the wayward cloud

Mundane, exhilarating and shocking in equal measure, The Wayward Cloud sees Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming-liang ruminating on his usual themes of urban alienation and missed connections, this time with a ferocious condemnation of the hardcore porn industry and some kind of dystopian drought conceit to boot. It begins in bed, with fleshly squeals and the damp squelches of fingers in watermelon accompanying Tsai’s typically exquisite symmetrical framing and sparse interiors. Tsai flirts with the possibility of his two destined neighbours meeting, and when they do he ensures it’s in the most horrific, blood-curdling manner—the last twenty minutes are as clinical and economic as Haneke’s most harrowing.

There are a smattering of unexpected musical numbers throughout this film, too. The first is a cheap and funny lagoon ballad set in a water tower, another a chintzy Busby Berkley schlong-romp set in a public toilet, with a cascade of cleaning-themed dames doing their best chorus line, another a webbed and Fosse-fied spider-woman chamber dance complete with fire and scantily clad men in g-strings (a la All That Jazz’s ‘Take Off With Us’). The best might be a spot-on Demy imitation, complete with a hundred watermelon coloured umbrellas flowering on a Taipei bridge. There’s also an Annie Hall reference that comes quite out of the blue.

The film is uncomfortable in two ways: firstly, it doesn’t quite fit together, the sexual grotesqueness and cheap musical throwbacks work against each other to provoke the discomfort of a tragic mismatch; secondly, Tsai is pushing himself further than ever before, stretching the limits of what is watchable, creating disgust, and forcing us to observe some harrowing limits with a stark, knowing gaze. As a denunciation of the twisted sexual politics of the porn industry, it’s completely effective. As a film, it lacks that kernel of tenderness that the best spectatorial experiments (see Haneke) ensure to embed, so that there’s something to care for in the end. Empathy is something quite different from pity, which was what I felt for the sad, deadened souls that populate this film.

Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan

winter sleep

A magisterial land owner slowly learns that he’s a pretentious, conceited, and highly unsuccessful asshole in this clinically exacted study of male self-delusion. Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) owns a hotel (called ‘Hotel Othello’, though he’s more like Iago) and a few houses in the stunning Cappadocia region of Turkey, and considers himself a patrician beneficiary to the blebs below. He writes at his own leisure for a local arts magazine, and spends his day hidden in his den, arguing with his beautiful and much younger wife (Melisa Sözen) and indignant divorcee sister (Demet Akbag). Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan starts in the outside world with a violent confrontation between two villagers—one a friend, one a tenant—and then slowly interiorises the moral considerations that the incident provokes. The arguments between Aydin and his female counterparts unfold dialectically as his condescending opinions lose traction despite his steadfast adherence to them, and the engaging huis clos between the three characters is never less than engaging. Clinging to his own pride, he spits out a desperate epigram: “My kingdom may be small, but at least I’m the king there.” At three hours plus change this moral drama can tire once you discover its trajectory—at a certain point it’s more about when the plot will eventuate rather than how. Having said that, the process of Aydin’s revelation is intriguing, and Ceylan throws some kindling on the dwindling fire towards the film’s end to enliven what is a trudgerous film made for cerebrally-minded cinemagoers and not for those who prefer a snappy, clear-minded approach to narrative. This film is about a man that alienates himself from real people to such a degree that he can’t understand his own pretentious folly; his most hauntingly human moment is spent alone with a horse. Needless to say, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Gökhan Tiryaki’s cinematography captures the caved region beautifully, but he’s also adept at the interiors, which feel cosy, and occasionally chilled by Aydin’s dour spirit. Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.

macbeth fassbender

Cannes have unveiled the as-yet-incomplete lineup for the 68th edition of their renowned festival, giving Australian director Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth a competition berth alongside new films from Hou Hsiou-Hsien, Todd Haynes, Paulo Sorrentino, Jia Zhangke and Gus Van Sant. Announcing the festival on Thursday morning, festival director Theirry Fremaux reminded the press that with seventeen films secured to compete for the Palme d’Or and only fourteen in the Un Certain Regard sidebar, there is still plenty of room for further additions to the lineup. “It’s a good selection. It’s new, it’s fresh”, said Fremaux from Cannes. “Our selection will lay out some assumptions, some hypotheses, and the mission is to put new names on the world cinema map.” The 2015 competition Jury will be presided over by Joel and Ethan Coen, marking the first time that two people have shared the honour. In another first, opening night film Standing Tall is the first to be made by a woman, French director Emmanuelle Bercot. It’s a decidedly scaled-down choice for the festival, who hit a bomb last year with Grace Kelly biopic Grace of Monaco.

