This autumn I have attended a couple of film festivals, which gave me the opportunity to watch some of the best films released this year. One of the festivals was The Independent American Film Festival, and the other one was Les Films de Cannes à Bucarest, which brings each fall a large selection of the films which premiere a few months earlier in Cannes. But even more than watching some great new movies, I loved the fact that I had the chance to meet/talk to/take part in Q&A’s with several amazing people in the film world, from Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly and Ethan Hawke, to Lynne Ramsay, Laurent Cantet and Louis Garrel.
I got to see some of the big festival winners from this year, too. Ruben Östlund The Square, which won the Palme d’Or, failed to impress me, I’m afraid. The Swedish director’s 2014 Force Majeure, of which I was a big fan, was a far better film in my opinion – a much more subtle satire, a great character study and sometimes wickedly funny.
There was also a special screening of Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, the winner of the Golden Lion in Venice (the film will arrive in cinemas in December). As far as I’m concerned, it does not live up to the director’s Pan’s Labyrinth. There is startling beauty in del Toro’s latest film, too, and the fantasy story has that rare quality that reminds you of cinema as art (and Sally Hawkins undoubtedly makes the best female role I’ve seen this year), and I do believe it’s one of the best films of the year, but part of me wishes that the film, set in early-1960s Baltimore, remained entirely in the realm of fantasy and did not comment on the era’s Cold War paranoia and civil rights issues. Not because I don’t believe these topics should be addressed as often as possible in film, but because the celebration of love, and of individuality, and of the magic of cinema in del Toro’s motion picture is so ravishing and full of a myriad of artistic possibilities that it would have worked out so well without the realities of life (and not succumb in any way to big Hollywood studio cliches). We need to not give up dreaming. And I also wish that Guillermo del Toro could say about it what he said about Pan’s Labyrinth in Sight & Sound magazine eleven years ago: “Shooting Pan’s Labyrinth was very painful, but it also became a war about me not compromising. I gave back my entire salary in order to get the film made the way I wanted it.”
The best film of the year in my opinion and I don’t think I will change my mind on this one, regardless of what other movies I might see from now on. If I had to describe Andrei Zvyagintsev’s film in a few words, I would call it the tragedy of modern life. Yes, there is a tragedy occurring in the story, but the film also speaks volumes about the many social ills of our modern world, about the superficiality and nothingness of a world with an unending aspirational demand for status, money, and the social media prerogative of selfies and self-affirmation. Because this film is not just a pitiless critique on Russia, the way many American and Western reviewers have rushed to describe it; it is rather, sadly, the story of all of us, a loveless world that has lost sight of what is truly important, incapable of supporting human life, or a child’s love.
I liked Laurent Cantet’s L’Atelier even more than Entre les murs (The Class), the film that won the French director the Palme d’Or in 2008. It is a more complex film, I believe. Laurent Cantet told us in a Q&A that followed the film that he started to write the script after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, as he wanted to make a film about a new way of seeing the world, about the new violence that’s in the world, Internet technologies, and all that stuff that’s come into the way of the young people, and how we can address all that. Cantet also mentioned that he is very strict with his scripts, carefully choosing his words, but he did a workshop with the youngsters before starting to shoot (the cast was mostly formed of unprofessional actors and the casting took five months) and asked them to interpret in their own words their lines in the script, and some of their words eventually ended up in the movie. And that is exactly how good preparation allows for more freedom during filming, permitting a movie to be permanently rewritten. What a fascinating process!
L’Atelier is a very realistic film, not just because of the nonprofessional actors, but because it is a fairly accurate representation of today’s youth. “Many of them are feeling abandoned, left to their own devices, isolated within their own communities, and I wanted to listen to them and give them a space where they can express themselves. I think that we’re very responsible for the big generational rift that we have, and it’s urgent for us to get in there and give them a chance to show us who they are,” Laurent Cantet said in an interview, something he also explained in his discussion with us. The scariest thing about Antoine (one of the characters, superbly played by Matthieu Lucci) is not that he has a violent side, but that he’s also a nice boy, and you don’t necessarily see it coming. The optimistic tone of that very last scene however proves that words can be so much more powerful than weapons.
