Friday, May 18, 2007

The Cannes Competition, Days 1-3

In just two days, the Cannes Film Festival's Official Competition has already displayed a variety of nations and styles: Wong Kar Wai's opener, "My Blueberry Nights," of which I wrote about two days ago, David Fincher's "Zodiac," which I wrote about several months ago, Cristian Mungiu's "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," from Romania, Andreï Zviaguintsev's "The Banishment," from Russia, and Christophe Honoré's "Les Chansons d'Amour" ("Love Songs"), From France. I've already written about some of these for Film Threat.

So far, the top of the competition is "4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days," which swiftly and starkly portrays an illegal abortion in 1980s Romania during the dying days of the Soviet Bloc. With unflinching realist bluntness, it follows a college student as she helps her friend get an abortion. Reminiscent of the Dardenne Brothers and fellow Romanian Cannes alum "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu," it tells its horrific story with compelling simplicity.

The performances are all outstanding, living up to the unblinking scrutiny of Mungiu's camera, which captures most of the scenes in long, unbroken takes. As the abortionist, Vlad Ivanov sinisterly captures his character's manipulative abilities as he turns himself into a victim. And in the lead, Anamaria Marinca creates a young woman who is smart and strong, but undeniably troubled by the ever-increasing stream chaos and despair around her.

The bottom of the competition is easily "Les Chansons d'Amour," a puzzling little musical that had a very funny, short and sweet catalogue description, but didn't live up to it. The music is bland pop and the first and third acts are astoundingly unconvincing, leaving the middle as the only part with any emotional truth.

That leaves "The Banishment," a disappointing—but not awful—follow-up to Zviaguintsev's poetic "The Return." Executed with stunning direction and cinematography, the film falls short in Zviaguintsev's screenplay. The film, about a middle-aged businessman, his distant wife, his young son and daughter and his estranged criminal brother, strives for Bergman but ultimately betrays its own storytelling by miscalculating the equation for a resonant depiction of people who live in misery and aren't even comfortable communicating it.


Anonymous said...

aren't you going to tell us about "No Country for Old Men" and "Sicko" or do we have to wait for days 4-6?

Jeremy Mathews said...

Sorry, anonymous. I'm currently weighed down by print deadlines, but will post more as soon as I can.