Cannes 2017: A Mouse In A Maze, And A Wish List, Film Companion

The Safdie Brothers' (Josh and Benny) Good Time is about a bank robbery gone horribly wrong — the chaos of life doing what it does to best laid plans. Robert Pattinson is excellent as Connie, whose motivations are never really explained — we only see how devoted he is to his developmentally challenged brother Nick (Benny Safdie). The first half-hour is fantastic, a welcome dose of adrenaline during the last days of the festival. But slowly, the film begins to vacillate unconvincingly between the grand design of a Michael Mann heist movie (replete with a throbbing score and street-poet philosophies) and something more intimate, like Dog Day Afternoon. Good Time never finds a balance, and the emotional beats get lost in the genre architecture.


Sergei Loznitsa's Krotkaya (A Gentle Creature) doesn't deal with names. The heroine, Vasilina Makovtseva, is credited in the programme brochure as simply "une femme douce," a gentle creature. This anonymity is part of the film's design. She isn't just nameless, she's also faceless — just one of the many victims of Russia's soul-crushing totalitarianism. In an early scene in a very crowded bus, she rests the package in her hand on the floor. It annoys the woman standing beside her, who complains (loudly) that her feet are being used as a shelf. A man nearby asks this woman to show some consideration. Another woman joins in, and it's soon a symphony of disgruntlement. But our gentle creature doesn't utter a word.

This design — or set piece, if you will — is repeated throughout. In a train. In a prison office. (The heroine sets out to meet her husband, who's in a faraway prison.) Usually, the protagonist would get the close-ups, the meaty lines, the most screen time. Here, she's repeatedly framed around the colourful characters she meets during her journey (their colour emphasises her colourlessness) — it's like she's a supporting character in her own story, a mouse moving through a Kafka-esque maze.

Towards the end, the director pulls off a stupendous stunt that I totally bought. (Some others didn't.) It's faintly reminiscent of David Fincher's The Game, and the "realism" from earlier gives way to florid expressionism — the scenes resemble a cross between a papal ceremony and a virgin sacrifice. A Gentle Creature is easily among the most original films at the festival. What you see isn't what you get.


The title of 12 Days, directed by Raymond Depardon, refers to the time before which patients admitted to a psychiatric hospital without their consent must appear at a hearing before a "judge," who listens to the appeal and decides whether the patient can be released. A series of interviews reveals a series of situations and circumstances, and the starkly affecting film leaves us squirming whether anyone has the right to determine who's sane, who isn't. At least with Michel Franco's April's Daughters (Spanish), there's no doubt: April (Emma Suárez) is positively insane, the love child of Pedro Almodóvar and Tennessee Williams. April visits her pregnant daughter and a Greek tragedy explodes. It's the nuttiest film of the festival, and I mean that in a nice way.


In 1983, Jude Ratnam was five. He fled the civil war in Sri Lanka. Now, as a filmmaker, Ratnam returns — in the same train that took him away — and remembers. Demons in Paradise (Tamil) opens with Ratnam's young son talking to him in Tamil, and Ratnam still feels uncomfortable, as though someone is watching. He recalls his mother's words: "Don't shout. Don't talk in Tamil. They are coming to kill us." We hear of more horrors during Ratnam's journey.

An episode involving his uncle is especially heartbreaking. The uncle, who's in Canada now, has returned after some three decades, and has fun asking people to guess who he is. Much fond laughter ensues when he reveals he's the lad they once knew. And then he visits a neighbour, asks her the same question. She stares vacantly. He tells her. There's a moment of happiness, until she recalls hiding his family when his house was set on fire. The uncle breaks down. My eyes were moist too. You can run away, but you can never really escape.


The last film I watched was by one of my favourite filmmakers, François Ozon. L'Amant Double (French) seems to be his homage to Brian De Palma, whose films were themselves an homage to Hitchcock. Echoes are strewn throughout this psycho-sexual thriller. We get mirrors, twins, dead cats that return in stuffed versions, and even metaphorical rebounds: a shrink penetrates his patient's mind, and in return, she penetrates him. With a strap-on. This story about a woman who falls for her therapist is memorable mainly for its opening image, surely the most violent haircut ever committed to film. It's as though a psychopath is hacking away at hair. Everywhere else, I kept thinking, "What was he thinking?"


And in the Too Many Films Too Little Time department (aka more films I missed)… Claude Lanzmann's Napalm, which derives its title from the only word in common between a French delegate to North Korea and a Pyongyang nurse. Alejandro González Iñárritu's Carne y Arena (Physically Invisible), a virtual-reality installation that allows you to experience border crossings by immigrants. Mark Kidel's documentary, Becoming Cary Grant. Takashi Miike's delicious-sounding 100th film, Blade of the Immortal, about a samurai who's cursed with immortality. Clint Eastwood's masterclass, preceded by a screening of Unforgiven. A beach screening of John Badham's super-awesome "le film emblématique des années disco," Saturday Night Fever.

In addition, these classics that reappeared on the big screen. Luis Buñuel's Belle De Jour. Jean Vigo's L'Atalante. Max Ophüls' The Earrings of Madame de…. Shohei Imamura's The Ballad of Narayama. Bob Fosse's All That Jazz. Antonioni's Blow-Up. Henri-Georges Clouzot's The Wages of Fear. Andrzej Wajda's Man of Iron. And probably the biggest miss of all, Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses, one of the great movies about monomaniacal obsession. The sadness isn't just about missing these movies at this festival. It's the thought that one may never get to see them again outside of one's laptop. Still, it's been a great fortnight. Au revoir, Cannes.

Watch the trailer of Good Time here

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