Left: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, A Screaming Man, 2010, color film in 35 mm, 92 minutes. Right: Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, 2010, color film in 35 mm, 113 minutes.

“I WOULD LIKE to thank all the spirits and all the ghosts in Thailand. They made it possible for me to be here,” beamed Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the winner of the Palme d’Or for his animist tale Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. The international press, gathered in the Salle Debussy to watch a live transmission of the awards ceremony, may have been even more elated than the director: After jury president Tim Burton announced Uncle Boonmee as the winner, many journalists cheered and raised their fists, thrilled that their own clear favorite had been selected (a stark contrast to last year’s shrugs when Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon took home Cannes’s top prize).
Over the past twelve days, several critics groused that a jury led by the man who made Mars Attacks! would be predisposed to honor the safer, more middlebrow titles in the Competition roster, like Another Year, Mike Leigh’s study of a happily married couple and their dysfunctional social set. That the nine-person committee singled out a film in which an ancient Thai princess is sexually pleasured by a talking catfish proves that what many were calling “the most boring jury ever” was actually the most daring—and generous—in its choices. The seven major prizes were spread out over as many films, with Mathieu Almaric a surprise winner for best director for his burlesque tribute, Tournée, and Mahamet-Saleh Haroun taking home the jury prize for A Screaming Man, about a father’s selfish sacrifice in war-torn Chad.
Gathered to meet the press immediately after the awards ceremony, the jurors uttered platitudes and remained deliberately vague about their selections. One reporter became fed up with the niceties, insisting, “You’re very quiet and not very talkative and we need you to talk about the festival”—a demand that led only to more banal evasions from the jurors. Director Victor Erice, best known for The Spirit of the Beehive (1973), stated the obvious: “The list of winners is always the result of a vote. Perhaps we haven’t given sufficient justice to all the films. And for this I apologize.” But it was actress Kate Beckinsale, who had remained silent for nearly the entire thirty-minute press conference, who spoke most concretely: “There’s a slight nausea at the ones that were left behind. We tried to invent more prizes.”

Melissa Anderson

Left: Hong Sang-soo, Hahaha, 2010, color film in 35 mm, 116 minutes. Right: Lee Chang-dong, Poetry, 2010, color film in 35 mm, 135 minutes.

“TRY WRITING a pretty poem every day,” the sixteenth-century Korean naval hero Admiral Yi advises Jo Munk-yung (Kim Sang-kyung) in a dream in Hong Sang-soo’s Hahaha, which screened this morning in Un Certain Regard. Munk-yung, a Seoul-based director on the skids visiting the coastal town of Tongyeong, tries his hand at verse to impress the tour guide he initially assesses as possessing an “average face, but a very nice figure.” Like most of Hong’s recent films, Hahaha unfolds as a featherweight, auteur-stamped rom-com, with the men pickled in alcohol and hopelessly bumbling, and the women mercurial, capricious, and often right.

Lyrical compositions serve more serious purposes in Lee Chang-dong’s Competition entry, Poetry. Lee, last in contention for the Palme d’Or with 2007’s Secret Sunshine (for which Jeon Do-yeon took home the Best Actress prize), creates another powerful narrative about a woman raising a child on her own. Mija (Yoon Jeong-hee), a proper, sixtyish home aide in the early stages of dementia, lives with her sullen adolescent grandson, whose mother is looking for work in Pusan. Enrolling in a poetry class, Mija anxiously awaits inspiration from the muses—which arrives the moment she decides her charge must finally suffer the consequences of a heinous act he has committed. Perfectly paced and performed, Poetry stands out as both a quietly scathing condemnation of male violence (and the craven attempts to cover it up) and an ode to the strength—and moral compass—of senescent women.

Pure poetry of another sort, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s rapturous tale of reincarnation, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, playing in Competition, includes visitations from dead loved ones, men who are half monkeys, and talking catfish who know how to sexually gratify ancient princesses. “I don’t know how I will find you after I’m dead,” the title character (Thanapat Saisaymar), suffering from kidney failure, frets to his wife’s specter. “Ghosts are attached to people, not places,” she assures him—and anyone else who aches to reunite with someone who left them too soon.

