Cannes '09: Day Seven

 

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Mainstream American comedies don’t come much blacker than Bad Santa, a chunk of congealed eggnog so gleefully nasty that some refused to believe it could have been written by its credited screenwriters, John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, since their only previous credit was the inane Cats & Dogs. (I’m pretty sure the IMDb even had the Coen Brothers down as uncredited script doctors for a while, though it doesn’t anymore; they did serve as executive producers and are said to have thought up the basic premise.) Five minutes into Requa and Ficarra’s directorial debut, I Love You Philip Morris, however, it’s abundantly clear that these two gentlemen need no assistance to mine incredulous laughs from outré situations—they’re plenty twisted enough all by their joint lonesome. Based on the actual exploits of con artist Steven Jay Russell, whose numerous scams, impersonations and escapes make Catch Me if You Can’s Frank Abagnale look like a rank amateur, the film stars Jim Carrey as Russell and Ewan McGregor as Philip Morris (no relation to the tobacco company), the love of Russell’s life. With commendable ambition, R&F strive to make Philip Morris at once a caustic farce and a sincere gay romance; if it mostly fails on the latter score, that’s because Carrey seems constitutionally incapable of evincing real affection for anybody other than himself. (As much as I love Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I still think it’d be even better with a more soulful actor in the lead.) As a comedy, however, this movie is almost South Park fearless, especially given the timidly patronizing way that Hollywood continues to treat homosexuality. Are you prepared for an American film in which Ewan McGregor clambers off of Jim Carrey and visibly spits rather than swallows? (“You don’t love me,” Russell mock-sighs.) I frankly was not. The clincher for me was an early scene in which Russell, still married to a born-again homemaker played by Leslie Mann, gets badly injured in a car accident and decides right there on the stretcher that he’s done living a lie. “I’m gonna be a fag!” he tells the ambulance team, over and over again, with increasing volume and pride, and the hilarious incongruity doesn’t change the fact that it’s a genuinely heartfelt act of affirmation. I never really believed that Steven Jay Russell loved Philip Morris, but it’s almost enough that he loves himself. Grade: B


Due to exhaustion (slept through the morning Almodóvar screening) and a major scheduling snafu (oops, the repeat Almodóvar screening I planned to hit this evening is actually tomorrow afternoon), the only other film I saw today was Alain Resnais’ Wild Grass, which baffled me like few movies have baffled me before. What’s doubly perplexing is that the other reviews I’ve read thus far treat this as if it were just an elegant comedy of manners, whereas my experience got progressively weirder and weirder until by the end it was bordering on Dada. True, the basic plot is fairly straightforward: Middle-aged married man (André Dussolier) finds the stolen wallet of middle-aged single woman (Sabine Azéma), becomes smitten with her photograph, initiates romance. But his courtship quickly crosses the line into stalker territory, and I truly couldn’t get a sense of whether Resnais (working from a novel called L’Incident by Christian Gailly) expected me to find this charming, in the manner of so many despicable Hollywood romcoms, or whether he was fully aware that his characters—including, eventually, the man’s wife (Anne Consigny) and the woman’s best friend (Emmanuelle Devos)—were behaving like stone psychopaths. Eventually, it reached the point where I found everyone onscreen so inexplicable and repellent that I thought the film could only redeem itself by killing them all off, at which point Resnais loads almost the entire dramatis personae onto a rickety private plane and gives the wheel to somebody distracted by his open fly. “Wait, maybe I love this picture,” I suddenly thought. Then something else happens, which I’ll allow you to discover for yourself. Then a little girl we’d never seen before turns to her mother, also previously unseen, and asks, “Mommy, if I come back as a kitty can I munch on kitty nibbles?” (That’s from memory and as subtitled, but it’s pretty close.) Cut to black. FIN. Number of reviews so far that have even glancingly mentioned this crazy non sequitur with which Resnais chose to conclude his “elegant comedy of manners”: Zero. They’re just pretending it didn’t happen. Don’t be fooled. This movie is nuts. Grade: ???

 

Tomorrow: Pedro Almodóvar (this time for sure!), Michael Haneke, and maybe the well-regarded Romanian film Police, Adjective if I can squeeze my way into the final Market screening. And here’s the latest results from the two trade polls, in which Audiard’s A Prophet maintains a dual pole position. (Remember, they use radically different four-star scales [e.g. two stars = “average” vs. two stars = “j’aime beaucoup”]; don’t bother comparing averages across the two polls, as that’ll only be confusing.)

SCREEN INTERNATIONAL

A Prophet (Jacques Audiard): 3.4

Bright Star (Jane Campion): 3.3

Broken Embraces (Pedro Almodóvar): 3.2

Looking for Eric (Ken Loach): 2.9

Vincere (Marco Bellocchio): 2.9

Thirst (Park Chan-wook): 2.4

Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold): 2.3

Vengeance (Johnnie To): 2.1

Taking Woodstock (Ang Lee): 2.0

Antichrist (Lars von Trier): 1.6

Spring Fever (Lou Ye): 1.6

Kinatay (Brillante Mendoza): 1.2

LE FILM FRANÇAIS

A Prophet (Jacques Audiard): 3.40

Broken Embraces (Pedro Almodóvar): 2.83

Up (Pete Docter): 2.69

Looking for Eric (Ken Loach): 2.47

Bright Star (Jane Campion): 2.40

Vincere (Marco Bellocchio): 2.08

Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold): 2.00

Taking Woodstock (Ang Lee): 1.87

Vengeance (Johnnie To): 1.80

Spring Fever (Lou Ye): 1.71

Thirst (Park Chan-wook): 1.67

Antichrist (Lars von Trier): 0.80

Kinatay (Brillante Mendoza): 0.79

Don’t Look Back (Marina de Van): 0.75