What Moore Cannes Go Wong?

The personal schmoozes the political at the world's most influential film fest

Alas, it takes about 69 seconds for the L.A. critic and me--along with three other Yankee scribes--to lose our...excitation for the screening. Pas de presse, we're told over and over by the French market staff--which, it seems to me, is rather enjoying its delivery of bad news. Refusing to give up easily (Nine Songs has already been reviewed in Variety, after all), we valiant critics place a last-ditch cell phone call to the fully loaded producers at Wild Bunch. (Given their name and reputation, it occurs to me that maybe bursting into the Bunch's office with our fountain pens drawn would be a wiser approach.) The definitive word comes roughly 69 seconds later: Pas de presse.

"New low for me," jokes one of our deflated members. "Shut out of a porno movie."

 

"We thought maybe you guys should send your kids [to Iraq] first": Michael Moore grills  Rep. John Tanner in 'Fahrenheit 9/11'
Dog Eat Dog Films/Wild Bunch
"We thought maybe you guys should send your kids [to Iraq] first": Michael Moore grills Rep. John Tanner in 'Fahrenheit 9/11'

Wednesday

Fahrenheit 9/11 premiered on Monday and people here are still busy debating it two days later. Which is saying a lot for Cannes, where the half-life of a film, amidst dozens of others screening every day, tends to be a lot nearer the running time of Nine Songs. Among last year's loudest defenders of the Patriot Act: Roger Ebert, working hard to withhold critical comment in his column yesterday, granted that at least one scene in 9/11 appeared "positively eerie," while Todd McCarthy came out swinging, calling the movie a "blatant cinematic 2004 campaign pamphlet" in his Variety review's second graph. (I wonder what McCarthy would call his review.)

One of the many things that Moore's movie does brilliantly is strip away the facade of political objectivity in film reviewing, professional and otherwise. No stranger to critical provocation himself, the old French New Wave giant Jean-Luc Godard deigns to enter the 9/11 fray this afternoon, claiming in the course of a rambling, often hilarious, ingeniously theoretical press conference--ostensibly in support of his own Cannes entry Notre musique--that Moore's film could likely boost Bush's approval rating in the U.S. Frankly, I'm not sure I follow Godard's particular logic here--but it wouldn't be the first time he has left me scratching my head or feeling grateful for the opportunity. Indeed, after a few hours of failing to rid the auteur's troubling statement from my mind, it finally occurs to me: Dubya, whatever the man's intellectual abilities (and Godard appears to believe he has them), is no slouch when it comes to addressing the actions of enemies both real and imagined.

Tonight I catch Godard's film in the market, and it's a stunner. The first third is an appropriately lacerating montage of war footage, the accumulating horror of broken bodies not diminished in the least by the fact that many of the images are taken from Hollywood (which is its own well-oiled war machine). The talky middle third burrows into the occupied territory that Moore's film clumsily evades, most strikingly in a heated exchange between a young Israeli Jewish journalist and a middle-aged Palestinian intellectual who opines, "The world is interested in you, not in us." The final third is called "Heaven," and although I'm certain it takes place in the afterworld, I'm not at all certain what it means.

How's this for a blatant cinematic campaign pamphlet? We need fewer Shreks and more films like Jean-Luc Godard's: urgent, gravely serious, philosophical in style and content, more than willing to risk the viewer's incomprehension in trade for rare moments that set the head and heart ablaze.

 

Thursday

Sometimes, even at Cannes, the political is personal--and affordable. Made with the Mac's iMovie for a mere $218.32, Jonathan Caouette's thoroughly obsessive autobiography-cum-therapy workout Tarnation tells mainly of the filmmaker's difficult relationship with a mother who suffered shock treatment and other abuses as a child. Caouette, whose intense, immodest montage includes the Lana Turner-esque soliloquy he delivered in drag at age 11, draws on two decades of diaristic home video whose starkly confessional tone is abstracted through digital recoloring, copious split-screen effects, and jarring interjections of printed text and unlicensed pop. (The movie--an unqualified hit in the Directors Fortnight sidebar that Godard and his fellow militants set up as an anti-Cannes in the late '60s--is being billed as a "musical documentary.") But there's nothing the least bit distanced about the son's poignant attempts to connect with Mom, whose unconditional love is reciprocated through one of the most generously affectionate characterizations of a mother in all of movies.

Speaking of love and obsession: My favorite living director, an artist for whom passion is synonymous with pain, has a serious case of separation anxiety--and it makes me cherish him all the more. "All memories are moist," reads an early intertitle in Wong Kar-wai's two-hour pseudo-sequel to his own In the Mood for Love, 2046--which, aptly enough, arrived in Cannes still wet from the lab. Though he was four long years in production on his latest film, wherein Tony Leung's heartbroken journalist essentially revisits the old Love as if in a parallel universe (an even more painful one, with Maggie Cheung's former role being shared by kindred sufferers Gong Li, Zhang Ziyi, and Faye Wong), the Hong Kong master of melodramatic indecision couldn't let go even in the final hours before his gala premiere. Shooting additional footage as recently as a week ago, scrambling to splice at least one new scene into each of two unscreened prints, and forcing Cannes to rejigger its schedule for the first time in the festival's 57-year history, the perfectionist may well have mustered another masterpiece--and relinquished his chances of winning the Palme.

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