Over the Hedge ****
Opening July 6, 2006
Small wild animals are the better species in DreamWorks’ animated film. R.J. the racoon (voiced by Bruce Willis) owes Vincent the bear (Nick Nolte) a truck full of fast food, payable within a week. R.J. recruits the help of possums and porcupines, a skunk, and a squirrel. In spite of the misgivings of Vern the tortoise (Garry Shandling), they follow R.J. over the hedge to the larders of the humans who live in abundance in synthetic suburbs. It takes only one possum in this sterile place to throw the neighbors into hysterics. The self-appointed head of the neighborhood is a grim, perfectly coiffed, trim, single, career-woman, control-freak (similarities to living persons, e.g., Condoleezza Rice, are coincidental). She calls the pest exterminator, Dr. Dennis, who is a parody of Mr. Incredible (who is a parody of Superman). The possum plays dead in a spurt of dramatic acting worthy of an Oscar. The cat falls in love with the skunk. The animals lose sight of family values and succumb to the mass consumption of TV and marshmallows, just as Vern predicted. There is a grand action scene when Dr. Dennis’ weapon of mass destruction, “legal only in the state of Texas,” backfires.
Besides pure American-style entertainment, there are several moral lessons: The environment suffers from consumerism and wastefulness. Fast food is bad for you. Families provide an important network against loneliness. Bears are tricky. Jeffrey Katzenberg, president of DreamWorks, said at the 2006 Cannes film festival, “Animated films are having a renaissance; a good story is the most important element; the best comedies come out of the world of animation these days; and many cultures have long histories of describing humans through the eyes of animals.” All of this is true in this fun film for the whole family.
Red Road ****
Jackie (Kate Dickie) works for City Eye Control which means that she monitors numerous TV screens around the district of Red Road in Glasgow. At the first sign of crime or danger she notifies the police who investigate. One evening she recognizes Clyde Andersen (Tony Curran), who has just served a prison term for manslaughter. The victims were Jackie’s husband and small daughter. She determines to insert herself into his life in an effort to send him back to prison. Why he doesn’t recognize her is a mystery. Gradually, she gains entrance to his apartment, meets his friends and becomes intimate in an extremely explicit scene of female fellatio (which will certainly be cut in many countries). Will she throw him out the apartment window to his death below? It takes patience to watch this first film by British Andrea Arnold; many minutes pass with Jackie gazing into TV screens in the dark. Your patience will be well rewarded in the end through excellent acting and a moral lesson about humanity, revenge, letting go and closure.
Lights in the Dusk ***
Hamburgers met Finnish Director Aki Kaurismäki when he came to the city in 2002 to accept the Hamburg Filmfest’s Douglas Sirk prize. His newest film, Lights in the Dusk was finished just in time for the Cannes film festival. It is the third in a trilogy and features a working class man who aids in a robbery. After jail, he moves into a room for the homeless and takes a job, which he soon loses. He seems so utterly unable to protect himself from the vicissitudes of life that you wonder how he survived so long. He arouses motherly instincts, but doesn’t recognize a true friend when she attempts to help. This is a slow, calm film with appropriate background music (not always a given).
The Indonesian Serambi tells the aftermath of the tsunami in Aceh. It opens with people fleeing a huge wall of water which rushes into the main streets tossing cars and trucks like rubber duckies. From there people begin to search for loved ones and the film hones in on three who lost whole families. One is a small girl now living in an orphanage who tells the other girls what she remembers. One is a middle-aged man who visits his former home, now a wasteland, to rebuild. On his visits, he collects odd scraps or pieces of furniture which he loads onto his motorcycle to sell. Often his friend accompanies him. The friend is a sunny boy, who only really mourns the loss of friends in his dance group. He tries to teach his friend to dance, to no avail. He says, “Why do you want to rebuild. Don’t you like the tent city the organizations have built? You don’t have to worry about a thing.” The friend recognizes the impermanence of the tents. The third is a student who wears Che Guevara t-shirts and sees himself as a revolutionary, except that presently revolution is far from anyone’s mind. The word Serambi means “veranda.” Aceh was kind of a veranda to Mecca, opening up to the world.
Zidane, un portrait du 21st Siècle ***
What do you get if you watch a film about the famous French soccer player Zinédine Zidane and the film lasts exactly 92 minutes? I should have known. Here, 17 synchronized cameras, super 35mm and high definition, record the plays of Zidane in actual time during an actual soccer game on April 23, 2005 against Madrid. On this same day there was a mine explosion in Turkey, an Asian-African summit meeting in Jakarta, a car bomb in Iraq, and mysterious frogs exploding in Germany. The technical camera work is amazing and interesting, but the soccer game is boring if focussed on only one player, even if it is the aging star of French soccer history (who went out with a bang in the 2006 World Cup). The ball often mysteriously appears and disappears. In between we see Zidane knocking grass off his shoes – very light-weight looking shoes for someone who might get stepped on more than once. Zidane says that during a game he can hear someone in the crowd coughing, even the ticking of a watch. Shortly before the end, he earns a red card and is forced to leave the game. Déjà vu! Naturally, this is an appropriate film for French Cannes and for the World Soccer championship season, but it is not an original idea. The Hamburg director Hellmuth Costard made Fußball wie noch nie, a film which shows 90 minutes of Englishman George Best playing for Manchester United against Coventry in September 1970.
