Patti Cake$
Friday, 18 August 2017 16:28

Cannes 70 Final Round-Up

Published in Films

Dennis Broe gives his final report and round-up from Cannes.

This is Bro on the World Film Beat “Breaking Glass” in my final report from Cannes 2017............

Cannes Redux: Top Films Outside the Main Competition

My colleagues have gone home long ago, but I’m still wandering the Croissette here at Cannes, selecting the smaller films that over the next year will be released in fits and starts. What follows is a reckoning of what not to miss, what is eminently missable and some oddities and one-shots in films that are then run in Paris after the festival at the Forum des Images, the Reflet Medici and the Cinemateque.  

If it appeared that the traditional arthouse and commercial cinema may be under attack through streaming services like Netflix and through television, this was still at Cannes a healthy outpouring of films that combined a social realism heightened by genre cinema influences either by Hollywood directly (the occasionally Tarentino-esque Bulgarian film Directions and the Martin Scorsese executive produced Italian migrant film A Ciambra) or by global cinema genres (the 70’s spaghetti Western look and feel of the Indonesian Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts).

A dominant pattern then for Cannes political cinema, circa 2017, a pattern that despite Netflix and television still has life in it, is a foundation of Belgium filmmakers the Dardenne Brothers (multiply screened and honored at Cannes with such films as Rosetta, The Promise, and Two Days, One Night) up-close following of down-and-out characters, overlaid with crime and mystery genre elements enhancing the mood. Indeed the Dardennes produced one of the most challenging films of the festival in Loveless, a devastating critique of consumer society in Russia.

Best of the Rest:

Directions.

Posoki is the Bulgarian word for this film about the breakdown of social relations in Sofia, the capital, in the post-Soviet, post-capitalist era. The directions are the traversing of the capital by cab drivers whose series of mostly nocturnal encounters collectively describe a society in turmoil where fellow-feeling has collapsed. The film begins with a besieged driver, who has just lost his business and is indebted to the banks, dropping off his daughter at her high school and picking up another teen who claims to be going to see her grandmother but who is actually a “working girl” at a luxury hotel, where she makes far more than the cabdriver. He shoos the girl out of the cab and then assaults the banker who has just doubled his debt in what is just the opening gambit of a series of humiliating encounters between bedraggled, worldweary but still basically honest drivers and the customers in the classes above who prey on them. A reversal of how the business is usually perceived, more Daniel Blake in the way that the drivers as everymen and women of a society on the brink are exploited than victimizers themselves, as in Taxi Driver.

DB cannes directions

 Pure Hearts or Cuori Puri.

 While the headlines in the Italian Cinema are grabbed by fawning and innocuous directors like Paolo Sorrentino (the Academy Award-winning The Great Beauty and HBO’s The Young Pope), there is in the belly of this cinema a more socially conscious movement which knows that in a society with high unemployment and increasing social tensions crime, as John Huston proclaimed, is just “a left-handed form of human endeavor.”

We’ve seen Gomorrah, the film and television series, and last year’s Cannes entry Fiore or Flower, Romeo in Juliet set in a Milanese prison. This year we have the Martin Scorsese exec-produced A Ciambra directed by Jonas Carpignano who was at Cannes two years ago with Mediterranea, an immigrant film focused on the difficult interaction, once arrived, of sub-Saharan Africans with Italian locals.

More in line with last year’s Fiori is Pure Hearts, Cuori Puri, which opens with its male and female youths pursuing each other in what we learn is one of them trying to catch the shoplifting other but which seems to simply be their passion which in the course of the film will triumph over the mixed backgrounds of working class born-again Catholic, underclass petty criminality, and Roma caught between the two. Another Cannes irruption of a movement worth celebrating.

