Posts Tagged ‘Cannes Film Festival’

The forty plus films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder are among the most honest, ruthless and personal of any director. With near sadomasochistic force, Fassbinder dealt relentlessly with social problems and taboos that he encountered throughout his short 37 years, up until his untimely death in 1982.

In Fassbinder: To Love Without Demands Christian Braad Thomsen – a friend of Fassbinder – attempts to tell us more about the troubled German auteur, but this is a difficult task. In his films Fassbinder told us much about himself, and simultaneously he was a master critic: he was able to use drama to dissect, critique and examine his own nature and the wider social conditioning of German society. What might another filmmaker be able to tell us about Fassbinder that the man himself couldn’t?

The results of Thomsen’s film are mixed, but not without value. For those uninitiated in Fassbinder’s work, the film provides a solid introduction to the way in which RWF’s films dealt with human relationships as a web of oppression. Fassbinder saw love as a near fascistic form of dependency, whereby one weaker individual would be at the mercy of their stronger partner. Almost all of his films attest to this in some form, from the gay class drama Fox and his Friends to the disturbing Weimar era epic Berlin Alexanderplatz.

In newly uncovered interviews – shot by Thomsen at the Cannes Film Festival during the latter stages of Fassbinder’s life – the exhausted, workaholic director talks bluntly, but eloquently about his concerns and we gain a sense of the sadness that informed much of Fassbinder’s existence. This was a man who suffered for his art and – even at Cannes – there is very little glamour on show.

It is Thomsen’s own relationship with Fassbinder that is the most interesting aspect of To Love Without Demands, along with the recent insights of actress Irm Hermann and actor/production manager Harry Baer. The admiration of these individuals for RWF naturally shines through and although they have now aged into more mature perspectives (being almost double the age of Fassbinder when he died) it is clear that their former director continues to impress them with his talents and unique perspective on the world.

The documentary does feel, in some ways, rather old fashioned for a film released in 2015. Formally speaking, it is very much a film of the 1960’s, and its cultural benchmarks – such as Sigmund Freud – feel key to that time too. However, while the film may appear less accessible to the younger generation, the visceral energy of Fassbinder does remain and it is still as vital to cinema as ever.

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As Spike Lee arrives on Vimeo on Demand with the crowdfunded horror Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, there couldn’t be a better time to revisit – and rightly celebrate – the film’s visceral and poetic predecessor Ganja & Hess in original form, directed by revered playwright, novelist, actor and filmmaker Bill Gunn.

What began as a low budget vampire flick – produced to cash in on the success of 1972’s Blaxploitation cult classic Blacula – became a fascinating parable on addiction & redemption. The film can also be seen as a blood relative of subsequent left-field vampire gems, including George A. Romero’s disturbing Martin (1977) and recently Jim Jarmusch’s elegant Only Lovers Left Alive (2014).

Ganja & Hess zones in on anthropologist Dr. Hess Green, portrayed with stoic detachment by Duane Jones, famous for his considerably different and impressively commanding lead role in Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero, 1968). Contradicting the oft-repeated mythology of the vampire transformation occurring due to a bite, Hess becomes immortal when his schizophrenic assistant George Meda (director Bill Gunn) stabs him with an ancient ceremonial dagger.

Ganja, played by the striking and elegant Marlene Clark, then arrives searching for the vanished George and hits it off with the attractively enigmatic Hess. In a similar spirit to Donald Cammell & Nicolas Roeg’s superb 1970 film Performance, the film takes on a dark and sensual air, as the pair hole up in Hess’ remote country house and indulge in a transgressive vampiric lifestyle, feeding on murder victims to satisfy their need for blood. This is contrasted with rousing footage of African American church services and dream sequences of tribal scenes, which accentuate the deathly turmoil of their vampiric state.

But plot does not dictate form in Ganja & Hess; Gunn’s approach to its assembly grew out of improvisation and inspiration rather than pre-ordained logic. It is important to note that this new Blu-ray and DVD release from Eureka Classics represents Gunn’s original cut of the film, which screened in the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes in 1973, to great acclaim. This differs from the much circulated commercial edit, which was (for financial reasons) re-structured adhering to the original script, after predominantly white New York critics slammed the film with the withering reasoning that it “was not the time for a black art film.”

