Cannes Roundtable #1
Gavin Smith: Let’s start with introducing everybody: Scott Foundas, chief film critic, Variety; Todd McCarthy, chief film critic, The Hollywood Reporter; Wesley Morris, Grantland; and Marco Grosoli, www.spietati.it. I’ll begin with a general question: would you say there have been any surprises so far this year?
Todd McCarthy: Well, the biggest surprise for me is that Cannes seems much slower and not as crazy and crowded this year. And that could be an economic thing; a lot of people are trying to analyze that. But I would say there’s a different pace and a different feel to it this year, and we’ll see if it’s an aberration or if it continues, because everyone’s made a point of how expensive it is to come here, film companies pay so much to come if they have a film. So we’ll see. There could be change in the air. Hard to tell.
Scott Foundas: When you say slower, do you mean—
SF: To me, there were a couple of screenings already that I was surprised how difficult they were to get into, like the press screening of the Atom Egoyan film, where even 20 minutes before, they were sending people with white press badges up to the balcony, and the Nuri Bilge Ceylan film was a similar kind of mob scene, and even last night with Cronenberg. I don’t know, to me though that’s nothing different than usual.
TM: Well, I can testify that certain screenings like the daytime public screenings at the Palais are not full at all. I just don’t detect the frenzy and the kind of madness.
Wesley Morris: The pandemonium is definitely different this year. I feel like the energy is still there, but it’s down. There used to be mornings where it was like Godzilla was coming. The sprint to venues…
Marco Grosoli: Many theaters get crowded even in the morning, so it’s quite normal. I mean, I guess the Egoyan affair was the mistake of the organization, related to that particular screening. They might have messed up something with the queues or something.
SF: And it was very, very crowded.
WM: It was almost as crowded with people trying to get out at the end, or before the end.
GS: Did it get the boos?
WM: It got some. Nothing overwhelming. No applause. Nobody tried to defend it.
MG: Any other boos?
WM: There was a little teeny tiny bit of booing at the end of the Alice Rohrwacher [The Wonders].
GS: From a film point of view, what would the big surprise be this year?
TM: On top of all my subjective feelings about the crowds, I also think there haven’t been as many flashpoints in terms of absolutely hot films. Maybe one or two, but it’s not the same in terms of star power and directors making key films of their careers. It just doesn’t seem like that’s happening as much this year. And that’s the luck of the draw perhaps as much as anything. But I just haven’t felt the heat and excitement to that extent. In terms of surprises, I haven’t been that surprised—well, I’ve been surprised by how bad a couple of the films were… But in terms of terrific surprises, I haven’t been particularly startled by something being much better or much worse than I expected.
SF: Yeah, I would say a lot of people seem to feel that one of the great surprise discoveries this year is the Argentinean movie in competition, Wild Tales by Damian Szifron, who’s a guy who made a few films that didn’t really travel very much out of Argentina, because he’s more a commercial director than a sort of trendy festival or art-house director. But to me, the film is completely mediocre, and I don’t understand what the fuss is about it.
WM: Really? So far it’s the best thing I’ve seen. And the only film in competition I haven’t seen is the Sissako [Timbuktu].
TM: The Argentinean film is about something that’s so of the moment. The attitude, even though it’s erratic and it’s not sublime filmmaking by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s got an energy and spirit to it and it’s about the modern world in a way that many films aren’t. So I don’t see how you can deny the topical excitement.
SF: Well, I would say there’s been so many films from Argentina dealing with this kind of tension in the air coming from the economic crisis and the political problems and so on. None of that felt particularly new to me, and I think that the director has a glib take on all of it. It’s an episode film in the classic tradition. Some people have been comparing it to Dino Risi or Vittorio De Sica, all of which is completely out of proportion with what the movie actually is. I also personally feel it makes you think a lot of Amores Perros, which did the same kind of thing for Mexico but with much more skill and much more complexity. I mean, this movie, by the time it got around to the fourth episode, I just felt exhausted by it.
GS: It’s interesting that you say that because I was sitting next to you and you were laughing heartily. Though I fundamentally agree with you—it’s flashy, skillful filmmaking, but I think it’s very superficial, and by the end it really lost me.
