That Summer (Philippe Garrel)
My basic opinion that if you’ve seen one recent Garrel film you’ve seen them all might have been something of an asset here. Indeed, all of the director’s familiar tropes (suicide, infidelity, film sets, Louis Garrel, etc…) are present and accounted for here. Perhaps this is why this film, notably the only one I’ve seen so far at this year’s festival that garnered no post-screening applause whatsoever, didn’t strike me as being particularly bad. Indeed, I found plenty to appreciate here, no matter how predictable its overall tale of doomed love might be. Garrel always verges on self-parody (e.g. after finding out his girlfriend is pregnant, a man tells her “No more suicide attempts, ok?”), but that’s because his movies are delivered with such absurd conviction. He keeps returning to the same well, but that repetition makes his movies feel more heartfelt. This one struck me as being surprisingly bracing, with an effective high-wire performance from Monica Belluci. The inevitability of the relationships’ demise gifts them with a real romantic pulse rarely achieved in this sort of drama.
Breathing (Karl Markovics)
Issues of guilt, death and abandonment are looked at from the point of view of an apprentice undertaker in Karl Markovics’ uninspiring debut Breathing. Though things begin well enough, introducing us to an 18-year old protagonist in a spare, seemingly accomplished style, as soon as Markovics begins to integrate narrative elements, things go awry. The lead character is entirely too passive to suggest any sort of interior activity. His on-the-job interactions are meant to demonstrate his overriding reticence in dealing with other people, I suppose, but they could just as easily be indicators of ineptitude. When he begins to seek out his estranged mother, things get even worse. A horribly misjudged series of scenes (including an extended trip to Ikea) reveal an entirely conventional narrative core, which eventually overrides any formal concerns.
Terrafirma (Emanuele Crialese)
Crialese works in a familiar register here, with this contemporary story set on the isle of Linosa coming across as a companion piece to his Golden Door. After an extended opening which establishes the rhythms of the lives of the local fisherman, the film takes up the issue of illegal immigration. Instead of becoming didactic, though, he keeps things allegorical, firmly grounded in the experience of the island’s people. The pre-existent “law of the sea” is the best argument given against the Italian government’s laws against aiding and abetting illegal immigrants. The tourists, who come to the island hoping to shutter out any social realities, are stand-ins for the Italian populace at large. Though I wish I got more of a sense of the family’s emotional issues (the father figure who disappeared at sea seems like he should be a more glaring absence), there is plenty of great imagery on display here and a humanist perspective that genuinely comes through.
Michael (Markus Schleinzer)
A fairly stupid, intensely empty-headed movie about a pedophile with a boy stashed in his basement. I’m not sure if the intended effect here was to shock or to create black comedy, but the film fails to work on either front. The supposed formal rigor that was attributed to the film at Cannes turns out to be superficial at best, delivering neither a sense of routine nor a deadening repetition of events. Schleinzer’s mock-rigor is about as convincing as the mock-shock that the film feigns in its exploration of its seedy subject matter. The last fifteen minutes, or so, in which we sit through misplaced suspense about the fate of the captured boy, expose the film as the cheap stunt that it is.
The Day (Doug Aarniokoski)
A strange post-apocalyptic action film. Taking place almost entirely in one location, the first half is something of a chamber drama, in which (poorly acted) characters bemoan the state of humanity. Just as things begin to look what everyone feared when we learned that McCarthy’s “The Road” was being brought to the screen, Aarniokoski drops any pretenses and turns this into a home invasion thriller. As the cast fends off a group of largely anonymous cannibals and fight among itself, the film finds itself in familiar, yet acceptable, territory. Fans of this sort of thing will no doubt be pleased with the level of gore and sadism here. The obviously low budget is worn well.