2019 Cannes, Cannes, Site Updates

My Top 10 Films in Cannes that don’t Compete for Palme d’Or

Well, the title says it all. The Palme d’Or lineup has gathered a lot of media attention, but one of the joy in Cannes is that they have varied choices beyond that, many of them take us by surprise and gain more traction as the year goes. This year is no exception as there are plenty titles worth raving about. With this list, let’s see some alternatives from the big titles that rarely get cover anywhere else, from wide range of medium, genres from all over the world.

note: there are 2 films that were originally on my watchlist but I couldn’t find the time to watch. Sight-unseen mention to The Lighthouse (Director’s Fortnight) and the animated feature The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily (Un Certain Regard)

10) For Sama (Special Screening)

It’s already remarkable that For Sama got made at all. The director, Waad Al Kateab is an activist and one of the key members of Syria resistance, where her husband stays and opens a hospital. As the result the film is a true record of what is happening in Syria right now. There are many heartbreaking scenes, where people’s lives, especially kids’ are always hanging by their threads. But there are moments of hope as well, as the victims make it out alive. There are constant bombings, as we see multiple times during the film, and many get hit and died even before they know it. Not only an account of Syria’s lives, For Sama, as a title depicts, is a personal film that Al Kateab makes for her born-in-the-battlefield daughter, and addresses the sensitive fact on why she and her husband decide to keep her daughter by their sides, even if they know it’d be dangerous for her. The film also touches on the city Aleppo, about the pride of those who remain to stay because it’s their root. It’s a remarkable film by all counts.

9) Nina Wu (Un Certain Regard)

Nina Wu is a meaty, part-satire, part-critical look at the acting industry in China. Reportedly, the project sees its light when the lead actress, Wu Ke-si, pitched the director Midi Z about the story back in Berlin 2018. It’s the earlier film-within-the-film that the film shines the most. Creative, playful and a big showcase for the demanding acting of its lead. The film slips later on when it tries to dramatize Nina real life’s struggle with the mind-numbling revealing that for me sucks out the fun of it. This is one of the rare instance where keeping the tone light would be a sharper tool to critique the state of Chinese acting industry. It attempts at #metoo movement but become too obvious by the time the credit rolls.

8) The Orphanage (Directors’ Fortnight)

Shahrbanoo Sadat (previous won the very selection Top Prize in 2016 with Wolf and Sheep), returns to this section again about the orphanage right before the invasion of Muslim rulers. It’s an uneven film to say the least. While the large part of the film details the lives of these school kids adjusting to the orphanage (and successfully doing so), sometimes it would mix with musical sequences that are tonal whiplash to the rest of the movie. The non-professional actors play their part naturally, which is important and the film somewhat succeeds in bringing the atmosphere of the bygone era before the country changes rapidly.  It’s still a solid film, but is minor compare to her 2016 film.

7) Vivarium (International Critics’ Week)

Along with 6) below, Vivarium benefits from its fresh concept, but unfortunately it runs out of its welcome at the end. The said concept is about a couple (played by Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg) who find themselves literally unable to get out of a mysterious house. While its Kafkaquese premise is indeed intriguing, the material really stretches thin for a feature-length film. On a positive note, every time Vavarium plants some twists, they’re rock! The absurdness of the situation is heightened by the committed performances from its leads. The film itself is too small to become a breakthrough hit, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t try. Vivarium is one twisty, funny and dry lo-fi.

6) Deerskin (Directors’ Fortnight)

If Vivarium succeeds on its absurd premise, Deerskin’s entire film plays squarely on its one madness concept: a guy (played by Jean Durjadin) becomes obsessed with his jacket that he kills people so that his jacket can become the only one. It’s a tall order indeed. Dujardin is 100% committed  to the character, and his charm is more than enough to make this offbeat story works in the first place. But the main credit has to be Quentin Dupieux, who is in total game of making this lucid concept as far as possible. The filmmaking subplot doesn’t work as well, and I feel the ending wraps up a bit to abruptly, but the power of this strange work is there. It’s no masterpiece, but if you look for films that offers something fresh and funny along the way, then Deerskin has you covered.

