The Best of the 2005 Director's Fortnight By Pedro Butcher

in 58th Cannes Film Festival

by Pedro Butcher

We cannot say that this year’s Director’s Fortnight offered historical screenings such as Nagisa Oshima’s Empire of the Senses (Ai No Corida, 1976), Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger than Paradise (1983) or the Dardenne brother’s The Promise (La Promesse, 1996). There was no obvious discovery or blowing scandal, but an interesting set of average (and a few above-average) movies that guaranteed the general quality of the selection.

The choice of the opening night film, Eric Khoo’s Be with Me, from Singapore, can be seen as a strong statement from curator Olivier Père in favor of humanist and affirmative cinema. Inspired by the writings of Theresa Chan, a woman who got blind and deaf but had a surprisingly stoic response to the tragedies of her life, Khoo wrote three tales of modern love in Singapore. He then invited Theresa to participate in one of these stories by playing herself, which resulted in an interesting blend of fiction and non-fiction.

The greatest merit of Be with Me is its courage to deal with subjects that are totally out of fashion such as love, solidarity and affection with no fear to appear corny. Khoo is not interested in the clichés of love or violence, but it’s clear that, for him, love is a violent feeling due to its devastating nature. He denies the ordinary idea that youth is incapable to communicate by showing strong affective bonds that are simply expressed in different ways. It’s curious, for example, how he depicts his characters always writing or typing messages of love in computer’s keyboards or mobile phones, just as if love couldn’t be defined if not by the sense of touch.

Asian production kept proving its great vitality with four strong titles. From Korea, director Ryoo Seung-wan offered a surprisingly refreshing version of an old genre (the boxing melodrama) with Crying Fist (Ju-Meok-I-Woon-Da), starring veteran Choi Min-sik (Chihwaseon, Oldboy) and Ryoo Seung-bum, the director’s brother and favorite star.

After three strong action movies of great commercial success, Ryoo Seung-wan (who is only 32) made a very personal film that shows immense talent for building both character and conflict. The parallel stories of the old, decadent boxer and the young delinquent that will redeem himself through box will converge to the inevitable climax fight – what seems to be an extremely conventional solution, but just in its appearences. In fact, the director manages to deal with the most contemporary cinema issue, discussing how human desire expresses itself through the body to fight oppression.

Also from Korea, The President’s Last Bang (Gu Tte Gu Sa Ram Dul), by Im Sang-soo (A Good Lawyer’s Wife) was another piece of concentrated energy in celluloid. We can’t imagine a more daring way to approach a political trauma of a nation such as that chosen by Im Sang-Soo. He stages 24 hours surrounding president’s Park Chunghee murder, in October 1979, as an action movie – sometimes extremely violent, sometimes extremely funny, as the characters from both sides (pro and against the president) are completely clumsy.

From Japan, Mitsuo Yanagimachi’s (scaring titled) Who’s Camus, Anyway? (Camus nante shir) and Kohei Oguri’s poetic The Buried Forest can be seen as love declarations to cinema, both presenting strong denials to the “death of image”. Oguri’s movie is an éloge to the power of narrative through words and pictures. Each one of the wonderful frames of the movie is carefully designed. The screen is a pictorial space, and the sound is also a way to build this virtual, artistic space, while his characters don’t stop making up stories so as to be alive.

In a completely different way, Who’s Camus, Anyway? also pays homage to the universe of movies. It is an almost autobiographical account about a teacher and its students preparing a film in a University campus. The director himself was away from the cameras for more than ten years, in which period he started to teach. Fun and caring, Yanagimachi’s film can play with references without being pretentious or trivial, which makes the movie absolutely delicious to see.

Two other powerful examples of the Fortnight’s titles were Keane, by Lodge Kerrigan (American director of Clean shaven and Claire Dolan) and Alice, by young Portuguese helmer Marco Martins. Curiously, they offered alternative points of view to one of the dominants themes of the competition for the Palm D’Or: fathers looking for their children (like in Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers or Wim Wender’s Don’t Come Knocking).

Kean (Danian Lewis) and Mario (Nuno Lopes) are fathers that lost their daughters amongst the crowds of big cities (New York and Lisbon). They are almost at the edge of madness, having to deal with a feeling that seems worse than the mourning of death, bacause marked by uncertainty and the guilt for a flashing negligence.

While Mario resorts to surveillance cameras, even counting with the help of an airport employee and creating his own surveillance device by installing video cameras all around the city, Kean sees the opportunity to start his life all over again when he meets a mother and her daughter in cheap hotel room. What’s most interesting, however, is how both films depict urban reality today, seeing the overpopulated megalopolis as monsters capable of devouring people and making them vanish from Earth’s surface without any traces.