With the manufactured hysteria over The Da Vinci Code now little more than a fast-fading hangover, the 59th Cannes Film Festival has begun in earnest. And just as they do every year, the programmers have proved that in between the critical grandstanding and the public-relations hyperbole there actually is room for art, or at the very least some satisfying films.
The first few days here have not yet produced any revelations, but filmgoers have again been able to tour the cinematic world, passing through Paris on the way to Paraguay and Tiananmen Square, where the politics are almost as hot as the sex.
Sex and politics are on full boil in Lou Ye's (
The trade papers have been running contra-dictory dispatches about Summer Palace, which may have been offered to Cannes without the film-maker's knowledge and without the sanction of Chinese censors. A Chinese producer claimed that Lou Ye would soon be on a plane back to Beijing, though he did appear at his news conference Thursday, and a representative for the film offered me placid assurances that the director was staying put. It would be a shame if this behind-the-scenes wrangling got in the way of the film, which beautifully blends the political with the personal much as Flaubert does in Sentimental Education, his moral history of a generation set against the backdrop of revolution, and Philippe Garrel does in Regular Lovers, his film about May 1968 and its aftermath.
The French touch is further evident in Summer Palace with its brief shot of the young Antoine Doinel running on the beach at the end of The 400 Blows. In this context Francois Truffaut's touchstone image, which speaks as much to the struggles faced by its young director as those of the character, is eloquently moving. It is also instructive because while Summer Palace was made in China and nods in the direction of the filmmaker's contemporary Jia Zhangke (
Directed by Paz Encina and paid for by money culled from more than a half-dozen countries (the Netherlands, Spain and, oddly enough given its economic straits, Argentina), Hamaca Paraguaya centers on two elderly peasants who are waiting for the rain much as Vladimir and Estragon wait for Godot, though with far fewer jokes. Watching this attractive exercise, which unfolds with great deliberation and without a single camera movement, I was again reminded that art-house cinema has as many of its own cliches and narrative tropes as Hollywood does. Encina's film, which takes place in 1935 during wartime, looks and sounds very good, and there is something intellectually bracing about a film that forces you to either accept its leisurely rhythms or hit the exit.
Still, given the dearth of Paraguayan cinema especially, it's somewhat disappointing that Encina's formalist rigor did not make room for a richer, more overt sense of Paraguayan time and place. My point isn't that filmmakers from countries with under-developed cinemas should bear the burden of cultural representation more heavily than those from rich countries with mature (or decadent) cinemas; a Paraguayan director should not have to speak for his homeland any more than, say, Brett Ratner, who is here representing American national interests with the latest X-Men movie. The benefits of advanced technology and porous borders are inarguable, including the increased ease with which we can consume world cinema, but does this accessibility also help dilute national voices?
One of the sustaining pleasures of foreign films, after all, is their foreign-ness, their differences. But with Hollywood continuing to loom large over the world, it is not always easy, even at Cannes, to find films that are not somehow under its influence. Even the British director and outspoken leftist Ken Loach has a period film in competition, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, that plays out like a Hollywood movie from the 1930s, only slower and with many more speeches. Cillian Murphy stars as a young doctor who joins the newly formed Irish Republican Army to fight British forces that in vile deed and elevated
volume greatly resemble movie-made Nazis. The story's contemporary undercurrent, specifically the birth of political extremism as a direct consequence of foreign occupation, is duly noted.
A different political reality is brought to devastating light in Richard Linklater's ferocious, fictionalized adaptation of Eric Schlosser's nonfiction bestseller Fast Food Nation, which, among other things, proves that when it comes to critiquing America, few do it better than outraged Americans. (Linklater, who has never had a film at Cannes before, this year has two: Fast Food Nation, which is screening in competition, and A Scanner Darkly, which is in Un Certain Regard.)
In Fast Food, Linklater and Schlosser, who wrote the screenplay together, trace a miscellany of characters from both sides of the American-Mexican border as they experience the perils of globalization. The most essential political film from an American director since Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, it may not turn you into a
vegetarian, but it will definitely make your think twice about our fast-food culture.
The cool, clean river water quickly evaporates as I warm myself in the tropical sun, still strong at midday even in November. Below me is a bend in the river, and a deep emerald pool has formed here alongside the concrete platform I am sitting on, which once served as a check dam, but today serves as the perfect place to launch myself into the water. On shore, children splash in the water as parents sit nearby under awnings. Above me, a hawk traces out lazy circles against the bright blue sky. In the distance, a train emerges from a
When Sunny thinks back to March last year, she laughs ruefully at the ordeal. The 19-year-old Shanghai student spent that month locked in her dormitory, unable to shop for essentials or wash clothes, even banned from showering for two weeks over COVID fears. In April, the entire city locked down. It was the beginning of the chaos of 2022, as local Chinese authorities desperately tried to follow President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) zero-COVID decree while facing the most transmissible strain of the virus yet: Omicron. “Everyone was panicking, no one was ready,” she tells the Observer. By the end of the year, zero-COVID
A green-hued comet that has been lurking in the night sky for months is expected to be the most visible to stargazers this week as it gradually passes Earth for the first time in about 50,000 years. The cosmic visitor will swing by our planet at a distance of about 42.5 million kilometers. Here is an explanation of comets in general and this one in particular. WHAT IS A COMET? Nicknamed “dirty snowballs” by astronomers, comets are balls of ice, dust and rocks that typically hail from the ring of icy material called the Oort cloud at our solar system’s outer edge. One known
Feb. 6 to Feb. 12 The plan was to break out of jail, seize the facility’s ammunition, release the inmates and broadcast their “declaration of Taiwanese independence” to the world at the nearby Broadcasting Corporation of China station. Chiang Ping-hsing (江炳興) and his fellow political prisoners at Taiyuan Prison (泰源監獄) hoped that this action would attract international attention and spark a nationwide rebellion that would overthrow Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) authoritarian regime. It was originally planned for Feb. 1, 1970, but due to various setbacks they weren’t able to strike until the noontime guard change at the prison on Feb. 8. They attacked the