Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cannes 2011: Competition Preview

I've imposed an exile from Twitter on myself while writing this feature, so that these are my and only my reactions to the news about the festival today. (I will, however, use IMDb to get plot information.) Like last year, I want to evaluate my eagerness to see each film and each film's chance at winning awards, and I will do this in this feature. I won't tackle the sidebars (the main ones being Un Certain Regard and Director's Fortnight) for a couple of reasons: not knowing about them yields surprises later on in the year, and also, the work in covering each of those films on top of the Competition would be too hard.

So as to avoid delaying too long, here goes (organized by director's last name, as I'm getting this info from the press release):

The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodovar, 120 minutes)

Almodovar is said to be pushing his comfort zone with this one, and I'm very excited. Apparently this one goes all out, and although "Broken Embraces" and "Volver" (the two films of his that I've seen; I know, I'm incredibly behind on his work) inspired uneasiness, I think this'll be in another ballpark. Antonio Banderas in the lead could really be something to behold, and my hopes are up that he'll turn in one of his better performances. All-in-all, one of my most anticipated films of the year. If I could pick a film from the Competition to watch right now, this would be towards the top. The plot summary from IMDb: "Based on Thierry Jonquet's novel "Mygale", this revenge tale tells the story of a plastic surgeon on the hunt for the men who raped his daughter."

Could it win the Palme? Certainly. With the abrasive tone and subject matter, it could be a bit of a stretch, but Almodovar is due for a Palme after coming to Cannes three times and winning Best Director and Screenplay.

House of Tolerance (Bertrand Bonello, 122 minutes)
I've never heard of this director before, which, as I've always said, creates the perfect arena to be blown away. Bonello does have some prior Cannes experience: his "Tiresia" was up for the Palme in 2003. The synopsis, from Films Distribution, is as follows: "At the dawn of the XXth century, in a brothel in Paris, a man disfigures a prostitute for life. She is marked with a scar that draws a tragic smile on her face. Around the woman who laughs, the life of other girls, their rivalry, their fears, their joy, their pain...From the external world, nothing is known. Their world is closed." I have really no clue what to say about that synopsis, but it sounds better than worse. The reviews will decide it for me.

Could it win the Palme? I'm thinking a Best Actress trophy for the portrayal of the prostitute in question is more likely to happen. If a major award is won for the film itself, it will be probably either the Grand Prix or Jury Prize, as it sounds like the type of film that would cop one of those, but I'm not too sure. It will probably not win the top prize.

Pater (Alain Cavalier, 105 minutes)
Another director I'm unfamiliar with, Cavalier has been in Competition a couple of times, winning the Jury Prize for "Therese" in 1986 (which won a bunch of Cesars as well). I cannot find any information on his new work, and thus I will have to wait until the Cannes website develops synopses (probably I should wait until then to do this feature, as it would have much more depth, but then again, I want to get something out today).

Could it win the Palme? On the basis of his previous Competition brushes, I would say that Cavalier could possibly walk out of the festival with either a Palme or a Best Director. And maybe the actor who plays the titular character (if it's a father) will get something? Who knows until we see the synopsis.

Footnote (Joseph Cedar, 105 minutes)
Cedar is best known for his Oscar-nominated film "Beaufort," which I haven't seen and which played Berlin a few years back. Never before in Competition, Cedar's new film, as described by IMDb, "the story of a great rivalry between a father and son, both eccentric professors in the Talmud department of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The son has an addictive dependency on the embrace and accolades that the establishment provides, while his father is a stubborn purist with a fear and profound revulsion for what the establishment stands for, yet beneath his contempt lies a desperate thirst for some kind of recognition. The Israel Prize, Israel's most prestigious national award, is the jewel that brings these two to a final, bitter confrontation." I think this sounds very interesting, and I'm glad to see that an Israeli film is playing on the festival circuit's biggest stage.

Could it win the Palme? A Best Actor prize, dual or singular, is most likely, but other awards (the main three prizes, Best Director) are not out of the question.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 150 minutes)
Now, here's an artist I know much about. I think his photography is (much) better than his filmmaking, but "Distant" was decent and "Climates" did look pretty nice as well. No plot summary yet, or at least not on the big sites, but nonetheless I'm glad to see a big new film from this guy.

Could it win the Palme? This is a film that I think has one of the biggest chances to get it. Ceylan won Best Director for "Three Monkeys" (unseen by me) and directed his leads to a dual Best Actor prize with "Distant." He's ready to take the next step.

Boy with a Bike (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 87 minutes)
I've seen two films by these guys ("The Son," "Lorna's Silence"), and their among my favorite filmmakers as a result. Experienced Competition veterans, the two have won the Palme TWICE and, on top of that, directed an actor to Best Actor and won Best Screenplay. These guys get something every time they bring a film in. The synopsis from IMDb: "Abandoned by his father, a young boy is left in the hands of an unqualified childcare provider." Whom, I'm assuming, is played by Cecile de France, who didn't really help the cause of "Hereafter" that much in my opinion. But who knows? I'm willing to go where the Dardennes take me, although this seems like something a little different than their usual (this production shot allays that especially).

