Latest from David Cox

(34 articles)

Cannes 2015 Wrap Up

23 May, 2015 Posted in: Awards, Cannes, Cannes, Festivals, Opinion

I’ve just come out of the press screening of the festival’s Closing Night film – the ecological documentary The Ice and the Sky – and, for me, Cannes is finished for another year. A few great films and a handful of good-to-very good ones doesn’t feel like a terrific return but I missed a lot of what went on in the Directors Fortnight section this year – including the universally well-liked Turkish film Mustang – where the overall quality was reportedly very high (though I couldn’t say that about the Fortnight’s Closing Film, Dope). So, still plenty of Cannes titles to catch up on over the course of the year, and of course some films that I didn’t really enjoy or understand on first viewing here may very well improve on second viewing, in calmer surroundings (as happened with last year’s Palme d’Or winner Winter Sleep).

For now though, I’ll sign off with my personal Cannes top 10 (a clear top 3 and then the rest, all in alphabetical order), and a no-doubt poor attempt at some prize predictions:

Cannes Top 3:

THE ASSASSIN (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, in Competition)

CAROL (Todd Haynes, in Competition)

MY GOLDEN DAYS (Arnaud Desplechin, in Directors Fortnight)

The Rest:

CEMETERY OF SPLENDOUR (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, in Competition)

HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT (Kent Jones/Serge Toucabia, in Cannes Classics)

THE MEASURE OF A MAN (Stephane Brize, in Competition)

MEDITERRANEA (Jonas Carpignano, in Critics Week)

MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART (Jia Zhang-ke, in Competition)

SON OF SAUL (Laszlo Nemes, in Competition)

THE TREASURE (Corneliu Porumboiu, in Un Certain Regard)

As for predictions, I’d go for Carol to win the Palme d’Or, Hou Hsiao-Hsien to win the Director prize, Zhao Tao to win Best Actress for Mountains May Depart and a toss-up between British actors Michael Caine and Tim Roth for Actor, in Youth and Chronic repsectively. Son of Saul should win the Camera d’Or for Best First Film, but that film – and its director Laszlo Nemes and lead actor Geza Rohrig – could easily win the top prize in any of the above eligible categories.

 

 

Cannes 2015: Love at the movies

22 May, 2015 Posted in: Cannes

Film4 Channel Editor David Cox reports on the closing days of Cannes 2015…

We’re down to the last few days of the festival now, with crowds thinning out and the amount of films still to premiere countable on one hand. It’s at this point that one stops expecting any great surprises – not so much because what’s to come doesn’t hold promise (the festival has a habit of saving the best until almost-last) but because we’ve all lived with the programme for so long now that even the few unseen films feel strangely familiar.

love

Wednesday night – at 12.45am, to be precise – finally saw the unveiling of the festival’s major talking-point and previously unidentified object, Gaspar Noe’s Love. With its running-time (130 minutes) only confirmed a couple of days before its premiere and the teasing promise of graphic sexual scenes, in CinemaScope 3D, the crowds that queued outside the Lumière theatre for more than two hours had no idea what to expect – but we all wanted to be amongst the very first to witness it. Sadly, the big reveal (carefully stage-managed so that not even the film’s distributors had seen the film before its premiere) turned out to be a bust. Noe’s films are usually assaultive, formally daring and wildly unpredictable – previous films Seul contre tous, Irreversible and Enter The Void are all wilfully and thrillingly provocative projections of the director’s feverish mind. Love, however, feels flat and murky right from the start, placing us inside the head of Murphy, an American film student whose sexually-charged relationship with beautiful but troubled Parisian Electra runs aground when he gets another girl pregnant.

Despite some strikingly staged and edited sequences (Noe has a way with time-travelling match-cuts that rivals his hero Stanley Kubrick) and an undoubtedly sincere intent to study sentimental and sexual love from the inside-out, the film itself is stifled by an oppressive atmosphere, uncharismatic leads and a slightly scattershot approach to its sexual content. An opening scene of mutual masturbation and the threesome that brings the main protagonists together are both a turn-on and a narrative necessity; beyond that, the many sex scenes don’t really serve much of a purpose because they rarely have the emotional impact intended. Love has been made with so much imagination and artistry – and Noe has such a committed, singular vision – that the film can’t be completely written off. However, given the high expectations and the fuss surrounding its premiere here, it has to be considered a major disappointment.