This year’s lineup looks a little lopsided to me. The Competition is typically Eurocentric, with only two films by women and three produced outside of Europe of the USA (all from Asia, although Jia’s Mountains May Depart is actually partially produced by France). Obscure titles from directors working outside of these regions seem to be arbitrarily plopped into Un Certain Regard together, making that sidebar a more flavoursome alternative to the overwhelmingly English-language Competition. There’s only one South American entry (from Mexico, screening in Un Certain Regard) and one African (from Souleyman Cisse, in the Midnight Screenings sidebar). For a festival that supposedly sets the tone for all international cinema, it’s looking a little unsure of itself.


Competition Jury:
Joel and Ethan Coen — Presidents
Rossy de Palma — Actress, Spain
Sophie Marceau — Actress/director, France
Sienna Miller — Actress, UK
Rokia Traoré — Composer/singer-songwriter, Mali
Guillermo del Toro — Director/writer/producer, Mexico
Xavier Dolan — Director/writer/producer/actor, Canada
Jake Gyllenhaal — Actor, USA

Un Certain Regard Jury:
Isabella Rossellini — President.

The full lineup (thus far) for the 68th Cannes Film Festival is below:

Opening Night Film (Out of Competition):

Standing Tall, dir. Emmanuelle Bercot (France)—Bercot’s fourth feature, starring Catherine Deneuve, Rod Paradot.

In Competition:

Cronic, dir. Michel Franco (Mexico)—New addition. Franco’s sophomore feature After Lucia won the top prize in Un Certain Regard in 2012, so this is a logical graduation.

The Valley of Love, dir. Guillaume Nicloux (France)—New addition. Unfamiliar to me, but he’s made quite a few features.

The Assassin, dir. Hou Hsiao-Hsien (Taiwan)—A left-turn for Hou, whose tender family dramas established his name in the 80s and 90s. This is a Tang Dynasty-era martial arts film, his first since Flight of the Red Baloon, which opened Un Certain Regard in 2007.

Carol, dir. Todd Haynes (US/UK)—1950s-era Patricia Highsmith adaptation from Safe and I’m Not There director Todd Haynes, after a long absence from film. Stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Acquired by TWC for release later in the year.

Erran, dir. Jacques Audiard (France)—Audiard continues his streak of films about tender love and brutal physicality—i.e. Rust and Bone—with this story about a Tamil fighter who works as a caretaker. Already acquired by IFC for stateside release.

The Lobster, dir. Yorgos Lanthimos (Greece/UK/Ireland/Netherlands/France)—Lanthimos ‘graduates’ to a Competiton slot after his Un Certain Regard-winning Dogtoothand Venice competitior Alps. His first English-lanaguage film, The Lobster stars Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw, Lea Seydoux and John C. Reilly in a dystopian love story about forced mating (sounds v. Lanthimos).

Louder Than Bombs , dir. Joachim Trier (Norway/France/Denmark)—After his chilly Oslo, August 31st, Trier cracks into the big leagues with his English-language debut. Stars Isabelle Huppert, with Jesse Eisenberg as her son and Gabriel Byrne as her husband; secrets emerge after her death in a car accident.

Macbeth, dir. Justin Kurzel (UK/France/US)—A big step up for Kurzel, who premiered in the Critics Week sidebar in 2011 with Snowtown. Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender are Lady and Macbeth respectively. I’m hoping this is more psychological torment that gristly blood-and-guts fest; Kurzel/Cotillard/Fassbender are making an Assassin’s Creed adaptation this year too.