MG: I confirm that the only surprises are bad surprises. I was rather disappointed by the Sissako and the Ceylan. I liked Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. But basically you get the point of Winter Sleep after 15 minutes. Basically it’s about an old cynical man being human again. I liked the choice of handing the film over completely to dialogue and he basically develops a style that’s almost Tarantino-esque in its relaxedness. I don’t think I like the new visual approach he chose. He works far better in exteriors than in interiors and I didn’t quite like the way he used light this time with windows and sources of light inside rooms and so on. It’s been the weakest Ceylan in years, I’m afraid.
SF: It’s by far my favorite movie that I’ve seen here. I totally disagree with these guys. To me it’s as great a film as Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, but it’s in a completely different fashion. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is this exterior road movie with a fair amount of dialogue but nothing compared to this, a movie in which you’re not ever entirely sure what’s happened because it’s quite cryptic in solving the mystery. And this movie is more like Ceylan’s first two films, which were both very indebted to Chekhov, as this is, and it’s kind of, I think, part of another branch of his work. But to me, yes, you sort of know what you’re getting early on, but that’s sort of like saying 15 minutes into King Lear you know what you’re getting. It’s a very rich work full of memorable characters. He has probably a dozen major characters who all are developed with great complexity and humanity, who have their own storylines that are held in a very interesting way. He starts with an episode having to deal with the tenants of the main character and the child who throws a rock at the car of the main character and then the story sort of drifts away from that and then it comes back to that in an interesting way. This is a move that’s three hours and 20 minutes long—and I think for me, it was the least boring film I’ve seen here since the festival started.
TM: I disagree, I was disappointed. For me, it was a simple matter. Engrossing here and there, but I felt I was required to put far more into it than I got out of it. I simply didn’t feel it was a good investment of my time and intellectual attention for the duration that was demanded of me.
GS: What’s your reaction to Scott’s take on the film?
WM: He boxes himself into a corner with this philosophical question, this moral question of —
SF: Forgiveness versus charity.
WM: Right, and first of all it’s not an interesting enough question—
GS: Well, what’s the difference between forgiveness and charity?
SF: Well, it’s different approaches. The idea of how does one treat one’s enemy, or one’s perceived threat?
WM: But the question is along class lines, which is slightly more aggravating because the tenants never get to ask any questions. They hold no philosophy.
SF: I don’t think that’s true. The father of the child clearly holds some very strong philosophy…
WM: Right, but it’s not an exploration of what he thinks or feels. He is like a primitive person. And he clearly understands what the object of the resort owner and his wife’s boss are, but he himself doesn’t articulate or espouse one.
SF: He’s a supporting character. I mean yes, it’s pulled from the perspective of the rich bourgeois characters.
MG: And as such, precisely because it is shot from that point of view, it’s a bit too easy probably to turn the primitive one into the one who knows it all, because in the penultimate part of the film it is the primitive guy who ends up knowing it all and giving lessons to, the second or third person giving lessons to the poor partner of the main character.
GS: One of the films that I was most anticipating was Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner. A French critic said to me afterwards that she loved it because she though it was a self-portrait of Mike Leigh himself, which I thought was a lovely way of looking at the film. What are your reactions to it?
TM: I think there’s something to that; I think there’s a reason that it’s a dream project. But frankly, I got a handle on Mike Leigh for years, and I’d rather learn about Turner, I don’t want to think about it in terms of Mike Leigh particularly, and I found it a very interesting character study and good as far as it went. For me it didn’t go all the way, it didn’t get to the root of his artistic drive, why he painted the way he did, what separated him from everyone else who was painting during that period, what made him so great, as opposed to just good. So I missed the real interior discovery of Turner that I was looking for. But that said, I think some of the peripheral characters were needlessly caricatured, which I found annoying.
GS: That’s a common complaint with his films.
TM: Yeah, but why? They didn’t need to be that one-dimensional.
GS: I didn’t notice the caricaturing this time particularly.
TM: The housekeeper was lurking around almost like a Mel Brooks character on the edges.
GS: Well, she’s a very strange figure, but I didn’t think she was a caricature. I don’t really feel like I’ve seen a performance like that before.
TM: The one he ends up with, the woman from Margate, was wonderful, so he’s capable of that, so why caricature? And the guy who’s always complaining he’s being ostracized, the artist who owed money all the time, that was just one-dimensional. By and large, I thought it was a good job but it wasn’t everything that I was perhaps looking for…
GS: Do we think Tim Spall’s a hot contender for the Best Actor prize?