Wind River

 The rape and murder of an 18-year-old girl on a Wyoming Indian Reservation is the occasion for an examination of the inner lives of those caught on the res, and a socially interesting and relevant indictment of contemporary outside forces which perpetuate that historical misery. The trail of the murder lead expert hunter Jeremy Renner and inexperienced but committed FBI agent Elizabeth Olsen (paired previously as Hawkeye and The Scarlet Witch in The Avengers), apropos of the Pine Ridge protests, to an energy company whose shadowy army of mercenaries impose themselves on the natives. First directing effort by Taylor Sheridan who wrote the script for last year’s Cannes entry Hell and High Water, about righteous bank robbers in the impoverished Texas Panhandle. Concluding sequence of Wind River with two Native American fathers, one in warpaint, attempting to assuage their sorrow and guilt proves this to be more than just a capable crime film though it is certainly that in spades.

DB cannes patty cakes

 The best film of the festival was Patti Cake$, a Jersey musical that celebrates both the resilient spirit of rap and the place of music in sustaining working class cultures within the state’s morass of chemical plants that has all but left them for dead. Danielle MacDonald leads a multi-culti gang of misfits that includes her mother and grandmother as her dreams of music industry stardom are first compared to her stark bartending reality and then in a small way materialize. The film is far from naïve about the tensions at play in a white rapper but ultimately settles for a view of the liberatory quality of the music no matter where or by who it is practiced. The film is also with its soundtrack that includes Springsteen, Heart and Rhythm and Blues, a reminder of the epochs of music that have invigorated and sustained all kinds of working class cultures in Jersey through the ages.

A musical of a different color was Bruno Dumont’s Jeanette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc which features the pre-teen Joan moshing to punk rhythms with a duo of nuns in her sheep fields. The film is at first outrageous especially in that it recasts this legend which is the mainstay of a deep-seated French rightwing. However, as is often true with badboy Dumont, what starts out as rebellious, soon turns in its own way respectful so that all the punk moshing in the end simply reinvigorates with its own highly religious overlay, rather than truly rewrites, the legend of the warrior girl.

Less than meets the eye, although its shot setup is actually quite stunning, is another Netflix entry Bushwick, a supposedly Red State/Blue State fable about an attack on the now hipster community of Bushwick, Brooklyn by extreme Republican outside forces. The film purports to be about liberal, multicultural values threatened by the primitive rest of the country, but actually is a vision of paranoia by its blonde heroine that is closer to an accurate portrait of the mentality of the white settler/artist class that is now colonising Bushwick as the shock troops of gentrification. Stunning long takes in the battlefield scenes cannot save the film from its limited  lack of perspective.

 Worse yet is the Italian film Dopo La Guerra, After The War, about a former radical in the largely unrecounted civil war in Italy in the 1970s, now in the 1980s exiled in France and about to be repatriated to stand trial for his political crimes. The film is told through the perspective of his teenage daughter who tells him at one point to stop talking about politics and concentrate on her needing blue jeans. There is nothing wrong with a teenage coming of age story but here it is used as a battering ram in a very middle class perspective to pulverise the radical inattentive dad. In the consumerist mind of the film, jeans are more important than politics and they take a back seat to principles. Or you might say in a middle class consumerist culture, blue jeans are all that is left of principles.

An oddity of the festival was the Portuguese Fabrica da nada, The Nothing Factory about a group of workers trying to decide whether to make a stand as their factory is about to be closed. The film is dead-on in its trio of suits who explain to the worker’s why they cannot understand the larger dynamics of factories closing, an opinion which is undercut in the worker’s later pointed discussions about the injustices of capitalist globalization from the point of view of those left behind.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with the New Portuguese Cinema, though the subject matter is devoutly to be wished, the slow, grinding presentation and the lack of movement make this not a triumph but a trying engagement with a committed cinema. Here the form, rather than enhancing or expanding, restrains and dilutes the content.

That concludes Cannes 2017. It’s time for me to leave the Croissette and “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” or at least shuttle back to Paris. This is Bro on the World Film Beat signing off. 

Twin Peaks
Friday, 18 August 2017 16:28

Cannes 70 Part 3: Best of the Fest

Published in Films

Dennis Broe runs through the best of the fest at Cannes this year.

