Cannes: The Disappointment of Opening Films, a Donkey’s Adventures and Korean Confusion
This year’s festival sticks to a long-standing tradition, while delivering a mix of hits and misses
Some things never change at the Cannes International Festival, and that includes the curse on opening films. Over the years it’s almost become one of the many strictly followed traditions for the world’s most prestigious film festival to open with a dud.
Every year films by the biggest and greatest directors are picked to do the honors, and yet the opening film curse slays them all. And this year was no exception.
Michael Hazanavicius, known for the 2011 black-and-white silent Oscar winner The Artist, should have not been a disappointment, and yet he was. Despite the director’s reputation, the opening film of the 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival, Coupez! (Final Cut in English) was, for the most part, a dud.
Coupez! is an official remake of a much-loved Japanese zombie comedy, One Cut of the Dead. And those who have seen the original have taken the disappointment personally.
The film’s plot is that cute concept of a film within a film that directors, especially those who consider themselves auteurs, love so much.
A French director is hired by a Japanese producer to make a zombie film in a single take and it will be streamed live. The plot of the single-cut zombie film is that while it is being shot, real zombies attack the cast and crew.
We first watch the film as it’s being live streamed, and then we watch that film as it was filmed.
Director-writer Hazanavicius made certain questionable choices while writing the screenplay, including the most jarring one – retaining Japanese names for his characters played by French actors. That immediately strikes a strange and fake note and we are unable to connect with the characters.
About three-fourths of Coupez! is mildly meh. It’s during the last half-an-hour, when the craziness mounts and the film gathers pace, that it becomes a bit entertaining.
A zombie film should have the kind of urgency where you tense up and desperately hold your pee because you don’t want to miss a single zombie attack. Coupez! is the sort of zombie film where you can take a dump, check your WhatsApp and return to the continuing vomiting and bloodletting.
Adventures of EO the donkey
It’s taken 56 years and a Polish legend to attempt a remake of French legend Robert Bresson’s 1966 classic, Au Hasard Balthazar (Balthazar, at Random). And naturally, it’s in competition for this year’s Palme d’Or, the film world’s most respected award.
Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski, 84, has adapted the story of a donkey’s journey away from the people who love him, and called it EO.
Originally inspired by a paragraph in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, EO is not so much a copy of Au Hasard Balthazar, but more like its spiritual and biological offspring.
Like the original, Skolimowski’s film is a moving, engaging story of a donkey, EO, which begins after he is “rescued” by animal rights activists and separated from the one woman who adores him.
EO is relocated to a posh stud farm where he meets a proud white horse, the sort who is bathed and blow-dried to pose outside massive medieval mansions while reed-thin Parisian models recline on him.
That’s followed by a brief stay at a petting zoo, escape into the wild, running away from creatures of the wild, being taken to a slaughterhouse, being rescued by a priest, and so on.
The film uses EO’s journey as the clothesline on which it pins stories of men and women and their encounters with EO.
The film humanizes EO with its music and camerawork, often focusing on EO’s soulful eyes and keeping us in intimate, direct dialogue with him. It’s almost as if he is communicating with us about how much he misses Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska), their bond, and what this separation is doing to him. The film casts us as the donkey whisperer and that makes EO’s journey terribly moving and personal.
The film is sublime at times, at once a meditation on our connection with animals and our disconnection with them. Like Balthazar, EO has his own personality, hoofs that can deliver sharp kicks and now a special place in many hearts.
It may even go back home with the Palme d’Or.
Korean spy confusion
Hunt, a South Korean film directed by Lee Jung-jae, the actor who played Seong Gi-hun, the main protagonist in Squid Games, had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.
It is not in competition for any award, but is part of the festival’s official selection. It should not have been. But the high-brow Cannes Film Festival often rolls out the red carpet for some commercial biggies in the hope that they will draw crowds and the TikTok generation. And this year, as the festival celebrates its 75th anniversary, six-year-old TikTok is its official partner. Which means that the partner needs “content” to upload, and art-house classics aren’t going to cut it. Thus Hunt, with the Squid Games calling card.
Tickets were hard to come by for the late-night screening of Hunt. At the appointed hour, people rushed, but about half-an-hour into the film many began to rush out.
Hunt doesn’t have a story, it has a situation which demands a lot of chasing, crashing and slashing.
The South Korean President is not a good guy, and some people are out to assassinate him. This is a matter of national security and American concern. So two men – the head of South Korean internal and external security – are engaged in protecting the Prez and finding the assassins.
This hunt for the killers and conspirators is a sequence of car crashes, shootouts, police torture, and many shooting and shouting sessions.
There is a long list of suspects, including pro-democracy protesters, North Korean spies, communist sympathizers and generally everybody barring the President.
Hunt gets so convoluted that at one point I was praying for a PPT presentation explaining who is who and what they do.
There used to be a time when the audience at Cannes was brutally honest. If they didn’t like a film, they booed loudly and proudly. And if they liked a film, they declared their love with long-standing ovations.
At 22 minutes, Pan’s Labyrinth, the 2006 Spanish-Mexican fantasy film by Guillermo del Toro, holds the record for receiving the longest standing ovation.
And one of the films that remains top in the Cannes hall of shame is Vincent Gallo’s horrible, exploitative road movie, The Brown Bunny. It was booed with intense rage and passion. Hunt is not in that league. It’s too dull to even elicit a boo.