With the perspective afforded by hindsight, as well as the admission that racism played a role in the film’s original reception, it is clear to see that Ganja & Hess was at the cutting edge of American cinema in the 1970’s. The film blurred the boundaries between art cinema and horror and ushered in Bill Gunn as a daring & poetic director of African American cinema. The film can be seen as a relative of Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), or even Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie (1971), in it’s disregard for traditional cinematic form and a need to break through longstanding modes of perception; a mission that is still entirely necessary today.

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rsz_2014-05-18_135943“It feels like we’re living in another world”, said one of my fellow Nisi Masa peers. This is Cannes, at the height of the film festival, and everything feels very strange. It might have been the time we were drinking in Le Petit Majestique, a watering hole for anybody too degenerate to get into the parties, as a man made up as the Toxic Avenger posed for photos with delighted revellers.

One thing that struck me in Cannes was the disproportionate amount of French people inhabiting the place. I couldn’t turn for a Jacques, a Celine, a Pierre, a Jean Paul or a Francois blocking my way. The festival was rife with fevered discussion, strangers gesticulating wildly across the Croisette. I engaged in numerous illuminating and deep conversations with the locals; what did I think of the promotion of female directors in the competitions? Was it a cynical attempt to quell last years controversy, or a valiant effort to right the wrongs of industry patriarchy? “Je suis Anglais”, I shrugged, “Je ne parle pas français”.

Cannes is at times ugly, vulgar and seedy, but it also has an irresistible charm and buzz to it that draws you in. Beneath all the fake, elitist glitz and glamour there are people working with great passion. Film makers who have toiled for years with their minds and bodies, struggling to externalise their worldview, and perhaps in turn make the viewer feel connected to its creator, and therefore the human race as a whole. Then we have the perverts, the writers and cinephiles, desperate to make sense of the world but scared of living, finding solace and escape in intimate tales from around the world.

Amour Fou by Jessica Hausner

Amour Fou by Jessica Hausner

There is a great disparity in the world of Cannes and the films that are on show there. The films are often focused on impoverished people, struggling through their lives, beset by tragedy. The festival, meanwhile, is saturated with somewhat closeted, comfortable industry people in Raybans and critics wearing chinos, manicured within an inch of their lives. Is this their Hollywood blockbuster, their escapist cinema? Are the emotional outpourings their explosions, their car chases?

Queueing plays a huge part of the festival as well. In this age of ‘now’ the act of queueing feels quaint and refreshing. It feels so strange that in a matter of seconds one could be streaming a film on Netflix, yet in Cannes you are made to wait an hour, maybe more, to watch the film. I had a strange admiration for the soldiers around me, putting aside their frenzied lives, to act out the most noble service they could in the situation: standing still. What were they thinking about? The film? The others in the queue? Ruminating on their lives? There is too much time to reflect in queues, it’s unnerving.

The Nisi Masa workshop I participated in was invigorating and often inspiring, The other participants had a genuine passion for cinema and writing. What struck me most was, even though the majority spoke English as a second language, the intensity of feeling pierced through the broken syntax and phrasing. As a shamefully ignorant student of languages I was impressed with the dramatic use of words, at odds with the somewhat conservative way English speakers often write in.

Run by Phillipe Lacote

Run by Phillipe Lacote

As to the films, it was a mixed bunch. Darker Than Midnight, a queer coming of age tale set in Catania’s underbelly was disappointingly high pitched and hysterical. Girlhood, a Parisian set teen drama directed by Celine Sciamma of Water Lilies fame was sparky yet felt less distinctive than her previous work. Catch Me Daddy, a Brit thriller, started off brightly with shades of Lynne Ramsay’s hallucinatory visuals, yet devolved into another ‘gritty’ chase movie. Run was a solid, nomadic film set in the Ivory Coast, a bit like Forrest Gump if it had been directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Refugiado was a well directed, well acted Mexican film about a mother and son fleeing domestic violence, not always as grim as it sounds.