Marguerite and Julien, dir. Valerie Donzelli (France)—One of two films In Competition (thus far) directed by a woman, which doesn’t bode well for the festival’s record of detractors. Donzelli is known for her 2011 hit Declaration of War, stepping up the stakes here with a film about a love affair between siblings. Apparently the 1971 script was almost filmed by Truffaut, so the material is solid.

Mon roi, dir. Maiwenn (France)—Vincent Cassel and Emmanuelle Bercot (who also directed festival opener Standing Tall) star as destructive lovers in one of the festival competition’s two competition films directed by a woman.

Mountains May Depart, dir. Jia Zhangke (China/Japan/France)—Another anthology film from Jia after 2013’s A Touch of Sin, which won a screenplay prize. This is his first film shot outside of his native China. It follows a drama through three time-periods: 1990s, the present day and 2025.

My Mother, dir. Nanni Moretti (Italy/France)—Moretti is the toast of Cannes, having previously won the Palme d’Or for The Son’s Room and presided over the jury in 2012. My Mother is his sixth film to premiere at Cannes. It’s a tragicomedy following a filmmaker through a number of on-set crises starring longtime Moretti collaborator Margherita Buy and John Turturro. Here’s the first trailer.

Our Little Sister, dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda (Japan)—Following Jury Prize-winning Like Father, Like Son, Kore-eda adapts a popular serialised comic series about four sisters. It’s his fifth film to premiere at Cannes.

The Sea of Trees, dir. Gus Van Sant (USA)—Van Sant tries the gild the lily of his recent career with this moody suicide pact drama starring Ken Wantanabe, Naomi Watts and Matthew McConaughey. After Restless and The Promised Land its difficult to trust Van Sant, but he won the Palme d’Or in 2003 for Elephant, so we can only hope for a return to form.

Sicaro, dir. Denis Villeneuve (USA)—After a history of Cannes premieres, Villeneuve abandoned the festival curcuit for a stint of high-profile outings including Hugh Jackman starrer Prisoners and Jake Gyllenhaal doppelganger drama Enemy. He’s back to Cannes making his competition debut with this Mexican drug trade drama starring Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin.

A Simple Man, dir. Stephane Brize (France)—Brize is a foreign name to me; I haven’t seen any of his films, but he’s well-regarded for a string of collaborations with actor Victor Lindon. They’re working together again on this drama (lots of dramas, typically) about a supermarket security guard with moral doubts.

Son of Sau, dir. Laszlo Nemes (Hungary)—The only debut feature In Competition this year, this Holocaust drama is about a prisoner who works at Auschwitz and identifies the body of his son. Sounds dark, and Nemes is a protoge of Bela Tarr, so I’ll definitely be tuning in to the reception on this one.

The Tale of Tales, dir. Matteo Garrone (Italy/France/UK)—Garrone has won two Grands Prix in a row at Cannes for mafia thriller Gomorah and celebrity-gone-awry comedy(?) Reality. He’s gunning for gold with this English-language horror-fantasy, going full-on VFX with an adaptation of a 17th Century Italian fairy-tale collection. Stars Vincent Cassel, Salma Hayek and Toby Jones. Here’s the first trailer; it looks bonkers and kinda awful.

Youth, Paolo Sorrentino (Italy/France/Switzerland/UK)—Sorrentino’s sixth film In Competition after last year’s masterful The Great Beauty and 2008 Jury Prize-winning Il Divo, amongst others. The star-studded cast includes Michael Caine as an orchestra conductor who receives an invitation to play for Queen Liz and Prince Philip. Trailer looks beautiful.

Out of Competition

Inside Out, dir. Pete Docter & Ronaldo Del Carmen (USA)—Pixar psychology-comedy with the voices of Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling and Diane Lane.

Irrational Man, dir. Woody Allen (USA)—Allen’s 45th feature, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone. Apparently it’s not the neurotic comedy we were all hoping for. It’s rumoured to be a darker entry in the Allen oeuvre, hopefully more Blue Jasmine than You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.

The Little Prince, dir. Mark Osborne (France)—France’s most expensive animated feature ever, featuring a voice cast which includes Marion Cotillard, James Franco and Jeff Bridges.

