As synopsized by Eric Lavallee at Ioncinema: "You can call this year's Masters section the 're-showing of old filmmaker favorites from Cannes.' Plenty of the names selected here—Godard, Lee Chang-dong, Ken Loach, Manoel de Oliveira and Palme D'or winning Apichatpong Weerasethakul—were expected to show up. Added to the Cannes titles we have a trio from Venice in: Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins, Jerzy Skolimowski's Essential Killing and Catherine Breillat's The Sleeping Beauty. The one world premiere is from Amos Gitai (Roses à Crédit)."
13 Assassins / Jûsan-nin no shikaku (Takashi Miike, Japan)—Cult director Takeshi Miike delivers a period action film set at the end of Japan's feudal era in which a group of unemployed samurai are enlisted to bring down a sadistic lord and prevent him from ascending to the throne and plunging the country into a wartorn future. Competing in Venice for the Golden Lion. Official site [Japanese]. IMDb. Wikipedia. TOFilmFest. North American Premiere.
At Twitch, Todd Brown delights that "there is not a trace of irony to be found in the promo" and offers a gallery. At /Film, Russ Fischer describes 13 Assassins as a "dead-serious samurai movie which seems to be a bit like The Dirty Dozen by way of Seven Samurai."
Erotic Man / Det Erotiske Menneske (Jørgen Leth, Denmark)—Danish master Jørgen Leth travels the globe in this sensual, provocative and sometimes autobiographical essay film about a man struggling to come to terms with his past choices and his decision to leave a lover. Leth is quoted from the film's website at TOFilmFest: "New places. Now new locations. New places. New locations. The same journey. We are searching for something. We are searching…. We don't know how to frame the erotic. I don't know exactly how you find it. It's not a definition, that's not it. It's about the search itself. Finding some moments in memory and in the present. We study woman, we study women in different places, in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, in Belém, Panama City, Jacmel, Dakar, in Manila. Watching her, her legs, her shoulders, her skin, her hands, her eyes and her mouth. We watch the unknown smile. The new smile. The difference, the little nuance that makes it different. That's what we're searching for. It's indefinable, it's unclear. We don't strive to be clever." At Variety, he's a bit more succinct, describing Erotic Man as "a sensual, poetic and nude depiction of the erotic in man," with the intention of discovering why eroticism plays such a large part in the life of the human. Erotic Man has no script in the traditional sense, but is based on documents, letters, pictures and poems by Leth, who has traveled to Brazil, Haiti, Panama and Tonga to collect material for the film. IMDb.
Essential Killing (Jerzy Skolimowski, Poland / Norway / Ireland / Hungary)—A Taliban fighter is captured, interrogated, tortured and then transported to an unnamed snowy destination in Europe. He manages to escape and must use his wits to evade his pursuers whilst battling bitter winter cold and lack of food. Also competing in Venice for the Golden Lion, along with two other Vincent Gallo projects. Ioncinema predicts that Gallo will be "the toast of the Lido this year." IMDb. Wikipedia. TOFilmFest. North American Premiere.
Vanity Fair offers the trailer (do I detect a touch of sarcasm?) and quotes the Element Pictures production notes: "The film follows the story of Mohammed, who is captured by the US military in Afghanistan and transported to a secret military black site. When the army convoy he is riding in plummets off a steep hill, Mohammed finds himself suddenly free and on the run behind enemy lines. A hostile, snow-blanketed forest, gradually reveals to be somewhere in the wilds of Eastern Europe. Relentlessly pursued by the military, Mohammed must constantly confront the need to kill in order to survive."
"I can only presume," writes Movie/Line's S.T. Van Airsdale that "the purpose here is to contrast the psychologies of killing in the name of a cause and killing in the name of survival (as if the desert/snowfield metaphor isn't enough). But there is an outside chance that Skolimowski simply wanted to explode a few viewers' heads with the shocking WTF-ery of it all, from noted conservative and self-promoting ladies' man Gallo as a bazooka-wielding Taliban foot soldier to Emmanuelle Seigner showing up as … I have no idea. But she seems awfully calm about having a pistol-wielding, blood-soaked Afghan baddie crouched beneath her table in terror. Wait until she finds out what he did outside with that chainsaw." At /Film, Russ Fischer suggests that Gallo's "role in Essential Killing is playing directly to the audience who loves to hate him" and asserts "I'm not playing devil's advocate at all when I say he's one of the more interesting screen presences working in the last couple decades; there's something so watchable about Gallo. ...I don't care about his offscreen shenanigans; the camera loves him." Cinema Without Borders notes that "Essential Killing is a provocative thriller (almost entirely without dialogue) that confirms the excellent form of the Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski." Skolimowski, incidentally, is described by the Venice Festival as "the excellent form of the enfant terrible of New Eastern European Film."
