Day #3 - Cannes 2019

Pain and Glory 

Still reeling from the previous night’s screening of The Lighthouse, I awoke especially early to catch an 8:30am screening of Almodovar’s acclaimed film Pain and Glory. Luckily I managed to squeeze in despite the daunting line. People who are aware of Almodovar’s previous catalogue of cinema will find this film to be a delightful love letter that celebrates the director’s artistic impact, his childhood in Spain and cinema itself.

The colourful direction memorably guides the audience through the seemingly biographical depiction of the protagonist’s career. All of the acting is absolutely fantastic across the board, from Antonio Banderas as a washed-up but celebrated director and Penelope Cruz as a determined, hardworking mother in 1960’s Spain. The flashback scenes in the film add complex layers of poignancy and depth to the protagonist. These scenes are especially riveting and some of Almodovar’s most personal material, with the set design and performances infusing the simple narrative with immediacy. It’s somehow easy to see how these scenes could have been distant or dispassionate under the direction of someone else. Luckily Almodovar allows enough time for the audience to feel these characters breathing and making plausible decisions right before our eyes. It’s magic. 

Although the dominate storyline perhaps suffers from a lack of immediate conflict, the laid-back attitude of the characters and Banderas’s comical lack of motivation help establish the relaxed pacing and editing. Due to this, some of the earlier scenes are a tad meandering. It’s a film that doesn’t reach for the huge dramatic heights nor quiet moments of sublime visual poetry, instead it sits somewhere in the middle. It’s entertaining and is technically well-made from a production design, directing, writing and performance standpoint. That’s generally how I felt throughout the majority of the film, except for the flashback scenes which I thought far surpassed the quiet energy of the rest of the film.

Whether outstanding or just ‘good’, we are taken on a journey through the construction of art through the carefully crafted dialogue and emotionally driven scenes. The self-reflexive climax of the film and the subsequent scenes that follow prove to have the poignant pay-off that the flashback scenes promise. It’s a mature and mannered film from a director that has been working for over 30 years now, with gripping performances and a wise, affectionate warmth that underpins the entire movie. It started my morning off right, and I was equally relaxed and entertained whilst watching it.

Parasite

Another day, another 3 hour wait to get into a Cannes movie. At least this time I was comfortably near the front with a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich. Arriving straight after Pain and Glory, I had high hopes for Bong Joon-ho’s latest release. His successful venture into English-language films with Snowpiercer and Okja was impressive but failed to reach the cinematic heights of his Korean-language films. That is a tad harsh, maybe setting Memories of Murder as the standard is unfair. Nevertheless I had a good gut feeling about this film, I went in completely blind like all of the other films and was put on the most entertaining, thrilling and unpredictable rollercoaster ride of the festival.

This film is a masterpiece, or at least extremely close to it. Like so many of his past films, Joon-ho is able to expertly balance intense drama, horrific tragedy and blatant comedic punchlines all within the same scene, alternatively unifying the piece with personality and masterful direction. The film is such a knockout experience, so incredibly well constructed, that a second viewing is required to fully comprehend and appreciate all of the work that has gone into pioneering this perfectly immersive piece of cinema. The direction and cinematography vibrantly frame the main characters in wide and medium angle shots that allow the actors to showcase their characterisations, interactions and subtleties, immediately establishing their believability as a family and the household dynamics. And on that note, all of the performances across the board are wholly realised and confidently executed - they understand the film’s tone and seem to communicate exactly what Joon-ho is intending.

The screenplay is ambitious in scope, tonal balancing and narrative structure, and the unravelling of important information is efficient and natural to the story. Because the movie has methodically taken its time to develop the main characters and their motivations, the increasingly harrowing situations that transpire resonate on shocking and sympathetic levels. There is a moment in the film that absolutely blew my mind around the half-way mark, and I nodded in agreement and amazement that I was being taken to truly predictable territory. I love it when directors establish a familiar environment and position an audience to accept a cinematic truth, before revealing the ugly reality lurking beneath the surface. Think Mulholland Drive.

The execution of the film’s themes are also undeniably fantastic, even though similar messages have been communicated across many movies and art forms, none have been as creatively presented and articulate as this. Many movies are praised for their relevant societal messages regardless of technical accomplishment or skill, however here is a film that entertains as well as educates audiences about contemporary society.

The relatively fast-paced storytelling is riveting from start to finish, and it’s hard to imagine anyone being bored by the striking images they are experiencing. Lastly, I will add that the film’s soundtrack is so well composed and integrated with the cinematic images that I was shocked to learn that one of the film’s pivotal tracks was an original score. Surely it had to be a classical piece. I re-watched the film recently in Sydney, left dazed and invigorated by the cinematic experience I had just had the pleasure of re-watching. The film is as smart and cunning as its characters. Unforgettable and thought-provoking.

Sibyl

After watching Parasite, I had fulfilled my quota of seeing most of the movies I wanted to. I decided to take another chance and hopefully relax with a good film after the intense experience of the last 3 days. I chose Sibyl, and luckily the film turned out to be what I was looking for, more or less. A comedic drama that was slowly paced and bothered to flesh out some of its characters, the film washed over me and cemented my 3 day adventure in Cannes. 

Justine Triet’s direction is confident and direct, she holds certain takes for elongated sequences and lets the writing and performances communicate emotion - a lack of musical composition successfully aids the film’s detached, observant style. The performances all around are also self-aware and efficient. Virginie Efira finds the perfect tone for the protagonist’s sarcastic disillusionment with life and her profession, and the supporting cast - especially Adèle Exarchopoulos - churn out impressive interpretations of characters that feel pretty familiar. 

I admire the steady pacing, however at times the film can feel relatively unbalanced regarding the screenplay structure. The second act pushes plot points along at a much faster rate than both the first and third, consequently creating conflict with the pre-established, unhurried character development. Due to this, a specific romantic plot point near the crisis point feels unmotivated and undeveloped; instead I was distracted and blatantly aware of the film’s narrative mechanics working under the surface. 

I was additionally impressed that the flashback scenes weren’t condescendingly apparent and that the director trusted the audience to understand. That being said, the editing of these scenes and their placement in the story created a disorientation between past and present time periods that seemed unintended and unnecessary. This could’ve been effective in another film that planned to intentionally create confusion within the narrative timeline, however the unclear placement of scenes left me puzzled during moments that should’ve been easy to follow along with. 

I still appreciate that it wasn’t all spelt out for us, and the self-reflexive scenes of the film production are entertaining, funny and infused with subtle tension. If you like the trailer, you will more or less enjoy the movie. Seeing the Cannes logo displayed before the film and the habitual applause is the epitome of happiness and film appreciation for me, and Sibyl sealed the deal of this magical experience.

Conclusion

After having dinner, I went for one last walk around the Palais with a guy I’d met while waiting in line. I reflected on all the people I’d sat next to in cinemas and stood next to in lines - people from all over France, Brazil, England, Turkey. All of them discussing for hours about how much we loved certain directors, films, and the festival buzz. I’m so thankful to have had such rich conversations with these unique people. We passed the lead actor of Parasite in the streets, Song Kang-ho, before observing the crowded roads all celebrating the festival, cinema and life.

I’ll shut up about it now, there’s only so much of me fawning over the Cannes experience that I can inflict upon people. Yet still, I will reiterate that I experienced enough cinematic inspiration to carry over for my entire life. I’m going to continue to ride that wave, and one of these days I’ll be sitting in those cinemas with a chocolate éclair and a festival schedule, watching the film I made. Fingers crossed.

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