What were the two most prominent stories at the 70th iteration of the Cannes Film Festival, the ultimate competition and market for cinema? One was the increased presence of the streaming cable service Netflix, which seldom even opens films in theaters, and the other was Serial Television and the continuing challenge it poses to auteur and mid-level film production.

Netflix was represented in the main competition by two films, the better of which was Okja by the South Korean genre director Boon Joon Ho (the seminal serial killer film Memories of Murder). Joon Ho’s characteristic streak of social activism this time expresses itself as a children’s anti-corporate fable about an agribusiness growing a superpig, a pignocerous, that manages to cross ET with Killer of Sheep, Charles Burnett’s examination of the psychological damage the everyday grind of a slaughterhouse inflicts.

Serial Television, at least in its Anglo variety, made its first appearance at the festival in two follow-up works by auteur directors: David Lynch’s Twin Peaks and Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake: China Girl. Given that the series were screened at Cannes, both raise the question of whether what we were watching television second seasons or cinematic sequels. If it appears that the traditional art house and commercial cinema may be under attack, this is indeed the case yet there was still at Cannes a healthy outpouring of films that combined social realism heightened by genre cinema influences either by Hollywood directly (the occasionally Tarentino-esque Bulgarian film Directions and the Martin Scorsese executive produced Italian migrant film A Ciambra) or by global cinema genres (the 70s spaghetti Western look and feel of the Indonesian Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts).

The dominant pattern then for Cannes noir, circa 2017, a pattern that despite Netflix and television still has life in it, is built on a foundation of Belgium filmmakers the Dardenne Brothers – screened and honored at Cannes with such films as Rosetta, The Promise, and Two Days, One Night – and their technique of close-up following of down-and-out characters with crime and mystery genre elements enhancing the mood. Indeed the Dardennes produced one of the most unclassifiable and critical films of the festival Western, whose title is less a genre indication than an indication of the theme – the global and economic power of Western Europe to obliterate the East.

So – a countdown of the best films on offer……..    

Cannes Crime 2017: Top 5 Noir Film and Television Series

5. Directions

Posoki is the Bulgarian word for this film about the breakdown of social relations in Sofia, the capital, in the post-Soviet, post-capitalist era. The directions are the traversing of the capital by cab drivers whose series of mostly nocturnal encounters collectively describe a society in turmoil where fellow-feeling has collapsed. The film begins with a besieged driver, who has just lost his business and is indebted to the banks, dropping off his daughter at her high school and picking up another teen who claims to be going to see her grandmother but who is actually a “working girl” at a luxury hotel, where she makes far more than the cabdriver.

DB cannes directions

He shoos the girl out of the cab and then assaults the banker who has just doubled his debt in what is just the opening gambit of a series of humiliating encounters between bedraggled, world-weary but still basically honest drivers, and the customers in the classes above who prey on them. A reversal of how the business is usually perceived, and more like I, Daniel Blake in the way that the drivers, as everymen and women of a society on the brink, are exploited than Taxi Driver.

4. Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts

Feminine fight-back was a subtheme of the festival in this summer of Wonder Woman. This Indonesian film by Mouly Surya fuses the rich heritage of Indonesian folk tale – detailed so vividly in last year’s Beauty Is A Wound, Ika Kurniawan’s novel about a prostitute surviving Dutch, Japanese and Indonesian militias – and the visual and iconographic heritage of the 1970s Sergio Leone Italian Spaghetti Western.

DB cannes marlina

The landscape for this tale of a woman set upon by thieves who steal her property, is the flat arid Old West plains of the island of Sumba, far from the usual tropical rainforest that is the image of the country. Marlina triumphs over the men in a way similar to that of the triumph of the Girl’s School in Sophia Coppola’s competition film The Beguiled. But that is only the beginning of her tale which features equally the awakening of a pregnant companion along the way. This struggle takes place in the face of the inert figure of Marlina’s mummified husband, no help in confronting wanton male energy in a cruel landscape, where the human scale is reduced to a single horizon line, in shots that signal the majesty of a major director emerging onto the world stage.