SF: Absolutely, though I think after this morning all bets are off because Steve Carell is so impressive in Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher. Even if it’s a performance that would probably at the Oscars be considered a supporting performance, Cannes doesn’t have a category for that.
TM: He’s the lead.
SF: Oh, I don’t know about that…
TM: I was going to say the Turkish film draws on Chekhov and to me there’s a very strong Dostoevsky element in Foxcatcher, because it really probes the depths of human motivations and what people do in a very dark and wonderfully complex way. I was very taken with this film, very surprised, stunned by Steve Carell, I never knew he’d do something like this, and Bennett Miller, who’s been good all along, tops himself here, and gives a very interesting look into the wealthy class in a superb way, into the deep dark motivations of people and the repressed instincts which factor in it very clearly…
WM: You mean repressed homosexual instincts?
TM: Also with his mother, all the things. Also he resents the success of the Mark Ruffalo character, with his ability to be apart from him, so it’s not just the sexual part, but it’s everything.
MG: It’s actually a bit underplayed, the homosexual part.
TM: Because it’s so deeply repressed, I think.
MG: Yeah, I mean it doesn’t surface a lot actually.
SF: I think you see it the most in the late-night wrestling scene, with the close-up of the clearly unpleasant look on Channing Tatum’s face when Steve Carell has mounted him from behind.
MG: But that’s actually pretty much the only time in the film that it comes out.
TM: You feel it from very early on. He’s keeping it absolutely down, but it was part of the motivation for bringing him there in the first place.
SF: Well, maybe it’s even a part of his fascination with wrestling, because it’s never really—
WM: It’s sanctioned physical contact with another man.
MG: The feeling’s in the subject but not really in the film. The film was facing this choice of whether to emphasize that aspect or not—
WM: Whether to consummate it or—
MG: It didn’t need to actually be consummated to be emphasized more than it was—
TM: There’s one scene where he’s kind of on top of him from behind and you’re supposed to imagine, well, whatever you want to imagine…
GS: Weren’t you a high-school wrestler, Scott?
SF: No, I did Judo, but it’s similar.
GS: I better never mess with you in that case. So, is Foxcatcher considered to be one of the better films then? I didn’t see it.
WM: I like it. It’s good. It’s smart. I grew up in Philadelphia and this was like a super shocking—
SF: It was a big story everywhere.
WM: I mean, I have relatives that worked at the DuPont Company. And it was like “Oh, Mr. DuPont is batshit crazy.”
TM: Before or after the murder?
WM: Oh, they knew before that the family was a mess, but not a tragic mess—they were just strange. And I think what they did that was so smart with the script was to make it about the characters and not about the murder. A lot of movies would have started with the murder and then walked you all the way through to how they got to the point where John DuPont is shooting Dave Schultz, but instead it makes it first about the one wrestler, then about the brother relationship, then about the father, the son, and the mother. And you have all of this repression as you mentioned Todd, and then just dysfunction and a guy who really is sort of mentally ill and rich and therefore feels that nothing applies to him in terms of—
GS: For non-American viewers of the film or people who aren’t familiar with this case, will the way the movie plays out be a surprise? Marco, you’re a good guinea pig for that.
MG: I didn’t know these facts at all but it doesn’t come out as a surprise as the character had been described that way. So I would even say that the murder at the end was kind of a dramaturgic easy way out. I’m not saying easy way out in a dismissive way because it’s actually one of the strengths of the film, but you have this film where it’s one strong point of view at the beginning which then, willingly or not, loses itself in a kind of plurality of points of view. At a certain point, the whole section before the murder is quite confused about what point of view we espousing. Then the murder comes out loud and clear in the situation.
SF: I noticed the film had three credited editors and I think it’s probably a film that was very tricky to find in the editing room because you do have three main characters, and even as you say, to determine where you would enter into the story, I wouldn’t at all be surprised, because even with the footage that’s there, you very easily could’ve had a version of the movie that opened with the murder and then flashback. Maybe they tried that at one point, maybe they tried opening with DuPont, instead they open with the Channing Tatum character and you’re with him alone for quite a bit before the other characters are introduced and I think it’s quite, quite impressive how they keep all of this in balance both on the writing level and in how the film’s actually put together. It’s one of the strengths, I think.
