Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cannes Favorites at LSIFF

I spent the first half of the day with a couple of big-name films that did quite, by all accounts, at Cannes this past year. First up was Grand Prix winner Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir Zamanlar Anadolu'da), a two-and-a-half-hour doozy from Turkey, directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan and scripted by Ceylan, Ercan Kesal and Ebru Ceylan. I recalled reading a little about this from coverage of that festival and looked up some of those micro-reviews to refresh my memory, so I knew I was in store for something long, slow and, at times, frustratingly enigmatic. To say the film is long and slow is not a knock; the little dialogue on offer, usually about mundane concerns, is richly textured and speaks to the tensions under the surface, without making the experience too uncomfortable on the viewer. There are a few very revealing passages, however, and the film demands your attention without being obvious.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia follows a team that includes law enforcement officials (police and military), the prosecutor on the case and a doctor along a wild-goose chase for what the viewer can guess but is not actually explicitly mentioned for quite some time (or found, for quite a while). Even then, the details of the case are murky, as are the back-stories of the characters, none more-so than the doctor, Cemal (Muhammet Uzuner). Dr. Cemal is learning the ambiguities and motivations of criminals and the people delegated to bring them to justice, fueled as much by personal issues as politics, while simultaneously contending with the dissolution of his own marriage -- something which transpired a couple of years before the action but remains, for him, unresolved. Because of how little the divorce is referenced in the film, it would seem like a minor detail but for the lingering effects shown on his face in a few key, brief scenes.

I'm barely scratching the surface here, so I hope Kristian can provide both some more "plot" points and insight into the film's subtext. When we caught up this afternoon, he said he was still processing it; indeed, I feel like I'll need to watch it again.

Next up was The Artist, a French silent film by Michel Hazanavicius, for which past collaborator Jean Dujardin took home top honors at Cannes for his portrayal of fading film star, George Valentin. Valentin is the world's biggest movie star, whom early viewers have likened to a Fairbanks or Chaplin, but he sees his career eclipsed when talkies hit the scene and he fails to adapt. In an attempt to buck the trend, he directs, produces and stars in one last silent film, Tears of Joy, which tanks at the box office just as an extra-turned-actor and romantic missed-connection, Peppy Miller (played by Bérénice Bejo), launches into talkie stardom -- and just he loses his fortune in the Great Crash.

LSIFF did well to have a film about the movies on this year's line-up, and no doubt, The Artist is a warm and sentimental crowd-pleaser. Though it might lean a little to hard in its first act on visual and sonic gags, in a series of winks and nods to the audience that thankfully climax early, it certainly does capture the the joy of (the) cinema. The film's closing sequence is sheer fun and redemption, and I might have had chills watching it had there been no -- I hate to mention this -- technical difficulties that interrupted the viewing experience, with two minutes to spare.

A last, stray note before I head out for We Need to Talk about Kevin -- Once Upon a Time in Anatolia was, for a rather bleak film, rather beautifully shot. The cinematography, lighting and editing were perfect, lyrical and subtly expressive for a film which largely hinted at action but tended to hold back. The Artist had an almost dreamlike quality that suited it well. -- Zack Shlachter

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