sicario

Meanwhile, the Competition gamely continued its attempt to deliver a meaningful rival to Son Of Saul (which has emerged as a major favourite) and the instantly acclaimed Carol: Denis Villeneuve’s drug cartel thriller Sicario, with the formidable Emily Blunt, powered through a gripping set-up and early action highpoint before ebbing away into genre inconsequentiality; Mountains May Depart hit emotional highs as it followed the fortunes of childhood friends-turned-lovers through 26 years from 1999 to 2025, but stumbled so badly when it moved into the future that it’s hard to count Jia Zhang-ke’s film as a success (in the festival short-term, at least); Guillaume Nicloux’s Valley Of Love had an eerie atmosphere that never fully developed, falling back too frequently on stars Gerard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert flailing at each other in the Arizona desert; and Dheepan is a characteristically ordinary effort from the mystifyingly highly-rated Jacques Audiard.

At least Paolo Sorrentino brought all the flamboyant high-style expected of him with Youth. Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel make for an appealing double-act as a retired composer and still-searching film director respectively, the old friends (and romantic rivals) reflecting on the past and coming to terms with the present while enjoying the luxuries (and colourful fellow guests) of a grand Swiss spa hotel. This is Sorrentino’s sixth consecutive film in Competition at Cannes and he appears to be as popular as ever, making Youth a realistic candidate for the Palme d’Or.

assassin

For me, the highpoint of the Competition and of the festival overall is Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s masterly The Assassin. Hou’s films truly are the last word in cinematic artistry (his 1998 Cannes entry Flowers Of Shanghai could lay serious claim to being the single most beautiful feature film in colour ever made), and this meditative and melancholy martial-arts tale marks the director’s welcome return after a seven year absence. A title that’s been expected to appear at one festival or another for the last three years, The Assassin proves to be more than worth the wait. After a few sketches of backstory in black-and-white, the film bursts into colour with a ravishing scarlet-and-gold sunset title-card and never looks back, shifting aspect ratios as it moves through time to tell the story of a female assassin in 9th century China who, as punishment, is ordered on a mission that forces her into an emotional confrontation with her past. It is, however, a film that completely defies synopsis; as usual with Hou the telling of the story is less reliant on any standard notion of narrative progression, linear or otherwise, and almost entirely on the tone and temperature of each shot, with the balance of light and colour and the rhythm of cutting within a sequence giving you all the psychological information you need to feel through your way through the film. This is nothing to do with Vittorio Storaro-styled colour-coding either – it’s filmmaking in a world of its own and with its very own language, even allowing for the genre trappings it carries with it. I hope that it wins the Palme d’Or, and very much expect it to do so.

Still, when it comes the presence of greatness at this year’s festival, nobody can touch the twin subjects of the expertly constructed documentary by Kent Jones and Serge Toubiana that appeared in the Cannes Classics section. Hitchcock/Truffaut takes as its starting point the classic film book of the same name – a transcription of conversations from the mid-6os between Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut – and spins it out into an extended investigation into what made these particular filmmakers, and ultimately cinema itself, tick. Both anecdotal and analytical, the film moves between the actual interview sessions that formed the book and a range of filmmakers talking about Hitchcock’s work. It’s the latter aspect that makes the film soar, as the likes of Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Wes Anderson, Olivier Assayas and James Gray detail the imagination and technical skill that went into creating his films while also trying to capture with mere words the almost supernatural way they hold viewers in their thrall. Hearing film discussed with such knowledge and passion, coupled with the succession of remarkable clips, are strong reminders – and it’s surprising how often one needs them at Cannes – of the magic of cinema and why we first fell in love.

Cannes 2015: Carol, and the rest

20 May, 2015 Posted in: Cannes

Film4 Channel Editor David Cox reports from Cannes on Todd Haynes’ critically-lauded drama Carol, as well as other festival gems…

Carol

Carol

With almost two-thirds of this year’s Competition screened and only four full days of the festival left, there’s no doubt which film is the clear favourite at this stage. Todd Haynes’ Carol has received nearly unanimous ecstatic praise (the few dissenting opinions I heard weren’t very convincing) and looks even better when set against most of the other films here, in Competition or otherwise.

Based on Patricia Highsmith’s  novel The Price of Salt and set in and around early 1950s New York, Carol is a love story between a young aspiring photographer Therese (Rooney Mara) and an older woman, the outwardly confident but unhappy, unravelling wife and mother Carol (Cate Blanchett). After an electric love-at-first-sight scene set in a department store Therese and Carol embark on a tentative and illicit affair that virtually casts them in the role of criminals, a perspective embraced by Haynes and screenwriter Phyllis Nagy that brings an extra on-screen charge to proceedings.

