Kawase - A True Spirit of Nature

in 67th Cannes Film Festival

by Pierre Pageau

The Cannes Film Festival has a well–deserved reputation of being the best film festival in the world. Year after year, it offers the cream of world cinema. That remains the case this year. And, this quality rests largely, on “politics of the authors” (“politique des auteurs” as Cahiers du Cinéma would have said).

There are some directors whom we find regularly and who ensure a certain continuity in the festival. Cannes follows them and we do the same. Our love of Cannes rests on these particular affections. Among the many movies from filmmakers we see often in the official selection (the Dardenne Brothers, David Cronenberg, so on) there are the films of a woman filmmaker, Naomi Kawase.

She was a contender until the end in our debates for the FIPRESCI prize in the Official competition this year. Her work, Still the Water, is certainly her best film in a rather short career.

We know that the “politique des auteurs” in Cannes is mainly male oriented. Rare are the women who enter this pantheon of the big names of cinema. One of the rare examples, Jane Campion, was president of the Competition jury this year.

Naomi Kawase is another female flag carrier. As early as 1997, with her first movie, Suzaku, she won the Golden Camera (Caméra d’or). She returned in 2003 with Shara. In 2007 The Mourning Forest (Mogari no mori — La Forêt de Mogari) received the Grand Prix. In 2011, The Spirit of Mountains (Hanezu No Tsuki) was in the Official Competition.

This year with Still the Water (Futatsume no mado) she was a real contender for the Palme d’or. Still the Water, like her other films, has beautiful images of Nature: the sea, forests, mountains, flowers, the moon, and insects. Kawase always remains very closely attached to her country, its history, and its spiritual and cultural values. With Still the Water she chose Amani (belonging to Japan in the subtropical climate situated between Kyushu and Okinawa), which, in fact, was the island of her ancestors. Previously she shot all her films in her home town Nara with common themes of the environment marked by the traces of History and about the Buddhism.

In Still the Water immense waves (as in the drawings of Hokusai), which herald a typhoon, open and close the movie. We then discover a dead body (a man) coming from that angry sea: Who is he? And why is he there? The rest of the narrative gives us some answers, but the heart of the film is not there. It is in a quiet and Zen climate that relates to the cycles of Nature. Here we find Kawase at her best.

A concession to the spectator constitutes a weaker part: the “coming of age” between two teenagers (Keiko the girl and Kaito the boy) is a little too much Harlequin, in particular with the scenes of them on a motorcycle and the inappropriate music she uses. But there is in this film the most beautiful sequence of all the Cannes Film Festival contenders this year. It is the one of of the death of Keiko’s mother Isa. With this scene Kawase makes the most beautiful synthesis of her thought and her aesthetics.

The cultural and spiritual traditions of the island of Amani (like the traditional dance of the Dance of August) conjugate to express better the mysterious links between life and death as those who unite a mother and her daughter. Nature cures the characters and, in the process, we are also healed.

Edited by Richard Mowe