11 posts categorized "Cannes Film Festival"

July 02, 2017

THE BEGUILED — CANNES 2017

The-Beguiled-PosterSofia Coppola’s thoughtful reworking of Thomas P. Cullinan’s 1966 novel “A Painted Devil” is a provocative study in feminine mores of the Civil War era. That catty jealousies between women, and pubescent girls, vying for the romantic attention of a fetishized male figure doesn’t mesh with the current overstated trend discounting anything that doesn’t meet the Bechdel test is beside the point.

Jessica Chastain took it upon herself to backhandedly insult Coppola’s film during the closing press conference at Cannes last month, but the millionaire actress doth protest too much. I dare say that none of Chastain’s performances in films such as “The Help” or “The Martian” compare favorably against those of Nicole Kidman or Kirsten Dunst in “The Beguiled.” Sour grapes.

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Where Don Siegel’s 1971 film version (starring Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page) came off as a clunky sexploitation popcorn movie, with some slave exploitation thrown in for good measure, Coppola’s artfully nuanced picture delights in seductive patience. Coppola lets the haunting wartime atmosphere of a rural girls’ boarding school in southern Virginia speak volumes. This is the doomed South after all. Miss Farnsworth’s Seminary for Young Ladies is a Southern mansion lacking in slave labor. Homespun music and bible readings fill the empty hours. Boredom abounds.

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Coppola holds back her use of light to generate an unsettling sense of claustrophobic suspense so that when the narrative moves beyond the school’s candle-lit interior walls, the audience breathes a sigh of relief. Nature brims with dangers real and unseen.

While not a minimalist film, “The Beguiled” turns on subtle twists of emotion and things left unspoken.    

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The story ignites from the discovery of Colin Farrell’s wounded corporal John McBurney, a deserter whose dabbling in mercenary work has proved less profitable or satisfying than he imagined. The Dublin-born McBurney sports a politeness and polished sense of humor that he uses to protect his status as a less than welcome guest in a house kept under strict order by Nicole Kidman’s haughty Martha Farnsworth. McBurney senses that Miss Farnsworth is a rival not to be taken for granted. He adopts a submissive approach. She masks her seething romantic attraction with a stoic hostility that plays into the film’s tragic escalations.

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Still, McBurney can’t resist falling for Kirsten Dunst’s hidden charms as Edwina, the school’s second in charge. He is a spy in a hot house of simmering lust. While it’s reasonable to suppose that Farrell’s character is nothing more than an opportunist attempting to seal safe passage into the next chapter of his life, he is also a man unable to defend against sexual overtures presented to him. Elle Fanning's bedtime kisses prove especially problematic. As for Colin Farrell’s understated performance; it rates as one of the most finely restrained portrayals by a male actor in recent memory, and matches beat for beat the fine work that Dunst and Kidman perform alongside an estimable ensemble that includes Elle Fanning and Angourie Rice.

Beguiled

“The Beguiled” is problematic inasmuch as it plays against clichés as much as it embraces the necessary lusts of its horny female characters. Finger-wagging feminists such as Jessica Chastain will dismiss the film as playing into Virginia Woolf’s 1926 complaint, which cartoonist Alison Bechdel reframed in 1985 with the help of her friend Liz Wallace; call it the Bechdel-Wallace test.

For the record, the test simply states that a given work of fiction must “have at least two women in it who talk to each other about something other than a man.” Shocking, I know. I suppose Upper East Side ladies who chat primarily about shopping would make for better, or more politically correct, entertainment fare by such a standard. Absurd, I know.

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If that narrative shorthand denies Sofia Coppola’s film, then I suppose I don’t care. “The Beguiled” is a beautifully executed picture full of erotic tension amid historic context, made by one of America’s more gifted female filmmakers.

Some male audiences will likely find the film emasculating if not threatening. So what. 

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I think it’s a mug’s game for any critic to judge a film or any work of art for that matter on a premise as flimsy as what characters discuss. American media still chooses to cover Donald Trump when they should ignore him with a vengeance.

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I wish cats didn’t always sharpen their claws on furniture, but they do. If they scratch you, it can leave a scar or get infected; amputation may be necessary. I’m still always happy to see a cat in a movie, regardless of whether or not the film is any good. And I'm glad they have claws to sharpen; it's part of what makes them cats.    

Rated R. 93 mins. 

4 Stars

COLE SMITHEY

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May 14, 2016

I, DANIEL BLAKE — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

COLE SMITHEY

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ColeSmithey.comThere wasn’t a dry eye in the Salle du Soixantième for the Cannes screening of Ken Loach’s brilliant social drama. 

The film corresponds to Stephane Brize’s “The Measure of a Man,” which played in competition at Cannes in 2015. That picture told of dire social conditions for France’s oppressed working-class. Naturally, Loach’s film (authored by his longtime collaborator Paul Laverty) is set in the modern day United Kingdom. Where “Measure” fell short of satisfactorily enunciating a conspiracy of unethical corporatized agencies whose clear purpose is to exile citizens to the fringes of society, Laverty’s obviously researched script delves deeper into the black market underground that people are forced into choosing.

