In Photos and Words: Day 9 at the Cannes International Film Festival

Another busy day at Cannes. Photo gallery can be found to the right and summary of activities is below:

It’s a second visit to Cannes for Diao Yi Nan (present in 2003 as actor in All Tomorrow’s Parties, from fellow countryman, presented in Un Certain Regard). His first offering, entitled Uniform that went on to win the Dragon and Tiger award at the Vancouver Film Festival as well as the Doen Amnesty Award at the Rotterdam International Festival..

Wu Hongyan is a female baliff in a regional court of the industrial western province. Her grim job has not hardened her, even after years of dealing with women awaiting execution – more often than not, sentenced for crimes of passion. Every weekend, the 30-something unmarried woman makes a long train ride to the city for the Good Luck Matchmaking dance. Her romantic encounters end up forgettable and unfulfilling.  She finally feels truly attracted to someone when she meets the mysterious Li Jun. But her heart drops upon discovering that his wife is actually one of her prisoners.  “I think that often times women’s tenacity and strength surpasses men’s, even though on the surface women seem more fragile and delicate,” expressed Diao Yi Nan. “Therefore when they do show their dignity and fortitude to me, that moment is extremely moving and powerful.”

In Competition: “Une Vieille Maîtresse” by Catherine Breillat

Eleven years after the presentation in the parallel section of Perfect Love, French director Catherine Breillat is competing for the Palme d’Or for the first time with Une Vieille Maîtresse. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly, the action in this feature takes place in the mid-19th century. Licentious young Ryno de Marigny (Fu’ad Aït Aattou) is engaged to the virginal Hermangarde (Roxane Mesquida), the fine flower of the aristocracy. But ill-wishers determined to prevent the match, despite the love of Ryno and Hermangarde for each other, spread rumors that the young man will never succeed in separating from La Vellini (Asia Argento), the mistress who, for years, has been his scandalous flame.

Asked whether Une Vieille Maîtresse is likely to appeal to the general public, Catherine Breillat replied: “This is my most accessible film for the general public, and yet I did not betray myself. It is completely unlike the films I usually make in that it  does not break any taboos. I had taken that style as far as it would stretch; it was time to come back to the essentials in life: pleasure, romance, and passion. But romance is dark, which was another reason for wanting to make this film; for the romanticism, the burning passion, the terrible suffering, but without perverting the sentiments. The heart of the story portrays an ideal that topples into disaster as soon as it is reached.”

Presented in Un Certain Regard, Una Novia Errante (The Wandering Bride) is the second film from Ana Katz. The 32-year-old Argentinean director was bestowed a Special Jury Prize in 2002 at the San Sebastian Festival for her first feature El Juego de la Silla (Musical Chairs). She also had a role in Whisky (2004) by Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll, which was screened in Un Certain Regard. With  The Wandering Bride, she continues the adventures of Ines who decides, after an argument with her friend, to spend her vacation alone.

“And it is about those who have lived indelible love scenes secretly in pain,” confesses Ana Katz, “considering that the minimum incident would uncover the veil and bring horror in…the end. And those who have walked by the hand with their lover with a lump in their throats, and have come to wish that everything would finish to avoid that moment in which it would finish. And for those who, afterwards, forgot everything. And then sometimes, started all over again.”

In Competition: “We Own the Night” by James Gray

Seven years after The Yards, presented in Competition, American director James Gray is back on the Croisette competing a third time for a chance at the Palme d’Or with We Own the Night. The action is set in NY in the 80s. NYPD officers and father & son (Robert Duvall and Mark Wahlberg) are caught up in a crime drama with a Russian gangster (Joaquin Phoenix) operating out of his nightclub. The assault is launched against organized crime and drug trafficking and the young police officer must decide which side he is on.

James Gray talked about the origins of the film: “The idea for the film came from a New York Times photograph of a police funeral. In the photo, all of these grown men were hugging…in tears after one of their fellow officers had been keilled in the line of duty. And the image had such a tremendous emotion. I was anxious to make something not just thrilling, but explosive, dramatic, and frankly filled with action.

Out of Competition: “Crossed Tracks” by Claude Lelouch

Claude Lelouch, Palme d’Or winner in 1966 with A Man and a Woman, has returned to the Cannes Festival with the Out of Competition screening of Roman de Gare (Crossed Tracks). I

In the great director’s own words: “I hope that in Crossed Tracks you will find melodrama, comedy, suspense, elements of the road movie, and the western, in short the genres and the kinds of cinema that I have always loved more than anything.” Judith Ralitzer, femme fatale and popular writer, is seeking characters for her next best-seller. A serial killer has just escaped from the Santé prison in Paris’s 13th arrondissement. Huguette, a hairdresser in a top Parisian beauty salon, is going to change their destiny. Some encounters are more fatal than others…

“Crossed Tracks extends that idea in a way, since it speaks to all those who, today, want to be able to express personal things and pass them on to as many people as possible, without going through a mediator: the desire to contribute a work of art, express an ambition, and remain its proud proprietor,” Lelouch added.

