An Inspiring Year By Dubravka Vojvodic

in 59th Cannes Film Festival

by Dubravka Vojvodic

This year’s edition of the 38th Directors’ Fortnight (Quinzaine des Réalisateurs) was very inspiring. A good herald of this was the opening night film, the Danish-German co-production Princess by Anders Morgenthaler. This is the second film out of the box from the New Danish Screen initiative after the Berlin festival hit, A Soap. The feature debut of the 34-year-old Morgenthaler confronts us with the life of a five-year-old daughter of the famous Danish porn-star, Princess, who died from a drug overdose. For 83 minutes, we witness how the life of a promiscuous and immoral mother affects the life of her daughter. The story gains palpability and depth when the director uses hand-held camera to shoot Princess at work and at home. Princess is comprised 20% live-action (shot on video) and 80% animation. By talking about such a serious topic through the animated medium, the director manages to create an ironic twist that allows the viewer to follow the story with some ease. “I’ve seen people crying at the end of the film,” says the author, ”which is different for an animated feature.” Having decided to open the Directors’ Fortnight with this film, the artistic director of the Directors’ Fortnight, Oliver Père, seemed to be telling us to expect all kinds of surprises this year. He himself pointed out that this year’s program was showcasing twice as many first films as in pervious years and giving pride of place to European production, resulting in fewer films from North America and Asia. In 25 features shown this year, literature, poetry, theater, music, performance art, video and plastic arts are integrated into unconventional cinematic experiments.

If we have pointed out the fact that a mostly animated film opened Director’s Fortnight, we cannot avoid mentioning the contrast of the super-realist, near-documentary achievement of 12:08 East of Bucharest (A Fost sau n-a fost?), by Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu (this year’s winner of the Caméra d’Or), an excellent comedy on the question of “whether what happened in Romania in 1989 was a revolution or not.” This film concerns three men who appear on a T.V. round table and call-in show to discuss the aforementioned question. It was the only true comedy in Directors’ Fortnight, and its realism reminded one of The Death of Mr. Lazarescu by Romanian Cristi Puiu, the winner of last year’s Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes and festival prizewinner around the world.

In a similar manner but more reminiscent of the realism of The Decalogue by Krzysztof Kieslowski, Day Night Day Night, by young American auteur Julia Lokatev (born in St. Petersburg, Russia), is about a female suicide-bomber. The film follows the protagonist’s actions that are supposed to culminate at New York’s Times Square: her arrival in New York, her liaison, her preparations, security assessments, her psychological state and her failure are followed ceaselessly and continuously. The camera is on her virtually all the time. The tension certainly comes from the camera’s intimacy recording. The minimalism of the face is confronted with the visual and aural noise of the city, says Lokatev, who notes that “faith comes face-to-face with the possibility of failure.”

An equally interesting and completely different Fortnight film was Les Anges exterminateurs by Jean Claude Brisseau. Even though it is a film that talks about the essence of filmmaking, this film has an interesting motif. It portrays the hardship and suffering of a filmmaker–in this case, a middle-aged director who aspires to make a film about the pleasure of sex. He casts and records a group of young female protagonists masturbating in front of the camera, capturing the moments of their sexual ecstasy. Brisseau’s film differs from others on a similar topic in that it explores the fascination of its protagonists with film in general. Having finished his shooting, the director cannot run away from his eventual protagonists – they chase him and tell him that they will take their revenge on him if he does not “use” them in his film. The opening of such a twist in Les Anges exterminateurs stems from the fact that Brisseau actually was arrested and put under trial after the shooting of his previous film, Choses secrètes, for the same reasons shown in this new film.

Finally, like all ambitious programs, the Directors’ Fortnight presented failures, some of which, like Lying by American director M. Blash, were nevertheless interesting. The films raises the question if Blash wanted to make a film for the film’s sake or for the sake of showing us a performance with a set of small “negro” dolls. In the case of Daft Punk’s Electroma, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter’s film about two robots and their desire to be human, is nothing more than an attempt to visually capture the credo of their infectious and uncompromising music. It demonstrates that films with long sequences and with nothing but music and pictures can hardly keep one on the edge, let alone offer anything new. Though at first very interesting, Teresa Villaverdes’ Portuguese film, Transe, about a young woman trying to find her place in the world, unfortunately finishes as a very common story about sex-trafficking. Spanish director Albert Serra’s Honor of the Knights (Honor de Cavalleria) is a total failure, as it tries to make fun of the immortal Spanish legend of Don Quixote. The film jokes so much that it’s a joke itself, in spite of the very serious explanation by the auteur, who has written, directed and produced the film: “My film is not the narration of an adventure but the adventure of a narration.” There is no doubt about that.

Bug by William Friedkin, Dans Paris by Christophe Honore from France, Congorama by Philippe Falardeau from Canada and Fehér Teynér by Szabolcs Hajdu from Hungary (showing the severe life of an Olympic gymnast who suffered mentally and physically under the brutal training regimen of a diabolic coach) were all very impressive and prime examples of the birth of a new film achievement of a unique domain. The most prominent of these, in the poetic and humorous sense, is Dans Paris, which tries to find out the meaning of love, family and friendship while at the same time questioning if they are really worth living for.