the film's look, style and depth. I've only scratched the surface of this multi-layered adventure and to go any further would both confuse you even more and spoil all the surprises.
Multiple viewings are almost mandatory for a film like Synecdoche, New York and critics seem to be divided into two obvious camps, those who enjoyed the unique ride and those who despised it. One thing we can all agree on is this: love him or hate him, Charlie Kaufman knows exactly how to fuck with your head.
Chelsea on the Rocks
Director: Abel Ferrara
A part of me is done with maverick filmmaker Abel Ferrara. Yes, he makes a lot of product and his career has spanned over thirty years but he has only made two worthwhile movies, Bad Lieutenant and King of New York (and even that one is starting to show serious signs of age). Everything he has touched since 1993 is utter garbage but a part of me keeps hoping he has it in him to return to his glory years of the Lieutenant/New York double bill. I've been burned every time I give one of his movies a chance but like a junkie I keep coming back for more. I know I shouldn't but I can't help myself. So it brings me a small satisfaction to report that his latest endeavor, Chelsea on the Rocks, is not like his other films. It's not atrocious, it's just decent.
Taking a breather from narrative films and making a documentary this time around, Ferrara draws his inspiration from the legendary Chelsea Hotel in New York, a place that is still seen as the muse for struggling artists everywhere. The film forms a collage of famous (Ethan Hawke, Dennis Hopper, Milos Forman) and not-so-famous faces to talk about what the Chelsea means to them and why so many artists (including the Greatful Dead, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan and Mark Twain) have stayed there over the years. Hawke even made a dramatized movie about the hotel years ago called Chelsea Walls, a dull waste of time, but at least it's easy to see the guy genuinely cares about the landmark.
Remember what I said earlier about Ferrara's bad filmmaking? It still creeps up here in the form of bad angles, sloppy interaction with the interviewees and choppy archival footage. In addition, Ferrara's documentary doesn't abandon the narrative structure completely, as he inserts dramatic re-enactments of some of the more outrageous tales of the Chelsea Hotel to mostly mixed results.
Director: Atom Egoyan
Adoration is the new film from Atom Egoyan, a respected filmmaker whose movies have a small but faithful following. His track record is hit-or-miss for me, ranging from great (The Sweet Hereafter, Where the Truth Lies) to mediocre (Ararat, Felicia's Journey). Adoration lies in the middle, full of great ideas that crash together resulting in a mediocre execution.
Simon (Devon Bostick) is a high school teenager and like many kids his age is curious about things he doesn't understand. His parents are deceased and he lives with his uncle Tom (Scott Speedman), a man who is extremely withdrawn and may harbor secrets about the parents' mysterious death.
One day Simon's teacher reads a story to the class about a terrorist who tried to conceal a bomb inside his girlfriend's bags before she boarded a plane to Israel. The bomb was intercepted by security and the girlfriend turned out to be pregnant, a twist that completely changes the dynamic of the story. After being shaken up by the teacher's downbeat tale, Simon takes it one step further by writing a paper re-enacting the event in which he is the unborn child that was almost killed by the terrorist bomb. It is a confused and hateful message in which he wonders what would have been if he was that close to death, including his parents in the tale as well.
Believe it or not, there's still more to this convoluted story. It turns out Simon's teacher flips for his work of fiction. She loves it so much that she encourages him to share it with the class, giving him the confidence to also share it online and that's where another can of worms opens up. In case you didn't know, technology can be a double-edged sword, your friend one minute and a back-stabbing bastard the next. So when Simon's project hits the web, all kinds of crazy debates and political agendas surface, generating a string of lies and people with secret motivations.
As I said before, Adoration is a mixed bag that has good ideas about politics and technology but is way too convoluted to make any real impact. Whenever there is a good scene in the film, it's overshadowed by three others that are either over-dramatized or just don't make sense in relation to the story.
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