The Cannes Film Festival Thus Far

Reflecting its moment, Cannes 2008 takes a decidedly serious tone

As with Jia's other movies, this subversively old-fashioned hymn to production is filled with offbeat details (an elderly worker walking past the doomed plant holding her bag of IV fluid aloft like a torch of freedom) and punctuated with pop songs. The same could be said of Desplechin's expansive yet cozy Christmas Tale—a plum pudding of a movie, rich (perhaps too much so) with craziness, melodrama, and cinematic brio.

As convoluted as it is superbly acted, Desplechin's ensemble piece inevitably acknowledges Renoir's Rules of the Game (although, in staging a prolonged house party, it inexplicably leaves out the downstairs component). At once avant and retro, A Christmas Tale is the sort of Palm-friendly movie-movie Desplechin's admirers always thought he could contrive. It's a definite advance, but the comeback of the festival (or perhaps the century) belongs to 70-year-old Jerzy Skolimowski—making his first feature in 17 years and his first film in his native land since 1966.

There must be something in the Polish air. Fluid filmmaking that can boast a surplus of black humor and a much-appreciated lack of dialogue, Four Nights With Anna features a great physical performance by Artur Steranko as the frightened, clever, seeming halfwit who spends his days tending a small town's hospital crematorium and his evenings spying on the ample nurse who lives across the muddy way.

This sardonic thriller has an early '60s jangle. New Wave to the bone, it's replete with Hitchcock jokes and predicated on voyeurism. That it is also focused on furtive, semi-enigmatic activities—mainly in the dark—makes it one more metaphor for the Cannes experience, at least so far.

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