GS: One of the highlights in competition for me is Saint Laurent. How do people generally feel about that?
SF: I like it quite a bit and I’m surprised how poorly it seems to have been received here, even by the French critics, some of whom are very enthusiastic. But I think it’s probably been less well received than the last film by Bonello, House of Tolerance, which was here a few years ago. I’ll admit I haven’t seen the other Yves Saint Laurent biopic that was out in France earlier this year, which was a big hit that The Weinstein Company is releasing shortly, but I found a lot of affinities between Saint Laurent and Mr. Turner actually, in that I think both are very smart in how they approach the biopic, which is a kind of genre that’s full of booby traps that people fall into all the time. Both of these movies are focused on a very specific time period of their subjects’ lives, they don’t try to tell you their whole story from childhood to death, they’re not full of those phony moments you get in a lot of biographical movies where you see somebody having their flash of inspiration. In Mr. Turner there’s relatively few scenes of him actually painting and in Saint Laurent there’s a lot of attention to the detail of the people who work for him producing the clothes—
GS: Which was fascinating.
SF: Which was really well done. What I liked about it was the way it suggested Saint Laurent as somebody who was the embodiment of his times or the spirit of his times.
GS: There’s a comparison to be made between those two movies, but it’s less about the degree to which they fulfill the biopic mission, and more to do with how they’re centered on very singular individuals who are very peculiar examples of creativity, and how they function within their insular social circles.
MG: I would take the title literally, I would think of it less as a biopic than as a hagiography—the life of a saint, basically. Because the man that is shown there is a man who withdraws progressively from life and basically—
SF: Ascetic, kind of—
MG: What is being shown is a kind of Viscontian play with enjoyment of the lack of enjoyment.
SF: Reinforced by the presence of Helmut Berger as the old Saint Laurent, which to me is a total stroke of genius, because when this guy comes into the movie he’s bringing his own iconography along with that of Saint Laurent.
MG: The scene we see on his bed is genius. I think it’s Visconti’s The Damned, which Helmut Berger starred in. It basically faces a choice at the beginning, whether to choose the Warholian side or the Visconti side. And he chooses the Visconti side.
SF: But there’s also a very strong Proustian streak in the movie, the movie’s full of allusions to Proust, but then in the last 40 or 45 minutes, Bonello resolves to actually do the life of Saint Laurent as though it were Proust, and he has the old Saint Laurent in this delirium flashing back on different things from his life, and the way that was structured and edited was really beautiful. The way that was put together and the transitions between scenes in that part of the film I found really spellbinding.
TM: I’m surprised it was not well received, because I enjoyed being there. It was a mosaic, and I enjoyed the scenes just as much where they were hanging out at parties and moving around, and as you said, when they’re actually working and you see the whole support system, I thought it was great that Bergé was an important character, you really could see that he was running the show and making it happen. But I think most of all, it was just the scene, and the two girls he was with, and he’d be running around and he looked so great, I completely bought him and I loved being immersed in the scene. The last part, I think structurally frittered away a little bit, but still I enjoyed the experience.
MG: I loved one of the main points he makes which is why should you have Louis Garrel when you can have a dog? This is what the film says at a certain point.
WM: I don’t know. I was with it for an hour. And then came the shifts in the tone, the shifts in the ideas. They were abrupt but then I didn’t feel like he was exploring any of the allusions he was making, or he would explore them but there was no connection among these things. The point about choosing between Warhol and Visconti is smart, but I would have liked him to have made that choice before the movie, not during the movie. Just give me the Visconti and not the Warhol half. The thing I don’t need in this movie is another story with the gay sex and the drugs and the disco and the clothes and the whole thing.
GS: What’s wrong with it?
WM: I don’t need to see another movie where that happens! It’s such a cliché at this point and not even filmmaking that’s that good. And I don’t think you can make it that much more interesting. And I think to treat Loulou de la Falaise as a bracelet, basically, and to have Louis Garrel, as much as my heart beats for that man—it doesn’t rescue the movie. The thing you need more of is the craftsmanship and the relationship of the clothes to the women who buy them. There’s that one great scene where Valeria Bruni Tedeschi comes in and tries on that suit, and that is such a magical moment. She puts it on, she doesn’t think she understands what the clothes are about and he says to her: “We don’t do that. We don’t do fashion, we do style.”