Could it win the Palme? No. Not gonna happen. Three Palmes?! Nope. Best Actress is always a possibility, since the Dardennes seem to be on their way to being the first directors to win every single award available.

Le Havre (Aki Kaurismaki, 103 minutes)
A much noted filmmaker, I have never seen any of his films. He's won the Gran Prix (for "The Man Without a Past"), being nominated three times for the Palme. No synopsis as of yet, I don't think.

Could it win the Palme? Yes. This could be his year.

Hanezu No Tsuki (Naomi Kawase, 91 minutes)
Kawase's "The Mourning Forest" is a film I've been meaning to watch for a very long time, as it won the Gran Prix. No synopsis yet.

Could it win the Palme? Another definite possibility.

Sleeping Beauty (Julia Leigh, 104 minutes)
First films in Competition are rarities, and here is the first of two (!). Why is this here, since most filmmakers have to climb the ladder? Leigh is a "novelist" (according to Wikipedia) and (according to the Playlist) the screenplay was on the Black List. Synopsis as follows, from IMDb: "A haunting erotic fairytale about Lucy, a young University student drawn into a mysterious hidden world of beauty and desire." This movie has (minor) star power, with Emily Browning, famous for "Lemony Snicket," "The Uninvited," and (though she'd probably like to forget) "Sucker Punch." I don't know exactly what to think about this... Trailer is here, which tackily says that Jane Campion presents and then goes on to quote her in praise of the film.

Could it win the Palme? Best Actress for Browning is far more likely, as well as Best Screenplay.

Polisse (Maiwenn Le Besco, 121 minutes)
Like her sister Isild, Le Besco also first acted then directed, and here's her forth film, under the credit "Maiwenn." The synopsis from IMDb, goes as follows: "A journalist covering police assigned to a juvenile division enters an affair with one of her subjects." Okay-sounding.

Could it win the Palme? Yes. But after Mathieu Amalric won Best Director last year for his first feature helmed, Le Besco, in the same position as him with her first Competition entry, might win that award instead.

The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 138 minutes)
Do I need say anything about this? Everyone's most anticipated film of the festival. If you haven't heard about it, you've been living under a rock. Go find the synopsis and watch the unbelievable trailer on your own (partially because I don't want to expose myself to the former just yet). One note: I thought this film would be much longer. My friend says he knows that it was cut down, but this still seems short for a film this ambitious.

Could it win the Palme? THIS WILL WIN. No question. I thought they would play fair and play it outside, but since not, it's got it in the bag, especially with Robert De Niro as the jury head (although he runs TriBeCa, he has a bias towards American cinema) and with Malick having never won the Palme before (though having won Best Director the only other time he bowed in competition, in 1978 for "Days of Heaven"). The rug could be pulled out from underneath, but this is the frontrunner as of yet and the Goliath to everyone else's David.

The Source (Radu Milhaileanu, 135 minutes)
Known to me from his mediocre-sounding, Golden-Globe nominated "The Concert," Milhaileanu has scored the first Competition birth of his career. And this sounds just as mediocre, from the synopsis given by IMDb: "A comedy/drama set in a village and centered on a battle of the sexes, where women threaten to withhold sexual favors if their men refuse to fetch water from a remote well." The full translation of the French title is "The Source of Women."

Could it win the Palme? Possibly. But comedies don't usually win.

Harakiri: Death of a Samurai (Takashi Miike, 126 minutes)
Totally unexpected to see Miike get in (especially with Brilliante Mendoza, Lou Ye, and Giorgos Lanthimos nowhere to be found). Reportedly the first 3D entry ever in Competition, this is crazy shit, which can only be expected on a regular basis from Miike, who himself has never played in the big dance before. Synopsis from goes as follows: "Set during the 17th century, the story centers on Hanshiro (played by Ebizo Ichikawa), an honorable, poverty-stricken samurai requesting to commit hara-kiri in the courtyard of feudal lord Kageyu's estate. Trying to dismiss Hanshiro's wish to save face, Kageyu (played by Koji Yakusho) recounts the tragic story of a similar plea years ago from young ronin Motome (played by Eita). But the arrogant lord is unaware of vengeful Hanshiro's bond to Motome." Ok, I'm mildly interested.

Could it win the Palme? Probably not, but, in a move of wild card insanity, maybe.

We Have a Pope/Habemus Papam (Nanni Moretti, 102 minutes)
"A story centered on the relationship between the newly elected Pope and his therapist." (IMDB). Um, what does that sound like to you? A comparison that has already been made, but needs be noted. Not too interested. Nanni Moretti stars and does his thing, apparently.