You Were Never Really Here
Lynne Ramsay admiringly called Joaquin Phoenix “the beast” during the Q&A with us, the public, after the projection of her film You Were Never Really Here (which she also wrote, after a novella by the same name by Jonathan Ames). Joaquin deservedly won Best Actor in Cannes for his role. You don’t quite know until one point on whether his character is good or bad. You just don’t. His character just pulls you in with his tormented mind, arguably Joaquin’s best performance, an incredibly subtle and interiorised performance, leaving room for absolutely no predictibilities. I am just so glad that these two creative outsiders (Phoenix and Ramsay are both known for their no-bullshit attitudes when it comes to the Hollywood system and its promotional games) united to make this film together. Because not only did they break away from the system, but they broke the form of the crime genre, too.
Adapted by Michel Hazanavicius from Anne Wiazemsky’s own memoirs, titled Un An Après (or One Year After), Le Redoutable tells the story of Anne’s life with Jean-Luc Godard (they were married for 12 years), with Louis Garrel (so very, very good in his role playing Godard) and Stacy Martin in the lead roles. Wiazemsky agreed on the film, but only on one condition: this story had to be told with humour. It’s exactly the humour that I loved the most about it. Brimming with pastiche, Le Redoutable elegantly employs some of Godard’s most famous filming style techniques (the use of primary colours to depict Godard’s apartment, the voiceovers, the breaking of the fourth wall, the back and forth camera tracking), in order to tell its own story with wit and humour. It is not a shining homage to Godard, but rather a sharp portrait that does not however fail to pay Godard credit where he’s due, and that’s where the film’s strength comes from.
Directed and written by Taylor Sheridan, the screenwriter of Sicario (by far my favourite American movie of 2015) and Hell or High Water (one of the best films of last year), Wind River won Un Certain Regard for direction this year at Cannes. With a neo-noir touch and superb cinematography (the film was shot on the backdrop of the hostile wintery beauty of Wyoming), Sheridan’s well-crafted crime drama tackles a story that many American films are afraid to: the fraying community of and the pain endured by the Native American people, so often ignored as an act of historical penance. Through his mastery of tension and mood, Sheridan is establishing a distinctive style that had a very solid base to begin with: an incredibly well written script. Wind River is uncompromising in showing an uncomfortable portrayal of the American society and wild west mentality, and it could very well be the most important American film of the year. And last but not least, Jeremy Renner is fantastic in his role.
I went to see Michael Haneke’s Happy End for Isabelle Huppert and ended up enjoying pretty much everything about it, from the undercurrent of black comedy to the best two performances in the film, those of old-timer Jean-Louis Trintignant and teen Fantine Harduin as Eve, and, of course, that final cut and Isabelle’s astounded expression (one for the ages) – it’s still fresh in mind and it will be for a long time. It is an unforgiving and stark satire on the European burgeouise and, unsurprisingly, it reminded me of Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Burgeouise. Haneke’s Happy End is as bleak as it is funny. That title says it all. Because you wouldn’t expect to take those words ad literam from Haneke, would you? Even so, the surprise will be on you at the end.
photos: You Were Never Really Here (Film Four, Why Not Productions) / Loveless (Arte France Cinéma, Fetisoff Illusion, Les Films du Fleuve) / L’Atelier (Archipel 35, France 2 Cinéma, Canal+) / You Were Never Really Here (Film Four, Why Not Productions) / Le redoutable (Les Compagnons du Cinéma, La Classe Américaine, France 3 Cinéma) / Wind River (Acacia Filmed Entertainment, Film 44, Ingenious Medis) / Happy End (Les Films du Losange, X-Filme Creative Pool, Wega Filmh