Around The World In 10 Films – A Look At Cannes 2008 (part 1)

Let’s imagine, for a moment, that I somehow manage to get to France. Stretch that imagination further, and magically, a guest pass for the 2008 Cannes film festival appears in my hand. What would I do, then? Which film would I watch? Having had a look at the screening schedule, these are the films that I have decided make time for.

Now, in compiling this list, I actually had targeted to select only ten movies. My first selection method is the people behind the film (“Oh look, Wim Wenders made ‘Palermo Shooting’.”). What made it tricky is that there’s a fair amount of people who manage to immediately grab my attention. Whether the movie is actually good or not is another story, but they manage to pique my interest nonetheless.

What made it even trickier is that I decided to read the synopsis of all the movies to be shown in Cannes. This is tricky, because there are many intriguing films, with plots that sounds very interesting to me. Hence, I decided to expand upon the list, resulting in not just 10 movies, but a total of 23. It would have been 25, had I included ‘The Good, The Bad, The Weird’ and ‘Indiana Jones’, but I have written about those before, so I won’t bang that drum again.

I have decided to split up the list, with this one looking at movies based mainly on name recognition, and another based on the ‘interesting synopsis’ thing I was talking about.

Perhaps not immediately recognisable to many, Atom Egoyan is certainly one name that many Monashians of my generation won’t forget for quite some time. The main reason for this is that one of the films analysed in film class is ‘Calendar’, directed by the same guy. Another reason why I won’t forget him for a while is that while my lecturer, Andrew Ng, would champion his skills, most of us just couldn’t understand the film. Eventually, after repeated viewings, further comprehension dawned, but it still remains as a relatively confusing film for us. I hope, then, that ‘Adoration’ would be less abstract, and clearer in execution. A high school student, Simon, reinvents his life online, and claims to be a figure from recent history. All indications point to another abstract piece, so there you go.

But where would you go if you are blind? More importantly, what would you do? That is the issue examined in Fernando Meirelles’s ‘Blindness’, where a city is being afflicted with “white blindness”. Quarantined in a hospital, we quickly see how, when stripped down to the barest of our abilities, primitive we actually are. It is an interesting-sounding piece of work, and in the hands of a master like Fernando Meirelles, I think this should be another winner. I have admired his ‘society breakdown’ work in ‘City of God’ (comments of which always ignores his co-director, Katia Lund), an incredibly visceral film. Though he has gone on to direct other films, I expect this to stay closer to ‘City of God’ than anything else, in which case, we would be in for a treat.

Another treat that we should also be in for is Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Che’ project. I am not sure about the quality of the treat, but I am certain of the quantity: over four hours worth of movie goodness! It’s actually two films looking at the life of Che Guevara. ‘The Argentine’ on the actual Cuban revolution, when Fidel Castro and Guevara toppled the regime in the nation, and took over the reigns themselves. The other film, ‘Guerilla’, looks at, Guevara’s efforts outside of Cuba, leading to his capture by the United States in Bolivia. Though there are two films here, both are to be presented as one film ala ‘Grindhouse’ by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. I am also excited by Benicio Del Toro’s lead; after years of playing back up to many frontmen, he’s finally flying solo. Looking at some of the pictures, I have to say that it is shaping up to be the defining role of his career.

From Cuba to New York, ‘Synecdoche, New York’ is the directorial debut of Charlie Kaufman. If that name sounds familiar, it should be: he wrote the scripts for mind-bending films like ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ and ‘Adaptation’. For me, as a writer, he’s one of the few who manages to truly get me interested in a film when I see his name on the poster (David Benioff and John August are amongst the others). His previous works, though directed by other people, are incredibly strong, and incredibly weird at the same time. I expect nothing less for this project, which looks at a theatre director’s relationship with various women in his life. At the same time, a strange illness is slowly immobilising him, one part at a time.