At The Guardian, Danny Leigh intriguingly offsets Essential Killing's "on-screen tinkering with racial identity" against M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender. "Essential Killing promises to offset whatever aggro it creates," Leigh writes, "with moments that are genuinely thought-provoking. Given his fondness for the Republican party, it's hard not to be struck by Gallo's willingness to portray a soldier from the other side in a war from which American coffins are still returning (British ones, too, of course), in a film that suggests if not overt sympathy for his character, then certainly a lack of condemnation. Then again, quelle surprise, if anyone was ever comfortable with hostility it's Gallo, his entire persona often seems like one big slice of middle-finger-waving performance art. Yet even by his standards, there's still a certain confrontational glee to this latest move. Rarely do bad-guy roles come quite as politically loaded as this, and rarely are they allowed any sense of nuance."
Film Socialism / Film socialisme (Jean-Luc Godard, Switzerland)—Godard's latest film, a "symphony in three movements," grapples with trying to make sense of a world that appears to be beyond comprehension and meaning. Official website [French]. IMDb. Wikipedia. TOFilmFest. North American Premiere.
At MUBI, David Hudson has rounded up the reviews from Cannes. After Toronto, Film Socialism heads to the New York Film Festival (NYFF).
I Wish I Knew / Hai shang chuan qi (Jia Zhangke, China / The Netherlands)—Commissioned to commemorate the 2010 World Expo, this documentary on Shanghai portrays a chapter of modern Chinese history through interviews and scenic views of a city in continuous evolution. I Wish I Knew is directed by one of the youngest masters of cinema, Jia Zhangke. IMDb. TOFilmFest. North American Premiere.
I Wish I Knew screened in the Un Certain Regard at Cannes where Daniel Kasman dispatched to MUBI: "Talking heads, a wandering ghost frought with meaning, and a politely complacent tone sabotage the new, overlong, and very 'inside' documentary on Shanghai by Jia Zhangke, I Wish I Knew. Whether due to the need for official state approval or waned inspiration, the video is Jia on autopilot, haphazardly placing drifting, beautiful digital images of contemporary Shanghai along with overly leisurely and visually flat interviews with people whose personal history has been infused by the city, but whose connection to the China of here and now is left tantalizingly out of reach." Also at MUBI, David Hudson rounded up more reviews from Cannes.
Mysteries of Lisbon / Mistérios De Lisboa (Raul Ruiz, Portugal/France)—Based on a famous 19th-century Portuguese novel [by Camilo Castelo Branco], Raul Ruiz's Mysteries of Lisbon follows a jealous countess, a wealthy businessman and a young orphaned boy across Portugal, France, Italy and Brazil where they connect with a variety of mysterious individuals. Official website. IMDb. TOFilmFest.
Nostalgia for the Light / Nostalgia De La Luz (Patricio Guzmán, France/Germany/Chile)—In Chile's Atacama Desert, astronomers peer deep into the cosmos in search for answers concerning the origins of life. Nearby, a group of women sift through the sand searching for body parts of loved ones, dumped unceremoniously by Augusto Pinochet's regime. Master filmmaker Patricio Guzmán [site] contemplates the paradox of their quests.
At Variety, Boyd von Hoeij writes: "The beauty of Nostalgia is that the many metaphors and surprising parallels between the universe, archaeology and Chile's recent past rise organically from the material…. The idea that the universal truths can be found by focusing on local details is again proven here." At MUBI, Daniel Kasman includes Nostalgia among his favorite films from Day Three at Cannes. He writes: "Patricizo Guzmán's Nostalgia for the Light has perhaps the best approach to tragedy: equal parts science and poetry. To get to the lost victims of Pinochet's dictatorship, the film comes via the route of astronomy. It factually finds, in the Atacama desert, both the observation of the stars and the seekers of the dead, widows and family members searching for remains of the executed and disappeared. The analogy is simple and beautiful, as the light from the stars comes from long ago, these geographically coincidental searches both look deep into a dark past. But Guzmán pointedly shows the difference, one exploring and unearthing an ambient world to popular acclaim and awareness, and the other exploring a memory many are trying to forget, for which many are still being condemned."