Mad Max: Fury Road, dir George Miller (US)—The reboot trains trawls along, resurrecting every last scrap of cinematic nostalgia it can scrape off of the detritus of the 1980s with maximum explosions. The trailer, according to people, is ‘epic’.

Un Certain Regard

Alias Maria, dir. José Luis Rugeles Gracia—New addition.

Taklub, dir. Brillante Mendoza—New addition.

Lamb, dir. Yared Zeleke—New addition. Debut feature and first film ever to enter Un Certain Regard selection from Ethiopia.

Cemetary of Splendour, dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul—New addition. A huge score for Un Certain Regard. Apichatpong won the Palme d’Or last time he was at Cannes with Uncle Boonmee.

AN, dir. Naomi Kawase—New addition. Opening Night film.

The Chosen Ones, dir. David Pablos (Mexico)

Fly Away Solo, dir. Neeraj Ghaywan (India)

The Fourth Direction, dir. Gurvinder Singh (France/India)

The High Sun, dir. Dalibor Maranic (Croatia/Slovenia)

I Am a Soldier, dir. Laurent Lariviere (France)

Journey to the Shore, dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Japan)

Madonna, dir. Shin Su-win (South Korea)

Maryland, dir. Alice Winocour (France/Belgium)

Nahid, dir. Ida Panahandeh (Iran)

One Floor Below, dir. Radu Muntean (Romania)

The Other Side, dir. Roberto Minervini (Italy)

Rams, dir. Grimir Hakonarson (Iceland)

The Shameless, dir. Oh Seung-euk (South Korea)

The Treasure, dir. Corneliu Porumboiu (Romania)

Midnight Screenings

Amy, dir. Asif Kapadia (UK)—The only doco to be announced thus far. High-profile Amy Winehouse biodoc from Senna director.

Office, dir. Hong Won-chan (South Korea)

Love, dir. Gaspar Noé—New addition.

Special Screenings

Amnesia, dir. Barbet Schroeder (Switzerland/France)

Asphalte, dir. Samuel Benchetrit (France)

Hayored Iema’ala, dir. Elad Keidan (Israel)

Oka, dir. Souleyman Cisse (Mali)

Panama, dir. Pavle Vuckovic (Serbia)

A Tale of Love and Darkness, dir. Natalie Portman (Israel)

Un histoire de fou (Don’t Tell Me the Boy Was Mad), dir. Robert Guédiguian—New addition.

Director’s Fortnight

A Perfect Day, dir. Fernando León de Aranoa

Beyond My Grandfather Allende, dir. Marcia Tambutti

Arabian Nights, dir. Miguel Gomes

Volume 1, The Restless One

Volume 2, The Desolate One

Volume 3, The Enchanted One

Les Cowboys, dir. Thomas Bidegain (debut film)

Dope, dir. Rick Famuyiwa (closing film)

Embrace of the Serpent, dir. Ciro Guerra

Fatima, dir. Philippe Faucon

Yakuza Apocalypse: The Great War of the Underworld, dir. Takashi Miike (special screening)

Green Room, dir. Jeremy Saulnier

Much Loved, dir. Nabil Ayouch

Mustang, dir. Deniz Gamze Ergüven (debut film)

In the Shadow of Women, dir. Philppe Garrel (opening film)

Peace to Us in Our Dreams, dir. Sharunas Bartas

Songs My Brothers Taught Me, dir. Chloé Zhao (debut film)

The Here After, dir. Magnus von Horn (debut film)

The Brand New Testament, dir. Jaco Van Dormael

My Golden Days, dir. Arnaud Desplechin

For short films screening in the Director’s Fortnight lineup, see here.

Critics Week

In Competiton:

Dégradé, dir. Arab & Tarzan Nasser (Palestine, France, Qatar)

Krisha, dir. Trey Edward Schults (USA)

Mediterranea, dir. Jonas Carpignano (Italy, France, USA, Germany)

Paulina, dir. Santiago Mitre (Argentina, Brazil, France)

Sleeping Giant, dir. Andrew Cividino (Canada)

La Tierra Y La Sombra (Land and Shape), dir. Cesar Augusto Acevedo (Colombia, France, Netherlands, Chili, Brazil)

The Wakhan Front (Ni Le Ciel Ni La Terre), dir. Clément Cogitore (France, Belgium)

Special Screenings:
Les Anarchistes (The Anarchists), dir. Elie Wajerman (France) (opening film)

Learn By Heart (La Vie En Grand), dir. Mathieu Vadepied (France) (closing film)

Coin Locker Han, dir. Jun-hee (Sourth Korea)

Les Deux Amis, dir. Louis Garrel (France)

For short- and medium-length films screening in Critics Week see here.