3. A Ciambra/Cuori Puri

While the headlines are grabbed by fawning and innocuous directors like Paolo Sorrentino (the Academy Award-winning The Great Beauty and HBO’s The Young Pope), there is in the belly of the Italian Cinema a more socially conscious movement which knows that in a society with high unemployment and increasing social tensions crime, as John Huston proclaimed, is just “a left-handed form of human endeavor.”

We’ve seen Gomorrah, the film and television series, and last year’s Cannes entry Fiore or Flower; Romeo in Juliet set in a Milanese prison. This year we have the Martin Scorsese exec-produced A Ciambra directed by Jonas Carpignano, who was at Cannes two years ago with Mediterranea, a distinctive immigrant film which focused not on the African trip across that sea but on the difficult interaction, once arrived, with Italian locals.

DB cannes a ciambra

This film, shot and conceived in a starkly realistic style, concerns a Roma, a gypsy boy’s bitter coming of age. It details his relation with a Ghanian, Khoudas Seihan from the previous film, who befriends the boy Pio but whose friendship Pio must balance with the demands of his own clan, a rung just above the Africans, and the pressures of the dominant Italians who police the ethnic hierarchical structure. A Ciambra – the title derived from the name of a tiny town in impoverished Southern Italy – is a kind of multicultural updating of Scorsese’s own Mean Streets featuring a preadolescent De Niro.

More in line with Fiori is Pure Hearts, Cuori Puri, which opens with its male and female youths pursuing each other. We find out that one of them is trying to catch the shoplifting other shoplifting, but beneath that is their passion for each other. In the course of the film this triumphs over the mixed backgrounds of working class born-again Catholic, underclass petty criminality, and Roma caught between the two. Another Cannes irruption of a countercultural movement worth celebrating

2. Wind River

The rape and murder of an 18-year-old girl on a Wyoming Indian Reservation is the occasion for an examination of the inner lives of those caught on the reservation, and a socially interesting and relevant indictment of contemporary outside forces which perpetuate that historical misery.

The trail of the murder lead expert hunter Jeremy Renner and inexperienced but committed FBI agent Elizabeth Olsen – paired previously as Hawkeye and The Scarlet Witch in The Avengers – apropos the Pine Ridge protests, to an energy company whose shadowy army of mercenaries impose themselves on the natives. It’s the first directing effort by Taylor Sheridan, who wrote the script for last year’s Cannes entry Hell and High Water about righteous bank robbers in the impoverished Texas Panhandle. Concluding sequence of Wind River with two Native American fathers, one in warpaint, attempting to assuage their sorrow and guilt proves this again to be more than just a capable crime film – though it is certainly that in spades.

1. Western

An excellent examination of the global and the local from New German director Valeska Grisebach. The film details the spirit of colonisation with which a German crew and especially the foreman, building a hydroelectric dam, treat the Bulgarian inhabitants of the nearby village.

The main protagonist is an ex-mercenary, as he says a Legionnaire, who, having served in Iraq and Afghanistan, disdains violence and conquering and attempts to forge relations with the villagers. The construction crew foreman, on the other hand, projects contemporary German economic might as in direct relation to its Nazi past, claiming that “we were here 70 years ago, and now we’re back.”

DB2 cannes western

The film, in dealing with the inhabitants of Europe’s poorest country, refuses the easy labelling of their peasant organizational structure as “mafia” and instead highlights their collective customs. The legionnaire ultimately, and somewhat despite himself, begins to exhibit a more domineering manner and the film leaves open the question as to whether these cultural patterns can be transcended. The undercurrent of violence in the film is promoted not by the natives, as in say Straw Dogs, but rather by the modern colonialists who fly the German flag as a sign of their economic dominance.

