Below is a complete ranking of the films I saw at the 65th Cannes Film Festival. Enjoy!
1. Holy Motors (Carax, France, In Competition)
2. Journal De France (Depardon and Nougaret, France, Out of Competition/Special Screenings)
3. In Another Country (Hong, South Korea, In Competition)
4. Post Tenebras Lux (Reygadas, Mexico, In Competition)Silent Light, but what it does share with Reygadas' previous work is its insistence upon making its audience feel something, and it put me in an unusually discomfiting space that I've rarely experienced from cinema. Despite some of its age-old arthouse ingredients (nature, animals, mechanical sex, an unforgivably extraneous scene of animal cruelty), the film is quite unlike anything ever made, and truly unique to Reygadas' sensibilities. A dark energy pulses through the film as the Mexican filmmaker never shies away from presenting conflicting emotions (family bliss and marital tension, tenderness and unexplained violence, religious devotion and paralyzing fear of the Devil) alongside each other with fervent unpredictability, giving its mystical and quasi-autobiographical musings a distinctly different tone than the otherwise structurally similar Tree of Life from last year. Though Reygadas employed the suddenly in vogue but previously extinct Academy aspect ratio (the boxy, claustrophobic 4:3), no film at Cannes felt bigger or more expansive, as its loud, immersive sound design and ghostly visuals exploded from the screen.
5. Like Someone in Love (Kiarostami, Iran/Japan/France, In Competition) Certified Copy when the relationship between a young girl (Rin Takanashi) and an old man (Tadashi Okuno) shifts from prostitute/client to grandfather/granddaughter based on the innocuous misunderstanding of the girl's psychologically abusive boyfriend (Ryo Kase). The side-effect is an opaque investigation into the nature of social roles and perception, limited to a few interiors in Tokyo and several of the director's trademark car conversations. It's amazing how economical this film is, using such a small number of tense, protracted dialogue scenes to open up a vast ocean of mystery around these three characters, each of whom appear to be hiding something authentic and unfettered beneath their social façades.
6. Walker (Tsai, Taiwan/Japan, Critic's Week)
A new 30-minute short by Tsai Ming-Liang entitled Walker was one of the best surprises of the festival. I'm still eagerly awaiting a new feature from the Taiwanese master, but this new work is precisely the length it needs to be. The film is decidedly, unapologetically simple, though certainly not simplistic. In it, a Buddhist monk (Tsai apostle Lee Kang-Sheng) dressed in a bright red robe walks through the hustle-bustle of Tokyo at a snail's pace to fetch a snack (this narrative detail is only revealed later in the film in an unexpected sight gag), his head perpetually facing the ground and his eyes in a meditative squint. He lifts each foot as if lifting the weight of his spirit before returning it to the ground with patience and grace. Were it not for the real-time passersby - many of whom take note of the camera's presence (adding gravitas to the performative spectacle) - one might be tempted to assume Tsai shot at a high frame-rate for slow motion. Lee's persevering slowness, his utter commitment to the act, is astonishing. Tsai shot the film himself on a digital camera with his usual frozen takes and distinctive urban framing, and the result is a remarkably pure evocation of the ghettoized pursuit of faith in the modern consumerist environment.
7. In the Fog (Loznitsa, Russia, In Competition)
An extreme seriousness towards death characterizes a great deal of the best Russian cinema, and Sergei Loznitsa's In the Fog joins that lineage. This 2-hour opus unwaveringly explores the rocky psychological landscape of men crawling inevitably towards a not-too-distant death, meanwhile caught between the absurd pressures of patriotism and a simple respect for human existence. On the frontiers of the German occupation, Sushenya (Vladimir Svirskiy) is wrongly accused of treason by his fellow men, and escorted out of his forest home by two Russian soldiers - Burov (Vladislav Abashin) and Voitik (Sergei Kolesov) - to be killed. Happenstance has it that Nazi soldiers interrupt the scene of the punishment, and Burov becomes the wounded, setting the stage for an extended inquiry into the ethical dilemmas of war under a misguided regime. Loznitsa's dialogue-heavy script - set entirely within the confines of the grey and foreboding woods - often stumbles and crawls, and, in its lack of variety, clearly shows the effects of working with limited funds (this is a film that could have benefited greatly from a more palpable sense of surrounding context), but In the Fog is nonetheless the most stirringly spiritual feature of the festival.