Also at MUBI, David Hudson has rounded up a few additional reviews from the film's Cannes premiere. Nostalgia for the Light has also screened at the Melbourne and Moscow International Film Festivals. Spielfilm offers three video clips. IMDb. TOFilmFest. North American Premiere.
Poetry / Shi (Lee Chang-dong, South Korea)—Rhyme and crime intertwine in Poetry, the moving portrait of an elegant old lady in the initial stages of Alzheimer's, as well as a lyrical take on creative discovery and an upsetting look at juvenile violence, by Korean master Lee Chang-dong. IMDb. Wikipedia. TOFilmFest. North American Premiere.
At MUBI, David Hudson rounded up the Cannes reviews. After TIFF, Poetry heads to NYFF.
Roses à Crédit (Amos Gitai, France)—A young couple marry in France in the 1940s and the film follows the arc of their marriage over the next decade. As France recovers from the trauma of the war, the wife finds herself increasingly caught up in acquiring material possessions while the husband prefers a more traditional lifestyle. IMDb. TOFilmFest. World Premiere.
Route Irish (Ken Loach, United Kingdom / France / Belgium / Italy / Spain)—A British solider who worked with a security firm in Iraq attends the funeral of his best friend, who was killed on the notorious Baghdad highway Route Irish. After receiving an envelope containing his friend's cell phone with a video recording of a massacre of Iraqi civilians, he sets out to avenge his friend's memory. At MUBI, David Hudson rounded up the Cannes reviews. IMDb. Wikipedia. TOFilmFest. North American Premiere.
The Sleeping Beauty / La Belle endormie (Catherine Breillat, France)—An epic fantasia of a young girl's coming-of-age, featuring Catherine Breillat's signature take on gender relations and breathtaking cinematography. TOFilmFest. North American Premiere.
Breillat's Beauty opens the Orizzonti (Horizons) sidebar at Venice. At MUBI, David Hudson cites Ioncinema's synopsis: "There was a time in a faraway castle the birth of a little princess named Anastasia. The old fairy Carabosse cut the umbilical cord while three young fairies emerge breathless. The fairy godmother has launched a curse: at the age of 16 years, the child will pierce the hand and die. The three fairies come to tempt fate. Instead of dying, Anastasia sleep[s] for a hundred years." David also quotes Breillat: "Unlike Barbe Bleue, I would like to consider this fairytale not as a story that two girls tell each other, but as the story of a girl being born (she does not yet know into what world), and creates her own little girl's world. Childhood is a long and ruthless limbo that precedes adolescence—even if that is precisely when the fairytale beginning of the story is set. Hence the girl grows little by little and becomes an adolescent, who naively believes that she knows everything about life. But life is not a fairytale, and love during adolescence is like early motherhood, which leads to a different life reality. It 'brings your feet back on the ground', as they say. It is therefore no longer a fairytale, but an account of a life that is beginning."
The Strange Case of Angelica / O Estranho Caso de Angélica (Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal / Spain / France / Brazil)—Manoel de Oliveira, a 101-year-old filmmaker, returns to the Douro River, the site of his first short, Douro Faina Fluvial, to create a surprising tale about a metaphysical love that defies reason. Photographer Isaac becomes smitten when he is called to take the last picture of the beautiful Angelica. Although she is dead, when he looks at her through his viewfinder she becomes animated and lively. IMDb. TOFilmFest. North American Premiere.
At MUBI, David Hudson has rounded up the Cannes reviews. After TIFF, Oliveira's latest heads to NYFF.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives / Loong Boonmee raleuk chat (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, U.K. / Thailand / France / Germany / Spain)—Winner of this year's Palme d'Or, Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul takes viewers on a subliminal journey through a cinematic border zone where magic, transmigration of souls and generations of memory cohabit in a highly original masterpiece. IMDb. Wikipedia. TOFilmFest. North American Premiere.
At MUBI, David Hudson has rounded up the Cannes reviews. After TIFF, Joe's latest also heads to NYFF.