Out of Competition But Not Out of Mind

Top of the Lake/Twin Peaks

Both are ultimately a bit disappointing. The better of the two is Top of the Lake, which began well with  the female detective Robin Griffin now back in her workplace of Sydney, investigating both the death of a Chinese sex worker and middle class exploitation of migrants as baby incubators, surrogates.

DB cannes top of the lake

Both investigations are somehow tied to a frustrated philosophy professor/pimp who initially holds the place of the drug lord patriarch of the first season. However, the series dissolves into a haze of ambiguity and confusion as the patriarch becomes a fractured truth teller and the upper middle class Nicole Kidman character instead of being evil becomes is instead merely obnoxious, weakening what was a promising beginning.

DB cannes twin peaks

Twin Peaks unfortunately has a similar trajectory. The question here was, would the series return to a refashioning of the “Who Killed Laura Palmer” framework which made it the best and most influential series ever on the air. Or would it languish in the Demon Bob aftermath of the mess that was the final episodes after the revelation of the incest behind and at the root of the American experience. and that carried over into the experimental but nonsensical Fire Walk With Me.

There is more than the germ of a great series here, not only in the return of many of the Twin Peaks characters but also in a South Dakota story involving a seemingly innocent high school principle, his lawyer, and his wife. But, there is also too much Demon Bob taking over Agent Cooper’s nonsensical skullduggery. Lynch’s explorations of the unconscious are always best (in Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive) when initially grounded in the social world. Still much to like here though, as a New York section quotes Andy Warhol’s Empire as a watcher of the now digital skyline of the city is then punished for his watching in a way that suggests we are all now couch potatoes awaiting our comeuppance.

The Villainess

There is some wondrous bloodletting in this South Korean epic, screened as a midnight film, whose subjective camera opening, recalling the ‘40s noir Lady in the Lake, depicts the savage fighting skills of its gang-trained female assassin. She is then tamed and domesticated as she moves to a legitimate position inside a government security agency and falls for one of its operatives.

DB3 cannes the villainess

Finally though, betrayed by both the agency and the gang, she exacts her revenge in a death-defying armored car sequence that, along with the opening, is a tour-de-force settling of accounts for a whole cinematic and actual history of male violence against women. As she is cuffed by the police, the camera closes in on her and we watch a smile slowly cross her face; the smile seemingly her excitement at the power she is capable of wielding rather than the more simplified satisfaction in male action films of revenge.

Cannes 70
Friday, 18 August 2017 16:28

Cannes 70

Published in Films

Dennis Broe has offered to undertake the arduous task of reporting on the Cannes Film Festival this year for Culture Matters. Here is his first report.....

Bonjour from Cannes 70. The venerable film festival, the largest in the world, turned 70 this year and perhaps is showing some signs of age, since not only is the festival changing but the whole pattern of film distribution, of which the festival is a part, is changing as well. That fact was highlighted by this year’s Cannes Crisis, and the festival’s biggest story. No it’s not that Nicole Kidman is in four films this year. It’s that Netflix, the evil streaming service, the red devil from Los Gatos, its California headquarters, has two films in the main competition: films which in most counrties including here in France are going directly to Netflix just after the festival closes and will never open in theatres. Thierry Fremaux, the festival director, choosing simply on what films would make an interesting selection, chose Boon Joon Ho’s Okja and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories as eligible to win the Palme D’Or, the Cannes first prize, the most prestigious award in the world for arthouse and auteur cinema.

The choice then created a sensation. French theatre owners launched a protest against the two films being included on a platform that circumvented theatrical distribution and in response Fremaux then said that never again would films that will not have theatrical distribution be part of the Cannes main competition. This year’s jury president, the Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, then announced at his Cannes press conference that he did not think it appropriate that films that do not open in theatres win the Cannes prize, essentially disqualifying the two Netflix entries.