8. Morning of Saint Anthony’s Day (Rodrigues, Portugal, Critic's Week)
There's not a single horizon line visible in João Pedro Rodrigues' 30-minute short Morning of Saint Anthony's Day, and it creates a powerfully destabilizing effect. Paired in a Critic's Week program with Walker, the films share a quiet observation of people walking through an urban space, but here there is an enigmatic undertone - teased out directly late in the film when one girl's Twilight Zone-esque ringtone sounds - of science-fiction and campy genre cinema that allows the images of a swarm of young adults emerging to level ground from within subway stations to suggest a kind of post-apocalyptic zombie invasion. Rodrigues covers all of the action - teenagers throwing up, keeling over inexplicably, walking into city ponds while holding up their cellphones seemingly in search of service, etc. - from vaguely aerial perspectives, bolstering the uncanny effect of the happenings. Is this a metaphor for the somnambulistic state of contemporary techno-youth, or is it just an unconventional vision of the undead traversing a posthuman landscape? The film's only press blurb is of little help: "Tradition says that on June 13th, Saint Anthony’s Day – Lisbon’s patron - lovers must offer small vases of basil with paper carnations and flags with popular quatrains as a token of their love." Morning of Saint Anthony's Day is an inspired oddity.
9. Amour (Haneke, France/Germany/Austria, In Competition)
10. Lawless (Hillcoat, USA, In Competition)The Road's simple-minded affectations of importance and superficially "contemplative" mise-en-scène. What's more, Lawless is chock full of thrilling performances by Tom Hardy as a daftly philosophizing brute, Gary Oldman as an indifferent mobster, Guy Pearce as the slimy villain, and Shia LaBoeuf (!) in his best role as a wannabe tough guy. Still, the greatest source of my enthusiasm for the film was the immaculately dusty and contrasty cinematography of Benoît Delhomme, who shoots these Prohibition-Era ghost towns - always wafting with the smoke of whisky and brandy production - in an undeniably conventional yet painterly manner. It's a ruthlessly brutal genre movie that for quite some time maintains an air of Peckinpah-like stoicism.
11. Lawrence Anyways (Dolan, France, Un Certain Regard)
Another year of inclusion in Un Certain Regard for Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan represents yet another example of the mainstream hesitance to embrace youthfulness in auteur cinema. Surely, Lawrence Anyways has more personality, and is more expressive and heartfelt, than a number of the Competition entries, and it could have added further diversity to the lineup, especially in light of its focus on social minorities (specifically a transsexual intending to remain in a heterosexual relationship). Dolan's films clearly emerge from a passionate and genuine place, and their energy and messiness is entirely the product of a spontaneous excitement for cinema. Needless to say, Lawrence Anyways is sloppy, overlong, and digressive, but the strange allure of Dolan's work is that he manages to absorb these flaws into the texture of his character's lives, discovering ways to transform self-indulgent slow-motion shots (this one has even more than Heartbeats) into gaudy expressions of a character's veiled insecurity or overblown self-importance. Like Dolan's main character, Lawrence Anyways is split between two urges: that of individuality and personal fetishism (the film's often radical compositional style and its Felliniesque eccentricities, to name two), and that of conformity (its fiery scenes of romantic turmoil featuring a revelatory Suzanne Clément and its eye-rollingly sappy denouement, both of which achieve Hollywood rom-com stature). Upon close inspection of the film's insanity, it's not too difficult to see the structural design on display.
12. The Hunt (Vinterberg, Denmark, In Competition)
Thomas Vinterberg's a director with a clear interest in the secrets lurking beneath the complacent surfaces of Danish communities and families, and he's exercised that concern yet again in The Hunt, a finely wrought but quickly forgettable drama about a Kindergarten teacher (Mads Mikkelsen) who is angrily cast off from his circle of friends and colleagues following the random lie of his female student (Annika Wedderkopp). There's a palpable socioeconomic and cultural infrastructure in the film's small town, as well as a solid sense of verisimilitude that must come from Vinterberg's years as a Dogme ascetic, but at the same time there's a sluggishness, a beating-around-the-bush quality to the film's narrative progression, as if Vinterberg has merely set up a troubling scenario to relish in his formidable knack for depicting societal disintegration. Furthermore, The Hunt feels too much like just a good story that was put to film, rather than a story that was expanded upon and expressed vitally through cinematic means. It's a small distinction, but it's the one that prevents Vinterberg from being as distinctive a director as he could be.
13. Moonrise Kingdom (Anderson, USA, In Competition/Opening Night)
14. Cosmopolis (Cronenberg, USA, In Competition)
15. The Paperboy (Daniels, USA, In Competition)