This page will be updated as news, announcements, additions, trailers and reviews come to the fore.

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini

mamma roma

This second feature from Italian transgressor Pier Paolo Pasolini follows the ageing former prostitute Mamma Roma (Anna Magnani) as she attempts to live a cleaner life with her teenage son Ettore (Ettore Garofolo), all the while keeping her past a secret from him. Magnani plays subversively with her image as the volcanic toast of Rome, using her vivid approachability and grandiose physical gestures to provoke the sense that she’s a fixture of the city, albeit for different reasons than Rossellini made her out to be. Everyone in the film knows her and celebrates her; she reels randy men, priests, market vendors and younger versions of herself into conversation with her big, vocal personality. Magnani and Pasolini seem like a strange meeting of minds considering Magnani’s role as the conscience of a nation in Rome, Open City and Pasolini’s career thereafter, but they’re surprisingly useful to each other. Pasolini was always trying to be provocatively ugly, to infuse the imaginary world of movies with a bit of truth and a lot of bawdy and indecorous sexuality. Magnani wasn’t ugly, but she was earthy. Of all the glamourous screen icons of her time, she was the least beautiful, but all the more beautiful for it. In this film about the spirit of the poor and punished, she lends a great deal of spirit.

There are some marvellous formal stylings from Pasolini and cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli, including two long tracking shots that capture Magnani wondering the streets in wide as the men of Rome—former clients, probably—drop in and out of conversation with her against a backdrop of city lights. Moments like these undercut the piety of Rossellini’s neorealist mission; where his films use scaled-back production to evoke a mournful sympathy for persecuted do-gooders and underdogs, Mamma Roma uses the same visual techniques to make us care for pimps, hookers and ingrates. He starts being insubordinate in the first scene—there she is, the least cerebral, most celebrated and purely emotive acting talent of the 20th Century, Anna Magnani, garrulously singing her heart out at a peasant wedding for her former pimp. There are pigs trotting around the wedding guests as Pasolini frames the wedding party like Leonardo’s ‘Last Supper’. There’s another irreverent visual reference made later on, when the decidedly unattractive Ettore, strapped to a prison-bed, is foreshortened like Mantagna’s ‘Lamentation of Christ’. If Pasolini’s mission was to reverse the tradition of aesthetics and restore beauty to subjects who traditionally weren’t considered as such, then Mamma Roma, far from a neorealist tack-on to his career (like The White Sheik for Fellini), is a major work.

pasolini lamentationlamentation of christlast supper

pasolini last supper

wild tales

There is something devilishly macabre about sitting in the relative anonymity of a media screening and chortling your way through a scene that very closely reflects a recent news item. Of course, there’s no way that writer-director Damián Szifron could have predicted the fate of tragedy-bound Germanwings flight when he penned a scenario depicting a slighted pilot plummeting a plane full of his enemies into the ground, but that’s where I found myself in the opening moments of Wild Tales, laughing culpably along to this delightful, if uneven, Argentinian Oscar-nominee.

Being a series of vignettes linked only by the theme of revenge, Wild Tales is a fairly tenuous enterprise even at its best. Unlike, say, Short Cuts, there’s nothing binding these stories apart from this broadly-applied subject. The first three stories—the plane, a dark episode involving a mafioso and a coldly motivated lunch-lady, and a hilarious instance of road-rage taken to its limits—are the shortest and funniest, whilst the middling final three aim for social poignancy but often stagnate. The removal of one awkwardly toned episode could have shortened the whole film by about half an hour and improved the overall experience quite drastically. At over two hours long, and there’s plenty of dead time here that could have been excised.