Will this position hold? It’s doubtful, Amazon also has a film in the competition, Todd Haynes Wonderstruck but that is getting a pass because it will have a limited, just to qualify for awards, opening in theatres. It should be said that Okja, the better of the two Netflix films, will open in theatres in the U.S., Britain and its home county South Korea, but these are mostly day and date openings, that is, the film will open the same time in the theatres as worldwide on Netflix. Again, these openings are not about getting the film seen in theatres but rather about having it qualify at awards time in the three countries: the idea being that a limited theatrical run, though a bit costly, could pay off later in the movie season by generating increased cultural capital for the company through these awards.

Is Netflix truly evil? Well, they are part of FANG, the infamous quartet of Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google whose profits in the last quarter have themselves equalled the profits of the remaining 496 members of the Fortune 500. Amazon is doing to retailers what Netflix is attempting to do to local film industries: level them. However, the approach taken at Cannes seems shortsighted. Punishing Netflix for distributing worldwide across their network and not opening in theatres is not the answer, since it will not stop the company. The answer, as the French ingeniously realised with Canal Plus decades ago, is to tax Netflix or require it to pay a fee for showing its content. Canal Plus, the French pay per view service, has a deal with the French government which allows it to be able to show films in a reduced window of 10 months after they open instead of the usual 3 years. In return for that concession the company pays 15 percent of its profits to subsidize French and global cinema. Its film producing arm Studio Canal is responsible not only in France but around the world for producing some of the most progressive films on the market. A deal like that needs to be worked out with Netflix where some part of their profits can be reinvested locally, here in French film, in return for them operating in the country. Instead we have the Starbucks phenomenon where American companies make huge profits in the European markets and quarter themselves in places where taxes are the lowest, in Starbucks case in Holland, simply taking and not returning.

That said, the Netflix entry Okja is the best film I’ve seen at the festival, a kid’s ecologically minded, anti-capitalist fable by to my mind the world’s leading director, the South Korean Boon Joon Ho who has already given us one of the most socially situated serial killer films, Memories of Murder, the anti-imperialist horror film about South Korea threatened by a virus hatched in American labs The Host and the impassioned plea locating social stratification at the heart of global warming in the action thriller Snowpiercer. Okja co-produced by Tilda Swinton, in a true blending of East and West, opens with Swinton’s tour-de-force on stage presentation as corporate inheritor Lucy Mirando of her supposed rewriting of the sins of her factory belching father on the site of the factory as she announces her company’s new image as clean agribusiness proponent manufacturing a superpig, that under her breath she concludes, better taste pretty f—ing good. The pigs are distributed across the world and we meet the little girl Mija who raised the now full grown Korean pignocerous a cuddly being that is a miracle combination of CGI and full-scale suit designed by the creator of the creature in The Host. There follows two exciting action sequences one involving Mija on a cliff and the other with her tracking Okja to Seoul and hanging off the top of the truck the Mirando corporation is using to reclaim her pet. In the finale though Boon Joon Ho foregoes the King Kong running wild in New York sequence to instead focus on the slaughter and mutilation of the genetically altered animals in a way that dialectically merges ET with Killer of Sheep, Charles Burnett’s indie film about the psychological damage the everyday grind of a slaughterhouse inflicts.

Okja is a hypersmart combination of global and local moving from the mountains of South Korea to the digital mecca of New York which nevertheless disdains the Dreamworks and Disney media showing off consisting of hyper-referential and unsatisfying cultural jibes in place of actual heart and social politics which Okja has aplenty. It is also in its respect for the little girl’s relation with the animal and her peasant upbringing which allows her to remain honest in the world of New York media which is everywhere about corrupting her local affiliations and which also affects her grandfather, a comment on the relation between Netflix and local cinema. The Mirando corporation, which first seems benign in the form of Lucy, but which then turns much harsher in Lucy’s ousting by her totally bottom line oriented sister, also played this time by a tight-lipped Swinton, is itself a kind of Netflix, selling a benign version of entertainment and concealing a lust for profit and slaughter, in this case of local artists, who it is everyday supplanting. So, Boon Joon Ho is subtly biting the hand that feeds and distributes him.