MG: Mainly the dresses are there as an autobiographical tool, a point which is repeated quite a few times—it’s always between his own clothes—between art and clothes…
Maps to the Stars
GS: How about Maps to the Stars?
SF: Alright, I enjoyed it. I don’t think it’s a major Cronenberg film, but it’s inimitably a Cronenberg film. I mean five minutes in you know there’s no one else who could have made this movie. I think that it’s quite funny. And we’ve seen countless satires on Hollywood, from all kinds of people, Robert Altman, Christopher Guest… I think this is one of the rare ones that really isn’t afraid to bite the hand… because Hollywood has never really fed Cronenberg. I mean with the exception of The Fly he has hardly made studio movies.
GS: This is supposedly the first movie he has made in Los Angeles…
SF: And I think that there’s a very clever idea in the movie of the lives of the people in Hollywood sort of imitating the machinery of the Hollywood business. That everyone’s lives are constantly remaking themselves.
GS: It’s interesting because that conceit just seems banal to me. It seems like it’s already kind of an established fact that in Hollywood people’s lives are the industry. That aspect felt standard to me.
SF: Well again, would I put it on the level of The Player? Would I put it on the level of Blake Edwards’s S.O.B.? Probably not. But I think it’s of a piece with Cronenberg’s other virtual-reality movies. You know, Hollywood is a giant simulacrum, basically. And I especially enjoyed Julianne Moore. I think it’s a very gutsy performance.
GS: That was, yeah.
MG: It’s a very dense film in psychoanalytic terms. It tries to develop what was in Spider, developed in A Dangerous Method, and here it reaches a level of thickness that really deserves, I guess, multiple viewings. I’ve only had one so far, but I’m looking forward to seeing it again.
WM: I think the thing is that all the major characters in this film are either responsible for or the product of bad parenting. I think the tone more suits those dynamics than the Hollywood satirical ones. So some of the jokes aren’t as funny… I think Bruce Wagner might’ve been interested in getting those jokes to pop, but Cronenberg seems way more interested in the sort of toxic dysfunction among all of these people.
SF: But I think it’s tied to what they do for a living, that’s the thing.
WM: But I think they’re extricable. I mean, they work together, the Hollywood dysfunction…
SF: Yeah, well I mean the movie probably could’ve been set anywhere to an extent.
WM: Not quite, but I do think that the mocking of Hollywood is secondary to the kind of parental farce/tragedy…
GS: The problem for me is Bruce Wagner’s script, I don’t think it’s very good, and I think all of the strained attempts to inject obvious humor into it weren’t necessary. I think it might’ve been a funnier film and a more interesting film if he hadn’t gone for humor.
MG: But Cronenberg tries from probably minute one to ditch the script. And he manages to reduce the script to a very abstract system of correspondences. So basically you have no development whatsoever but you have this horizontal system of symmetry, a cobweb, basically.
WM: Even more than in Spider.
TM: Well as someone who’s lived there for many decades and been involved with the industry for a long time, I find a shotgun approach and an exclusively cynical approach, quite tiresome at this point. I’ve been tired of Bruce Wagner since he practically started his career, having read his stuff, Force Majeure, back in the Eighties. I was disappointed in that collection and I’ve been disappointed ever since. He’s kind of the consummate insider/outsider who likes to show that he knows what it’s all about and still be a card-carrying member of the Hollywood club. But it’s a very tired routine at this point. Just to create the most cynical possible view of Hollywood. I mean, it doesn’t say anything anymore.
GS: To me that approach seemed a little tired even by the time of S.O.B.
TM: But here’s what I want to add. I made a documentary years ago about the history of movies. About Hollywood, basically. And the ones that were made in the early Seventies like Myra Breckenridge and Alex in Wonderland and a few others were the ones that were the most cynical and the most negative—understandably, perhaps, for that moment. And the ones that are the best are the ones that are mixed. In other words, the ones that can really use a scalpel, like The Bad and the Beautiful and Sunset Boulevard, and yet acknowledge what the allure and the value is about the place, too. And so I find a mixed, more complex film infinitely more rewarding than something that’s just taken a shotgun to the whole situation. That doesn’t tell me anything. I mean, it has its moments, the Justin Bieber stuff is hilarious, Julianne Moore is very out there in a wild performance, and there are some good lines here and there. Cronenberg is certainly talented, but I do find the whole approach pretty useless at this point.