Melissa Anderson

Left: Lodge Kerrigan, Rebecca H. (Return to the Dogs), 2010, still from a color film in 35 mm, 75 minutes. Right: Olivier Assayas, Carlos, 2010, still from a color film in 35 mm, 330 minutes.

A STAR TERRORIST FROM THE ’70s, a CIA operative betrayed by the Bush II administration, Grace Slick: A trio of disparate lives has been examined in three vastly different ways over the past twenty-four hours. Olivier Assayas’s five-and-a-half-hour Carlos, a maximalist, globe-trotting look at the Venezuelan-born Ilich Ramiréz Sánchez, more famously known as Carlos the Jackal, rightfully received a standing ovation yesterday after its sole, Out of Competition screening in the Lumière. Played by Edgar Ramirez (who also had a role in 2008’s Che, the last multihour biopic about a South American revolutionary to premiere at Cannes), the Carlos of Assayas’s film mixes libidinal kicks with his far-left militancy. “Weapons are an extension of my body,” he boasts to one of the many sisters of the revolution whom he beds, using a grenade as foreplay.

Several different languages are spoken in Carlos—often by the priapic insurrectionist himself—adding to the film’s epic sweep. Doug Liman’s Competition entry Fair Game, about CIA agent Valerie Plame, however, operates solely in the standard biopic vernacular: talky tub-thumping. Naomi Watts plays the covert operative whose cover was blown in retribution for the damning New York Times editorial her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV (Sean Penn), wrote condemning the Bush administration’s manipulating intelligence to justify the Iraq war. Or is Penn—whose press obligations in Cannes were preempted by his testifying in Congress yesterday, urging the US to expedite relief efforts to Haiti—simply playing himself? “Speak out! Ask those questions! Demand those truths!” a fiery Wilson, lecturing college students about their civic duties, bellows—dialogue similar to what the actor must have said countless times before on Capitol Hill.

Lodge Kerrigan’s Un Certain Regard title, Rebecca H. (Return to the Dogs), features Géraldine Pailhas playing both herself—as an actress cast to star in Somebody to Love, a biopic about Grace Slick directed by. . .Lodge Kerrigan—and a mentally ill woman who, inspired by Slick’s music, wants to leave France for Monterey, California, to start a recording career. The doubling and the film-within-a-film become even more mesmerizing when the real Slick appears, in snippets from the concert docs Monterey Pop (1968) and One P.M. (1972). Combining meticulous mimesis, metanarrative, and lengthy, Dardenne-inspired, back-of-the-head tracking shots, Rebecca H. reimagines the biopic as an exercise in giving and withholding.

Melissa Anderson

Stephen Kijak, Stones in Exile, 2010, black-and-white and color film. Photos © Dominique Tarlé.

IN 1971, about twenty miles northeast of Cannes, the Rolling Stones began recording their first double album, Exile on Main Street, in the basement of Nellcôte, Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg’s rented mansion in Villefranche-sur-Mer. Thirty-nine years later, Mick Jagger returned to another Côte d’Azur subterranean cave—the theater in the bowels of the Palais Stéphanie—to welcome the audience (many of whom had stood in line for ninety minutes or more for an hour-long documentary) to Stones in Exile, presented as a special screening in the Directors’ Fortnight. Jagger, sixty-six, evoked Exile’s epoch: “Nixon est dans la Maison Blanche . . .” Though he spoke very fine O-level French, the singer, before switching to English, apologized for any syntactical errors, admitting, “I hate when I make French tense mistakes.”

Directed by Stephen Kijak (who helmed the 2006 rock doc Scott Walker: 30 Century Man), Stones in Exile traces the making of that landmark 1972 LP, first in France, where the tax-plagued band decamped before the British government could seize their assets, and then—after there were arrest warrants out for the drug-bingeing group—at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles. The screening was bookended by brief testimonials from Don Was, will.i.am, Martin Scorsese, and . . . Benicio Del Toro (who, as a jury member this year, at least has a connection to Cannes, if not to the band in this movie); most of Kijak’s film consists of outtakes from Robert Frank’s 1972 Stones doc, Cocksucker Blues, and photographs from Dominique Tarlé, Nellcôte’s photographer-in-residence for six months.

