Cannes '09: Day Two 

 

Frankly, to hell with Cannes. WHAT HAPPENED ON LOST?!? I don’t think I can get away with eating up two hours here in the press office streaming the finale, as the monitors are pretty large and I’m stationed nearby and in plain view of the info desk.

Anyway, I see it’s already time for some mild contrarian grumbling from yours harshly. Not that I have anything terribly much against Fish Tank, the sophomore effort by rising British talent Andrea Arnold (Red Road). I’m just having trouble comprehending the fuss being made in other quarters, because this film is awfully familiar—basically just a contemporary gloss on the classic British kitchen sink/angry young (wo)man drama, albeit with a welcome and occasionally piercing emphasis on adolescent female sexuality. You’ve got your titular dilapidated housing project, complete with rectangular windows from which the trapped tenants peer with impotent proletarian longing; you’ve got your negligent slutty mother (Kierston Wareing, who was given a lot more to do in Ken Loach’s little-seen It’s a Free World…); and you’ve got Mia (newcomer Katie Jarvis), who’s young and frustrated and ready to lunge hungrily at any possible avenue of escape. Will her salvation be the local dance audition for which she rehearses clumsy hip-hop moves in a vacant unit down the hall? Or will it be Mom’s new ultra-virile live-in boyfriend, Connor (a superb Michael Fassbender), who seems torn between paternal and carnal instincts? As in Red Road, Arnold often shows a great deal of promise; if nothing else, she’s fully alive to small sensual pleasures, like having someone gently remove your shoes after carrying you to bed (while you pretend to be asleep so as to encourage the attention). At the same time, though, her overall touch can still be remarkably coarse: Mia repeatedly attempts to free a painfully symbolic white horse chained up near her flat (were there no caged birds available? why not exhaust all the animal metaphors?), and one unexpectedly moving sequence is all but ruined when she tosses in a cheap reaction shot of the family dog lifting its head in wonderment. Even the Mia-Connor scenes, which are the film’s emotionally messy fulcrum, pale beside similar relationships as plumbed by Catherine Breillat. Variety’s rave favorably compares Fish Tank to Thirteen; you can take that as an endorsement or as a warning, according to taste. Grade: C+

Having skipped Lars and the Real Girl a couple of years ago, I was looking forward to seeing what looked like the same basic premise as refracted through the eyes of noted Japanese minimalist Hirokazu Kore-eda (After Life, Nobody Knows). As it turns out, though, Air Doll isn’t the story of a quirky loner and his meaningful relationship with an inflatable sex toy. It’s the story of the inflatable sex toy itself (herself?), who, early in the film, spontaneously “grows a heart” and is transformed into the lovely (and frequently stark naked) corporeal form of Korean actress Bae Doo Na (The Host)—though her, uh, seams still show, and there’s a handy nozzle where her navel should be. And so, every day, while her owner/husband is at work, our unnamed and blissfully innocent heroine goes out into the world and tries to learn what it means to be human, which for some reason involves taking a part-time job at a video store and learning that Victor Erice’s Dream of Light can only be purchased, not rented. Not sure how this goofy but ambitious film wound up in Un Certain Regard, as Kore-eda (a Competition vet) is definitely swinging for the fences here, not just raising questions about the nature of identity and desire but also pointedly suggesting (by never showing the actual doll after the opening scene, even when it’s immobile) that women in general are treated by men as passive semen receptacles. Alas, the film is a little too cute and scattershot to achieve real profundity, with the doll-woman too often coming across like a playfully erotic version of Being There’s Chance the Gardener, defined entirely by her absence of guile. With Kore-eda’s fine Still Walking having only just premiered last fall (and awaiting its U.S. release), this follow-up, despite having been in the works for years, feels a tad rushed. Grade: B-


Speaking of rushed, I’ll be curious to see what the fanboys make of Park Chan-wook’s hotly anticipated (by fanboys, anyway) vampire flick Thirst. Specifically, I’m wondering whether its handful of flamboyant, funny-exciting set pieces will blind them to the fact that the movie as a whole—which runs nearly two-and-a-quarter hours—has no sense of rhythm or flow whatsoever. From the moment we first meet our tragic hero, a priest turned bloodsucker played by Song Kang-ho (today was The Host alumni day), Thirst moves like it’s just remembered the parking meter is about to expire ten blocks away and can’t find anything but flip-flops to wear. New settings and characters are introduced so willy-nilly, and consecutive scenes have so little formal or tonal consistency, that you’re generally floundering even as you’re gasping. (Oldboy wasn’t exactly pokey, but you always had a solid sense of where you were, and of how where you now were related to where you’d just been.) I’d be more inclined to overlook such niceties were Park reinventing the vampire legend, or at least finding novel elements within traditional lore, but in fact this is a surprisingly conventional genre effort that derives most of its best bits and all of its emotional power from the age-old battle between the conscientious vampire who wants to avoid murdering the innocent and the badass vampire (slight reversal here in that it’s a woman) who considers common humanity naught but lunch. Still, while Park needs some remedial work on basic structure, the dude knows how to get your adrenaline pumping, and he still has a terrific knack for the throwaway deadpan gag. I’m just not yet convinced he has anything much of interest to say. Grade: B-

 Off now to see Francis Ford Coppola’s Tetro, but the press office will be closed by the time it ends (well after midnight), so I’ll have to make it an appendix on Day Three. Advance word suggests it may be as brutally divisive as The Limits of Control. Better that than ho-hum, I say.

Also tomorrow: Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock, Jane Campion's Bright Star and -- hopefully, if I can get in (it's a tiny theater) -- the latest by scary French actress Marina de Van.

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