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We also witness the banal ways that modern bureaucracies conspire to abuse, humiliate, and weaken people’s daily lives. If you didn’t believe there was an international war on the working class before seeing this film, you will grasp that fact before the credits roll. “I, Daniel Blake” is a clarion call for the united sea change of social revolution represented by such humanitarian standard bearers as Bernie Sanders, Noam Chomsky, and Ralph Nader.

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Using a cast of unknown (semi-professional) actors, Loach allows mundane social conditions that most of us are familiar with, to guide the escalating social drama. Colin Coombs gives a wonderfully contained performance as Daniel Blake, an experienced carpenter put out of his occupation due to a heart attack he suffered on the job.

A man in his mid-50s, Blake’s unfamiliarity with using computers proves a major obstacle in traversing the UK's intentionally choppy bureaucratic waters to maintain his “Employment and Support Allowance” from the government. Every government agent he encounters uses corporate double-speak to abuse him. Frustrating hours spent on hold are only exacerbated when he finally gets someone on the phone. Daniel Blake is in danger of losing his benefits because an unseen “decision-maker” has denied Blake’s doctor’s diagnoses that he is unfit to work. The state forces him to spend 35 hours a week looking for work that he can’t accept if, or when, he gets a job offer.

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While at the agency fighting for his benefits, Blake witnesses Katie (Hayley Squires), a mother with two children in tow, being refused service because she was late for her appointment. Blake speaks up in Katie’s defense when security guards attempt to eject her from the building. The two political outcasts strike up a meaningful friendship as Daniel comes to Katie's aid in helping repair conditions in her unheated apartment.

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Dramatically understated, and yet precisely composed, "I, Daniel Blake" breathes with authenticity and unaffected emotion. While some critics have a tendency to be dismissive of Ken Loach for his constancy of purpose, I would argue that it is this exact trait that makes his films so compelling. It takes a special filmmaker to maintain such constancy of purpose.

Long live Ken Loach.

5 Stars

Cozy Cole

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September 17, 2015

SICARIO — CANNES 2015

Sicario2A disappointment from start to finish, Denis Villeneuve’s attempting-to-be-edifying international drug thriller fails miserably by the social realist parameters it portends to fulfill with macho quasi-military bombast and blood-splattered spectacle. That most of the violence occurs in and around the notoriously deadly drug cartel-run city of Juarez, Mexico, serves as a surprisingly dull Third World window dressing.

The action picture, written by first-time screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, works better if you go into it looking for plenty of exploitation with your political propaganda du jour. The inherent racism comes gratis.

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This is not Casta-Gavras’s 1969 leftist agitprop masterpiece “Z.” Nor is it Gillo Pontecorvo’s “The Battle of Algiers.” “Sicario” comes nowhere near the shrewd directness of those political thriller milestones.

Villeneuve has spoken on how “America believes it can solve problems outside of its borders with violence.” It’s a valid point, but Villeneuve celebrates the violence he abhors during explosive scenes of mass murder that arrive with a stupid post-9/11 message of “Don’t Fuck With Us” that echoes around the movie.

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That life is cheap to both sides of the drug wars is clear. What isn’t is why we should care. Our collective subconscious understands that every “War” the US Government wages against anything it can get its bloody hands on is merely a money grab for the contractors who get the jobs and an ego boost for military officers out for promotions and who believe they are untouchable. America’s War on Drugs operates as a wholesale black market on an epic scale. Killing is written into the budget.

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Considering that America is currently suffering more than one mass murder every single day of the year, I question what effect a film like “Sicario” will have on an American society that already fetishizes violence and guns on an obsessive level. Do we need more movies where an audience is made to watch dozens of human beings brutally shot or bombed to death for money or just a love of killing? Not so much.

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Although handsomely filmed by renowned cinematographer Roger Deakins, “Sicario” is too thematically ambiguous for its own good or to be taken seriously as a meaningful piece of editorial commentary on America’s 40-plus-year corporate-branded War on Drugs. The film is content to posit that everyone on both sides of the American/Mexican Drug War is corrupt, save for one innocent but sturdy woman of ethics whose values change over the course of the story.

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The movie tilts a sloppy glimpse of the rampant venality that permeates elite (FBI) anti-drug squads, like the one overseen by Defense Department contractor Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), a dirty autonomous agent with a mean streak on a hair trigger.

Graver’s partner-in-crime is Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), the hitman (sicario) of the film’s title. Greed and revenge are the factors driving these cartoon creations of testosterone-and-steroid-laden characters.

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Regardless of which government office is writing checks to these mercenaries, they act as free agents looking to line their pockets and kill men they stupidly believe are worse than they are. You have two well-armed gangs, but one is just a pinch more ferocious than the other. You can guess which side gets that honor.

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The super-action dream team adopts newbie agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), although it’s never clear why such a group would recruit a new member in such a trial-by-fire fashion. Kate gets a crash course in the FBI’s secret methods of continuing their endless battle against Mexico’s brutal drug cartels. Nerve-wracking missions back and forth between Texas and Juarez allow for bullet-riddled scenes of ultra-violence and emotional and ethical crises for Kate.

When Kate asks Matt about their objective, he responds, “to dramatically overreact.” The line serves as an explicit theme line for the movie. Which doesn’t leave much room for a meaningful story.

Sicario

Rated R. 121 mins.

2 Stars

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Every bit helps keep the reviews coming.

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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