The Cannes Festival awarded the 60th anniversary medallion to thirty journalists who have been covering the event for the longest period of time, including Italian reporter Angelo Macario, who started taking notes on the Croisette in 1946. At 80, the granddaddy of the Cannes press is still filing reports, as a contributor to the Italian monthly Festival News. Another of the laureates was Mario Gurrieri, 71, the eldest of the press photographers still on the job. He has been snapping pictures of the Festival since 1959. In 1983, he was the one who instigated the “photographers’ strike,” to protest actress Isabelle Adjani’s refusal to appear at the press conference and photo-call scheduled for the presentation of L’Eté Meurtrier (One Deadly Summer) by Jean Becker.

“Our 60th anniversary celebration is an opportunity to honor the international press, which has always contributed to the Festival’s success,” remarked Festival President Gilles Jacob. He went on to thank the journalists “for their loyalty and, especially, their ever-replenished love for film.” Recalling that he himself had once been a film critic, he joked about how the press indulges in an “especially delicious game”: “You hunt down the films which have no business being in the Competition, the films in parallel sections which rightfully belong in the Competition, not to mention the films which, in your opinion, and especially your opinion, deserved awards. Your fraught relationship to cinema and the Festival gives rise to another perverse effect: you’re continually making your famous predictions, which resemble an invitation to the Jury to vote in compliance with press opinion. The Jury rebels at being told what to do, does something completely contrary, and is then scolded for it in the press. It will never end… But it’s one of the spices of Festival life!”

Un Certain Regard: “You, the Living” by Roy Andersson

Cannes Jury Prize winner in 2000 with Songs from the Second Floor, Swedish director Roy Andersson is back on the Croisette with a Un Certain Regard showing of You, The Living.  This film “is about the human being,” explains the director, “about her greatness and her miserableness, her joy and sorrow, her self-confidence and anxiety. A being with whom we want to laugh and also cry. It is a simply a tragic comedy or a comic tragedy about us.”

Concerning the narrative structure, Roy Andersson elaborated: “When I make a film, I don’t rely on a classic screenplay, but rather on a theme, a philosophical concept or a particular atmosphere. For You, the Living, I created tableaux that put characters in commonplace, everyday life situations with great attention to detail. Together these scenes form a whole resembling the chaotic structure of a bustling marketplace. First and foremost, I wanted to set up the scenes in a way that left them open to development that allows for surprise and the unexpected. The scenes are linked by recurring lines of dialogue and situations.”

Presentation of the Short Films In Competition

The official screening of the short films In Competition occurred on this ninth day of the Cannes Festival. An international Jury, chaired by Chinese director Jia Zhangke and having as members the Iranian actress and filmmaker Niki Karimi, American film costume designer Nadoolman Landis, French writer J.M.G. Le Clézio and European director Dominik Moll, will be awarding a Short Film Palme d’Or to one of the eleven films in the selection at the Festival’s closing ceremonies.

This year, the European continent has five shorts in the running for the special Palme d’Or : Résistance aux Tremblements by Olivier Hems (France), Ark by Grzegorz Jonkajtys (Poland), Gia To Onoma Tou Spourgitiou (In the Name of the Sparrow) by Kyros Papavassiliou (Greece – Cyprus), Spegelbarn (The Looking Glass) by Erik Rosenlund (Sweden, Finland), and Het Zusje by Marco Van Geffen (Netherlands). As for North America, it is represented in the competition by The Oates’ Valor by Tim Cahill (United States), The Last 15 by Antonio Campos (United States), and Ver Llover by Elisa Miller (Mexico).

The Asian films in the selection are  Ah Ma by Anthony Chen (Singapore) and My Dear Rosetta by Yang Hea-hoon (South Korea). Oceania is also represented, with Run by Mark Albiston (New Zealand).

