Category Archives: Un-Cannes-y Valley

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

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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

Un-Cannes-y Valley: Black Rain

black-rain-600x321An uncompromising chemical reaction between Ozu-esque balance, ghostly Mizugochian afterglow, and the tremors of Kaneto Shindo’s mid-’60s horror social disturbances, Shohei Imamura’s 1989 release Black Rain revises cinematic assumptions about trauma away from fiery holocaust to a more hauntingly ashen storm hovering overhead for the duration of life itself. Hiroshima isn’t a Godzilla-like destructive catalyst in Black Rain, but a distantly raging existential void within which one’s sense of being and becoming are threatened completely. The world is not only out for vengeance, but it becomes unknowable; time folds in on itself, and your life becomes a separable ghost floating away from you. Not to be confused with the lightweight Ridley Scott film of the same name from the same year, Black Rain envisions catastrophe as a perpetual, everlasting terror. Moments of shock and awe – the in-the-flesh horror of destruction we take to be the prime of the bombing – would be, if anything, a respite from the cold nothingness of life living in the emptiness of the bomb’s wake. Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: Secrets and Lies

secretslies2Mike Leigh’s vision is tantamount to heresy in some circles, redrawing Western motifs away from individualist assertions while also retaining the individual soul in human bodies often upended by a filmmaker like Robert Altman, who sometimes privileges a social determinism in his films. In Leigh, in a quasi-Renoirian way, individuals slide and slip around each other as they construct themselves – and as the camera envisions them – interactively, rather than individually. Individual personalities abound, but the contrasts are defined relatively rather than absolutely. Unlike in most films designed for Westerners weened on figments of Enlightenment liberalism and the ultra-dominance of the individual mind, people are not fixed, asocial beings with stagnant psychologies in Leigh – people become themselves through their interaction with the world, and with others. He saves us from ourselves, cherishing individual difference without cavorting into the deathly realms of tendentious individual supremacy. Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: Taste of Cherry

poster_tasteofcherryWatching the great modern Iranian film by the great modern Iranian director, it’s a slippery path for any reviewer to bog oneself down in the essence of the film’s commentary on Iranian society (indeed, it is a crutch, if not a fallacy, to turn any review of a film into an expression of nation’s cinema, as thought cinema is exclusively about the nation it derives from or as though a national cinema is a monolith). One can be sure that Taste of Cherry has notable comments on modern-day Iran and the intersection of religion and governance unique to that nation, but this Beckettian existential drama can be contained by no nation, no person, and no theme. Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: All About My Mother

all_about_my_mother_4_almodovarA spellbinding evolution of Pedro Almodovar’s all-women-on-board feminism and his dynamite-cased challenge to the realms of normality, All About My Mother deftly explores tensions in human identity as it transmutes cinema into a portal for escape, community, and aesthetic rebellion against the reality principle. A fantasy worthy of Chaplin or Tati, Almodovar’s hypnotic, incandescent fantasia of pop-art styles and unchecked melodrama encircles true cinematic bravado while visualizing the stylistic wanderlust of a woman searching for a new identity after her normative gendered status as “mother” is prematurely ended in a swift burst of tragedy. Although it redresses the failure of its medium to adequately entangle itself in the complications of female relationships, Almodovar’s style can’t be mistaken for anything but a fantastical ode to a century of cinema that, sometimes inadvertently, managed to provide respite for the very women it so often neglected. Continue reading