The two best features I saw were It Follows and Amour Fou. It Follows was an original, dreamy American horror that subverts the slasher genre. Amour Fou saw the return of Austrian Jessica Hausner after her success with Lourdes. Jokingly described as a ‘romantic comedy’, it is a loose biopic of the writer/poet Heinrich Von Kleist and his affair with Henrietta, a dying housewife. Incredibly dry and somewhat alienating to most viewers, I found it to be wryly amusing and in its own way quite touching. Special mention goes to the short film Thunderbirds by Lea Mysius. Set in rural France, the thin plot follows a vaguely incestuous brother and sister as they go hunting for birds. It had a strong, brutal visual style reminiscent of Bruno Dumont and a distinctive atmosphere to boot. Definitely one to look out for.

Until next time….

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If we think about horror films as a medium to explore human fears at their most primitive, then you would think that there was an infinite space for filmmakers to plough through. For the most part, however, it feels like a genre devoid of invention or respect, an easy commercial outlet relying on a raft of cheap tricks. Occasionally you will see a film that seeks to subvert these tropes and try to bring some creativity to the genre, which David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows has.

The film is a subversion of horror films, not something completely new. A teenage girl named Jay (Maika Monroe) living in American suburbia has intimate relations with hunky Hugh (Jake Weary). Things start to go awry when we realise that Hugh has ulterior motives; he is being stalked by a shape shifting monster that will only relent if he passes on the curse through intercourse. Only when Jay has sex with another person will Hugh be safe, and so the chain goes on.

It is a simple but effective premise, familiar enough to slot it alongside other slasher films but with a touch of surrealism that marks it out. What makes It Follows terrifying is the execution of this set up, with the creature taking on a different form each time. It could be a grizzled mother, a demonic schoolkid or a hulking giant. As Hugh warns us, they are always walking towards their prey. The prey can never stand still, they always have to be wary of the figure in the distance.

While the concept is fertile, Mitchell’s overall vision of the film is also striking. Setting out to make an ‘arty horror film’ in his words, It Follows has an eerie, dreamlike quality, almost like Gus Van Sant had decided to swap his Bela Tarr boxset for a John Carpenter collection. Filmed around Detroit, the film has the feel of a ghost town, the teenage characters leading an almost idyllic existence where adults are almost entirely absent. If one was to read anything into the film, you might say that it explores the idea of innocence being corrupted. One fellow viewer described it as a potential miracle for sex education teachers.

Mitchell creates a beguiling mix of innocence and threat through soft, hypnagogic visuals and floaty tracking shots. The pacing of course ramps up a gear as the creature nears, but for the most part it is a languorous film. Music plays a huge part, and in Disasterpiece’s pretty and dangerous Italo Disco score we have a formidable contributor. The minimalist electronica is a throwback to the scores of the Italian giallo horrors of the 70’s, by directors like Dario Argento and Mario Bava.

The film was never meant to be about the actors or their dramas, but they all give solid performances mannered in the horror style. They have a naturalistic, candy floss quality to them, again reminiscent of the characters in Van Sant’s films. Yet  Mitchell invests enough in them to make the audience empathise with their plight; she is an innocent thrown into a situation she doesn’t deserve, and has the moral quandary of inflicting her curse on someone else or submitting to a grisly death.

I saw a few films at Cannes but none of them were as exciting or refreshing as It Follows. A horror film for people who don’t like horrors, It Follows subverts the genre enough to feel new while still retaining the core essential scares. It is an aesthetic delight and its simplicity works wonderfully. We may just have a cult film in the making.

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For me 2013 has become ‘the year of the film festival.’ In February I attended my first big international film festival, the Berlinale, as part of the Berlinale Talent Campus. Bitten by the festival bug I immediately arranged to cover the BFI London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, which was happening upon my return. Then I heard that Nisi Masa were running a workshop in Cannes, which required a team of young writers to produce a magazine (Nisimazine) on young filmmakers with new features and shorts showing at the festival. I applied and was selected, and so we began planning under the guidance of the very organised (and busy) Fernando Vasquez.

