At the Cannes Film Festival: Dissident Iranians, Exorcists, Cults

05/17/2011 3:34 PM |

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The Cannes Film Festival is now halfway finished and a number of highly anticipated titles that aren’t Tree of Life have played—with mixed results. For instance, take Bé Omidé Didar, imprisoned Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof’s follow-up to The White Meadows.

Bé Omid é Didar (Good Bye) nicely complements The White Meadows, which is an astounding imagistic fable about life in a theocracy. That said, this film, about a pregnant lawyer facing political persecution, is much too literal and pat. Rasoulof’s thoughtful direction never makes the leaden narrative feel as transcendent as The White Meadows or even Iron Island, his other recent allegory about life in contemporary Iran.

Speaking of underwhelming but worthy films, be sure to get confused by Bruno Dumont’s Hors Satan (Outside Satan)—if it ever comes out stateside, that is. Though it’s not as good as Hadewijch, Dumont’s exceptional last film, Hors Satan is an enigmatically perverse mystery play. It follows a mysterious and highly mercurial exorcist (David Dewaele) and his relationship with “the girl” (Alexandra Lematre), a meek young woman whose unrequited passion for the exorcist may or may not be indicative of other inner demons.

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Dumont never spells out why the girl’s infatuation with the exorcist, who appears to have some kind of divine or possibly demonic powers, is conflated with her need to be redeemed. The film is sure to push the buttons of anyone that mistakes Dumont for a provocateur or a sensationalist, labels that don’t quite fit his style of confrontational, genuinely exploratory, totally opaque spiritual dramas. Hors Satan is absolutely sincere, even if just looks sincerely confused by the end.

On the bright side, at least first-time filmmaker Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene lives up to its hype. Martha Marcy May Marlene earned Durkin and his cast overwhelmingly high marks at this year’s Sundance, and with good reason. The film is a seriously disquieting drama centering on a young woman trapped between two different families. Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) flees a Manson-like cult led by Winter’s Bone’s John Hawkes to reconnect with her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and Lucy’s tightly wound British yuppie husband, Ted (Hugh Dancy). Durkin keeps the tension at a constant boil, never compromising the atmosphere of deceptive calm that characterizes Martha’s new life with her sister.

Finally, I had a really good watching a restored print of Le Sauvage, a slight but very satisfying romantic comedy starring a sometimes naked Catherine Deneuve and Yves Montand as accidental lovers. Since they’re both trapped on Montand’s Venezuelan desert island (doesn’t everybody have one of these?) and she was never invited to come to the island in the first place, the pair fall for each other whenever they’re not bickering. The newly restored stereo soundtrack is a bit distracting since only composer Michel Legrand’s score was originally recorded in stereo. It’s a good thing I wasn’t expecting the film to live up to director Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s Cyrano de Bergerac adaptation or his Bon Voyage. If I had, I probably wouldn’t have liked Le Sauvage at all.