American critics leaving the first press screening of Bowling for Columbine, early in the 55th Cannes Film Festival, were waylaid by international camera crews excessively eager for sound-bite confirmation: Was Michael Moore’s tricky, self-aggrandizing, but nonetheless smack-on-the-head-attention-grabbing polemic about the violent American culture of gun love not an accurate portrait of les Etats-Unis?
Hoo-boy. Moore’s Polaroid pic of idiotic-looking heartland firearms lovers juxtaposed against a selected recap of headline-making tragedies involving children shooting children was very much in vogue at this year’s festival; an American-made indictment of uncouth fellow citizens suited the scent of criticism in the Cote d’Azur air. After all, political passion is what drove many of the films at this year’s festival, a varied, energized selection of new works by auteurist filmmakers, the majority of them Cannes familiars.
But I didn’t see any microphones or cameras thrust at French moviegoers emerging from Demonlover, Olivier Assayas’ incoherent jumble of cyberporn, multinational corporate crime, and feminine treachery, or Irreversible, Gaspar Noe’s vacantly outrageous orgy of graphic rape, revenge, and gay bashing, pondering whether they were accurate representations of la belle France.
Surely someone should have stuck a mike in front of Elia Suleiman, the smooth, droll Palestinian director with the Buster Keaton-deadpan face who won this year’s Jury Award for Divine Intervention, his subversively witty comedy of manners and revenge assembled out of ironic in-the-nabe vignettes set in Nazareth and around a military checkpoint: What was he saying with his extended sequence in which a beautiful, silent woman rises up, Matrix-ninja-like, to slay hapless Israeli soldiers?
In The Religion Hour (My Mother’s Smile), Marco Bellocchio contributed a sinuous, absurdist diatribe against hypocrisy in religion and in the bosom of one’s scheming family. The semisurreal meditation (it arrived precondemned by the Italian Catholic Church) was carried by the attractive, rumpled lugubriousness of Va Savoir’s Sergio Castellitto as the director’s alter ego. Is this how all of Italy thinks?
British director Mike Leigh, returning to the contemporary domestic drama of Secrets & Lies after the glorious historical detour of Topsy-Turvy in 1999, sings another ballad of bad teeth and stunted expectations in All or Nothing, a well-acted downer (featuring such Leigh regulars as Timothy Spall and Lesley Manville) about dank-as-folk neighbors in London who tell each other to f – - off with none of the elan of the Osbournes. Is this the grotty soul of Britain?
Over in Brazil, stylish commercial director Fernando Meirelles employed jarringly beautiful MTV-style aesthetics to depict and theoretically deplore three decades of violent youth in the slums of Rio de Janeiro in City of God, a sleek, restless eye-catcher that might appeal to an Amores Perros-primed crowd when it’s released here early next year. Back in Iran, master narrative minimalist Abbas Kiarostami pared the notion of directing and the requirements of digital filmmaking to the nub in Ten, limiting himself to a few fixed camera positions and an assemblage of conversational vignettes to suggest the oppression facing Iranian women.