Payal Kapadia's Afternoon Clouds – the sole Indian film, a 13-minute short, selected to play at Cannes – is about two women, a 60-year-old widow, Kaki, and her Nepali domestic help, Malti. It's also about a plant that flowers but once a year, and the bloom that lasts just a few days. It's about transience, impermanence. Even the relationships come with an expiry date.
Barbara is the kind of movie for which press notes help – otherwise, I'd have never known that there was really a singer-actor after whom this Mathieu Amalric-directed film is named. It is a meta movie: an actress named Brigitte (Jeanne Balibar) is cast as Barbara in a movie made by Yves Zand, who's played by… Amalric. He's thus, the director of the movie and the movie-within-the-movie.
Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled tells the story of a wounded Yankee soldier, John McBurney (Colin Farrell), who takes refuge in Miss Martha's (Nicole Kidman) school for young women. It's a Freudian fairy tale with a touch of feminism and southern Gothic horror: a Big Bad Id-Wolf set loose amidst sexually repressed women, who unleash their hell-hath-no-fury when he begins to sink his teeth (and other body parts) into them.
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.
The eponymous heroine (Jasmine Trinca) of Sergio Castellitto's Fortunata is a victim of domestic abuse – soon-to-be ex-husband Franco (Edoardo Pesce) keeps showing up and threatening her. Their sullen daughter, Barbara (Nicole Centanni), needs therapy. Fortunata isn't always satisfying, but I liked that it's a you-go-girl saga with jagged edges.
The Safie 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).
Naomi Kawase's Hikari (Radiance; Japanese) features a character I haven't seen on screen before. Misako (Ayame Misaki) is an "audio descriptor." She narrates the non-dialogue parts in movies – "A frowning man waits for a taxi…" "A man in a hurry checks his watch…" – so the visually impaired can enjoy them. I loved watching the process. As Misako reads out the descriptions she's scripted, visually impaired "monitors" offer feedback.
Kornel Mundruczo's Jupiter's Moon (Hungarian) is about a man who can fly. At least, he can levitate. Aryan (Zsombor Jeger, who looks a lot like Gael Garcia Bernal) is a Syrian refugee who's been shot after attempting to enter Hungary. He should be dead. Instead, he's risen from the dead — in every sense of the word. The film is, in part, a religious parable.
Sergei Loznitsa's Krotkaya (A Gentle Creature) doesn't deal with names. The heroine, Vasilina Makovtseva, is credited in the programme brochure as simply "un femme douce," the 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.
I couldn't stop thinking about The Lobster days after watching it (that ending: did he? didn't he?), so my response to Yorgos Lanthimos' follow-up, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, may be the result of sky-high expectations – but I think the film really is a huge disappointment. Colin Farrell plays Steven, a surgeon who befriends a teenager (Martin, played by Barry Keoghan), and this causes havoc back home. Nicole Kidman plays Steven's wife; she's excellent.
In a way, Les Fantômes D'Ismaël was the perfect film to open the festival (it played Out of Competition), because it's about the real (Ismael's story) and the reel (Ivan's), and how much one feeds off the other. Also, it's a maze of movie references.
The filmmaking is as free-wheeling as ever. A scene's editing pattern keeps alternating between hard cuts and dissolves. Entire flashbacks are reduced to monologues delivered in close-up. A sex scene is shot in close-ups too, not just of the faces but the bodies as well.
Andrei Zvyagintsev's much-awaited follow-up to Leviathan, his international art-house hit, is one of those films that perfectly captures the essence of its title: Nelyubov (Loveless). The opening frames are of winter, barren trees frosted with ice. It's chillier inside the house of Boris (Alexey Rozin) and Zhenya (Maryana Spivak), who are on the verge of divorce.
Mohammad Rasoulof's Lerd (A Man of Integrity) is the story of Reza (Reza Akhlaghirad) who quit city life and came away to the outskirts with his wife, Hadis (Soudabeh Beizaee), and son. But the idyllic life he craved is fast becoming a pipe dream. An unnamed local corporation is after his land and they'll stop at nothing. Can Reza remain… a man of integrity?
Laurent Cantet's L'Atelier (The Workshop) is about, among other things, the word "granular." Antoine (Matthieu Lucci) encounters it in a book written by Olivia (Marina Fois), a famous Parisian novelist. He has enrolled in her summer writing workshop, where the aim is to craft a crime thriller based on their surroundings. Antoine wants to set his story in Boston or New York. At least in fiction, he wants to "escape this shit life."