Enduring a postscreening Q&A, Jagger, who executive produced Stones in Exile along with Richards and drummer Charlie Watts, explained the significance of repurposing the archival material, all from the group’s vault, for the doc’s look: “It was important that we keep it in the period—that we don’t have too many people sitting in chairs.” When asked how he and his bandmates could have worked with such quantities of drugs and booze, Jagger referred the audience to an article he had just read in the New York Times on marijuana-smoking chefs. Responding to the burning query of what he thinks about pop today, the singer was far more direct: “There’s great music and there’s shit in every era.”

Melissa Anderson

Abbas Kiarostami, Certified Copy, 2010, color film in 35 mm, 106 minutes. James Miller and She (William Shimell and Juliette Binoche).

ABBAS KIAROSTAMI’S competition title Certified Copy, which screened for the press last night, received the first boos I’ve heard for any film at the festival—though one colleague rapturously described it this afternoon as “Before Sunrise directed by Antonioni.” Set in Tuscany, Kiarostami’s latest follows a day in the life of a gallery owner (Juliette Binoche) and an art historian (British baritone William Shimell, making his film debut). We assume they’re complete strangers getting to know each another. But at the film’s midpoint, the dynamic shifts, and they assume the roles—or become the copies—of a couple married for fifteen years.

At the Certified Copy press conference today, the real Binoche was flanked by her own replica: A Brigitte Lacombe photograph of the actress, clutching paintbrushes in both hands, is the official poster of this year’s festival. But before journalists had their chance to direct their shopworn questions to the performer (one typical exchange: “How do you choose your projects around the world?” “They choose me”), matters of actual gravitas prevailed. Kiarostami politely announced that before discussing his Palme d’Or contender, he would address the situation of his jailed compatriot Jafar Panahi: “The fact that a filmmaker has been imprisoned is itself intolerable,” he said. Kiarostami, who provided copies of the open letter he sent to the New York Times in March regarding Panahi’s incarceration, added that on the car ride over to the Palais, he had received a message from Panahi’s wife—a sign, perhaps, of good news. Just a few minutes later, however, an unmiked journalist relayed that she’d heard that Panahi would not be freed and was, in fact, about to start a hunger strike. Kiarostami remained completely placid behind his trademark sunglasses, but emotion in the room ran high. One reporter, stirred by the director’s mere presence, asked if he “does not go in fear” himself. “I am not afraid,” he answered—a response that moved Binoche to tears.

Melissa Anderson

Jean-Luc Godard, Film Socialisme, 2010, still from a color film, 101 minutes.

AN INTERTITLE READING “NO COMMENT” is the final image of Jean-Luc Godard’s Film Socialisme, and the director himself followed suit, canceling the press conference—which many were expecting (praying?) would be the highlight of this year’s middling, low-energy festival—after the 11 AM Un Certain Regard screening. Rumors began circulating last night, via Twitter feeds and second- and thirdhand accounts, that Godard, who was last at Cannes with 2004’s Notre musique, wouldn’t attend, but these weren’t confirmed until anxious journalists began forming a scrum outside the press-conference room. According to AFP and Libération, the seventy-nine-year-old auteur, who led the charge to shut down Cannes in 1968 as a sign of support with France’s striking workers and students, sent a fax to festival head Thierry Frémaux with this cryptic explanation: “Following problems of the Greek type, I cannot be present at Cannes. I will go to my death with the festival, but I will not take a single step more.”

Language in Film Socialisme, with a typically prolix script, becomes even more mystifying in its subtitles, which JLG chose to render in what he has called “Navajo English,” the predicate-less idiom of Native Americans in old Hollywood Westerns; a digression on Africa in this overstuffed cine-treatise is translated as “aids tool for killing blacks.” The director returns to the topics that have dominated his film essays for at least twenty years: Israel and Palestine (“staying Haifa / right of return”), the Holocaust, the death of Europe, war. Film Socialisme may, however, be the first Godard work with LOLcats. But probably not the last.

Melissa Anderson

Film Socialisme is available through Video on Demand Monday, May 17 and Tuesday, May 18 here.