that Bruno Dumont won the Grand Prize for Flanders was a tender
mercy. Dumont's films are normally quiet but often possess a brutal,
ugly centre. Flanders follows that path. Here three farm boys
from Belgium are drafted into military service in the Middle East.
While Dumont doesn't say so, it could very well be Iraq or Afghanistan.
The trouble is two of them are in love with the same girl who
offers them equal sexual privilege (here is Dumont's theme of
Christian compassion a la Mary Magdalene which makes this film
the real Da Vinci Code).
the film jumps into the war zone, some of the most believably
brutal war scenes take place including rape and torture. Only
one of the three men makes it back home. He is one of the two
who loves the girl. When they have sex again, he finally declares
his love for her. Dumont's film is a meditation on love and violence,
and the question is why the former is harder to express than the
latter. While it doesn't rise above his best film, Humanity (1999),
it is definitely one of the best films about the current war.
Bouchareb's Days Of Glory.
it was a great relief that Algerian director Racheb Bouchareb's
Days Of Glory took a collective Best Actor Prize. The film is
about North African Muslims who volunteered in World War II to
fight the Nazis to free France, their colonial master, an irony
in itself. Bouchareb's film is wonderfully made with strong dramatic
moments and taut action scenes. It can rank with any of the best
World War II films.
the Japanese Americans who fought in World War II alongside the
Americans, the African Muslims were also never accorded the glory
given to a liberator. After holding out in the village of Alsace
against all odds (thus saving the villagers), the African Muslims
were shunted out of view while the French held a victory parade.
This film like Loach's The Wind That Shakes the Barley joins the
group of films that echo what Loach said: "And maybe, if we tell
the truth about the past, maybe we tell the truth about the present."
filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu also
tries to tell the history of the present. He won the directing
prize for Babel, featuring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in a multicultural
drama about a rifle. You can almost subtitle the film, "The Shot
that's Heard Around the World." Given by a Japanese hunter to
his Moroccan guide who sells it to a shepherd, the rifle is tested
by the shepherd's sons who unintentionally wound an American tourist
(played by Cate Blanchett).
the Japanese Americans who fought
in World War II alongside the Americans,
the African Muslims were also
never accorded the glory given to
a liberator. After holding out in the
village of Alsace against all odds
(thus saving the villagers),
the African Muslims were shunted out
of view while the French held a
victory parade. This film like Loach's
The Wind That Shakes the Barley
joins the group of films that echo
what Loach said: "And maybe, if we tell
the truth about the past, maybe we tell
the truth about the present."
the American tourist's Mexican maid takes their children back
to Mexico for a wedding but is suspected of kidnapping when she
tries to re-enter the US. The whole tapestry of confusion and
misunderstanding reveals Inarritu's point about the multicultural
world today, we are still a cacophony of unheard United Nation
voices. Inarritu sure has the skill of narrative patchwork which
warrants the Best Director prize but like most anthology films,
some parts are not equal to the other parts. The film feels loosely
sewn together and qualifies for being an audience film for the
Sad to say,
both Aki Kaurismaki's Lights in the Dusk and Sofia Coppola's Marie
Antoinette were underwhelming exercises. Kaurismaki ends his Loser
Trilogy (which began with Drifting Clouds and The Man Without
A Past) with a portrait of a man who doesn't know how to fight
back. Unfortunately, unlike previous works, Kaurismaki's deadpan
humour here falls flat rendering the film more two-dimensional
than it should have been.
Coppola's Marie Antoinette takes the post-modern period film where
Moulin Rouge left off, by charging off with a wall-to-wall punk
and alternative rock soundtrack, complete with American mall-girl
accent for the Marie Antoinette character (played by Kirsten Dunst).
The conceit wears out after 30 minutes and drifts out into stylised
poses. Not even the best rock music helps and if this is 18th
Century France, no wonder Kurt Cobain committed suicide.
kudos to Wong for not wearing his nationalism/ethnicity on his
sleeve. Lou Ye's Summer Palace had only one thing going for it
- nudity of young Chinese couples. We all figured why China has
such a large population so why not show it? Better than his last
outing, Purple Butterfly (2003), Summer Palace distinctly pales
against Suzhou River (2000), his best work.
Kaurismaki's Lights in the Dusk.
Palace, Lou Ye is trying to do a Jia Zhang Ke by situating the
personal against a broad sweep of history (the Cannes thing again!).
A girl from the village goes to Beijing to study in the university.
She leaves her childhood lover back home and discovers the free
sex in Beijing. After the Tiananmen massacre, the student friends
split up and the film's latter half takes place in Berlin. Here,
we see the fall of the Berlin Wall. Finally, the third act sees
them in adulthood, none the wiser, maybe a sad reflection of the
history of the world.
scenes in Summer Palace is bold (for China) but boring. "How many
positions can you have in a student bunk bed?" quipped one critic.
The Chinese censors apparently weren't so discriminating. As the
film was rushed to Cannes without getting the censors' approval,
Chinese journalists were told not to play up the film, and the
official Chinese delegates left earlier than expected.
such a broad sweep, Lou Ye himself seemed a little bored and tried
to use his entire visual bag of tricks to engage the viewer. But
the characters themselves had vague inner lives and that in itself
was a problem Their bodies however weren't so problematic. China
should at least be proud that their revolutionary cadres excelled
year when the Asian content in official selection was so low,
it seemed almost a consolation that Wong Kar Wai was elected jury
president. And considering how erratic the selection was (the
opening Da Vinci Code was a sign), it was a consolation that I
survived my 15th year there.
Next week: The Road From Cannes, Part III
Click here for other movie articles by Philip Cheah:
On The Road From Cannes, Part I
East Goes West, West Goes East
Finding Asian Film Gems In Locarno 2005
Five Leaves Left: The Last Days Of Kurt Cobain
Imagine There's No Countries...
The Power Of Nightmares
The Year Of Speaking Mandarin