Category Archives: Un-Cannes-y Valley

Un-Cannes-y-Valley 1994: Through the Olive Trees

urlA spectrum of heterogeneous voices and layers of reality rhyme with one another in Abbas Kiarostami’s Through the Olive Trees, a seemingly meta-textual work without any of the narrative gamesmanship or self-conscious striving for iconographic importance that characterizes most films in the post-modern idiom. Kiarostami loves cinema too much and is too taken aback by the empathetic, observational powers of his medium to abstract it to a narrative game or an analytic formal exercise; his films remains low to the ground, in the trenches of being, alive to the anecdotal energies that frizz within the rural Muslim community Through the Olive Trees sets its eyes on. Continue reading


Un-Cannes-y Valley 1988: Chocolat

chocolat1988-conflictClaire Denis works in a slightly different idiom from many other filmmakers who train their eye and heart on the landscape of Africa, mainly because she is plainly aware that there are clear if not quite terminal welters in her relationship with those filmmakers. Namely, she is white, and they aren’t. More than that, she isn’t African, although her memories of growing up the daughter of a colonial civil servant in French West Africa inform her every film. Colonial history shadows her every film, but also a sense of fragile distance, an attitude of not only forbidding and crippling economic and psychological depression but of being withheld from that depression, of a European child who lives in African but unmistakably confronts it partially as vacation-land or fairy tale. A child only aware in fits and spurts of the oppressive economic shackles upon which her life is built, who sees her family’s black servant as friend, father, and many other things, but not necessarily understanding that he is forced into that position, or that he operates out of coercion. Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: Underground

003-underground-theredlistLike a flash of incandescent light that’ll burn your eyebrows off while staring into your soul, Emir Kusturica’s Underground is the film Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful wishes it was. Even more indebted to a theoretically cloying magical realism than Life and yet so disturbed and delectably flaring in its madcap intersection of styles, Underground is a paean to not only human life but cinematic life excavated in the death throes of crisis. Imagine if you will Vittorio De Sica directing Abbott and Costello with a script written by Billy Wilder with Benny Hill on trombone just in case, all of whom were alternately inebriated and cocaine-addled during the production, and the beguiling war-time-as-apocalypse-rave-as-long-cavern-of-the-soul milieu of Underground is at least intimated in your ear. Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: Oldboy and Broken Flowers


A tonal collision between live-wire cinematic kinematics and ice-cold debasement animates Park Chan-wook’s alternately madcap and doleful Oldboy,  a film that was destined for worship by a particular brand of youthful cineastes who revel in corrosive provocation more than trenchant filmmaking. A meditation on revenge enlivened more by panache than what might be denoted as depth, Chan-wook’s illustrious film nonetheless thrives simply as a cinematic lightning bolt. Its observations about self-propagating violence and soullessness are hardly revisionist or revolutionary, but Chan-wook’s reputation as a guiding light of South Korean cinema rests more on enthusiasm and dynamism than clarity. On that front – and this is not a front to be taken lightly as a font for experiential cinema that aims for the gut – Oldboy, however tenuously it arrives at more substantive ends, does not disappoint. Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: Pan’s Labyrinth

pans-labyrinthA decidedly outre expression of childhood trauma, Pan’s Labyrinth is a wartime fantasy from the deranged, consequence-ridden non-American realm of classical fables filtered through the oblong mind of one of modern cinema’s great dreamers. A bifurcated (unnecessarily, I might add) tale of adult conflict and childhood coping set against the Spanish front during WWII (when Franco’s repressive government was fighting ragged rebels), the most poignant gestures of director Guillermo del Toro’s vision are his most voluptuous and baroquely nightmarish. Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: The Pianist

pianist-postOne must undeniably validate the valor and reflexivity of one of the few cinematic treatments of the Holocaust by an honest-to-god Holocaust survivor, but a good critic must also remember that bravery doesn’t inherently beget beauty. Director Roman Polanski’s troubled, torrid life aside, The Pianist – if a masterpiece – ought to withstand the test of time on its own merits, rather than on the shoulder’s of Polanski’s personal story, difficult though it may be to disentangle the two.  No one film should be a sycophant to its back-story, fascinating though the behind-the-scenes realities of The Pianist may be.  Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: Pale Rider

51rhnvo7c2blLegend would have it that, after decades of wallowing in admittedly pleasurable crypto-conservative roles, America’s resident taciturn brute Clint Eastwood shocked the world in 1992 with an unprecedented critique of the craven, callous dueling violences at the core of the American tradition. But masterpiece though it may be, Unforgiven was hardly unprecedented to those who were looking. Eastwood’s prior directorial efforts in the genre that made him a household name had flourished nearly two decades beforehand with only his second feature, the unfinished but highly spirited (the spirit being an angel of death in this case) High Plains Drifter, a counter-myth that saw in the Wild West something more akin to an Italian giallo. More fully formed was the sublime The Outlaw Josey Wales, an often misread work of mythic Western nihilism so full-throated in its interrogation of  Western archetypes that no one seems to understand it to this day. Continue reading