Celine Sciamma’s A Portrait of a Lady on Fire (featured image) is exquisite – it’s beautiful to behold and wonderfully performed by Adele Haenel as the heiress reluctantly posing for a portrait before the admiring gaze of an artist played by Noemie Merlant.
Set in a big house in Brittany in 1800, it’s a film about falling in love and paying attention, about reading someone’s heart through the lines of their face and body. It’s also brilliantly feminist, re-invigorating the costume drama genre with a subtle yet burning desire to get the female perspective across at last.
I fell in love with the film, not at first sight, but slowly, drawn in, hypontised and by the end, emerged a different person. That’s some powerful film making and I can’t wait to see it again.
Bong Joon Ho could be the first Korean to win a Palme d’Or. His film Parasite is really very good, perfectly made and staged, the story of a poor family who gradually move in on a rich family. Sort of. It’s funny, creepy, thrilling and constantly surprising until it whacks you with a shock, its societal satire ramming itself home. Many people loved it. I admired it but it didn’t steal my heart, impressive as it is.
Of the French films on offer, I was quietly gripped by Arnaud Desplechin’s police procedural Oh Mercy! (Roubaix, Une Lumiere – much better title in French) which starred the magnificent Roschdy Zem as Inspector Daoud, a police chief in the titular industrial town, leading an investigation into the death of an elderly woman, with two girls, played by Lea Seydoux and Sara Forrestier, as the chief suspects. I want to see Roschdy in a series of this, a new case every week.
Greatly enjoyed, too, Sybil, by Justine Triet and not just because much of it was set on Stromboli, the Italian island where I spent some of my honeymoon – in the same hotel, would you believe. Apart from that lovely memory, it was a very playful movie, starring Virginie Efira as a shrink who becomes obsessed with one of her patients (an actress, played by Adele Exarchopoulos) and finds herself wrapped up in an explosive film shoot. There’s a lot of layers in this – maybe one or two too many – but it was sometimes very funny and there’s a terrific performance as the film maker by German’s Sandra Huller.
Palestinian Elia Suleiman has made his best film so far with It Must Be Heaven, a very droll look at being Palestinian in the world. The director often plays himself as a silent Magoo figure, or Tati person, observing life’s absurdities as he goes. Here he travels from Nazareth to Paris and New York, creating very sharp little tableaux about life in all those places… It’s a slight film at first look, but with a deceptive sting and done with considerable skill. It’s a film about the conflict, but with very little anger or conflict in it, making it far more powerful.
And so to Mektoub Mon Amour: Intermezzo. Ah, the scandal of Cannes and its most radical film: 45 mins on a sunny beach staring as girls in bikinis, then two and half hours of the same girls twerking and pole dancing and drinking and gyrating in hotpants in a nightclub set to the most unbearable euro-techno, from which the only relief is a 16-minute vigorous oral sex scene with a bloke and one of the girls, set in the toilets. And then more twerking and dry humping on the dance floor.
It was an assault on the senses and on sense itself, a brutally ugly-looking movie ogling beautiful young girls. Kechiche, its director, wants you exhausted, he wants you challenged and dared. You do reach a kind stupefied trance state in front of the screen, but you also find yourself immersed in the world of these young people. I hated it, yet cherish the experience of having watched it and talked about it – only the Tarantino was more discussed by people here – so passionately.
So much so, that now I quite like the film but have absolutely no desire to ever see any of it again. Only in Cannes, as they say.