GS: Let’s end with each of you picking out one film that we haven’t talked about that you feel like should get some mention.
SF: Um, I don’t know, what haven’t we…
GS: Scott Foundas, lost for words for the first time in history!
MG: I’d say Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja, which as far as I’m concerned fulfill’s his promises. I mean, these six years of not making films have been well spent, I guess, because this film has a rich texture. It shows Alonso’s cinema as being the only Griffithian cinema that you have now, because it really focuses on the very basics, and it does so with a very compelling narrative and a very achieved scheme behind the film. And also great cinematography.
SF: Griffith meets David Lynch in this case.
WM: Yeah, I haven’t seen that. And you know how it is, there are always the things that you didn’t see that people say you should see. Like everybody says see Red Army, everybody says see the dog movie [White God]. Wild Tales is the only thing that I’ve seen that I feel like I want to run and tell people to see. I like Mr. Turner, I like the Cronenberg, there are things I like, but not anything that I feel is a major discovery. And I like Whiplash and Eleanor Rigby, but they showed in North America before they showed here.
SF: It probably is worth mentioning Eleanor Rigby because this is a quite curious film that was originally shown at the Toronto Film Festival as a “work in progress” that consisted of two films tracing a couple who’ve lost a child and the aftermath of that. One film from the perspective of the man and one from the perspective of the woman. They were subtitled “Him” and “Her,” respectively, and then here in Cannes they’ve premiered a third version of the film called “Them,” which cuts together the two other versions—
GS: Synthesizes the dialectic.
SF: Yes, with some additional footage, but mainly just to patch things over, and I personally find the film interesting in all three of its now-existing versions. And apparently The Weinstein Company, which is now distributing the movie, is going to release all three versions in various ways, both theatrically and on VOD, and I think it’s certainly something that they’ll be looking at in film schools for decades to come.
GS: Well, apart from the interest value of the three versions, is it intrinsically interesting?
SF: Yeah, it’s interesting on two levels. I mean I think the death of a child as a dramatic launching point is maybe the most overused narrative conceit in movies today, so I had my guard up against that. But I think what’s interesting is the movie really is much more about things like how two people can be in love and then suddenly realize that they don’t want to be together anymore even though they still have feelings for each other. As a kind of generational portrait of admittedly very privileged thirtysomethings in New York feeling like they don’t know who they are and that they have to make a new start again.
GS: You’re not selling me on this …
SF: But mainly it’s the acting. The central performances of James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain are really superb, and it’s quite interesting that in a movie where they really only have maybe a half-dozen scenes together, you actually feel the whole arc of their relationship. You get some of it from those scenes and you get it from how they talk about their relationship to their friends, to their parents, and so forth. And there’s a strong emotional resonance about this fractured marriage.
TM: Well, the best thing I’ve seen, the most satisfying thing is Foxcatcher. And other than that, you know, we’ve covered everything. I mean, I haven’t seen anything else that turned me on. What I did see, I was disappointed by, like Girlhood, the opening-night film in Quinzaine I wasn’t wild about.
GS: And is everybody kind of disappointed by Sissako’s Timbuktu?
SF: No, I think it’s actually quite alright.
TM: I thought it was pretty solid, pretty good. I’m glad I saw it, but it didn’t go beyond that for me. We haven’t mentioned The Homesman, which I thought was a peculiar and nice, interesting film.
WM: Until the thing that happens happens.
SF: Yes, but I felt that was earned dramatically.
WM: Oh, Scott!
TM: There’s debate about that. I was with that too, but a lot of people aren’t.
WM: I’m off the train. I’m off the train for two reasons—
GS: No spoilers here.
WM: I won’t ruin it. Well, I guess I have to ruin it to explain like—I won’t say what happens, but I was with it for a very obvious reason, because I’m a fan of the thing that happens to the thing. And then when the thing isn’t there anymore I’m off the train.
