The 68th annual Cannes Film Festival runs through Sunday. Read Glenn’s first dispatch here, and check back this weekend for his closing thoughts.
Attending the Cannes Film Festival ensures you’ll receive a master’s degree in the art of transition. One must think on one’s feet while rapidly navigating various schedules, commitments, films, and social outings, not to mention finding time to jot down whatever hazy memories remain from the day’s films. Ironically, all of this seems super-serious until you wake up the next day and decide to do it all over again, promptly forgetting whatever disappointment or inconvenience has popped up before. Silly Cannes.
Many of the festival’s most interesting films thus far deal with larger, life-changing moments of transition for stubborn characters. In the Un Certain Regard sidebar, Radu Muntean’s stewing One Floor Below uses a single wordless exchange to set up a narrative founded on momentary shifts in tension. Evoking Hitchcock in its gripping sense of stretched temporality and simmering menace, the film contemplates how small escalations in aggression lead to life-long patterns of indecision.
Patrascu (Teodor Corban) returns home one day from walking his dog to hear a violent argument take place behind a neighbor’s closed door. He hesitates to intervene, but continues up the stairs. A younger man named Vali (Iulian Postelnicu) exits the apartment and the two lock eyes like boxers preparing to spar. Nothing comes of this showdown, but the next day a woman is found dead in that same apartment. Instead of informing the police, Patrascu keeps his secret.
Muntean spends the rest of the film dancing around exactly why his lead character feels so strongly about reinforcing the line between public and private intervention. Ambiguity eventually morphs into panic, as both Patrascu and Vali attempt to navigate their tenuous new relationship now founded on mutual cowardice.
Far more overt in its genre leanings, Alice Winocour’s Disorder is a studly and psychologically tense throwback that stars Matthias Schoenaerts as Vincent, a special ops soldier moonlighting on a protective detail for a wealthy Lebanese businessman. While in Afghanistan he’s suffered potentially devastating hearing loss that causes bloody noses. This fractured sense of perspective is explored mostly through the dense sound design and jarring use of music.
Shot almost entirely from the first-person perspective of its hulking lead character, the film is a heightened lesson in eavesdropping. Lines of dialogue fall in and out of range depending on Vincent’s position, leaving the audience with incomplete information about the escalating details surrounding his employers’ seedy deeds, and in turn the potential threat posed to the businessman’s wife (Diane Kruger) and young son.
With danger primed to arrive from any direction, Winocour resists cutting beyond the scope of Vincent’s purview. The various contradictions that define him as a character, specifically his penchant for rage juxtaposed with the tenderness toward the people he wishes to protect, are always up for contemplation. Beyond the frame we are given deceptive audio cues that promise a reckoning. Eventually, it arrives in the form of a furious action setpiece inside a vast estate. Disorder ends with an ambiguously spiritual last shot, one drenched in regret and the delusion of what could have been.
Nanni Moretti’s Mia Madre senses that missed opportunities are inevitable. Whether or not we learn from them matters most. Margherita (Margherita Buy) has long ignored the opinions and experiences of others, and this denial has led to more than a few complications while shooting her latest film, a leftist union drama starring a pompous American actor (the bombastic and hilarious John Turturro).
On the personal front, Margherita’s mother is slowly dying of cancer, a reality that has not quite set in for the veteran filmmaker seemingly obsessed with control. Moretti inserts various dream sequences suggesting his character is trying to reconcile the past and present, roles of parents and children, and self-destructive living patterns. All of this is conveyed rather naturally; sometimes it’s hard to tell reality and waking life apart.
While Mia Madre explores how families, like films, can be defined by an auteur (be it mother or daughter), this subtext is muted. Resultingly, there’s a strange divide in tonality between serious and silly (often portrayed by Turturro’s buffoon of a character) that Moretti never solves. Still, Buy’s performance reservedly confronts a scary and insecure psychological place, slightly elevating the film beyond the realm of mediocre arthouse drama.
There’s nothing mediocre about Arnaud Desplechin’s My Golden Days, a rapturous French coming-of-age story aglow in the joy and sadness of falling in love. The film functions as somewhat of a prequel/sequel to the director’s 1996 My Sex Life… or How I Got into an Argument. Mathieu Amalric returns as Paul Dedalus, a professor now returning home to Paris after eight years abroad. When stopped at the airport because of a past citation, Paul unleashes a flood of memories involving his early relationships when interviewed by an inquisitive old guard spy (André Dussollier).
Desplechin creates an effortless amalgamation of colors, poetry, pop music, pick-up lines, arguments, and surreal direct-addresses to the audience. Young Paul’s (played by the pouty Quentin Dolmaire) emotional investment in his longtime girlfriend Esther (Lou Roy-Lecollinet) is all-consuming but suffocating, adrift in misguided yet genuine affection. That the film also merges multiple genres, including an amazing Cold War thriller subplot, is indicative of its fluidity and respect for the passing of time. My Golden Days might not immediately feel epic, but in the days proceeding its screening I’m hard pressed to think of another Cannes entry this larger than life.