Wednesday, August 11, 2021

2021 Cannes Film Festival Marathon Post-Mortem


Well, the 2021 edition of the Cannes Film Festival has ended and let’s hope it never happens again in July. It was a fun festival to go into as the coverage from the AV Club, Indiewire, and the Film Experience did an amazing job and be thankful for their contributions in covering the festival. This year’s festival that included many of the films in the competition have been incredible as there were a lot of discoveries as well as films from some of the greats had delivered. One of the reasons Cannes is so revered is the fact that it’s a stepping stone for new filmmakers and films from different parts of the world while allowing veterans to showcase something new to an audience that loves cinema.
You had one job Spike Lee. Just one. To accidentally announce the winner of the Palme d’or as the first award was a total fuck-up but at least I give Spike credit for at least apologizing. Still, there were a lot of films that garnered buzz such as Ryusuke Hamagachi’s Drive My Car and Nadav Lapid’s Ahed’s Knee as both films received major prizes while Paul Verhoeven proves he is still a dangerous filmmaker with lesbian-nun drama in Benedetta. Verhoeven wasn’t the only veteran that delivered as new films from Francois Ozon, Wes Anderson, Asghar Farhadi, and Apichatpong Weerasthakul came out as winners while actress Lea Seydoux was the star of the festival by appearing in four films including Anderson’s The French Dispatch even though she wasn’t present at the festival due to a COVID-related illness. Farhadi and Weerasthakul both would win prizes as would Leos Carax who opened the film with Annette to a warm reception as he would receive the Best Director prize while acting prizes went to Caleb Landry Jones for Justin Kurzel’s Nitram and Renate Reinsve for Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World.
Then there’s the Palme d’or winner and well…. Whatever controversy Verhoeven had with his film is nothing compared to what Julia Ducournau did. In fact, Ducournau just proved that woman can out-shock men better than anyone and basically caused mayhem at the screening that is expected at Cannes yet it will add to Ducournau’s already growing reputation. Her sophomore feature Titane about a woman who becomes pregnant after having sex with a car is one for the ages as being the second woman (Jane Campion being the first for The Piano) to win the Palme d’Or and with a film that shocked everyone is just incredible as I can’t think of anyone who loves cinema that doesn’t want to see this.
With the festival already finished but the marathon went longer than its expected time as this will be the last time I do a marathon like this ever again. Having not done the previous two years as the first was due to personal reasons and last year because of the pandemic and the festival being cancelled. I must admit that I was unsure about doing this marathon and now having completed it. July is not a good month to do a film festival marathon as well as the fact that I’m older and spending a lot of time taking care of two young kids is impossible to watch more than 10 films in the span of 11 days. I still plan on doing another Cannes marathon as next year will be an all Palme d’Or winners edition but with less than 10 films. So here are the fictional winners of this year’s marathon:

The fictional Palme d’Or goes to... Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Ever since its premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival and the buzz it had received, this was the film I had wanted to see more than any other film. Did it live up to the hype? Actually, it went beyond the hype as what Celine Sciamma created is a film that is the work of a new master in the art of cinema. This film about a painter who is tasked to paint a portrait for a woman who is uneager to marry a man as these two women embark on an affair that is considered taboo for its time. Sciamma’s direction is exquisite in every frame she creates as she also brings in career-defining performances from Adele Haenel and Noemie Merlant as well as strong supporting work from Luana Bajrami and Valeria Golino.

The 2nd Place Grand Jury Prize goes to… American Honey
Andrea Arnold’s film about a young woman joining a group of young people selling magazines through the American Midwest is a coming of age story unlike any other. Told in a unique yet simplistic style, Arnold’s film is probably the most American film made of the 21st Century so far made by a non-American filmmaker. Arnold’s approach to hand-held cameras, a loose approach to non-actors and amateurs to stand out as well as giving Riley Keough and Shia LaBeouf performances that are top-notch, and making a major discovery in Sasha Lane. It is a film that is unpredictable and often intoxicating in every image it does a lot with its 163-minute running time without making it feel like it is a film of that length.

The 3rd Place Jury Prize goes to… You Were Never Really Here
Lynne Ramsay is already a master in cinema as her fourth feature film is this low-key yet unsettling film about a mercenary who tracks down kidnapped young women as his most recent assignment has him at the center of a sex trafficking organization filled with men of power. Featuring a performance from Joaquin Phoenix in the lead role as Joe where Phoenix is at the top of his game, Ramsay’s film is unafraid to go into extremely dark territory while also being a filmmaker who knows what not to show as it’s more about the aftermath of violence rather than its impact. Along with Jonny Greenwood’s eerie music score and ravishing visuals that add to the suspense and drama, the film is further proof of Ramsay’s talents as a storyteller.