Could it win the Palme? Well, maybe this template won't win another major award, but who's counting? Most likely, though, Moretti will sit this one out, having won the Palme before.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 110 minutes)
I've never seen "Morvern Callar" or "Ratcatcher," but I've heard great things about them, and thus I'm looking forward to Ramsay's new film. "The mother of a teenage boy who went on a high-school killing spree tries to deal with her grief -- and feelings of responsibility for her child's actions -- by writing to her estranged husband." says IMDb. Admittedly, it sounds corny, but with John C. Reilly, Tilda Swinton, and "Afterschool"'s Ezra Miller, it could work. But...

...could it win the Palme? Most definitely. She's gone through the Cannes system, and now could be her time. Keep in mind: these are relative statements, since I think "Tree of Life" holds an overwhelming lead. And Swinton or John C. Reilly could pull something out as well.

Michael (Markus Schleinzer, 94 minutes)
The other debut, about which there is no information. Apparently Schleinzer acted as casting director on a bunch of films and appeared in "The Robber." No synopsis on the major sites.

Could it win the Palme? An out-of-nowhere upset? Unlikely, though it would be interesting.

This Must Be the Place (Paolo Sorrentino, 118 minutes)
Relatively high-profile as these things go, Sorrentino's latest feature length film (after "Il Divo," which won the Jury Prize a while back as well as a nomination for Best Makeup at the Oscars) has Sean Penn at his most garish-looking. Derived from the title of a great Talking Heads song, the synopsis here comes from IMDb. DON'T READ IF YOU WANT TO GO IN COLD: "Cheyenne, a wealthy former rock star (Penn), now bored and jaded in his retirement embarks on a quest to find his father's persecutor, an ex-Nazi war criminal now hiding out in the U.S. Learning his father is close to death, he travels to New York in the hope of being reconciled with him during his final hours, only to arrive too late. Having been estranged for over 30 years, it is only now in death that he learns the true extent of his father's humiliation in Auschwitz at the hands of former SS Officer Aloise Muller - an event he is determined to avenge. So begins a life-altering journey across the heartland of America to track down and confront his father's nemesis. As his quest unfolds, Cheyenne is reawakened by the people he encounters and his journey is transformed into one of reconciliation and self discovery. As his date with destiny arrives and he tracks down Muller, Cheyenne must finally decide if it is redemption he seeks ....or revenge. Starring two time Academy Award winner Sean Penn and marking the much-anticipated English-language debut of acclaimed director Paolo Sorrentino, THIS MUST BE THE PLACE is a gripping examination of a man on the precipice of obsession." Interesting stuff.

Could it win the Palme? Yes, but Best Actor, with Penn going-for-broke, could happen.

Melancholia (Lars Von Trier, 130 minutes)
The trailer is here, and I've said that this movie looks like "Birth" meets "Another Earth" meets "Antichrist." An interesting combo, to be sure, and this looks like prime Von Trier, especially with the logo at the end. IMDb says: "Two sisters find their relationship challenged as a nearby planet threatens to collide into the Earth." But I'm only moderately anticipating, as I have some minor issues with what it seems to be.

Could it win the Palme? Unlikely. This is just a trip to the Crosiette for Von Trier, and I don't think it'll play very competitively, since Von Trier has already won for "Dancer in the Dark." Expect some gasps to be drawn, though maybe not as many as from "Antichirst."

Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, 95 minutes)
I've highly disliked both of the films I've seen by this guy ("Bronson" and "Valhalla Rising"), a hipster standby who gets by on little more than hyperstylized violence. Thus, you may be surprised to hear that I'm willing to give this guy another shot with "Drive," which sounds good (again via IMDb): "A Hollywood stunt performer who moonlights as a wheelman discovers that a contract has been put on him after a heist gone wrong." Ryan Gosling and Cary Mulligan are the leads, and the film is adapted from a book by James Sallis. I'm looking forward to it, but if this is a dud, I don't know if I can offer any more of my time to Refn.

Could it win the Palme? I would say no, mostly due to the genre but also because this guy hasn't played many major competitions (save Sundance).

Here are my first predictions for the awards (to be expanded into power rankings soon):

Palme d'Or: "The Tree of Life," Terrence Malick
Gran Prix: "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia," Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Jury Prize: "House of Tolerance," Bertrand Bordello
Best Actor: Lior Ashkenazi and Shlomo Bar-Aba, "Footnote"
Best Actress: Tilda Swinton, "We Need to Talk About Kevin"
Best Director: Maiwann (Le Besco), "Polisse"
Best Screenplay: Julia Leigh, "Sleeping Beauty"

As for Un Certain Regard, I'm looking forward to "Loverboy" by Mitulescu, "Arirang" by Kim, and the year's Sundance film, "Martha Marcy May Marlene" by Durkin.

More to come, people.

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