5) The Halt (Directors’ Fortnight)

The Halt marks my first encounter to Lav Diaz films, and words from the street is that this is one of his most straight-forward film, and one of his shortest film, with only 4 and a half hour in length. By the end of it, I’m not totally impressed with the final product, but there are some genuine can be found through the picture. The very setting is intriguing, for example. Set in a near-futurist world where the volcano erupt causes the whole Southeast Asia living in dark, hence the B & W photography. The film does little to that setting, though, with only camera drones swarming around the city in place for actual police officers, the rest looks like Phillipines today. Many other plot threads are interesting in concept: a History teacher who moonlights as a silent hooker, a woman who develops her thirst for blood after she witnesses a shooting, the orphanage too poor that it becomes normal when they burn corpses of the deceased every night, a dictator who turns out to be a whimpy… they are all neat details here, but they are either buried by several long takes or become repetitive (especially with the case of the dictator). All the developments, in addition, don’t reach its full potential, but taken as a whole The halt is still an impressive piece of work, and partly work as his most political charge to date.

4) Lux Æterna (Midnight Screening)

Doesn’t matter if this one is intended to be a commercial, doesn’t matter if it is only 50 minutes in length, Gaspar Noe delivers again another visceral experience of a shoot goes horribly wrong. There’s many things to love here: from the improv dialogues provided by its characters, to its split screen technique, to the outright disorienting last few minutes, he’s in total control of provoking viewers visceral feeling like none other. It also works as satire of film production. Lux Æterna might be short in length, but it’s certainly not short in its ambition.

3) Zombi Child (Directors’ Fortnight)

Out of everything that screen outside of Palme d’Or, Zombi Child might be the closest shot of just barely missing the Main Competition. Directed by Bertrand Bonello, it’s another solid entry in his filmography, not too mainstream, but not too art-house either. The film splits into two main plot-lines, one set in Haiti in 1960s, the other one is in current day in a totally-white France, and much later on should we see how these stories interconnect with each other. The main subject matter is similar to another entry for Directors’ Fortnight (Sick, Sick, Sick), but it still does a fine job of addressing voodoo practice in a completely different angle. The ending might not work narratively, but thematically it fits well. I’m pretty sure this film will fare better than other French entries in the Main Competition, namely Oh Mercy and the disaster Mektoub. Here’s hoping he will be back in the top game of Croisette again.

2)The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão (Un Certain Regard)

Fun little note, I was groaning how the Un Certain Regard this year is underwhelmed with the films I hd watched (around 5-6 films), until the Jury members awarded all the films I haven’t watched or even aware of. ( I blame bad luck for that). Watching this film, which is the winner of Un Certain Regard sidebar, I must report that I’m totally happy with it winning the top prize. The film examines the relationship between the sisters with hearts, fun and some genuine emotions. I attribute its success to the acting first and foremost, as the two performances bring out the complexity of the characters through many stages, and especially sold out well the chemistry between them. Then the story works because it’s both bittersweet and funny at the same time. As these girls go through their lives (sometimes horribly), the film sips harder because they don’t over-dramatize these moments, instead they make it wittily. The screenplay smartly interweaves the girls’ lives, sometimes because they go through the same experiences. It’s a pretty good choice for the new crown of Un Certain Regard.

1) I Lost My Body (International Critics’ Week)

While I Lost My Body was on my to-watch list prior to coming here, the film still takes me by surprise just how well crafted it is. Production-wise, it carries the theme by its strong direction and clear visual, story-wise it’s an intimate story about a guy who doesn’t know what to do with his life. Character-wise, I’m also drawn into them and the side plots interweave neatly. While this might not become as big of a hit like say, The Red Turtle last few years, it’s a goddamn solid one that would be in conversation for years to come.

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