The Arty Semite

Cannes Diary #5: Prizes and Farewells

By A.J. Goldmann

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After 10 cinema-soaked days, the International Jury, headed by Jane Campion, dished out the prizes of the 67th Cannes Film Festival.

There were no multiple winners in a year when there were clearly not enough awards to go around. In fact, some have taken issue with the jury’s decision to award the Jury Prize to both Xavier Dolan’s “Mommy” and Jean-Luc Godard’s 3D “Adieu au Langage.” Splitting the prize between the youngest and oldest directors in competition (Dolan is 25; Godard is 83), the jury was rectifying a long-standing oversight (Godard has never won a prize before at Cannes) and endorsing the work of a passionate and original new director. You would think that Dolan would be deeply honored to keep company with Godard, but apparently his tears onstage accepting the award masked his fury at not getting the Palme d’Or (the film that gets the Palme can’t score a win in an other category).

Russian filmmaker Alexei Serebriakov’s “Leviathan,” one of the final films to screen in competition, was something of a surprise winner for the screenplay award. A modern retelling of the Book of Job, it is a grim tale of government corruption and religious hypocrisy that is all the timelier in light of recent events in the expanding republic of Putinistan.

It came as little surprise when Timothy Spall was announced as Best Actor for his astonishing work in Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner.” That Spall beat out Steve Carell –the other critical favorite — made sense in light of the directing award, which went to Bennett Miller, who became the first Jewish director to win the prize since Julian Schnabel in 2007 for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” His “Foxcatcher,” which was one of the stronger competition entries this year, is already being mentioned as a contender for next year’s Oscars. Julianne Moore, the Best Actress-winner for her Norma Desmond turn in David Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars,” was the only winner aside from Godard — who didn’t even bother showing up for his screening or press conference last week — not on hand to accept.

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Cannes Diary #4: Strong Women On Screen

By A.J. Goldmann

Of the themes to emerge during this year’s Cannes Film Festival — incest, dogs, neglected children — uncommonly strong women have been the most pervasive. This seems appropriate in a year where the jury is presided over by Jane Campion, the only woman to win a Palme d’Or in the history of the festival. As the festival opened, Campion accused the film industry of “inherent sexism.” Thierry Fremeux, who runs the festival, has by way of a rebuttal pointed out that one-fifth of the films in the official selection are by female directors, including two in competition.

But beyond films from the likes of Asia Argento, Alice Rohrwacher and Naomi Kawase, a surprising number of films this year are literally anchored by their tough, often-complex female protagonists. This holds true for Ronit Elkabetz as an Israeli woman fighting for a divorce in a rabbinical court in “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” as well as Marion Cotillard as a working-class mother struggling to keep her job in “Two Days, One Night,” and Bérénice Bejo as an aid-worker trying to convince the UN of the humanitarian crisis in Chechnya during the Second Chechen War. By way of contrast, there haven’t been many memorable male characters or performances on offer — Timothy Spall and Steve Carell being notable exceptions.

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Cannes Diary #3: Cronenberg, Carell and the Infamous Strauss-Kahn

By A.J. Goldmann

There was a lot of buzz — and not necessarily the good kind of buzz — surrounding bad-boy director Abel Ferrera’s “Welcome to New York,” his fictionalized account of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal, which was screened on Saturday for press and market ahead of its VOD-only release in France (a theatrical rollout is planned for America later in the year). I was busy seeing the enigmatic and dreamy Italian competition entry “Le Meraviglie” (“The Wonders”) by Alice Rohrwacher during the screening and wild after-party, which reportedly vied with the film for obscenity and grotesquery. In the wake of the film’s release, Strauss-Kahn’s lawyer said that the former International Monetary Fund chief planned to sue Ferrara for defamation. (DSK is reportedly “heartbroken and terrified” and refuses to see the film.)

After a long, party-studded weekend on the Croisette, David Cronenberg’s celebrity satire “Maps to the Stars” debuted in competition. With an all-star cast (Julianne Moore, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson), the Canadian auteur’s first film shot in L.A. works best when savaging Hollywood culture, name-dropping (“Harvey’s producing and you know Harvey. Harvey is Harvey,” is one of the gems in Bruce Wagner’s screenplay), and mocking the lifestyles of the rich and weird. But the film is so busy making fun of child stars, personal shoppers, the vanity of aging actresses — shades of Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard” — and quack New Age therapists that it doesn’t bother to stop and think what it’s all about. There is also a central incest drama to the film, which creates an accidental resonance with Keren Yedaya’s “That Lovely Girl,” which was profiled in an earlier festival post.

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Cannes Diary #2: 'Self Made' and Divorce Drama From Israel

By A.J. Goldmann

There’s a very palpable “more is more” philosophy at Cannes: more glamor, more stars, more wasteful opulence. But while the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford and Robert Pattinson have graced the red carpet in the past 24 hours, my attention has been riveted by a couple of intimate Israeli films that premiered in the festival’s independently organized sidebar programs, Semaine de la Critique and Director’s Fortnight.

Shira Geffen, whose film “Jellyfish,” a collaboration with her husband, the writer Etgar Keret, won the Camera d’Or in 2007, was back at the festival with the mesmerizing, funny and often unsettling “Self Made” (“Boreg”), which is screening in Semaine de la Critique. Going solo as director, Geffen, who also wrote the screenplay, gives us a double-portrait of an avant-garde Tel Aviv performance artist and a troubled Palestinian woman hermetically sealed inside themselves. The title refers to, among other things, an Ikea-like furniture company that Michal (the tragicomic and often panic-stricken Sarah Adler) calls after her side of the bed crashes to the floor one morning, giving her a nasty bruise (as well as possible amnesia) and setting off the often-hilarious chain of events that will eventually result in her trading places with the Palestinian Nadine (Samira Saraya, very stubborn and stoic) at a checkpoint.

Over the course of a single day, Michal is beset by a stream of unwelcome visitors, including a pushy and sanctimonious German TV crew who want to interview her about her upcoming work at the Biennial (hint: she’s undergone very invasive surgery to produce it) to a seafood chef who plays the violin in order to soften up the crabs. While Michal’s world is turned on its head, Nadine gets fired from her job in the DIY furniture factory that delivers Michal’s new bed, repeatedly gets into trouble at the Israeli checkpoint and is set up on a date with a neighbor’s son who, after sleeping with her, tries to recruit her as a suicide bomber.

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Cannes Diary #1: 'Mr. Turner' and Israeli Incest

By A.J. Goldmann

Amid clear sunny skies and swaying palm trees, the competition of the Cannes Film Festival opened on a strong note with British auteur Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner,” about the great painter J.M.W. Turner. Leigh is one of the six Jewish directors who have films in the official competition section of the festival (others include the Canadian surrealist David Cronenberg and “The Artist”’s Michel Hazanavicius, whom we hope to profile later in the festival).

A beautifully sensitive period piece constructed with substance and subtlety, “Mr. Turner” is Leigh’s fourth venture to make it to the Croisette (his family drama “Secrets and Lies” won the “Palme d’Or,” the festival’s top prize, in 1996). It succeeds where main other biopics of painters have failed, both as an incisive character portrait and an engaging and finely wrought piece of filmmaking.

Thanks to brilliant cinematography and lighting, “Mr. Turner” achieves truly painterly effects. Much credit for the film’s success is due to Timothy Spall — one of Leigh’s regular actors — an absolutely overwhelming presence in the title role. Far from a hagiography, the film delivers a warts-and-all-portrait of the artist as an old man and Spall plays him with both sensitivity and oafishness.

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