Best Director Prize goes to… Pawel Pawlikowski for Cold War
Pawel Pawlikowski’s approach to this love story that is partially inspired by the story of his parents as Pawlikowski presents the film in a 1:33:1 aspect ratio and in black-and-white to give sense of nostalgia in this love story between a singer and a musician during the Cold War. Pawlikowski’s direction is a major highlight in how he frames the romance and presents the differences between communist Poland and its nearby communist neighbors as well as Paris in its emergence into the jazz age and rock n’ roll. Pawlikowski creates a film that stands a stunning achievement and a career high-water mark for the filmmaker.

Best Screenplay Prize goes to… Noah Baumbach for The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
A film about family dysfunction as well as a trio of adult siblings who deal with their father who is a modestly-successful artist that often overwhelms them as Baumbach brings in a richness to the story as well as providing perspectives from these trio of siblings. The dialogue is often sharp and witty while it his approach to the way he writes characters that is unique where he shows them how flawed they are yet also have this air of redemptive qualities that makes them unique. Even as they all are forced to admit that their father is a pretentious asshole who is demanding and full of himself as Baumbach definitely shows himself as a master of human and family dysfunction.

Best Actor Prize goes to… Antonio Banderas for Pain & Glory and Joaquin Phoenix for You Were Never Really Here (tie)
Two actors in this marathon who presented career-defining performances showcase exactly what acting is supposed to be. For Antonio Banderas in his eighth collaboration with Pedro Almodovar gives a performance that is just immense of a filmmaker at the twilight of his career who is coping with the past, severe illness, and career regrets as he tries to make amends with the people in his life as well as find inspiration in his flailing career. It is Banderas who embodies many of the traits of a tortured artist while also playing a version of Almodovar himself except that Almodovar never did some of the vices that Banderas’ character would embark on.
Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as the mercenary Joe in Lynne Ramsay’s film is a performance that audiences should seek out more as it had been overshadowed recently by his Oscar award-winning performance in Joker as this is the film to watch. Notably as Phoenix maintains this anguish and restraint of a man that is trying to keep it together as he copes with flashbacks and nightmares about his childhood and time as a soldier where he is asked to retrieve a young girl from a sex trafficking network. Phoenix does show his ferocity as a man just hell-bent on destroying those who harm people but there is also something that keeps him sane as lesser actors would just go all out but Phoenix chooses to restrain himself as it is a reason why he’s one of the best actors working today.

Best Actress Prize goes to… Sasha Lane for American Honey
There are discoveries in these marathons and Sasha Lane is a true find as credit should go to casting directors Lucy Pardee and Jennifer Venditti as well as Andrea Arnold in discovering her. Lane’s performance is this firecracker that is always engaging and full of life as she doesn’t just hold her own against seasoned actors like Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough but manages to steal the show. Even in quieter moments as well as these moments where Arnold is just letting everyone be natural as Lane is there being part of this gang of misfits as she also manages to hold her own in dramatically-heavy scenes that allow her to be in tense situations.

Technical Jury Prize goes to… Jonny Greenwood for You Were Never Really Here
Jonny Greenwood has definitely been one of the most exciting composers working today as he’s known largely for his work with Paul Thomas Anderson yet his second collaboration with Lynne Ramsay for her film showcases the Radiohead guitarist/multi-instrumentalist that he could do a lot more. Notably as his score pieces range from moody and ambient-based electronic pieces to low-key yet unsettling orchestral pieces as he adds to many layers of sounds to Ramsay’s film as well as knowing when to have music be used for a scene.

Special Jury Prize goes to… Veronnikah Ezell, Christopher David Wright, Shawna Rae Moseley, Dakota Powers, Isaiah Stone, Raymond Coalson, Kenneth Kory Tucker, Garry Howell, Chad McKenzie Cox, Crystal B. Ice, McCaul Lombardi, and Arielle Holmes for American Honey
While the film’s breakout star was Sasha Lane, it is the cast of unknowns and amateur actors that really make the film just as special. The performances of this ensemble really adds to the film’s unique energy as there’s just a lot of personalities that is hard to ignore as they all have something to offer as individuals but also as a collective. There’s not a single false note into what they bring in the film as they just add a sense of authenticity to the film that couldn’t be taught as these young actors really deserve props for their part in the film.

And now for the ranking of the remaining films of the marathon:

4. Cold War
Pawel Pawlikowski’s romantic drama set during the early years of the Cold War from the 1950s to the 1960s is a ravishing film that explore a love story involving two people who fall for each other but are often separated by political and social ideals as they try to get together. It is a film that doesn’t play by convention as it also play into the many fallacies of the political and social worlds these two people are a part of where they’re forced to make compromises and do things to be together as it does feature some gorgeous visuals, a sumptuous music soundtrack, and great performances from Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot.