We leave New York, then, and jump on a plane all the way back to Palermo, where Wim Wenders’s ‘Palermo Shooting’ is set. We all know of the quality work that Wim Wenders has put out. What you don’t know is that my cinematographer, Tony, has met him in before, and even took a picture of them together. “Hey Fikri,” he said a few weeks back, shifting his Macbook towards me. “Check this out.” Low and behold, it is him and the master himself. Which is nice. For him. But not really for me. “Lucky bastard,” I still say these days to him, much to his amusement. But what of the movie? It follows a photographer whose non-stop adventure of life in the fast lane wears him out. Taking a break to Palermo seems like a good choice, especially when he meets someone special there as well. Of course, we all need the mysterious, vengeful assassin who’s tracking him down to kill him.

I suppose the same desire for escape could be mentioned for ‘Linha de Passe’, a film by Brazillian director Walter Salles. The official Cannes synopsis itself provides room for much intrigue. “Sao Paulo. 20 million inhabitants, 200 kilometers of traffic, 300,000 messengers on motorcycles,” it says here, suffocating us with the details. “At the heart of one of the toughest, most chaotic cities in the world, four brothers try to reinvent themselves in different ways. With the backdrop of Brazil in a state of emergency, every single one is looking for a way out.” Once again, it reminds me a bit of ‘City of God’ (though this may be due to the Brazillian connection more than anything else).

Moving away from Brazil a little bit, and what a way to drop into Argentina (again, after ‘The Argentine’). In a way, ‘Maradona by Kusturica’ could also be named ‘The Argentine’, since this film is in itself about one of the most iconic figures in the nation’s history. One could say of the world, for Diego Maradona was (and still is) a hero to many who play the game (and to the many more who merely watch it). Emir Kusturica has everything that a director could ever hope to make a definitive biography of anyone: great access to Maradona himself, as well as the extensive footage from his career. He also interviews anyone who’s anyone who has crossed paths with Maradona (even Fidel Castro). Though no doubt helped by the fact that I am a football fan myself, I eagerly await the chance when it will hit the screens.

One of clubs that Maradona used to play for is Barcelona, the setting for Woody Allen’s latest film. ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ is a classic love triangle performed in a less classic way. Two American women, on holiday in Barcelona, gets involved with a painter, who’s still involved with his ex-wife. It sounds OK enough, but in the hands of Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, I think we could be in for a nice treat. And in this case, I do mean nice: the number of movies on offer at Cannes thus far all leans towards the darker side of human nature. Lined up against those gloomer and doomers, ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ will almost certainly prove a winner at the festival. Whether it is as funny and as fun outside of it is something we’ll have to wait for, but I’ve a good feeling about this as well.

Don’t forget your passport and chopsticks, because we’re crossing continents again to Hong Kong, for another Wong Kar-wai and Christopher Doyle collaboration, ‘Ashes of Time Redux’. The story might mean something in Wong Kar-wai’s films. In this case, a man, rejected by his love, now lives in the desert hiring contract killers. Nevertheless, he can never move on enough to forget about her. Basic, it may sound, but in the hands of these two masters, I am sure that the sense of wonder I get simply by watching the film will remain. Wong is a filmmaker who uses all of the elements at hand (though not so much in the soundtrack part), which means that what we get is a unique experience, no matter how simple or basic the story may seem.

We finish up this post in Tokyo, with…well, ‘Tokyo!’. Actually an amalgamation of three different short films by three very different directors, I had actually entertained similar thoughts of doing similar productions in the past. That’s the price you pay for procrastination. Lesson learned, then, and given the vast range of background amongst the filmmakers, plenty to learn from this as well. ‘Interior Design’, directed by Michel Gondry, promises to be an interesting look at a young couple who just moved to Tokyo, before realising that perhaps it’s not what it’s all cracked up to be. ‘Merde’, by Leos Carax, tells the story of a man dubbed merely as “The Creature of the Sewers.” He goes around putting up irrational, provocative adverts, leading the authorities to vow to catch up to him. Finally, Korean director Bong Jung-ho puts aside national animosity towards the Japanese, and rounds it all up with ‘Shaking Tokyo’, a man who has withdrawn from the world falls in love with a pizza delivery girl during an earthquake. “Will he take the unimaginable step,” read the synopsis, “leaving the dead security of his apartment for the streets of Tokyo?”

Fikri decided not to procrastinate further on his own projects. The second part of the list can be found here, while the full list of films shown at the festival can be found here.

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