I am a bit late in posting, but I figured I’d toss out some general impressions about my time in Cannes this year.
From the looks of it, this was a less than amazing year for the competition… Almost every movie managed to find a few passionate partisans to support it, but very few, if any, managed much universal support. It’s almost appropriate, then, that the Palm went to something as completely inoffensive (and unexceptional) as The Class. Even if few loved it outright, it managed a degree of broad, solid acceptance, which was a rarity this year. I fully acknowledge that The Class’ kind of docu-realist social drama isn’t my cup of tea at all (by its end, it doesn’t feel much more honest or complex to me than something like Freedom Writers), but its Palm victory seems to be a popular decision, making me think that I might not have missed much in those 8 comp. films I couldn’t see.
Complaining about The Class’s win seems silly, though, especially when Gomorra & Il Divo were so highly honored. The former is less interesting than Garrone’s last two films, to be sure. It spends so much energy demonstrating the depth of the corruption surrounding the Italian mob, but I’m not sure why anyone would enter the film with a different expectation of the mob’s behavior. It’s got some interesting character quirks throughout to keep it engaging, and Toni Servillo gives a genuinely moving performance (he’s my choice for the Best Actor award, easily…), but it tends to lose momentum when it switches between its disparate plot threads and ultimately doesn’t amount to much, except in its refusal to glamorize its subjects.
Il Divo is less impressive still… Sorrentino once again directs the fuck out of a movie, to distracting effect. It’s as operatic as the title describes… Servillo is the lead here, too, but he’s extremely fenced in by his director, playing Andreotti as some sort of grotesque goofball. The whole thing is a parade of insufficiently contextualized violence, garish color, and completely random musical cues (e.g. the baffling Beth Orton bit)… Imagine watching Oliver Stone's JFK in fast forward, with no idea who JFK was, and you might get some approximation of my response to this thing… Somewhat impressive because of its sheer force of will, but ultimately puzzling.
Personally, I would have given the Palm to Eastwood, even if I think The Exchangeling is less of a great work than Iwo Jima, Mystic River, or Million Dollar Baby. It’s somewhat lazily and risibly plotted at times, but it still packs a punch once it sets about dismantling our societal comforts. Eastwood's direction elevates the material, to be sure, visually expressing far more than the script manages to.
The one truly great new film I saw in Cannes this year, though, was Wendy and Lucy. All of the annoying shit in Old Joy (i.e. the political radio broadcasts, the on-the-nose dialogue scenes, the relationship between the one guy & his wife, etc...) is completely absent here. Stripped down, but thematically rich, filled with reverberations that help it extend beyond its ultra-specific scenario... It is a small movie, but it is a great small movie, truly worthy of comparisons to the best of the Dardennes (of which Lorna's Silence clearly was not... 58)....