With this collection of sarcastic, shockingly violent and sometimes painfully funny stories, Szifron seems indent on pushing these tightly-laced yuppies to their very limits and unleashing some shackled animosity. At its best it can be utterly cathartic, revenge for us and them, on an unfair society, but sometimes he fumbles and you can see how devised the scenarios are—the comedy becomes melodrama.

Wild Tales is the closing night film of the 2015 Spanish Film Festival. More information about the festival, including screening times and ticketing details, here.

three colours blue

This enigmatic portrait of grief and liberty in modern France can’t be understood unless read through the lens of femininity. The initial tragic incident which kills Julie’s husband and young daughter must be read as a deconstruction of a society that denigrates her worth. Julie no longer has to measure herself according to how well she performs as wife and mother; it’s brutal but, metaphorically, necessary. Julie is left to navigate her own re-entry into a society founded on patriarchy, and she does so by relishing the deep, dark wound of melancholia which mourns her daughter. Most would stitch up that wound to avoid seeing the pain that it exposes. Julie is mature to reside in her experience, to dwell on the liberty she has been afforded by a hefty inheritance left by her husband and an evisceration of all of her personal and societal responsibilities, but also in a cathartic pain, a bruise pleasurable to push, the memory of her daughter. This privilege allows her to ask: what kind of woman will I be? She languishes in the disconnectedness of her own mother, afflicted by memory loss and unable to recognise her; she has a rat and its litter murdered; she swims in a pool filled with children, furling up in its dank waters into the foetal position, as if to return to the womb. These are methods of grieving her daughter which also grieve the history of femininity, a sexual disposition that is constantly quashed by a social law which aims to master and mould it. In her re-entry into socio-political life she harbours the pain of her maternal losses to build the strength of her current position: she establishes a new way, an investment in a fatherless child, as if to invest in matriarchy itself. The blackouts she experiences throughout represent a return of some repressed, unsymbolisable, purely maternal longing previously fulfilled by her own mother and daughter—burnt to the ground by unthinkable tragedy, Julie emerges in the film’s symphonic ending finally able to expunge the pent-up blackness that she clutched all this way. As tears roll down her face and the camera glides across the ensemble, with no use for classical film language, we can glimpse a new European subject that answers to ‘she’ without shackling herself. In ‘Blue’, femininity is not empowerment along male lines, it is remembering that ahistorical maternity that links every woman in history forgotten under the social laws of men. Julie keeps that memory close, Kieslowski weaves it deep into the texture of the film—here and in the films of Jane Campion we glimpse that rarity called the ‘female aesthetic’. If you can’t understand it, it is because it requires a new modus operandi of looking at the screen, the screen that has for so long been a bastion of masculine domination. Women’s liberation is found in unexpected places, like here, in this brooding, brutal film about sovereignty lost and found.

Whilst not a particularly impressive piece of filmmaking nor investigative journalism (the content is lifted from the book of the same name by Lawrence Wright, who appears in the film), Alex Gibney’s ‘Going Clear’ is still a shocking expose of the insidious, fraudulent, exploitative, vertically-structured indoctrination machine that calls itself the Church of Scientology. Gibney makes films by rote, but thankfully his habit is to be involving, humanistic and steadily paced. He unveils abominable facts with a slew of ex-members and recent defectors to support them, heartfelt recollections of torn-apart families and personal grievances in tow. Most interesting is the instructional footage created by the church itself, designed to appeal to aloft personalities most susceptible to cult-like persuasion. Footage of a Scientology convention in 1993 has an eerie likeness to the design of Hitler’s Nuremberg Rally in Riefhenstahl’s ‘Triumph of the Will’. Accusations levelled against Tom Cruise will inevitably prompt many to question his movie-star status, whilst the film’s depiction of David Miscaviage, the current church head, could and should spark a criminal investigation. Most seriously, ‘Going Clear’ forces us to ask how the science-fiction ramblings of a sexist, mentally ill and incoherent wife-beater by the name of L. Ron Hubbard could have caused the formation of a mini despot state within the United States (and around the world). The blame lies partially with the IRS, who should be reconsidering the tax-exempt status they granted to the church in 1993. They could end it all in one fell swoop. Here, Gibney offers a reminder: Lawyers, of course, run the world.


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