GS: Meet me at that place where we did that thing that time…
SF: I would say I think Hilary Swank is a fascinating case, because she’s so often miscast. And when she has the right role—and this is one, Million Dollar Baby was one, Boys Don’t Cry was one—she’s astonishing. You watch her and you think, is there any better actress in America right now? You know, when she’s on, she’s on, but she rarely has the right role.
GS: Marco, you didn’t like Timbuktu?
MG: Yeah, I prefer the other films by Sissako, by far. It seems to me that the lyrical openings that it makes here and there are quite decorative and pointless in the end, and that’s a pity actually. Because if you have to rely on the main storyline, you can’t, because I mean it’s too easy to bash the Islamic fundamentalists.
GS: I don’t think he completely bashes them in the film.
SF: I think it’s more complicated than that. Or at least, the way he does it is not so obvious, I mean because there’s some quite unexpected humor in the movie that’s about something very grave, and—
MG: It’s the kind of things you always have to balance—
GS: I don’t think everything’s black and white.
MG: I think I prefer a far more messed-up film, like Kornél Mundruczó’s White God.
WM: You mean formally messed up or morally messed up?
MG: Definitely morally messed up. And in this respect I don’t think that the Fuller reference in the title is unintentional because you obviously think of White Dog. But also formally there is some lack of balance, but it’s a film that doesn’t decide if it should be a horror film or a Disney children’s film, and that’s part of the charm of it, actually. Because at the end you don’t really quite know from which position you are associating the other or the otherness with, precisely because he doesn’t make choices with regard to genre, and as such he can’t take a position. But this inability is actually interesting because it shows a symptomatic lack of position at a broader ideological level.
GS: You’re sounding a little bit like Louis Althusser…
MG: Yeah, I mean that was part of the intention of the film. I mean, the moment you make an anti-racist parable using dogs you’re pretty much going in that direction, I would say.
SF: I would just say at least one brief thing about a movie we didn’t mention, which is the cover of the current issue of Film Comment, The Rover, which is showing at midnight here. I think it’s an impressive second film by David Michôd, who did Animal Kingdom. And I think that it’s a bit surprising that it was placed at midnight, because even though it’s sort of nominally a genre film, it’s probably not what people will be expecting if they’re told it’s a post-apocalyptic movie screening at midnight. It’s a kind of measured, contemplative movie, and I think it’s vastly better than several of the films that are in competition, and I think it’s very surprising after the reception of Animal Kingdom, and the fact that Michôd as a director was part of the Cinéfondation at Cannes, that this film was given this kind of slightly déclassé slot here.
GS: The response to that film has generally been disappointment, hasn’t it?
TM: Well, it’s not as full-bodied, it’s not as big a meal as Animal Kingdom is, that’s for sure. It’s much more spare, it’s stripped-down, it’s intense. It’s also the first movie, including the Cronenberg, that I’ve seen in which Robert Pattinson shows something that we didn’t know he could do. So that was of interest, and it’s very well made. One film perhaps we did not mention, and I think can be disposed of quickly but I think it’s worth mentioning, is Atom Egoyan’s The Captive, because it’s a perfect example of loyalty to an auteur, which in this case is absolutely ludicrous.
WM: You mean on behalf of the festival?
TM: Yes. In other words, if you’d shown this film to any group, including the festival committee, without the director’s name on it, forget about it. I think it was inexcusable.
SF: And I think it hurts the film in the end. You know, the thing a lot of times festival programmers don’t even necessarily think about is that if this Atom Egoyan film, which is lousy, was just released commercially or on VOD or whatever is ultimately gonna happen to it, it wouldn’t have been quite as savaged by the press as when you give it a high-profile slot in competition in Cannes. And in a way it’s been so long since Egoyan made a really satisfying film that it kind of almost made people think that maybe this one was going to be the comeback. Because you say, why put Egoyan in competition in Cannes at this stage of the game unless he does something that’s a comeback?
WM: Yeah, I don’t get that one at all, it’s a real mystery. Did anybody see the Ruben Östlund movie, Turist, or Force Majeure? I don’t know how you guys felt about Play, but this one’s worth seeing. I mean, even if you don’t like it, it’s something. And I think that it does a similar thing to Julia Loktev’s The Loneliest Planet. It’s a similar premise but it’s taken in a totally different direction, and I think it’s a really interesting, very smart, philosophical movie about human instinct.
SF: If there was an avalanche here, Wesley, I would just throw you in the path and run.