Hommage à Norman McLaren ****
This year for the first time Cannes classics featured an animator: Norman LcLaren. He won Cannes’ first prize in 1955 for a short film called Blinkity Blank. In this retrospective Cannes showed 13 short films which represented his considerable talents – a long way from Mickey Mouse. McLaren’s films featured real people in pantomime, as well as graphic designs in interesting color combinations “dancing” to music and cartoons with amusing bird motifs. Of course those were the days when everything was hand-drawn. He made an entire animated film about an owl, using just eight lines and two circles:
The homage honors 65 years of animation at the National Film Board of Canada and McLaren was it best-known filmmaker 1941-84. He died at age 73 in Montreal.
Ten Canoes ***
This Australian film stars indigenous amateur actors, who all looked undernourished. They are in the forest to cut bark and make canoes. While the men work, the chief tells his nephew the story of a man who desired his brother’s wife and the ensuing tragedy. The film is in English and Maoi dialect, both in black and white and in color, and vividly depicts a superstitious native people, who have a clear understanding of human nature. They believe that a stranger holds a certain magic to steal souls, that shaking a bone will prevent such actions, and that one should “never trust a man with a small prick” (which is easy enough to judge since they wear little clothing). Their language is vivid and sensible, for example “before I was born” translates to “when I was still a fish in a water hole” and “he decided to…” translates to “his mind wandered and his body followed.”
This Hungarian film by György Pälfi is divided into three episodes which cover three generations. The common denominator is a bath tub which survives the decades and is used for bathing, for laying out the dead, as a bed for a newborn, for washing clothes, for slaughtering a pig, and kneading bread. The grandfather is a young soldier under the charge of a bossy officer who forbids him to look at the women in the village. Naturally he does, which enables the story to continue to the next generation. The son trains for eating competitions and grows to sumo proportions. The organizers complain that this sport has yet to be recognized by the Olympic committee and there are subtle digs about the socialist system of former Communist Hungary. The grandson, rail thin and a taxidermist, cares for his obese father’s cats and mounts dead animals on boards. There is much black comedy, which some viewers didn’t think was funny, or how would you judge a man putting his penis through a knothole in a fence to be bitten by a chicken in search of a worm or another man mounting himself on a pedestal for prosperity even if it means dying. The middle part of the film can compete with all the films about food that you’ve ever seen, starting with Babette’s Fest and Eat Drink Man Woman. This is a very interesting black comedy, although not for everyone’s stomach.
The Wedding Director (Il Regista Di Matrimoni) **
Marco Belloccio directed this Italian film about four weddings and almost one funeral. A film director (how autobiographical does it get?) is depressed at the wedding of his daughter to a devout Catholic (is there any other in Italy?). In order to avoid remaking a film called The Betrothed, he travels to Sicily. There Prince Ferdinando Gravina di Palagonia commissions him to film his daughter Bona in a marriage of convenience to an unloved groom. Between takes, he advises a wedding photographer who photographs newlyweds on the beach. He meets a failed director who is faking his death in order to become famous. Throughout all of this the characters, when they aren’t on the beach, are sitting in elegant old apartments and churches. Amidst the confusion of “where is this going” one philosophy remains constant: in Italy it is the dead who influence the living.
Hans Peter (Nicolai Cleve Broch) is a young member of a special, elite, plain-clothed police force. He specializes in finding evidence against drug dealers by pretending to be a drug user. He meets an old high school girl friend, Mette, who is involved in drugs. Suddenly, he is both inside and outside the law, getting deeper and deeper into having to explain himself to both sides. In the end, he is in jail, but is also on the way to growing up a bit, having made peace with his long-suffering motherand burying his dislike for his deceased father. The entire cast, including director Stefan Faldbakken watched the film with us.
To Get to Heaven First You Have to Die ***
This Russian film opens with 20-year-old Kamal taking off his pants in the doctor’s office. It turns out that his wife is still a virgin months after the wedding. Kamal meets another woman on a bus and sleeps with her. Kamal suffers a bloody nose (is that a symbol for the loss of his virginity?). Her husband, finding them in flagrante delicto, takes advantage of Kamal’s guilty conscience to make him an accomplice to a crime. There were loose ends, such as why did the girl in the bus take him, a stranger, home or why didn’t his family send out a search for him? The audience was full of enthusiastic Russians and they enjoyed themselves without asking questions about plausibility and I’ll admit that there were interesting shots of Russian trains and cemeteries. In the end Kamal returns to his wife, older and wiser, and I really hope that she had her own fun while he was gone.