The Netflix logo was booed initially at the press screening and the booing continued not at Netflix but because the screen was only about two-thirds visible to the balcony audience which hooted until the film restarted. Asked if this might be deliberate sabotage of the Netflix screening, Boon Joon Ho remarked instead that the technical glitch allowed the audience to re-see the first 10 minutes which is jam packed with a recounting of the former evils of the Mirando Corporation, which are the past evils which have led to the now sanitised corporate image of tech companies. He was very happy the audience got to see it again. Asked what he thought of Almodovar’s statement eliminating the film from winning the Cannes top prize, he simply proclaimed himself in awe that Almodovar would be watching his film.  Co-producer Swinton replied that they did not come to Cannes to win prizes but to deliver a very canny and ultimately savage criticism of corporate destruction of the environment, in this case of animals that might have a larger impact if it opened worldwide on the Netflix platform. In sum, an altogether winning performance both on and off-screen by Boon, Swinton and the filmmaking crew which in the end valued the film’s social message above what alongside it looked almost like petty gripes by a film industry clinging to its established patterns of profit.

Joon Ho’s and Swinton’s clear-eyed anti-capitalist commitment stood in sharp contrast to another film directed by the usually equally clear-eyed Vanessa Redgrave called Sea Sorrow about the refugee crisis in Europe. The film starts out strongly, interviewing an Afghani who explains he started crying when American soldiers entered his home, and in response they killed both his mother and father. But then the film drops all questioning of what created the crisis, where refugees are primarily from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, all countries which the Western powers have decimated and instead becomes a mute plea to let a few more refugees into Britain. The film seems to go out of its way to offend no one but in so doing becomes a fairly mundane liberal hand-wringing exercise about an issue that Western media give a good deal of preachy lip service to while never analysing the problem at its Western colonial core and thus never suggesting what actually might be done about it.

Far better by the way is the Martin Scorsese exec-produced A Ciambra directed by Jonas Carpignano who was at Cannes two years ago with Mediterranea, a distinctive immigrant film which focused not on the African trip across that sea but on the difficult interaction, once arrived, with Italian locals. This film, shot and conceived in a starkly realistic style, concerns a Roma, a gypsy boy’s bitter coming of age and his relation with a Ghanian, Khoudas Seihan from the previous film, who befriends the boy Pio but whose friendship he must balance with the demands of his own clan, a rung just above the Africans, and the pressures of the dominant Italians who police the ethnic hierarchical structure. It’s a kind of multicultural updating of Scorsese’s own Mean Streets with a preadolescent De Niro.

The second best film in the festival I have seen is Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless, a fairly scathing critique of Russian and indeed capitalist consumer society as it plays out in a post-socialist, post-gangster economy Russia where the corporate ethos has become normalized. Like his academy award winning last film Leviathan, this film opens with desolate country shots of a bleak Moscow winter. The film traces the self-absorption of a father who worries that his breaking up with his wife will affect his sales and marketing job and the wife whose California-obsession with fitness leaves little room in their life for their son who subsequently disappears. They return to the wife’s mother, a signifier of old Russia, referred to by the husband as “Stalin-in-a-skirt,” but that road is closed. This is a new take on the disappearing child, the favorite trope of serial TV series these days, where the focus is only mildly on finding the child and more determinedly on how the consumerist hedonist and competitive lifestyle of the parents has engineered the boy out of their lives. A shot of him concealed behind a door in tears as the adults claim he is better off in boarding school is an extremely striking depiction of their own callousness as is the ultimate lack of resolution of the dramatic question and the reappearance of the initial bleak winter landscape which is the actual emotional content of the lives of the parents now with other partners who have substituted material comfort for genuine satisfaction.

