Our veteran film critic J. Hoberman is filing regular dispatches from this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It’s day three and, so far, Hoberman has been underwhelmed. But more importantly, has he found those wild strawberries?
A rainy afternoon, three days into the madness, the early competition has shaped up as an underwhelming match-up between Anglo-Saxon pluck and East Asian kink.
Despite its hype and early sweet spot, Lou Ye’s Spring Rain turned out to be a disappointingly formless account of a gay-straight triangle (or trapezoid) that, although undoubtedly difficult to make in contemporary China, seemed to have shock value as its sole raison d’etre. More lurid (and crisply framed) but with even less heart, Park Chan-wook’s feverishly baroque vampire flick Thirst inspired greater enthusiasm. But, despite AIDS and Catholic allegorizing, this overlong if intermittently comic gorefest is mainly about its rhapsodically staged pyrotechnics.
The other showings were eminently respectable. Andrea Arnold’s sophomore effort Fish Tank, in which the 15-year-old embodiment of a bad attitude suffers a suitably awful (but not altogether downbeat) coming of age. To her credit, Arnold delivers standard issue miserablism with vivid urgency. Another sort of youth film, Jane Campion’s Bright Star concerns the foreshortened love affair between dying poet John Keats and pioneer designer Fanny Brawne. As stylishly crafted as Fanny’s outfits, Bright Star show Campion, the only woman to ever win the Palme d’Or (15 years ago for The Piano), in genteel mode.
A stray acting award aside, none of the early entries screamed “winner,” although given that the jury is chaired by the most fearless actress in European cinema–Isabelle Huppert–with another consistently bold performer, Asia Argento, as sidekick (or rival), anything is possible.
Palme d’Or laureates Ken Loach, Lars von Trier, and Quentin Tarantino have yet to strut their stuff–likewise perennials Pedro Almodovar and Michael Haneke. It’s a bit spooky however that the strongest of the brand-name movies has been Francis Ford Coppola’s adroit and wacky Tetro, which, rejected by the competition, opened the Directors’ Fortnight section. Unlike everything so far in competition, this old-fashioned, quasi-operatic, demi-tragic family drama feels like something the director had to make.