The last film I watched was by one of my favourite filmmakers, Francois Ozon. is About a woman who falls for her therapist, L'Amant Double (French) 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?"
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.
Imagine James Joyce taking a crack at Gone with the Wind, and you have an idea of Michael Haneke’s Happy End. The rich plantation-owning family is replaced by a rich industrial clan in Calais. The slaves find an equivalent in Moroccans and other refugees employed as servants (treated kindly, like in the earlier film). And there is a similar sense of soapy melodrama. The pater familias (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is losing his marbles. Anne (Isabelle Huppert) is the Scarlett O'Hara figure, trying to hold it all together while pursuing love. There's even a Melanie equivalent, with a child.
Just as cinema seems to have exhausted every narrative possibility with men in drag, we get a new dimension in Nos Annees Folles (Golden Years; French), by Andre Techine. One, Paul's wife, Louise (Celine Sallette), is complicit in the deception. And two, Paul begins to enjoy life as Suzanne, as a woman. He loves Louise to bits and can't keep his hands off her. But when dressed as Suzanne, he seeks out men. For money.
Bong Joon Ho's previous film, Snowpiercer, married post-apocalyptic action and messages about food scarcity, the class system and global warming. His superb new film, Okja, manages a similar feat of being about a topical subject (animal rights) and yet not beating the audience on the head with well-meaningism and do-goodism.
In Promised Land, set during the Trump-Clinton campaign wars, the documentarian Eugene Jarecki hops into the Rolls Royce Elvis Presley purchased in 1963, and sets out to… The brochure puts it best. "The mission, forty years after the singer's death, is to find the country he left behind – a nation that, like Elvis, started out young, beautiful and promising, yet succumbed over time to the corrosive influences of money and power." In other words, Elvis becomes a metaphor for America.
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.
Jacques Doillon's Rodin stars Vincent Lindon as the sculptor and a portion of this biopic goes over his relationship with Camille Claudel (Izia Higelin), which has been immortalised on screen by Bruno Nuytten, with Gerard Depardieu and Isabelle Adjani. You have to have something up your sleeve to match up to that movie (not to mention that star wattage) – Rodin has none.
Anahita Ghazvinizadeh's They is one of those productions that sounds better as a conceit than an actual movie. J (Rhys Fehrenbacher) is a boy who thinks he (or "they," to be PC) should be a girl. The doctor has pumped in puberty blockers, so J and his family will have more time to discuss this and arrive at a decision. Small problem: dad and mom are away, and J's sister Lauren (Nicole Coffineau), who lands up with her Iranian boyfriend (Araz, played by Koohyar Hosseini), has all her mindspace sucked up by her upcoming marriage and a job assignment.
In the wonderful documentary, Visages Villages (Faces/Places), Agnes Varda looks at her co-director JR, who never takes his sunglasses off, and says he reminds her of Godard, who never took his glasses off either. Varda talks about his photography – he blows up prints and pastes them in public places. The film is what happens when they tour the countryside in a van that has a photo-printing machine. As JR says, "Make images together, yet differently."
Barbet Schroeder's The Venerable W, filmed in Burma, is about a Buddhist monk named Wirathu and a peach of an irony. Wirathu's religion is peaceful, tolerant, non-violent – and yet, he is, delivering racist sermons filled with hate speech against Muslims. A lulling female voiceover keeps saying things like "In our religion, the Buddha is not a god; he is a man, no more, no less," and, "Buddhism is opposed to animal sacrifice." We think these are 101-level nuggets about Buddhism. As the documentary rolls on, we realise these are really sly digs against Islam.
Valesca Grisebach must be among the fastest of filmmakers. Her previous film, Longing, was released in 2006. Now, only ten years later, she is back with Western, which is about a group of German construction workers landing up in a Bulgarian village to change the shape of the local river.
Todd Haynes' Wonderstruck is set in Minnesota in 1977, and it reproduces the latter with a faithfulness (right down to the shooting star at the end) not seen since JJ Abrams' Super 8. This story has to do with a 12-year-old boy named Ben (Oakes Fegley), whose mother is dead. What about the father? That is what he wants to find out.
120 Battements Par Minute, 24 Frames and 12 Days
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 opens with a painting of a mountain settlement. For a few seconds, it is just a painting: one frozen frame. Then, it becomes cinema, moving at 24 frames per second. Abbas Kiarostami’s 24 Frames expands our notion of art, plays with form, teases the mind with possibilities.
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.