The team was comprised of critics from around Europe, which was then split into two teams; one to cover the first week of Cannes, the other to cover the second. I was part of the second group, working alongside great young critics from France (Melanie and Elisabeth), Germany (Patrick and Sophie), the Netherlands (Kris) and the UK (Piers). Also writing were Fernando himself and Luisa from Columbia.

I woke up at the reasonable hour of 2.30am (BST) on Monday the 20th of May, after a robust four hours sleep and made my way to Gatwick airport where I bumped into Taylan, a friend from film school. We arrived in Nice just after 9am (CET) and promptly met with Kris. Tired, but enthusiastic, we made our way to Cannes via a train that we caught by a matter of seconds. After meeting with Fernando outside Cannes station we went to collect our festival badges (and were introduced to the festival badge caste system), before heading to the apartment to meet with the team as they arrived and discuss our plans for the week ahead.

Our Heroes Died Tonight (Dir. David Perrault, France)

Our Heroes Died Tonight (Dir. David Perrault, France)

That night I caught my first film of the festival, it was British film The Last Days on Mars, which was showing in the Director’s Fortnight (the Director’s Fortnight is one of three ‘festivals’ that exists within the Cannes Film Festival. The other two are the Critics Week and the Official Selection.) It is a low budget sci-fi feature that managed to make its way to Cannes on the strength of an impressive opening scene and a strong ending, topped off with a number of good performances and some great design. However, I could not help the feeling that I was watching a b-movie and, given that this was one of the few British films appearing this year in Cannes, I felt a sense of bewilderment as to why my native film industry was not more daring when represented somewhere so prestigious.

On Tuesday (21st) I went to see my second film of the festival, the French wrestling drama Our Heroes Died Tonight (Critics Week.) It is a tremendously bold piece of work, which probably shouldn’t work, and yet it does. Combining stylistic traits of the Nouvelle Vague and Béla Tarr, a historical backdrop of the Algerian war and 60’s French wrestling, director David Perrault has successfully made a memorable and entertaining work that will surely develop a significant cult status.

Following Our Heroes… I went to the short film corner to see The Opportunist (Critics Week) by American director David Lassiter. Since I was interviewing David later, it was important to find plenty to discuss in the film and I was very fortunate to discover an accomplished short full of nuance and ideas. In the film a young man blags his way into a party and then proceeds to take advantage of the hedonistic pursuits available to him. It is a deeply unsettling short film, but it never steps into extremes, allowing the tension to bubble beneath the surface.

My Sweet Pepperland (Dir. Hiner Saleem, Iraq/France/Germany)

My Sweet Pepperland (Dir. Hiner Saleem, Iraq/France/Germany)

On Wednesday morning (22nd) I caught Até ver a luz (Director’s Fortnight), which was screening in the critics week. I was there to review the film for Nisimazine and was impressed by the naturalism achieved by director Basil da Cunha. The loose script however, which was slackened considerably by heavy improvisation, was a problem as the narrative failed to grip me. Clashing with the screening of Até ver a luz was Only God Forgives, which my colleagues enthusiastically went to see (before enthusiastically berating the film.) Unfortunately (or fortunately?) for me, I failed to catch the film a further two times; this became a running joke. However, that evening I did experience one of the festival’s pleasant surprises: My Sweet Pepperland (Official Selection) by Iraqi-Kurdish director Hiner Saleem. Like a Leone western, set in Iraq following the demise of Saddam Hussein, My Sweet Pepperland is a bold and stylish satire that will make viewers grimace and guffaw equally.

When Thursday (23th) arrived I way particularly excited, as Jodorowsky’s Dune (Director’s Fortnight) was on the cards for 22:00 that night. Prior to that I had plenty of writing to grapple with and a bunch of short films to watch and review. I lined up shorts from China (Butter Lamp), Israel (Babaga) and Argentina (All The Things) respectively. They were something of a challenge to review, given their varied cultural backgrounds, but this made for a particularly fruitful day. I broke up my intensive writing session with a trip to the Turkish pavilion with my colleagues, where we drank Turkish beer, took amusing group photos and chatted with a man who reassured us that Ryan Gosling is a nice guy.

