DRIVE ** out of ****
Sometimes you love a movie at a festival that most of your friends hate...and you know they're all wrong. Sometimes you hate a film that everyone else is praising...and you know they're all wrong. But there ought to be a word for the feeling of disappointment and envy when your friends enjoyed a movie and you wished you enjoyed it as much as they did but just don't. It's not that you're wrong or they're right, you just feel a little cheated out of pleasure.
That's how I feel about Drive, a movie starring one of the best actors working today, Ryan Gosling. I read the book by James Sallis that the movie is based on. I wasn't wowed by it but felt it could be a good pulpy source for a movie thanks to its catchy concept: a Hollywood stunt driver moonlights as a driver for criminals who need a clean, professional getaway artist. Naturally, our hero (Gosling) gets involved in a heist that goes very very wrong. Here's a clip from the movie, a very early job and the beginning of the best action set piece in the film.
Gosling is channeling Steve McQueen as he plays the Driver, a man of few words who befriends the married woman living next day (played incongruously by Carey Mulligan, who is a good actress but whom I never bought for a moment was part of this world). Albert Brooks is very fun as a heavy in a rare dramatic turn Brooks gives his usual distinctive, wry spin on. It's not a bad movie, but it's very cheesy, from the subpar Tangerine Dream electronic score to the absolutely dreadful, truly awful pop songs that play over the opening and closing credits and at various points through the movie. I beg the producers to spend some money and get some better tunes to drop in. Even the title card of the movie is done in an early 80s-looking style that is surely no accident. Director Nicolas Winding Refn is definitely a rising talent but this is not the breakthrough I was hoping for. On the other hand, everyone else at Cannes seems to think it is.
Before I get to more movies, here's a video rundown of the last few days at the fest.
BELOVED/LES BIEN-AIMES ** 1/2
Beloved -- which I think would be better translated as Best Friends -- is a wistful, decades-spanning two and a half hour musical by director Christophe Honore. it begins in Paris with a young shop girl who steals a fancy pair of shoes and gets mistaken for a prostitute. That leads to a life as a "part-timer," a woman who keeps a regular job but earns some pocket money on the side. Before you know it, she's fallen in love with a Czech doctor who whisks her back to Prague just in time for the Soviet invasion. And we're off, covering everything from the 1960s to the present, with stops along with the way for AIDS and 9-11 and other notable historical events. Through it all, the woman (played as an adult by Catherine Deneuve) maintains a free and easy attitude towards love and romance, marrying one man but still hopelessly in love with the Czech doctor who pops in from time to time. That same fatal romance with someone who doesn't quite return it is a tradition carried on by her daughter (played by Chiari Mastroianni, Deneuve's real-life daughter), who is loved by her best friend Louis Garrel and yet can't help pining for the American rock and roll drummer who is basically gay but sleeps with her once a decade or so. It's all very tragique and lovely, with the romantic songs, often monologues of one sort of another, quite charming. Yes, it goes on too long and heads off in a million directions. But it's a step forward from Honore's earlier musical and who makes anything like this movie right now? I can't wait to see his next one.
THE SOURCE OF WOMEN ***
Director Radu Mihaileanu's last movie was The Concert, a movie whose trailer was so middlebrow and lame I couldn't ever bring myself to watch it. Now he's delivered another very commercial mainstream movie; it probably does him no favors to enter it into Cannes where this sort of movie is of no interest to most critics. Some just found it too straightforward; others oddly thought its message of tolerance and respect for women whitewashed Islam's treatment of the female sex. The story is a spin on Lysistrata. In this case, instead of women withholding sex until a war is ceased, the women of an unidentified African or Middle Eastern village (the movie intentionally says it could be either) go on a "love strike" until the men figure out a way to pipe water from the well to the town so the women don't have to lug buckets of water up a very steep, punishing path multiple times a day. The film is essentially lighthearted, though the stakes get raised dramatically when some husbands beat their wives, others might lose their jobs and radical fundamentalist clerics might bring Shariah law to the town if the relatively kind-hearted imam already there loses the trust of the men. This all sounds quite harsh, but it's rooted in a gentle, convincing storyline peppered with humorous songs that the women and men sing to each other and to tourists (who don't understand the words, of course). The movie could easily be turned into a stage musical, actually. The performances are very strong, including Leila Bekhti as the "troublemaker" and the woman you see at the beginning of this trailer who is very funny and formidable as a widow who sides with Leila in this "love strike." Adult audiences who like foreign films a la Cinema Paradiso will enjoy this and I wouldn't be surprised to see it get an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film if it could make it through the maze-like nomination process. Now let's just hope someone convinces the director to trim about 20 minutes, which would only improve this already entertaining tale.