Carol could easily have been stifled by good taste, period trappings and the necessary caution of its main characters. However, the precision on display – with every look, gesture and word carefully measured and perfectly placed – make it one of the most exhilarating screen romances of the modern era. Told with such subtlety and grace that one may fail to notice the strong feeling it’s generating, the full force of Carol isn’t felt until its perfect ending. Even then, you’re still likely to experience emotional aftershocks for days after.

Although Carol dominated the festival’s midpoint and raised the bar for everything to follow, overall quality seemed to take an upturn in its wake. For me, the next best film in the Competition thus far is Stephane Brize’s plainspoken and profoundly human drama The Measure Of A Man, in which the always-dependable French actor Vincent Lindon plays Thierry, a 51-year-old husband and father dealing with the psychological and financial toll of long-term unemployment. There’s no compelling narrative moving this story forward, just a restrained study of a character fighting to maintain pride and dignity as he’s put through a series of humiliating tests. When he does finally land a new position – as a security guard in a department store – the moral weighing up suggested by the title becomes Thierry’s ultimate personal  challenge. Resonant though it is, The Measure Of A Man is possibly too simple in form to win the top prize, although a Best Actor award for Lindon is certainly not out of the question.

Given the generally average quality of the Competition films this year, it’s surprising to find two major contemporary directors relegated to  lower-profile categories. Apichatpong Weerasethakul won the Palme in 2010 with Uncle Boonmee but his follow-up feature Cemetery Of Splendour finds him back in Un Certain Regard, where he began his Cannes career in 2002 with the aptly-titled Blissfully Yours. It’s a mystifying situation given that Cemetery of Splendour is very much the equal of the director’s previous work, another sublime and enigmatic journey through time, space and states of being marked with a gentle wit and contemplative beauty.

Another director cast out of Competition is Arnaud Desplechin, one of French cinema’s leading lights. Desplechin’s new film My Golden Days turned up in Directors Fortnight, which is a real coup for a section that’s always operated slightly independently of the festival’s Official Selection. My Golden Days returns to the character of Paul Dedalus, one of the key protagonists in Desplechin’s 1996 Competition entry My Sex Life, and follows him through his formative years. Desplechin is at his most rapturous here – the film is a heady rush of romance, sex, politics, philosophy and pop music all brought together by an ingenious structure that places Paul’s teenage relationship with Esther at the heart of both his life and the film. Both this and Apichatpong’s film would have enlivened and illuminated the Competition and surely been front-runners for prizes.

Alongside Desplechin in Directors Fortnight, American filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier returned with a follow-up to his debut Blue Ruin, which had premiered in the same section of the festival two years ago. No less bloody and intense than its predecessor, Green Room is a siege-thriller in which a hard-touring US hardcore band find themselves held captive in a backwoods club and threatened with guns, machetes and dogs by a small community of neo-Nazi skinheads. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about the way this story unfolds, but the milieu is fresh and the action set pieces play out with a breathless, brutal ferocity.

I had hoped to journey a little further in this entry. specifically down to the Critics Week section at the Miramar, the furthest festival location from its main centre at the Palais – where, as always, there have been discoveries to be made (It Follows and The Tribe both debuted here last year). However, I’ll save that for another time, along with an update on whether anything has emerged to challenge Carol as film of the festival.

Cannes 2015: The Festival Finds Its Feet

18 May, 2015 Posted in: Awards, Cannes, Cannes, Festivals, Opinion, Review

Film4 Channel Editor David Cox brings us up to date as the 2015 edition of the Cannes Film Festival moves into its second week…

We’re into the first weekend of this year’s Cannes Film Festival and, after a bumpy beginning, some stronger titles have come along and things are starting to straighten out a bit. I felt like I was clutching at straws for a few days – nothing felt like the real deal, nothing was delivering from start to finish and on all levels. There’d been plenty to enjoy (I’m not seeking perfection and you rarely find much at Cannes that’s actively bad) but it was really just moments from, or aspects of, films that were making an impression.

