Oh, I’m really sad that I missed the only press screening of Water Lilies today. I opened with Joy Division (I’ll get there in a second) but would have chosen Water Lilies instead of the lousy The Passage as the follow-up, had I just been looking for the proper thing.
See, on the press schedule (and probably on all schedules) foreign film titles are written in English. So I wasn’t looking for Bang Bang Wo Ai Shen on the grid this afternoon; I was scanning for Help Me Eros. (Get there in a minute, too.) And I didn’t go to see Free Rainer – Dein Fernseher Lugt, I went to see Reclaim Your Brain.
That is, unless the film’s title is French. I almost missed both showings of The Diving Bell And The Butterfly, because it was billed as Le Scaphandre et le papillon. And I shouldn’t have looked for Water Lilies, but Naissance des pieuvres.
I know this. It’s Canada. My home away from home. But while I have a very comfortable working familiarity with a lot of languages, French and I don’t get along well at all. I scan French titles and unless it’s something I’ve just burned into my head to pay attention to, it goes in one eye and out the other.
Something to work on for future festivals.
So: Joy Division. Fantastic! I had a great time with this film, which avoids typical rock doc stumbles like interviews with fawning members of bands influenced by the subject. Trent Reznor covered ‘Dead Souls’ but you won’t see him here gushing about it. Grant Gee also includes subjects blatantly missing from Control, and gets them right. Notably, the importance of Manchester on the band’s music and the dynamic between the four actual musicians. If you don’t hate their music, I highly recommend this.
Unfortunately, today has the ignominy of being the day I saw my least favorite film (so far) of the fest.
The Passage could have been a mysterious, haunting sort of metaphysical horror film about getting lost among a different culture. Sort of like The Sheltering Sky with Stephen Dorff. Instead it’s a Hostel clone with delusions of grandeur and a weightless grain of an idea around which this dull grey pearl is wrapped.
Dorff plays an American in Morocco with his best mate Adam. Out alone one night, he meets the beguiling Zahara, who guides him up to the Atlas mountains, where things go very wrong. 20 minutes in I thought I might want to leave; an hour in I knew I wanted to, but couldn’t overcome my curiosity. Would redemption lie in the last act? Hardly. Avoid.
I’ll live with that, since I saw a couple of great flicks afterward. First, though, there was Reclaim Your Brain, a German film by the director of the well-liked The Edukators. Reclaim will probably not fare as well. It’s a story about a dickhead television producer who turns over a new leaf and decides to take down the TV ratings system that’s selling crap to his culture. Crucial contrivances and a bland, obvious point do nothing to mediate the lack of any significantly memorable dialogue or performance. More than once I forgot what I was watching. I’m far too young for that, so I blame the film.
As a total deviation from the course implied by those two films, I really enjoyed Help Me Eros. This is the second feature from Lee Kang-sheng, the lead actor in most of Tsai Ming-liang’s films. I’ve grown to love Tsai over the last few festivals, and this was high on my list. It’s sort of Tsai light — he was exec producer and production designer — but it’s also a lot more accessible than movies like The Wayward Cloud.
Lee Kang-sheng has lost almost everything but his pot plants in the stock market crash. He spends his time smoking, watching cooking shows on TV and trying to hook up with the girl on the other end of the suicide help line. There’s more plot I’ll get to in the full review, but here I’ll just mention all the sex. There’s some serious coupling here (the theme of this year’s festival, it seems) and a lot of wacky positions that would probably just cause injury in real life. See for yourself — check out the quite NSFW stills linked at IMDB. Steve McQueen is nothing; sex is truly The Great Escape, or promises to be, at least.
Over the last four days I’ve been looking for that film that really breaks me open inside. The unexpected joy of the festival that stays high in the mind and turns into the first thing mentioned when the inevitable ‘seen anything good?’ question arises.
I might have found it tonight with Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell And The Butterfly. (aka, ahem, Le Scaphandre et le papillon.) This is the sort of film that sorely tests every guy’s basic festival rule: Must not cry! Do not show weakness!
Diving Bell is mostly an adaptation of the memoir of the same name by French Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, who was severely paralyzed after a massive stroke. The book was dictated by blinking his left eyelid to ‘speak’ words one letter at a time. That movement was all he was capable of after awakening from a post-stroke coma that lasted months.
Every actor in the film works magic, and Schnabel (with cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, doing career-high work) creates a stylization that isn’t at all devoid of content, but serves perfectly to recreate within us some semblance of the isolation felt by Bauby. Much of the film is from a first-person perspective, and it’s all wildly moving. See it.
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