The View From Here

Cannes Film Festival -- final report

Michael Bonner

Though it lacked a clear favourite in the official competition selection, and offered some weaker entries in the rival Critics Week and Directors Fortnight sections, this year's Cannes Film Festival still delivered some interesting movies.

Nothing blew anyone away, mind -- which would have been tricky after last year's amazing 60th anniversary celebrations. But there was confirmation that the newer wave of Cannes discoveries were following up on early promise (Belgium's Dardenne brothers and Turkey's Nuri Bilge Ceylan both scored on awards night, with script and directing gongs respectively). Indeed, the field was so wide open that even the favourite to win, the Israeli animated doc Waltz With Bashir, didn't drop too many jaws when it not only failed to win the Palme D'Or but anything at all. Instead, top-dog honours went to The Class by Laurence Cantet, a superb fly-on-the-wall drama about a teacher coming to terms with his downtrodden students.

UNCUT's Best Of Cannes 2008

Tyson
A gripping confessional from the former world heavyweight champion, recounting his brushes with infamy in the tabloids and in the ring. Director James Toback lends a sympathetic ear, painting a brutally frank and sometimes uncomfortable portrait of a street hood who found his calling, made millions and ended up brutalising himself much more than his sparring partners.

Gomorra
A stunning bleak crime drama about the pervading influence of the Camorra crime network, set in a council estate in Naples. Linking several stories in one, this eschews the standard thriller format and instead arranges a compelling mosaic of Mafioso types from all walks of thug life, from the lowly bagman to the mob boss and the white-collar money launderer via a pair of jumped-up hoods.

Tokyo!
Three-for-one film set in the Japanese capital, featuring shorts from Michel Gondry, Leos Carax and Bong Joon-Ho. Gondry's is a funny bittersweet fantasy, about a girl who literally blends into the background when her filmmaker boyfriend becomes famous, but Carax's Merde (literally Shit) is the standout, a rude, raucous breath of fetid air, in which a vile mutant sewer man stalks the city.

Che
Technically speaking, Steven Soderbergh's film was the flop of the festival, a four-and-a-half hour chore that seemed to say nothing about Che's life and myth, and was split, unnecessarily into two halves. It had its moments, however, and worked admirably as an overlong guerilla procedural, with Benicio Del Toro a revelation as the troubled leader. If only the surrounding film had been so good.

Changeling
Clint Eastwood's latest is a neo-noir thriller with added value courtroom drama, based on the true-life story of a Los Angeles woman (Angelina Jolie) whose missing child is 'found' by the corrupt LAPD, who are desperate to resolve a public image crisis. The result is what Clint does best, a great compendium of Hollywood tropes, with a female slant and a surprisingly dark underbelly.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Woody Allen's latest is his best in ages and, perversely, his least Woody Allenish, a warm sex comedy that plays much broader than his recent run of London movies. Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall play two young Americans holidaying in Barcelona, while Javier Bardem is the bohemian artist who takes a shine to both, plunging them into his crazy, sexually intoxicating world.

Roman Polanski, Wanted And Desired
Though a little wobbly in its focus, this incredibly well researched documentary focuses on the notorious filmmaker and the rape trial that prompted his moonlit flit from LA 30 years ago. Going a little easy on his complexities, it nevertheless offers many treasures from the life of a fascinating figure, including a trailer for The Tenant that snarls, “Nobody does it to you like Roman Polanski!”

Synecdoche, New York
Charlie Kaufman's directing debut is a flawed masterpiece, a weird and typically wonderful epic fantasy about a frustrated playwright who decides to build a full-scale model of New York in an empty studio. A cluster of terrific female stars add substance to this poignant exploration of human fragility, but it's Philip Seymour Hoffmann who leads it to its unexpectedly moving finish.

Surveillance
If you thought David Lynch was a bit rum, well, his daughter Jennifer is way out there in damn-fine-coffee country too. Though it skews a little too close at times to Lynch Sr, and not always effectively so, this daffy and sometimes absurdly violent potboiler proves she's a kindred spirit, with Bull Pullman and Julia Ormond as FBI agents investigating a gruesome killing spree.

Hunger
British artist Steve McQueen made a welcome splash with his first feature film, dealing with the 80s hunger strike of IRA member Bobby Sands and its impact on the authorities during Margaret Thatcher's tenure as Prime Minister. The style is hardcore arthouse, but McQueen's beautifully shot debut deals with questions of humanity that touched the hearts of festivalgoers from all over the world.


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