Amongst the early entries unlikely to be remembered by the end of the festival were Hirokazu Koreeda’s touching but perilously lightweight Our Little Sister (graced by some lovely performances); Radu Muntean’s intriguing but too-ambiguous-by-half One Floor Down; Woody Allen’s campus comedy of morality and murder Irrational Man (scene-by-scene snappy but an overly-familiar dead-end); and Matteo Garrone’s fairytale compendium Tale Of Tales, which filled the screen with lavish design and fabulous creatures but failed to conjure anything approaching a fantastical atmosphere.

sonofsaul

More significant, and almost certain to be in the running for a prize, Laszlo Nemes’ Son Of Saul is a Holocaust drama made with the urgent immediacy of a Dardenne film (specifically Rosetta and The Son). This immersive first-person drama – set in Auschwitz-Birkenau, 1944, and focussing almost exclusively on a Hungarian prisoner’s attempt to bury the dead body of a boy he believes to be his son – has a teasing visual scheme (lead Geza Rohrig is front-centre throughout, with death camp horrors glimpsed at the edge of frame or out of focus) and haunting sound design, an infernal, almost industrial clamour that conveys more of what’s going on than the images. It’s as powerful as one might expect and highly accomplished. However, given the subject matter, it also feels too contrived for comfort, with its perfectly constructed clockwork plot that, by being so compelling its own right, somehow reduces the very real historical horror to little more than a backdrop. Furthermore, some of the off-screen dialogue – lines such as ‘To the pits, the ovens must be full’ – are a little more on-the-nose than feels entirely necessary. Still, there’s no doubt that Son Of Saul is an entirely honourable attempt to confront the Shoah and an early festival highlight.

THE SEA OF TREES

The festival whipping-boy going into the first weekend was poor Gus Van Sant (a former Palme d’Or winner for Elephant) and his spiritual survival-adventure/relationship drama Sea Of Trees. Booed at the first press screening (and maybe at the second too, but surely there can’t be that many idiots at this festival), Sea Of Trees is – simply put – not a film best-served by being in competition at Cannes. It may be ponderous, sentimental and full of trite philosophical musings but I’ve seen plenty of films here over the years that follow the same path, escaping unscathed thanks to a lower profile or a better disguise (another of this year’s competition entrants, Joachim Trier’s Louder Than Bombs, is equally banal yet received warm applause). The nakedly earnest Sea Of Trees never tries to hide its emotions (it almost defiantly overshares in the final third) and one is never in doubt of the sort of grand effect that Van Sant – and Matthew McConaughey – are aiming for. That they end up looking faintly ridiculous is a shame, but critics would be better off trying to figure out why a big-hearted, serious-minded and beautifully-directed film ends up in such a mess rather than taking childish cheap shots.

A stumbling start maybe, but the weekend bought with it a handful of anticipated films that didn’t disappoint – Todd Haynes’ Carol; Asif Kapadia’s documentary Amy; Nanni Moretti’s Mia Madre (which I’ve yet to see but which has been well received); Miguel Gomes’s three-part Arabian Nights; and my personal favourite, Arnaud Desplechin’s My Golden Days. There have also been discoveries in the sidebars – Andrew Cividino’s Sleeping Giant; Clement Cogitore’s The Wakhan Front; Han Jun-hee’s Coin Locker Girl; and Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room, the director’s bloody follow-up to his popular Blue Ruin. I’ll touch on some of them in my next entry if we haven’t moved on by then – it’s amazing how quickly your new favourite film becomes yesterday’s news at this rapid-fire festival!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2014 Cannes Film Festival: Closing Credits

24 May, 2014 Posted in: Cannes, Cannes, Festivals, Opinion

Film4 Channel editor David Cox rounds up some late Competition contenders and give us his top twelve across all Cannes sections.

Even though this year’s festival hasn’t delivered a point of genuine excitement to pull it all together, it’s remained steady throughout. There have been a few films that should either help launch or re-define a filmmaker’s career – always the hallmark of a rewarding festival – and the early Competition high point of Mr. Turner has been matched a few times, with the penultimate film to screen arguably surpassing Mike Leigh’s wonderful biopic.

Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan is precisely the sort of late entry that turns the Competiition upside-down, and is the film that will move the director into the international big leagues (his debut The Return instantly established him as a major talent, while subsequent films The Banishment and Elena never quite caught on despite their strengths). Set in a fishing village that’s clearly seen more prosperous days, the film begins with a volatile family man Kolya developing a strategy with his lawyer friend to keep his land from being stolen by a criminal local mayor. However, the full force of a merciless state, bureaucratic and theocratic, is very much against Kolya; everything around him, from his family to his own liberty, is liable to be crushed in the jaws of a monstrous system.

