Festivals

Andrea Arnold’s Film4-backed American Honey wins Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival

23 May, 2016 Productions Posted in: Cannes

Film4-backed American Honey was among the prizes at the Cannes Film Festival last night, taking home the Jury Prize for British director Andrea Arnold, and earning a Commendation from the Ecumenical Jury.

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It’s the third time Cannes-favourite Arnold has won the Jury Prize, following wins in 2006 for Red Road and 2009 for Fish Tank. She also served on the Jury for the Main Competition in 2012, and chaired the International Critics’ Week Jury in 2014.

Film4’s Head of Creative Rose Garnett commented: “We are so thrilled that Andrea Arnold’s American Honey was selected In Competition at Cannes, and that the Festival’s Jury has seen fit to recognise the film with the Jury Prize. American Honey is a passionate and brilliant odyssey that takes us into the hearts and minds of the young and disenfranchised in modern America. Film4 is proud to have supported the project from its inception. Andrea is one of the great directors working today – and American Honey is a landmark film that places British talent at the centre of the world cinema stage.”

American Honey tells the story of Star (Sasha Lane), a teenage girl from a troubled home, who runs away with a travelling sales crew that drives across the American mid-west selling magazine subscriptions door to door. Finding her feet in this gang of teenagers, one of who is Jake (Shia LaBeouf), she soon gets into the group’s lifestyle of hard partying, law-bending and young love.

Cannes 2016: The Student showcases the ugly side of Bible verses

22 May, 2016 Posted in: Cannes, Cannes, Festivals, Opinion, Review

Kirill Serebrennikov’s Un Certain Regard entry The Student boasts a brilliant central performance from Pyotr Skvortsov.

Pyotr Skvortsov in The Student

Pyotr Skvortsov in The Student

Cannes 2016 has been defined by a number of extraordinary performances. Sandra Hüller, in German comedy Tony Erdmann, from director Maren Ade, gave what was for my money one of the finest, outdone by only Isabelle Huppert in the late-screening Competition entry Elle, from Paul Verhoeven. Likewise, Kristen Stewart continues to prove her Twilight-era critics wrong, creating a fascinatingly frosty but layered portrait of a grieving spiritual medium in Olivier Assayas’s sinuous, multi-faceted Personal Shopper.

It wasn’t such an interesting year for male roles – with the exception of Adam Driver’s magical, low-key work in Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, the only male lead performance that has truly carved itself into my brain as a standout is (relative) unknown Pyotr Skvortsov as Venya in Kirill Serebrennikov’s Russian Un Certain Regard entry The Student. (I’ve not yet seen Palme d’Or winner I, Daniel Blake.)

The Student orbits around the central pull of Skvortsov’s performance like a solar system around its sun. Scenes often play out as long unbroken takes, with a restless, roving camera weaving and ducking around Skvortsov as he delivers relentless sermons and unambigous, often vicious quotations from the Bible to his classmates. In any other high-school film, this hyper-religious kid would be either be a tremulous Carrie-esque target for bullies or else part of the social elite – a wholesome A-grade student who is also head cheerleader, bandleader and Sunday school champion, a la Amanda Bynes in Easy A.

Venya, with his intense, smug conviction of his own righteousness, dark clothes and lithe movements evokes neither of these stereotypes. Instead, he recalls Alex Frost in Gus van Sant’s Elephant – a powerful yet embittered boy capable of violence. He’s terrifying, repellent and plausible all at once – here’s hoping we see him in more roles of this calibre.

Click here for more Cannes coverage on the Film4 blog

Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe team up for The Nice Guys

20 May, 2016 Posted in: Cannes, Cannes, Festivals, Opinion, Review

Playing out of Competition in Cannes, Catherine Bray checks out Shane Black’s The Nice Guys, a buddy comedy about two guys who aren’t exactly buddies.