ELENA ** 1/2
Director Andrei Zvyagintsev follows his very strong movie The Return with another solid effort that doesn't quite place him in the front ranks but shows he has the skills to do it. In this unflinching drama, a wealthy elderly man and his nurse turned wife argue over money. They both have unsatisfying children from previous marriages. his daughter is dissolute, living life only for pleasure and almost never speaking to him. Her son is a layabout who keeps getting his wife pregnant, can't or won't bother to find a job and sits around watching TV waiting for his mother to show up with groceries and some spare cash. What the elderly man decides to do with his estate could drive a wedge between them all. Nadezhda Markina is a standout as Elena, though everyone is strong. One standout scene involves the old man having a rate talk with his daughter that really grips you with their barbed banter. For more typically, we'll watch Elena get up, prepare coffee, bring it out to the old man, walk to the train station, get on, sit for a while, get off, buy grocieries, bring them to her son and then, finally, a line of dialogue. The movie held my attention and proved fruitful in showing how the faults of one generation can be handed down again and again. Zvyagintsev is just a step away from a great film.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA ** 1/2
These days, many movies shown at film festivals -- especially ones from Eastern Europe -- suffer from a disease known as Bela Tarr-ism. Especially rampant in Romania, it's the tendency of directors to favor exceptionally long takes that follow mundane action to a punishing degree as far as the average filmgoer is concerned. It's as if the editing revolution of Eisenstein and others never happened. If someone is in their office and goes to get a soda, a normal person would show them leaving their office, maybe cut to the person at the machine pressing a button and then cut again to them back at their desk, drink in hand. But if a film has a strain of Tarrism, it will show the person getting up, opening their door, shutting and locking their door, follow them down the hallway and make a left and then down another hallway and then open a door, then stand in front of the soda machine, fish out some change, consider their options, choose a soda, pay for it, pick it up, open it, maybe sigh with contentment as they take a sip, then wander back down the hall make a left then down the next hall, unlock their door, go in, shut the door, sit down at the desk, look at the soda, take another sip and boom! two or three minutes have passed by and nothing of interest has occurred. Strangely, I've built up a resistance to this strain so the sort of movie that would send the average (and perfectly intelligent and discerning) filmgoer running in dismay doesn't immediately exhaust me. That's true of Nuri Bilge Ceylan's latest. A Turkish director best known for Distant and Climates, he's never in much of a hurry to reveal his story. In this two and a half hour drama, Ceylan spends the first 90 minutes following the police around late at night as they take two confessed murderers from one empty field to another, trying to locate the place where the men buried a body. Very, very little happens in that 90 minutes. And yet I was engrossed as we got to know the policeman in charge, the Prosecutor and the Doctor, as well as one of the murderers. It's a flat, straightforward movie with some revelations (none too surprising) that kept me engaged. A late night moment where the lovely daughter of a farmer of sorts hands out drinks was especially remarkable and shows the power this sort of film can have. It's not for most, but patience can sometimes be rewarded. This trailer is positively action-packed compared to the movie itself.
Cowritten and directed by Ruben Ostlund, this Swedish drama is one of the finds of the fest. It was inspired by news reports that a gang of boys were ripping off cell phones, money and the like from other boys. What made it unusual was the boys didn't threaten violence of pull a knife, but the boys (all black and immigrants) would accuse a boy of having stolen their brother's cell phone, insist they come with them so the imaginary brother could check out the phone and claim it and guilt the boys into coming along. Soon, walking a block or two became a tram ride or walk halfway across town where the white boys would feel nervous and frightened and once scared enough try and offer the phone if they could leave. But the other boys would refuse and insist they keep coming along, until eventually the boys were out in the middle of nowhere and the immigrants would set up some fake contest, cheat and claim all the loot of the intimidated boys as a prize. In this film, we basically watch this happen over one long afternoon. It's a fascinating movie, with the bullying and intimidation and unspoken subtext of race hovering over everything. Even in the midst of this scam, the kids would spend so many hours together that weird unexpected friendships or loose alliances would form in and amongst the groups. High points of the movie include when a group of much bigger older boys suddenly descend on the thieves and beat them up for stealing the phone of someone else. Even then the boys being bullied don't run away. Adult after adult wants to do something but can't quite place their finger on what's wrong. Or they just can't be bothered. Play is intriguing and filled with raw natural talent among its mostly untrained cast and is definitely a major step forward by Ostlund. He's one to watch.
MOVIES AT CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2011
Movies rated on a four star scale
Arirang no stars out of four
The Artist *** 1/2
Beloved/Les Bien-Aimes ** 1/2
The Conquest/La Conquete ** 1/2
Elena ** 1/2
The Footnote/Hearat Shulayam *** 1/2
Habemus Papam/We Have A Pope ***
Hanezu No Tsuki * 1/2
Hors Satan/Outside Satan **
Ichimei aka Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai **
Jeane Captive/The Silence Of Joan ** 1/2
The Kid With A Bike/Le Gamin Au Velo *** 1/2
La Fee/The Fairy ***
La Fin Du Silence/The End Of Silence **
L'Apollonide/House Of Tolerance * 1/2
Le Havre ** 1/2
Martha Marcy May Marlene ***
Michel Petrucciani ** 1/2
Midnight In Paris **
The Minister/L'Exercice De L'etat ** 1/2
Once Upon A Time In Anatolia ** 1/2
Oslo, August 31 **
Polisse ** 1/2
Restless * 1/2
17 Filles/17 Girls **
The Skin I Live In/La Piel Que Habito **
Sleeping Beauty * 1/2
The Slut **
The Source Of Women ***
Take Shelter ***
This Must Be The Place ***
The Tree Of Life ****
We Need To Talk About Kevin ** 1/2
Wu Xia aka Dragon aka Swordsmen ** 1/2
Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day and features top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It's available free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website and his daily blog. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes. Link to him on Netflix and gain access to thousands of ratings and reviews.