All the Cinemas of the World: Spotlight on Colombia

This year’s Tous les Cinemas du Monde program, aimed at exposing festival-goers to a broad spectrum of film production from all over the world on a country-by-country basis, has already surveyed motion-picture production in India, Lebanon, Poland, and Africa. Today, the country featured is Colombia, a newcomer. Indeed, Law 814 passed in 2003 gives the Colombian film industry the means to get back on its feet and start running. The number of films produced has stabilized, and Colombian audiences are regular attendees at films reflecting themselves as a people. The legislation is beginning to have a real effect, three years after its passage.
Four films will be shown at the Cannes Festival: Soñar No Cuesta Nada (A Ton of Luck),  by Rodrigo Triana, is based on a true story which had a large impact on Colombian public opinion. Al Final Del Espectro is an exploration of the horror genre by Juan Felipe Orozco. Bluff, directed by Felipe Martinez, is a detective comedy, whereas La Sombra Del Caminante by Ciro Guerra is an example of the most personal type of cinema d’auteur. In Colombia, the Seventh Art is diverse and thriving.

Today’s Cannes Classics program is a double feature starting with the screening of Julien Duvivier’s 1935 film La Bandera at 5pm, followed at 8pm by Israel, Why, Claude Lanzmann’s first feature-length film. Fully restored prints of both classics will be shown. Attending the screening of his 1972 debut film, inspired by Jean-Paul Sartre’s writings on the Jewish question, Lanzmann began with a joke: “I applaud everyone in the audience tonight, for their heroic resistance to the huge American tidal wave entitled Ocean’s Thirteen.” He then recalled: “Israel, Why premiered in October 1973 at the New York Film Festival, just as the Yom Kippur War was starting: it was a sheer coincidence. But that fact was nevertheless crucial to the film’s destiny and career in certain countries. As you’ll see, it hasn’t aged a bit. It cannot age, because it is a work of art, and as a work of art, it creates its own event every time it is shown.” The Israeli ambassador to France was also in the audience.

At the press conference held for the in-Competition presentation of Secret Sunshine, actors Jeon Do-yeon and Song Kang-ho appeared with director Lee Chang-dong to field questions from journalists. Here are the highlights:

Lee Chang-dong  on the city of Miryang: “Miryang is a typical Korean city. It is an ordinary place. It has a lovely name, though, which means “secret sunshine.” I have always wondered why such a dull town had such a poetic name. The idea behind that choice of title being that even in an altogether ordinary life, there can be a metaphysical quest.”

Lee Chang-dong  on religion: “It is not a film about religion; it’s a film about people, whether they are religious or not. (…) Regarding my reasons for choosing the Christian religion: mainly, because in Korea, there are many, many Christians. And also, the themes of forgiveness and reconciliation are very strong in the Christian religion, which tries to give answers to human suffering, more than other religions.”

Jeon Do-yeon on her work as an actress:  “I made no preparations for the role, because these were feelings that were so foreign to me I couldn’t even imagine them. Therefore, I live through the events in the life of Shin-ae, my character, at the same time as she does. (…) Secret Sunshine is my tenth film, but I feel like I’m at the beginning of my career again, because this film renewed my energy so much.”

Song Kang-ho on his part: “I didn’t model my character on anyone in particular. But he’s the type of person one frequently meets in Korea, so I was comfortable playing him.”

Lee Chang-dong on the fact that two Korean films (Breath and Secret Sunshine) were selected In Competition: “I doubt that there’s any link between the number of films In Competition in a festival and recognition of a cinematography. Before a film has a nationality, it is the work of a team, of a special creative spirit. However, it is true that having two films in Competition attracts attention for Korean cinema, and I hope the attention will give it even more energy.”

Lee Chang-dong  on the beginning and end of the film: “I chose to begin the film with a shot of the sky and to end with a shot of just any piece of land, even a fairly dirty one. By that, I simply meant to say that the meaning of life is not to be found in the sky, but on Earth.”

Lee Chang-dong on violence: “Generally speaking, cinema is increasingly violent. The particularity of Korean cinema, compared to American cinema, for example, is that we have a much more realistic, rawer approach to violence. For example, Korean filmmakers will not show serial killers as charming characters.”

Competition: “Alexandra” by Alexander Sokurov

Alexandra is the fourth film by Russian cineaste Alexander Sokurov to be presented In Competition. Moloch won Best Screenplay in 1999; selections since have been Taurus (2001) and Father and Son (2003). Alexandra is a story with a political background: a Russian grandmother goes to visit her grandson, an officer stationed in the Republic of Chechnya. Sokurov gave the title role to Galina Vishnevskaya, who, at 80, is a legend of the Russian opera scene, and the widow of the great cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. Unfortunately, due to illness, both the director and the leading woman had to cancel their trip to Cannes.

On the ambition driving his latest feature, Alexander Sokurov said: “For me this story is not about the actual but about the eternal. Not about present-day Russia, its policies in the Caucasus, its army, but about the eternal life of Russia. War is always a terrible thing. In this film about war there is no war.  (…) Our film is a work of fiction, not a political act. In the film, we are looking for ways to bring people together, and we find them.”
 

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