Shane Black's The Nice Guys

Shane Black’s The Nice Guys

So, time for a total change of pace. After a while, when you’ve mused on the gently poetry of Jim Jarmusch (Paterson) and marveled at the exquisite control and restraint of Cristian Mungiu (Graduation), you want nothing more than to relax with an action-comedy. It’s like being good to yourself and digesting nothing but complex whole-grains rich in vitamins and nutrients for a week – at some point you’re going to crack and kick back with a hamburger.

Playing out of Competition at Cannes, my chosen hamburger is Shane Black’s 1970s set knockabout black comedy The Nice Guys, starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, and it’s a reasonably juicy one. (I’m going to curtail the hamburger metaphor now because it’s actually making me hungry).

Crowe plays tough-for-hire Jackson Healy, Gosling is hapless private detective Holland March. When March is beaten up by Healy in the course of his work, it’s the beginning of an unlikely partnership as the pair attempt to solve a missing person’s case. The 1970s setting is a good excuse for some ludicrous wardrobe choices (a nice powder blue leather jacket on Crowe, a porn ‘tache on Gosling), and further handily means there’s no need to write around the existence of mobile phones when constructing a plot full of wrong-place, wrong-time happenstance.

Crowe does a decent line in weary cynicism yearning for a better world who would nevertheless be lost in that world were it to suddenly be breathed into existence; he’s a kind of Sam Spade detective dropped into the milieu of Boogie Nights. Gosling is clearly having fun with the kind of “vanity free” performance handsome actors often enjoy, where they play a character who can display the kind of fear or incompetence they’re not normally encouraged to display as leading men.

The Nice Guys the perfect antidote to weightier fare, though doesn’t quite feel like the beginning of a whole new franchise that perhaps the studio would like. But who cares. Not everything has to be a franchise. Some films are just a lark – just as not all food has to be good for you.

Click here for more Cannes coverage on the Film4 blog

 

 

Cannes 2016: Cristian Mungiu’s Graduation is impeccably constructed

20 May, 2016 Posted in: Cannes, Cannes, Festivals, Opinion, Review

Catherine Bray catches Romanian auteur Cristian Mungiu’s Cannes Competition film Graduation, a minor but riveting morality play.

Cristian Mungiu's Graduation

Cristian Mungiu’s Graduation


For Cannes audiences with hopes pinned on Cristian Mungiu to deliver another knock-out blow of the kind he achieved with Beyond the Hills and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, his latest, Graduation, playing in Competition at the 69th Cannes Film Festival, may qualify as something of a disappointment. I have to say, I was riveted by this slow-burn precision construct throughout, but equally doubt that it’ll be something I’ll return to when making my “best of 2016″ list in seven months.

Focusing on a doctor determined that his daughter must, by any means, take up the scholarship she’s been offered to study at a British university, Mungiu constructs an ethical dilemma involving low-level bribery, whose spiral tightens with every turn of the screw. Where most of the decisions taken in the moment by any given character feel understandable given their context, it’s clear from the outset that the ensuing tangle of deception and compromise is both avoidable and inexorable.

Set in a bleak Cluj housing estate, the environment is one of stagnation, where moral decisions and the location work are both essentially a grey area. Mungiu poses the fundamental question of whether, given that a break with the nation’s compromised past can seemingly only itself be achieved by fresh compromise, this apparent break with the past represents a new dawn worth having, or simply a continuation of the corruption that has cut post-Ceausescu Romania off from fully functioning as a modern democracy.

It would all seem overly schematic were it not for the naturalism of the performances from a superb, un-showy ensemble including Adrian Titieni, Maria Dragus and Lia Bugnar. Cinematographer Tudor Vladimir Panduru rarely allows the actors to rely on the luxury of forgiving close-ups to communicate their characters’ emotions – instead they must work with their body language to show how they feel. Since they are frequently concealing their true feelings from whoever they’re with at the time, it’s a doubly tricky thing to pull off, but there aren’t any weak links.

