Cannes Reviews – After the Storm; It’s Only The End Of The World; Graduation

Back in the big time and in the Official Selection, I caught the latest from one of my favourite film makers. His Our Little Sister was in Competition last year (as he was with Nobody Knows in 2004) but Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s After the Storm was in Un Certain Regard this time round.

Turns out that’s about right for this utterly lovely yet decidedly minor key comedy, about a one-time award-winning novelist Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) who can’t recapture his past glories and whose marriage has fallen apart while he struggles to pay bills by working as a private detective. A bad one.

His ex-wife Kyoko and young son Shingo visit his mother, a crotchety old widow (played with relish by Kilin Kiki) who nevertheless provides plenty of truculent humour as well as handily metaphorical culinary dishes in which flavours stew, marry and harmonise.

A summer typhoon means they all have to stay over in Granny’s flat, but in very Japanese fashion they all find space as doors and little drawers slide open and food materialises to bring them all together.

It’s all very sweet and actually not quite as resolved as I’ve made it sound, leaving room for rough edges and generational clashes that don’t make it too sweet a pill to swallow. Kore-Eda is a sentimentalist, but he’s also capable of intuiting life’s harsh ironies and creating some beautiful shots of families framed by their environment. Definitely a film to warm the soul on a stormy night in the months to come.

Families and storms were the centre of Xavier Dolan’s Its Only The End of the World. I told you before that I can’t stand his films, but much was expected of the Cannes wunderkind here, especially when you looked at his cast list: Marion Cotillard, Lea Seydoux, Vincent Cassel, Nathalie Baye and Gaspard “Blue Steel” Ulliel.

Well, I’ve never seen any of them so bad as in this. It was clear to me from the first 5 minutes that this was another insufferable ego trip into hysteria, shouting and family revelations, like La Cage Aux Festen.

Dolan shoots in close ups and whip edits, which totally alienate the viewer and prohibit anything but the most shallow view on the characters. They all seemed  to be acting in different movies and probably wished they were by the time this adaptation of an apparently successful Montreal stage play reached its shrill peak.

It was so childish, I wanted to send it to bed without any supper.

Far more controlled and powerful was Cristian Mungiu’s Graduation (Baccalaureat), a new entry from  a director clearly becoming one of the best around. His 4 Months, 3 weeks, 2 Days won the Palme d”or in 2007 and his follow-up Beyond the Hills, the Jury prize, so he’s got form here and is always a serious contender.

This one was a bit like the Dardenne brothers’ entry, but ten times better. A respected local doctor in the mountain town of Cluj (there’s a film festival there, so it’s well on the map), starts to unravel when a brick shatters through his window one morning for no apparent reason.

It’s quite the Haneke moment, actually, and one that’s never fully explained. But Doctor  Aldea (Adrian Titieni) goes about his day, dropping off his daughter Eliza (Maria Drags) at her school where she’s taking her final exams and needs a good score to get into her course at an English university, a real route out of dingy Cluj.

However, just as the good Dr is visiting his mistress (we later find out she’s a teacher at the school), he gets news his daughter’s been assaulted and injured. She’s ok, but her exams are put in jeopardy.

We follow Doc as he asks a few favours of people he knows, and bumps a local bigwig up the waiting list for a liver transplant in return for a good word with the exam board.

It becomes a trail of minor corruptions that lead to poisonous ends. Blind eyes are turned and betrayals are on the cards. Investigations ensue that may or may not be pursued – the actor Vlad Ivanov who was so threatening as the abortionist in 4 Months etc, makes an appearance as the local police chief here, casually sorting out his old friend the Doctor.

You never quite know the rubble-strewn moral ground in the new Romania, suggests the film – particularly with one kid, the mask-wearing, slightly creepy son of the Doctor’s mistress, who asks: “How should I behave? What is correct behaviour?”

A very rewarding, foreboding and intelligent film, hard to watch with its jerky, on-the-shoulder, not-so-steadicam  intensity, but full of atmosphere, threat and bitter intentions. This is top level European cinema, if not a  winner, then knocking on plenty of doors and it certainly warrants a healthy life in cinemas after the festival, when I’ll be excited to watch it for clues and details again.

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