The Dance of Reality (Dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky, Chile)

The Dance of Reality (Dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky, Chile)

When Jodorowsky’s Dune finally arrived my expectations were high. I had been waiting for this film for two years. The film more than delivered, brilliantly exceeding my expectations. Director Frank Pavich has created a film that is a testament to Jodorowsky’s vast imagination and ambition in trying to film Frank Herber’s epic sci-fi. He also captured Jodorowsky’s unique humour, combined with his frantic passion unlike any previous documentation (including The Jodorowsky Constellation and Jonathan Ross Presents for One Week Only: Alejandro Jodorowsky.) After a brief exchange of Jodo-enthusiasm with Pavich, I left the theatre completely ecstatic; yet this was only half of the Jodorowsky/Cannes experience.

On Friday (24th) I did something strange for a film festival: I did not see any films. That isn’t to say I didn’t try. I attempted to gain entry to the Only God Forgives market screening. Alas, the badge caste system was not in my favour and it was fruitless. Nevertheless, it was a good day, because I had a meeting with Lee Marshall (Screen International, Sight & Sound), in which he advised me on the writing I had done over the past few days. Lee’s experience writing for important trade magazines and critical outlets was invaluable and I greatly appreciated his enthusiasm for the unusual titles that I was covering. Later in the day we also met with Dana Linssen, who put me on to the Nisimazine in the first place. Dana is a real idealist among film critics and a great inspiration for young writers, who face the challenging and sometimes cynical world that is film journalism. It is critics like her who continue to make film criticism a truly worthwhile endeavour.

Saturday (25th) was my last day of film watching, and it was the best one. Kris, Melanie and I queued early for Roman Polanski’s Venus In Fur (Official Selection). When I realised that the film would take place within one confined theatre space I was filled with despair. Yet, Polanski managed to win me over, with a film reminiscent of his classic The Tenant. However, it was Jodorowsky’s The Dance of Reality (Director’s Fortnight) that completed my week. Returning to the Director’s Fortnight with Patrick, I saw a film that was everything I expected from a Jodorowsky film and more. The film is an emotional, surrealist, occasionally hilarious critique of the way that ideology contorts the human soul. It features an absolutely extraordinary, operatic performance from Brontis Jodorowksy as Alejandro’s Stalinist father. The film moved me unexpectedly, perfectly concluding an exciting, intensive week of hard work, great people and vibrant cinema.

Of course there were films that I really should have seen, but didn’t. Palme d’Or winner Blue is the Warmest Colour, Camera d’Or winner Ilo Ilo and Mark Cousins’ A Story of Children and Film too. But I will see them when the time comes. Regardless, my first experience in Cannes was truly a great one. I hope to return to the festival in years to come to encounter wonderful, familiar faces and more inspiring cinema. It may be a lot to ask, but I sense that Cannes can deliver.

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For me one of the most exciting pieces of news from the Cannes Film Festival, which came to a close yesterday, is the news that director Frank Pavich has set out to make the difinitive documentary on maverick Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s unrealised adaptation of Dune.

Dune, based on the novel by Frank Herbert was intended to be Jodorowsky’s most epic vision. In the trailer for the documentary he states his intentions: “I want to create a prophet, to change the young mind of all the world”.

Now at the age of 82 Jodorowsky still speaks with passion of this project. See the trailer below:

JODOROWSKY’S DUNEhttp://www.imdb.com/title/tt1935156/

On a related (and slightly shameless) note, I shot a short documentary in London, 2009/2010  exploring Jodorowsky’s work as presented in ‘A Season of Jodorowsky’, an event run but arts collective Guerrilla Zoo. I intend to have a trailer of the film online in the near future, but until then here is a still of Jodorowsky and his art work:

A SEASON OF JODOROWSKYhttp://www.imdb.com/title/tt1788982/

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