Tuesday, May 29, 2007

ROMANIA RULES

Filmmaker Magazine

So the Palme d'Or went to 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, the account of a woman's efforts to get an abortion in the waning days of Ceacescu, from Romanian Cristian Mungiu. Not a huge surprise, in truth, since the film, screened on the fest's first full day, consistently lead in critics' polls.

A mildly dissenting voice here. The continuing emergence of Romanian cinema is to be applauded, of course. And “4 Months” is a take-no-prisoners gut punch of of neo-realism. The tension is palpable, the temptation to preach resisted, the acting flawless, the heroine positively heroic.

And yet. The film lacks the transcendence of the Dardennes brothers; a great Tolstoyan epiphany – I'm thinking of Resurrection – in which the miscreant performs a back flip of the soul and finds redemption. In “4 Months” no one is held to account; the two women can only suck it up and soldier on. It's claustrophobic, dreary – the farthest thing from entertainment. Who but the most die-hard art house folks will go for this? And then there's that shot of the fetus lying on the floor, gazed upon steadily and long by the camera, inspiring a queasiness that would be fodder, paradoxically, for the right-to-lifers ...

In general, the awards, presented all over the lot, appeared to reflect ample dissent among the jurors. More justified, in my view, was the special prize to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Festival de Cannes, which went to Gus Van Sant for Paranoid Park. Juror Toni Collette reportedly told the press, “We wanted to give the prize to someone whose film we admired in this particular fest and also [to someone] whose body of work was incredible.” “Paranoid Park” creates an exquisite layering of sound design upon image, while the fractured narrative conveys the disordered thoughts of an adolescent boy in denial about his role in a dreadful accident. True, some accuse Van Sant of retreating into an ever more hermetic preoccupation with lost boys. But “Paranoid” also taps into a nightmarish guilt and paralysis that many can identify with.

It's like having egg on your face – but I missed several of the award-winning films. Oh hell, a body can take in only a fraction of Planet Cannes. Happily, The Edge of Heaven from Fatih Akin (top Berlinale winner for Head On) nabbed the award for best screenplay. Akin's artful script juggles 6 characters, who miss or collide with each other in always surprising ways. Too schematic, too much coincidence, carped some critics. To which I'd reply, the artifice is intentional, as patterned and satisfying as figures in a Tabriz carpet.

Like the Berlinale, Cannes has always looked to politics and the state of the world. The award for “The Edge of Heaven” -- as well as the one for Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis – rightly salutes films that address the escalating tension between Islam and Western cultures. I can well imagine one juror, Nobel novelist Orhan Pamuk, applauding Akin's take on Germans of Turkish origin, ever strung out between their original and adopted lands.

The Americans were a dominant presence in this year's Competition, yet the Cohen brothers, James Gray, Quentin Tarantino, and David Fincher got passed over by the jury. Still, in a realm beyond critical laurels, Yank star power created its own glitzy firmament. Hollywood novas Angelina/Brad, and Leonardo (of A Mighty Heart and The 11th Hour, respectively) racked up points for their commitment to serious issues. Vive l'engagement. And though Michael Moore's Sicko was out of competition, it generated sufficient publicity to make it a de facto winner. Also a winner of sorts – in the category of Media Attention -- was Harvey Weinstein, who reportedly threatened, from his balcony over the Croisette, to sue the U.S. government for trying to impound “Sicko.”

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