The film I was most reminded of was not, in the end, one of Mungiu’s own, but the work of Michael Haneke on Hidden. There’s a similarly cool analytical perspective at work that neither condemns nor celebrates anyone’s choices – it merely seem to record, to dissect. Of course such objectivity is an illusion, as much a directorial choice as anything more overt.

Click here for more Cannes coverage on the Film4 blog

Cannes 2016: Gimme Danger (dir. Jim Jarmusch)

19 May, 2016 Posted in: Cannes, Cannes, Documentaries, Review

Michael Leader catches the Cannes premiere of Jim Jarmusch’s documentary chronicling the career of The Stooges…

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What a treat! Not one, but two new films from independent cinema deity Jim Jarmusch in the Official Selection at Cannes. The first was Paterson, which Film4’s Catherine Bray reviewed earlier this week, and here’s the flip-side, a rousing documentary about proto-punk pioneers The Stooges.

Formed in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1967 by former jobbing drummer James Osterberg (aka Iggy Pop), brothers Ron and Scott Asheton (guitar and drums, respectively), and bassist Dave Alexander, The Stooges perfected a chaotic, caterwauling subgenre of garage rock that proved impossible to market in both the psychedelic late-60s and the more commercially-driven early-70s, despite the efforts of Elektra Records and, later, David Bowie and his MainMan management firm. Perhaps best known as the incubator that birthed the serpentine, shirtless behemoth Iggy Pop, The Stooges’ three LPs only grew in stature as time passed, greatly influencing many key musical moments in the years since, from punk to alternative rock to grunge.

Jim Jarmusch – clearly a rock ‘n roll nut as evidenced by his soundtrack choices, casting decisions and recurring thematic obsessions – has only flirted with the music documentary genre once before, with the rarely-revisited Neil Young tour movie Year Of The Horse, and those expecting that Gimme Danger will match the tone of the director’s feature films may be somewhat disappointed – for this is, unavoidably, a conventional, largely linear rock-doc, chock-full of talking heads and archival footage. Happily, however, it’s an absolute riot.

If you look, you’ll find Jarmusch’s fingerprints all over Gimme Danger, from the odd bit of off-camera chatter (“We are interrogating Jim Osterberg…”) to a soundtrack cut from his sludgy, Stooges-influenced side project SQÜRL, but the director clears the stage to tell the story of this highly influential, mythologised band. Having an avowed mega-fan behind the camera brings not just the expected energy in revisiting the highlights of the band’s short recording history, it also balances the film’s outlook, imbuing the dreaded back-half of any retrospective with an infectious curiosity. Take, for example, the retelling of the band’s late-game ‘reunification’, as told by bassist Mike Watt (Minutemen, fIREHOSE), who plots a path from Todd Haynes’ 1998 glam-rock pseudo-biopic Velvet Goldmine (featuring a character based on Pop), through a debilitating illness that prevented him from playing music, to his recovery covering Stooges songs live with various musicians (including Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis and the Ashetons), to the eventual revival of the band’s initial lineup, with Watt filling in on bass, at Coachella in 2003.

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Also key is the incredible story of James Williamson, guitarist and songwriter on scuzzy 1973 classic Raw Power, who dropped out of the music industry to become an electrical engineer and, eventually, vice president of technical standards at Sony, only to rejoin The Stooges in 2009, sounding as ferocious as ever, while looking like someone’s retired uncle had won a competition to be a rock star for the night.

It would have been all too easy to cash in on Iggy Pop’s boundless charisma and inexhaustible store of anecdotes (from hanging out with Nico to inventing, and botching, the first stage dive); it’s trickier to shift focus to the band behind the frontman, some of whom, including Scott Asheton and saxophonist Steve Mackay, passed away after being interviewed, yet before the finished film’s premiere. To many they may have been known as ‘Iggy & The Stooges’, but Pop asserts throughout that the band were philosophically, if not politically, Communist. In Gimme Danger, Jarmusch has crafted a loving, detailed documentary that perfectly reflects this musical ideal.

 Click here for more Cannes coverage on the Film4 blog