DB2 cannes western

Another excellent examination of the global and the local is Western from German director Valeska Grisebach, which details the spirit of colonisation with which a German crew and especially the foreman, building a hydroelectric dam, treats the Bulgarian inhabitants of the nearby village. The main protagonist is an ex-mercenary, as he says a Legionnaire, who, having served in Iraq and Afghanistan, disdains violence and conquering and attempts to forge relations with the villagers. The foreman on the other hand projects contemporary German economic might as in direct relation to its Nazi past, claiming that “we were here 70 years ago, and now we’re back.” The film in dealing with the inhabitants of Europe’s poorest country refuses the easy labelling of their peasant organizational structure as “mafia” and instead highlights their collective customs. The legionnaire ultimately himself and despite himself begins to exhibit a more domineering manner and the film leaves open the question as to whether these cultural patterns can be transcended.

An astonishing film that details the leaving behind of the Chinese workforce as that country struggles towards manoeuvering its economy toward a more high tech orientation is Walking Past the Future about a family of peasants living and having helped build the modern coastal industrial city of Shenzun with its new gleaming corporate skyline. The parents of the young woman Yang Yaoting are getting old and are both told their services are no longer required in their factory jobs. They move back to the countryside in a reverse migration that is not unlike that of African-Americans in the last decade moving back to the South. But there they find their village communal land has been confiscated by an agribusiness boss who claims it is all legal because he has the correct papers and who quickly fires the family for again working too slow. Yang returns to Shenzun where she is the subject of a new kind of 21st century human trafficking. To earn money to provide her parents with an apartment for their retirement, she takes part in medical tests which pay better than her equally dangerous job in a microchip factory which requires that she wear a blue suit and facemask to deal with the radioactive materials. In this new form of prostitution, she, after her best friend has died trying to perfect herself with plastic surgery, falls in love with the procurer of the test victims, essentially, in the scenario of this new form of biomedical exploitation benefitting big pharma, her pimp. He also hides behind the legal charade of signing away consent since Yang desperate to save her family has little choice but to concede. The film is a bitter indictment of the lengths this new economy will go to exploit and then to discard its workers.

Worst film of the festival so far was the out-of-competition opening Arnaud Deplichin’s Ismael’s Phantoms, a misogynist, colonialist hyper-indulgent piece about a French director, Matthew Almaric, and the two women who inhabit his life but who for him function merely as muse’s for his so-called art. Charlotte Gainsborough is underused as the director Ismael’s current lover while the always wonderful Marion Cotillard returns from the dead to briefly breathe life into a film that retrogressively celebrates the director’s Peter Pan syndrome as a mark of genius. The director’s film within a film, nominally an espionage thriller, has the look of a much better film than that about the childish artist but it too then succumbs to being, as are the two women, essentially figments of his artistic imagination. The espionage film begins by reminding us of the kind of skillful quoting of Hollywood the French New Wave directors used to do, being unable themselves to manage a blockbuster budget. However, it ends up as a projection of the director’s ultimately mundane problems and finished by being far less instead of the intended far more than what at least in television storytelling has achieved a higher, meaning more complicated, intricate and social, level of storytelling than this film can even imagine. By the way sprinkling references to James Joyce, Melville and Hitchcock, rather than deepening the examination of creative genius, in this context, simply shows us what lesser company we’re in at the moment.

The other Netflix film The Meyerowitz Stories is an attempt by director Noah Baumbach to claim the mantle, in detailing the lives, loves and generally lack of passion of New York’s cultural elite, of a new Woody Allen. Alas, he succeeds. The film is a well observed but ultimately pointless depiction of one of Baumbach’s failed artists, this time a declining patriarch, Dustin Hoffman, an unsuccessful sculptor who has visited his resentments on his two sons, Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller. What has happened as Baumbach approaches Woody status is that the satire, which in say The Squid and the Whale could be devastating, is now settled into a kind of nostalgic recollection in tranquility that blunts the humor to the point that even delayed entry of the almost always funny Ben Stiller cannot save it from its tepid heart which like its lead character often fails to beat.