Day #1 - Cannes 2019


What an amazing experience! After months of preparation, booking flights and accommodation, the 72nd annual Cannes film festival took place from the 14th-25th of May 2019. In the midst of uni group assignments, work obligations and no time left to do anything else, I embarked halfway across the world to visit Nice, Italy and to attend the biggest film festival in the world. I arrived back on the 28th, and even writing this from the my bed in Sydney feels surreal. The experience of being at Cannes - waiting in long lines, seeing the Hollywood stars walk down the red carpet and soaking up the European sun was unforgettable. I encourage anyone who has the chance to apply for the “3 Days in Cannes” accreditation pass for 18-28 year olds to take that opportunity. It was truly a waking dream to have been a part of it. I feel so inspired by the films I saw, the art I consumed, the people I met, the French I spoke, the experience of walking around the Palais. I am truly grateful, and I feel so full of life!


The Dead Don’t Die

Now to le cinéma. It’s fitting that the first film I saw was the film d’ouverture of the festival - Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die. While I think Jarmusch’s cinematic experiments can have varying degrees of success I generally love his relaxed and thought-provoking style. He knows how to create a controlled ambience and inhabit slow-talking, sunglass-wearing and cigarette-smoking characters that entirely fit the film’s mood. When I heard he was making a zombie movie I instantly thought of his recent Only Lovers Left Alive which tackled vampires, and which I subsequently adored.

The good news is that “The Dead Don’t Die” doesn’t take itself too seriously at all, and characters such as the ones played by Bill Murray and Adam Driver are comedically calm and unbothered in the midst of apocalyptic danger. Nothing out of the ordinary for a Jarmusch film, which if you are familiar with his style then this should come as a good way to pass the time. Unfortunately, despite the film’s outstanding cast, effective zombie make-up and off-colour humour, the film doesn’t offer much beyond mild entertainment.

The decision to focus on such an expansive cast of characters gives the audience a mere impression of who these characters are beyond their surface-level personality traits, with characters played by Caleb Landry Jones, Steve Buscemi and Selena Gomez becoming ultimately inconsequential in the narrative. At a specific point the film becomes preachy about its overall message, delivered through narration and a montage that detracted from the power of the theme that I thought was already portrayed clearly. The attempt to explain the film’s supernatural occurrences could also have been omitted, even if done they were done ironically.

Still, Jarmusch and his cast made the movie with a smile. The witty dialogue and intentionally flat cinematography add a certain charm to the film, I think it fits right in with the atmosphere he has created in all of his films. With the right friends it could be a good movie to watch whilst talking every now and then. It’s ever-so-slightly above average.


La Jeune Ahmed (Young Ahmed)


Although I wasn’t particularly excited for this film I really admire the Dardenne’s realistic directing and style they bring to all of their films. Rosetta and Deux jours, une nuit epitomise their natural aptitude to understand the concerns and everyday hardships of working-class citizens, and their ability to evoke sympathy for their protagonists simply through their observational, handheld camerawork.

However, this might have been my least-favourite film of the entire festival. Whilst I love the decision to characterise Ahmed as an unlikable yet strong-willed character that confronts the audience, the Dardenne’s really did not incorporate much research or insight about their Arabic subject matter. It becomes a very two-dimensional depiction of a complex subject matter, and the screenplay lacks the necessary structure and character decisions to flesh out the protagonist. As a result, the eventual character arc of Ahmed is entirely unbelievable.

The direction of actors and some scenes alternatively build tension in crucial moments without resorting to cheap musical cues, which enhances the experience from an otherwise uninvested screenplay. A subplot involving Ahmed’s rehabilitation at a local farm also elicited unintended laughter from my screening. While I don’t think the film warranted that, I thought it was clear that the audience was growing restless despite the short 85-minute run-time. If you have a die-hard compulsion to complete all of the Dardenne’s filmography then go for your life, however in all other cases I would not personally recommend this film. Their directorial efforts can sometimes transport the fully-realised lives of everyday individuals into filmic poetry, and although there are glimmers of this, lack of conceptual depth and narrative purpose unfortunately undermines the experience.


Atlantics

The first great film I saw at the festival! I went into this movie absolutely blind, unfamiliar with the first-time director or even a brief plot synopsis. Luckily my gamble paid off and I was subjected to Mati Diop’s assured, experimental and confident directorial debut. To top it off she was also the first black female director to compete for the Palme d’Or. It’s worth mentioning that the cast was primarily all unknown, bringing a level of authenticity in their acting that grounded the narrative in some recognisable reality.

Throughout the runtime of this movie I was reminded of how vividly directors can create interactive cinematic environments for their characters to inhabit. The stark, almost dystopian landscape is emphasised beautifully through the detailed sound design and lingering cinematography. As a result, the protagonist’s concerns and desires feel as tangible as the desolate sandy walkways and industrial drudgery always present in the background. The soundtrack additionally blends with the cinematic images really well, enhancing the surreal themes with percussive and nuanced beats.

Although there is a highly underdeveloped subplot involving the protagonist’s rich husband, the film oddly sidesteps this plot point to focus on increasingly unique fusions of supernatural and magical realist elements. Near the end of the film it becomes apparent what the thematic purpose of these elements are, maybe a little too apparent through dialogue, but nonetheless Diop’s vision remains intact and fully realised. It’s refreshing to see a director that takes her time and engages the audience through ambiguity and atmosphere, I’ll be excited to see what she does next!


Matthias and Maxime

Xavier Dolan back at it again, this time with an attempt at a more mature drama about adult friendships and confused feelings for childhood friends. He’s already had an expansive career over many different types of dramatic films, with his best work Mommy being some unique sort of masterpiece. Although I think his films generally have various degrees of success, I was optimistic about his latest film. Say what you want, the man has directorial talent and passion that shrines through his work.

Sadly, passion isn’t always enough to carry the film. Straying away from his previous stylistic experiments, the film maintains an oddly commercial tone through the forgettable piano soundtrack and a lack of subtlety in the screenplay. In terms of dialogue, Dolan’s script opens with 30 minutes of directly relaying information to the audience in obvious ways about these characters. This could have worked if the acting had’ve created a believable bond between this tight-knit group of friends. However Dolan wants a little too much too fast, as he directs the actors to substitute believable interactions with overly-loud and obnoxious character banter. He really wanted the audience to believe their friends, to the point of losing a sense of realism.

Sorry Dolan. This is most apparent with the minor sister character who serves solely as a narrative function to propel the plot forward, using cringe-worthy sayings and language that is supposed to emulate the ways modern teenagers speak. The cinematography in these scenes also prefers handheld, zooming shots that contradict with the rest of the film’s smooth aesthetic. Still, there were things to appreciate in the movie that elevated the experience. Namely the impeccable lighting and a palpable sexual tension between the main leads, who gave solid performances despite the friends’ questionable acting.

Individual moments such as the dramatic climax and recurring scenes of Dolan and his mother further offered authentic emotion that sidestepped me. I can’t say that I was 100% invested in the overall film, but glimmers of well-written dialogue in these scenes and the consistently sympathetic performances of both of the male leads kept me interested in how the film would finish.

It’s a huge mixed bag of Dolan’s unsure directorial intentions bouncing between laugh-out-loud comedic moments, romantic tensions and serious dramatic cues. This is all fine and well, but maybe more competent direction would’ve transitioned these contrasting tones more smoothly. Nevertheless, I’ll still be keeping my eye out for his next feature. You win some, you lose some.

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