Cannes 2017: Godard, AIDS And Frail Fathers, Film Companion
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Michel Hazanavicius may be the best cinematic mimic ever. The Artist was a pitch-perfect reproduction of the silent movie. In Redoubtable (French), he goes after Godard, and at least part of the film's giddy pleasures is the reminder of what a po-mo prankster Godard was. The film is funny. Godard (Louis Garrel) and his-heroine-who's-now-his-wife Anne Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin, who's simply terrific) have a conversation during a screening of Falconetti's Joan of Arc, and their lines become the "subtitles" for the images on screen. Sure, it's geek humour – but why, in the first place, would you watch something to do with Godard if you weren't a geek?

It's all there. The eye-popping reds and yellows. The beyond-gorgeous tracking shots. The cheeky chapter titles (like "Pierrot Le Fou"). The self-aware nudity (and the gorgeous locations) from Contempt. The Godardisms. ("Artists should die at 35 before becoming old farts.") The meta-Godardisms. ("I am an actor playing Godard," declares Garrel, the actor who is playing Godard.) And the great love for Old Hollywood. Early on, Godard and Anne catch Gene Kelly's It's Always Fair Weather, and the lines of a song (This has been a most unusual day / Love has made me see things a different way) are ringing out in Godard's heart. But soon, these words will take on a different meaning. There's a running gag about Godard having to replace his spectacles, and it comes off like a metaphor for "seeing things a different way."

Beneath the laughs, a tragedy builds slowly. Godard has just released La Chinoise, and the reception has left him somewhat bemused. People cannot seem to pronounce the film's name. A fan asks – in a line that reminds you of Woody Allen's Stardust Memories – when he's going to make "funny films" again. Another touch that reminds us of Allen: when Anne and Godard speak, subtitles reflect what they are actually thinking. All is not well between masculin and féminin.

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The student protests of 1968 are underway, and we get an additional meta joke. Garrel starred in Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers, set around these riots, and the Italian director is a part of this story as well. Students accuse Godard of being a "consumer product" — and this, when he's just released a film about wannabe-communists. He thinks he's Marx, they think he's Coca Cola. This stings at some level. His outlook changes. Soon, he's running around streets with the camera, filming riots. It's not just the end of a marriage. It's also the end of his sixties' phase.

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The efforts of the ACT UP community to defend rights of people with AIDS sound chin-quiveringly noble as the subject for a movie — but Robin Campillo finds amazing ways to make 120 Battements Par Minute (120 Beats Per Minute; French) pulse with life. The film begins with what looks like the deconstruction of a crime scene. The ACT UP people only wanted to interrupt an Assisted Living Facilities meeting and read out their manifesto, but some of the members throw fake-blood balloons on the speaker, handcuff him, and it becomes a huge mess. Now, back at headquarters, they discuss how things got so out of hand.

And slowly, we meet the main characters. The HIV-positive Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), who threw the balloon, and who says he does not have the time for "talks." He needs action. Thibault (Antoine Reinartz) recommends a more conservative strategy. Nathan (Arnaud Valois) is HIV-negative, and he's just joined the group. Even within the collective, there are frictions, factions. The film keeps criss-crossing between meetings with pharma companies, demos at schools (handing out condoms), preparations for Gay Pride, dancing at the nightclub, and spooky, under-the-microscope images of cells being infected by the virus.

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Campillo weaves all this into an Altmanseque tableau. The multiple levels lock in beautifully, and the film just zips by. I checked the time, and it was already an hour. At about this point, the love story between Sean and Nathan comes into focus, and things become predictable — and yes, you could say it begins to resemble the chin-quiveringly noble "Oscar-bait drama" (Philadelphia, Longtime Companion). But the filmmaking makes a world of difference. An exquisitely shot sex scene bridges Sean and Nathan with partners from the past — along with chemistry, we also get history, how Sean got infected, how Nathan didn't. There's a touching three-dimensionality to the proceedings that we'd never get from mainstream Hollywood.

***

In The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Noah Baumbach continues where he left off in The Squid and The Whale, his masterpiece about the corrosive effects of bad parenting. Harold (Dustin Hoffman) is a bad father — maybe he did not intend to be one, but tell that to his children. With the scalpel-precision of a short-story master, Baumbach, in a line or two, evokes a world of trauma. Harold's older son Danny (Adam Sandler) wishes his father had done this one big terrible thing that he could focus on trying to forget. Instead, it's these many tiny things, day after day. "Drip, drip, drip." I could hear the wince from the audience.

Younger son Matthew (Ben Stiller) asks their sister why she keeps coming back to their father. She says, "Because I'm a decent person. That's what you do." But when Harold falls ill and the siblings gather, they have to understand — like many grown-ups — that the father from the past is now just a frail man who needs them. This story about childhoods that were like "walking barefoot through broken glass to get a milkshake" is spiced with a surprising number of laughs. The hospital system, in particular, becomes the butt of many jokes, which many of us are all-too-familiar with. The Meyerowitz Stories takes a while to sink in, but it's a beauty, one of the festival's highlights.

Watch the trailer of 120 Battements Par Minute here –

 

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