Category Archives: Un-Cannes-y Valley

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

Un-Cannes-y Valley: The Piano

piano-1993Like other sublime cinematic explications of the femininity under duress from the ’90s – The Double Life of Veronique, All About My Mother, and Farewell My Concubine chief among them – The Piano treks into uncharted waters of the cinematic variety as well as the social. In the New Zealand landscape – prefiguring and riposting the picturesque post-card hollowness of The Lord of the Rings – Jane Campion siphons off a visual limbo that boldly provokes us to consider space internally and externally. Campion’s expressive romanticism evokes the lushness of Jane Austen as well as the contradictions in internal, mental states suggested by the Victorian literature that has become so entwined with Western conceptions of both feminine oppression and internal selfhood rupturing against the dying of the light. The non-natural, hyperbolically romantic vistas become counterpoints to the frail, trapped humans who must withhold their emotions from the predation of these landscapes. And, in typical romantic form, the film’s incontrovertible splendor also serves as a visual lexicon for dreams and desires that always fight to waft and permeate out of their fleshy prisons. Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: The Double Life of Veronique

veronique3The easy path with Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique is to turn it into a prison, a detention center to trap ideas and themes, to stagnate the film and hoist it on the petard of its own conceptual dualities and symmetrical intricacies. To flatten it, essentially, by turning it into a psychoanalytic study or a perceptually oblique delivery mechanism for a philosophical thesis about order. Temptation beckons us to plunge deep into the depths of a work, following a shaft of light to the darkest trenches of the marina to unearth its supposed hidden treasures. In doing so, however, we may dig our own waterlogged grave. Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: Down By Law

downbylaw_3031106bSo, a great many of the films I wish to discuss for the Cannes Film Festival series are exceedingly difficult to come by, so we’ll be keeping things fluid around these parts. I plan on, hopefully, fulfilling the series by the end of May (that’s a review for every year of the festival until the present) but the order of the reviews is, as of this point, up in the air. I’ll be keeping things fresh, skipping as I see fit. It’s just the way it’s gonna be. Think of it as a way to keep us on our toes. Speaking of which, and speaking of today’s subject, not a better film exists for the subject of toes and keeping us on them like we’re dancing on hot coals … Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: Missing

500px-mis_004“Importance” has always been an albatross around cinema’s neck, or the neck of any popular medium of art. The trouble isn’t that it forces artists to shoot for the middle (not middle America or the middle aisle but the middlebrow, aesthetically speaking), but that it so often precludes surreptitious variances in tone and style, it douses cinema in a layer of pummeling pragmatism and assured complacency. It primes a film for the belief that the narrative it is telling, the content of the art, is so essential and valid that playing with the form in which that content is presented becomes tantamount to heresy. It asks us to accept the known, the obvious realm of “content” and narrative, at the expense of the dangerous realm of style and form. Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: All That Jazz

007-all-that-jazz-theredlistFinally, after months of delay, it’s time to complete the second half of the Cannes Film Festival Series I began after last year’s festival. I have no proposed schedule, but let’s just say, if I’m on my best behavior, I hope to be done by this year’s festival in May. 


Both frigid and wicked-hot, All That Jazz envisions the movie musical as both erection and erectile dysfunction. A violent apocalypse of kinetic corporeal flesh, Bob Fosse’s self-stoking, self-hating deal with the devil is one of the most flagellatingly hedonistic motion pictures to arrive out of the back-end of one of the most self-indulgent eras in motion picture history. If the era was going to burn though, it was going to commit arson. It wouldn’t go down without raising a ruckus, kicking and screaming, and refusing to be demarcated by anyone boxed-off meaning. All That Jazz is at once a castigation of pop culture, a celebration of kaleidoscopic fantasy, and a premonition of the impending nuclear fallout of the American New Wave, hoist on the petard of its own ego. Foregrounding the holocaust of backstage life as a cocaine-addled delirium, All That Jazz casts itself as both distended embodiment of an era’s end and an effigy erected in atonement for the toxic death-drive of an era in American filmmaking. Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: Padre Padrone

Italian cinema has always been a murderer’s row of contorted stylistic bravado. From elemental Western no man’s lands to diabolically garish horror cinema to rambunctiously loopy, absurdist comedy, Italian cinema has done it all. Yet the streams of neo-realism, the earliest well of Italian cinema, had largely dried up by the 1970s. Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s Padre Padrone nominally recaptures that spirit of earthen woe and low-to-the-ground cinema, but their style is more cosmically barren than it is naturalistic. The oppressively wide frames contrast with the grisly immediacy of the 16mm stock to evoke the sensation of peering into an empty limbo of human loneliness. The earthen hues of the piece reveal the contagious habits of the almost primordial landscape that infects the characters with its own unforgiving dejection. Continue reading