5. 24 Frames
Abbas Kiarostami’s final film which was conceived in the final years of his life and finished by his son Ahmad and various collaborators. While there isn’t a narrative in the experimental film yet it does tell a story of art and photography where Kiarostami takes a simple image that is on display for four-and-a-half minutes as it’s just a simple shot where little things are moving. Whether it’s a painting in the first image or the 23 other photographs and images that Kiarostami had taken a photo of as they’re recreated into something special with the help of several of Kiarostami’s collaborators. It is a film that serves as a fitting finale for Kiarostami as he creates something that says a lot about who he is as a person and as an artist.

6. Pain and Glory
Pedro Almodovar’s semi-biographical film about a filmmaker at the twilight of his career dealing with his past and uncertain future is definitely another winner for the famed auteur. Starring Almodovar regular Antonio Banderas as a filmmaker with a severe back pain who reconnects with an actor whom he hadn’t seen in years as he reminisces about his childhood. Along with appearances from Almodovar regulars in Penelope Cruz, Cecilia Roth, and Julieta Serrano with a strong supporting performance from Asier Etxeandia as the actor Banderas’ character reconnects with. It is a film that bears a lot of what to expect from Almodovar but also showcases a man who often find new ways to tell a story.

7. Death in Venice
Luchino Visconti’s tale of an ailing avant-garde composer going to Venice to recover from illness is this fascinating character study of a man who is entranced by the presence of a young boy whose beauty is unexplainable. Set during a period in the city where it also showcases a sense of social inequality where the people at the hotel are living comfortably amidst a mysterious illness that is happening in the city. Starring Dirk Bogarde in one of his great performances of his career as this ailing composer, the film is matched by Visconti’s wondrous direction that toes the line between fascination and creepiness but does it in a graceful manner.

8. Mahler
Ken Russell’s unconventional bio-pic on the famed composer isn’t just a film that doesn’t play by the rules but rather create a narrative that is surreal and extravagant as it play into the composer returning home to Austria with his wife as he deals with his work, his life, and a crumbling marriage as his wife’s lover is on the same train. Starring Robert Powell in the titular role and Georgina Hale as his wife Alma, it’s a film that feature these dream sequences all to Mahler’s own music as it represents these strange imagery and set pieces including some that are anachronistic and decadent. Yet, that is often expected from someone like Russell who often pushes boundaries on what could be told as he also isn’t afraid to diss another film as it features a parody of Death in Venice for one scene.

9. Okja
Bong Joon-Ho’s genre-bending film about a bunch of super-pigs being raised around the world in the hopes to end world hunger is a touching tale that revolves around a young Korean girl trying to reunite with her pet pig and protect it from this corporation. Featuring an ensemble cast that includes Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Giancarlo Esposito, Lily Collins, Steven Yuen, Shirley Henderson, and Ahn Seo-hyun as the young girl trying to save her titular pet super-pig. It is a film that showcases some of the ugly aspects of capitalism as well as a young girl’s understanding of how the world works and how she is able to deal with it.

10. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Noah Baumbach is a master of exploring family dysfunction as this film is no exception as it explore a trio of adult siblings who are overwhelmed by the presence of their modestly-successful sculptor father. With an ensemble cast that includes Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Elizabeth Marvel, Grace Van Patten, Judd Hirsch, Emma Thompson, Candice Bergen, Adam Driver, and Dustin Hoffman. Baumbach creates a film that is witty but also touching as it is a generational film that explore three generation of people with one undermining his children who have been trying to find their own identities with a young college student starting to forge her own.

11. All My Compatriots
Vojtech Jasny’s intimate epic film about the life of a Czech village following the aftermath of World War II is a fascinating gem that needs to be seen more by a wide audience. Even as it explore regular people who become politicized and take on positions of power in the communist regime of the times as the film spans 15 to 20 years in different seasons. It is a rich film that explore the disintegration of a community that was once peaceful and unified who then are having to face new ideals and an ever-changing world that has a somber epilogue where a church organist returns from exile as he saw what his village had become and laments over everything that had happened.

That is it for the marathon as I hope to never do one like this ever again as I don’t have the energy nor time to do a marathon of 11-13 films during an 11-day period. Especially in a month like July instead of May as I don’t think it’s feasible at this point. I prefer to rest and just take my time. Until then, au revoir. Until then, au revoir.

© thevoid99 2021

1 comment:

Ruth said...

Amazing Cannes coverage, Steven, well done!

"Ducournau just proved that woman can out-shock men better than anyone..." Ahahaha yeah I think given the opportunity, female filmmakers can be as good if not better visionaries than their male counterpart!

Oooh I almost watched The Meyerowitz Stories when I was doing the Adam Driver marathon. I really like Marriage Story so I think I'd enjoy this. Agreed that Noah Baumbach has a knack for writing stories about dysfunctional family/relationships.