Leviathan is formidable stuff – heavy, sad and savage but with a humour that one wouldn’t expect to find in either the slate-grey world of the film itself or Zvyagintsev’s overall work. Furthermore, the powerful expressive elements that the director wields to highlight the futility of struggle in modern Russia never get in the way of what is ultimately a very clear and compelling story. There have been a lot of good films in this year’s Competition but they all feel, in one way or another, like they’re missing something. Leviathan manages to pull together the complete picture.

Another consummate achievement – this time in Directors’ Fortnight (and not a Cannes discovery, following its premiere in Sundance) – is Damien Chazelle’s exhilarating Whiplash. The film stars the fantastic young actor Miles Teller as a 19-year-old jazz drummer determined to push himself as far as he can in his attempt to become more than just a professional player. His aided – and obstructed – by a famously brutal tutor at his New York conservatory, played with frightening intensity by J. K. Simmons. The psychological sparring between Simmons and Teller (as well as two other drummers competing for the spotlight) is fascinating enough, but the film goes up a level when the dramatic action turns physical in its extended musical workouts. Chazelle, expanding on a prize-winning short and working from his own experiences, stages, shoots and cuts each scene in lucid and dynamic fashion. The result is extraordinary.

A lot has been made of the amount of ‘masters’ bringing films to Cannes – returning grandees such as Cronenberg, Leigh, the Dardennes and Loach whose every film seems guaranteed a place at the festival regardless of quality. However, two veterans who really excelled are Jean Luc Godard and John Boorman, both brought to the festival some of their strongest work in years.

Godard’s Adieu au Language appeared in Competition and in three dimensions. The director unveiled a 3D short film here last year, but this feature really explores the technology and pulls off at least one visual coup that had the audience in the Grand Theatre Lumiere both rubbing their eyes in astonishment and applauding wildly (trust me, you’ll know it when you see it). Just over an hour in length, the film takes the film  of a beautiful, rapid-fire montage full of delight at how technology can enhance our appreciation of the natural world but also dismay at how it can dull our senses and out curiosity. There’s plenty more here, of course – abstract, direct, purely imagistic, textual – but as usual it’s hard to make sense of after one viewing (I’m always impressed by those who seem to be able to unpack a new Godard film directly after its premiere). It’s a fun, frustrating and fully alive film, causing your mind and your eyes to head off in different directions and then meet up at the end to discuss the experience.

Boorman’s film is an altogether more sedate affair, a continuation of the autobiographical story that he began with Hope & Glory in 1987. This second chapter moves forward a decade to the 1952, with the young Boorman (who becomes ‘Bill Rohan, played by Callum Turner, on-screen) leaving his family home in Twickenham to enter National Service and face the possibility of heading out to fight in Korea. The style is perfectly suited to the period – Boorman seems to have filtered his memory of that time through films of the era – and the gentle comedy is shot through with a poignancy that one would expect from such an unapologetically nostalgic piece (though there’s no attempt to idealise the 1050s or hide the pain of a post-war generation). The film won’t win any awards for innovation but that must be the furthest thing from Boorman’s mind – instead he offers a cast of richly human characters in a story that will resonate deeply with a lot of viewers, young and old. Here’s hoping a third film, following Boorman as he moves through the worlds of dry-cleaning and journalism before entering the film industry, follows quickly.

With the festival finishing today I’m going to end up with a festival Top Twelve, drawn from all sections of the festival. It’ll have to be alphabetical – I’ll leave the hard work of putting them in order of merit up to the juries:

ADIEU AU LANGUAGE (Godard, in Official Competition)

FORCE MAJEURE (Ostlund, in Un Certain Regard)

THE HOMESMAN (Jones, in Official Competition)

IT FOLLOWS (Mitchell, in Critics’ Week)

LEVIATHAN (Zvyagintsev, in Official Competition)

LOVE AT FIRST FIGHT (LES COMBATTANTS) (Cailley, in Directors’ Fortnight)

MR. TURNER (Leigh, in Official Competition)

TIMBUKTU (Sissako in Official Competition)

THE TRIBE (Slaboshpitskiy, in Critics’ Week)

TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT (Dardennes, in Official Competition)

WHIPLASH (Chazelle, in Directors’ Fortnight)

THE WONDERS (LE MERAVIGLIE) (Rohrwacher, in Official Competition)

 

And finally, my prediction for the Palme d’Or is TIMBUKTU, by Abderrahmane Sissako, with Leviathan, Adieu au Language and Xavier Dolan’s Mommy making it a close race.

 

by David Cox

David Cox is Channel Editor of Film 4 and the Programmer of Film4 Summer Screen at Somerset House.