Tough slog through Competition films

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At the midpoint in the Festival de Cannes' competition for the Palme d'Or, the South Americans are in the lead. Arguably, the two best-received films in the Palais so far have been Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas' "Linha de Passe" from Brazil and Pablo Trapero's "Lion's Den" from Argentina.

I say "arguably" because Francophiles might want to argue the case for Arnaud Desplechin's "A Christmas Tale," whose highly literate and witty screenplay might, to many minds, compensate for the writer-director's propensity for melodrama. Matteo Garrone's "Gomorra," a fly-on-the-wall, documentary-style tale of an all-powerful Italian criminal empire, also is much admired.

There will be general agreement in this, however: It's been a tough slog through an urban plague, social decay, war crimes, crime wars, families in prison and families torn apart by dead children.

The opening-night film, Fernando Meirelles' "Blindness," found favor in few quarters.

Jia Zhangke's "24 City" gives you food for thought about China's modernization and the disposability of workers once their labors are done.

Finally, what would a Cannes Competition be without a head-scratcher? So far that would be Brillante Mendoza's "Service" from the Philippines. A 90-minute wallow in frighteningly bad sound and camerawork, nonacting, relentless degradation and sex, the film seems to be here for one reason — to give the fest its annual jolt of graphic oral sex. (partialdiff)
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