Mixed Blessings

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Easily the most controversial film was Bruno Dumont's L'Humanité, which hardly anyone liked and hardly anyone could stop talking about, even before it won three awards: the Grand Jury prize, the Best Actor prize to Emmanuel Schotte for his portrayal of an unlikely policeman involved in the investigation of the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl, and the Best Actress prize to Serverine Caneele for her portrayal of the policeman's object of desire (Caneele shared the award with the star of Rosetta). Like Dumont's first film, The Life of Jesus, L'Humanité is a study of the frustrated passions smoldering beneath the routines of small-town life. But unlike the earlier film, it's jammed with allegorical and art references. The naked body of the murdered girl is positioned to suggest Duchamp's Etant Donnés; there's a close-up of Caneele's cunt that suggests Courbet's The Origin of the World. (Caneele deserves her award not least for her poise in several explicit, ugly sex scenes.) The film is filled with ambiguities right to the very end, when a two-second shot may or may not transform the meaning of everything that's come before. Ambiguity generates conversation, but it's not necessarily a virtue in itself. I reserve judgment on L'Humanité until after I've suffered a second screening.

Excepting the Almodóvar, the most pleasurable films at Cannes were to be found outside the competition. Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet's succinct Sicilia! has a rare clarity and depth of feeling. Spike Lee's Summer of Sam has the tabloid energy and chutzpah of a Sam Fuller film. Steven Soderbergh's The Limey is an extremely clever evocation of the '60s—sometimes elegant, sometimes over-the-top, blending tenderness and violence throughout. (More about these two when they open later this year.)

My only real discovery (a film I saw by chance and with no expectations) was Emilie Deleuze's Peau Neuve. Deleuze, who is the daughter of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, is a new addition to a dazzling roster of French female directors whose films seldom make it to the U.S. Judging from this debut feature, she has remarkable insight into what makes men tick. Peau Neuve is about a guy with a wife and a kid who makes a good living testing computer games. Having decided to change his life, he enrolls in a training program for operating big construction machinery. A colleague described Peau Neuve as "Top Gun with bulldozers." I don't think the line does the film justice, but if it piques the interest of an American distributor, I'm all for it.

Mother superior: Almodóvar with Cecilia Roth and Penelope Cruz
Henny Garfunkel
Mother superior: Almodóvar with Cecilia Roth and Penelope Cruz

Still the only movie at Cannes that thrilled me beginning to end was Kevin Smith's personal and quirky pop-culture religious pageant, Dogma. When I wrote about the film last week, I neglected to mention that what seems to upset people is not only its irreverent obscenity and hilarious vulgarity but also its complicated and unsettling depiction of violence and of how it is that shit happens. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are damn scary as pretty-boy killers—or rather as fallen angels trying to prove themselves worthy instruments of God's wrath. Everyone complains that Smith isn't a very visual director (his big talent is making dialogue as exciting as action), but it's a week after Cannes and I can't get the image of those torn, bloody angel wings out of my mind.

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