Film

Cannes 2012: Day 11 & 12 - 'Mud' + 'Beyond the Hills' + The Best of the Fest

Cannes finishes with up-and-comer Jeff Nichols' Mud and Romanian Cristian Mungiu's Beyond the Hills and we rank the best of Cannes 2012.

The Cannes Competition line-up is traditionally an exclusive gathering of established auteurs or rising young filmmakers who have paid their dues competing in other strands of the fest’s vast official selection. It can therefore take someone like Hong Sang-soo multiple Un Certain Regard selections before he finally gets invited to main competition (as he finally did this year with his very fine In Another Country). Meanwhile, there are directors like Ken Loach, who, once having breached the Competition, get a seemingly free pass to future births, no matter the quality of the submitted work. By these standards, then, one of the more unexpected inclusions in this year’s line-up was Jeff Nichols, a young American director who’s previous CV includes only two films, the under-seen Shotgun Stories and last year’s Critic’s Week winner, Take Shelter. But I certainly don’t begrudge Nichols or his new film, Mud, this opportunity: Based on the excellent Take Shelter alone, a fighting chance at some legitimate Cannes hardware is more than appropriate, even without working his way up the proverbial totem, cutting his teeth multiple times over in less visible line-ups.

Mud

Mud was the final Competition film to screen for both critics and audiences this year, premiering on the 11th and final official day of the Competition, and it played like a sharp gust of fresh air after ten days of heady art films (Like Someone in Love, Post Tenebras Lux), unfortunate Hollywood star vehicles (Lawless, Killing Them Softly), and whatever you want to call Holy Motors. That it’s ultimately a few strides behind the still chilling Take Shelter is of no grand consequence when true storytelling acumen seemed to be at something of a premium throughout the festival. What Mud should do, then, is finally establish Nichols as a prominent American indie craftsman and a young auteur worthy of taking small risks on in return for sharply observed character pieces disguised as genre outlets. If Take Shelter was the manifestation of one deteriorating man’s inner turmoil writ large across a thriller template, then Mud is the naive expression of a child’s curiosity streamlined across the same turbulent format.

Starring the recently focused Matthew McConaughey as the title character, a convict on the lam along the islands of the Mississippi who tasks a couple of young local boys with helping him accomplish his goal of escape and reconciliation with his girlfriend as he’s violently pursued by the family he wronged, Mud takes small town family dynamics and bleeds tension from it’s conventions and nascent danger. One of the more rewarding aspects of the film is Nichols’ way with unraveling his story, slowly and with little fanfare, only to burst with moments of earned expression. He does lean a little too much on foreshadowing here, robbing some of his late plot developments of the surprise factor they might normally carry, and some of the characters (Reese Witherspoon’s lightning rod girlfriend, for example) can feel like little more the devices to get us from Point A to Point B, but Nichols’ sense of atmosphere, keen eye for detail, and ear for authentic dialogue carry the film to satisfying lengths. And the acting throughout is top notch (the performance by Tye Sheridan, best known as one of the lesser seen brothers in Malick’s The Tree of Life, should, if all was right in the world, be a star-making one), furthering confirming Nichols’ broad skill set. And he’s made well enough on the Competition risk that future invites back to the Croisette seem inevitable.


Coming out of nowhere to win the Palme d’Or your first time in Competition is another, even more surefire way of garnering attention from the Cannes selection committee any time you return with a new film. In 2007, Romania’s Cristian Mungiu brought to the Competition perhaps the most universally agreed upon title and unanimously received Palme winner in the last couple decades. His harrowing 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, in addition to continuing to all but represent the then-budding Romanian New Wave to those less inclined to follow such movements, also triggered a reestablishment of the rules utilized by the Documentary branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for selecting nominees, having snubbed what everyone had penciled in for the eventual Oscar, let alone as a qualifying nominee. Of course, it’s taken him five years to emerge with a follow-up, further stoking anticipation for what looked to be yet another emotionally draining experience.

Beyond the Hills

Mungiu’s latest, Beyond the Hills, premiered about midway through the fest. Its 150-minute runtime forced me to reschedule the film for the last day of the festival, when all Competition titles play one last time in case of you’ve missed something potentially important along the way. So by this point I’d heard reactions to the film, which ranged from malicious to indifferent to exuberant, not helping curb my curiosity. Based on it’s lengthy runtime, severe premise -- a young women slowly crumbles, courting theories of demon possession, as she visits an old friend at her convent, attempting to remove her from the presumed oppression of her Priest and return home to Germany -- and the austerity employed by the New Romanian guard had my interest piqued for a difficult follow-up to a comparatively accessible debut -- another Aurora to Cristi Puiu’s widely celebrated The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, so to speak.

Turns out I made the right decision to see this film and only this film on the final day of the festival, just hours before it would take home multiple statues during the evening’s awards gala. An epic, shattering indictment of religious orthodoxy and a poignant cross-examination of two souls drifting opposite each other towards potentially similar fates, Beyond the Hills expands Mungiu’s already rigid formalism and interest in the female psyche to a fascinating new dimension. It’s not, as anticipated, an oblique, challenging follow-up like Aurora, but rather a rich and more ambitious journey through the emotional tremors stoked by faith and friendship, and the psychological release precipitated by love. Mungiu, for all his aesthetic ingenuity (and this film is truly a marvel of compositional prowess, design, and staging), is proving to be this movement’s most natural storyteller. Indeed, there’s little respite offered throughout Beyond the Hills, as from moment to moment we’re rarely given pause from dialogue or a development in narrative intrigue.

The two young actresses at the heart of the film, Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur, are both marvelous (they ended up sharing the Best Actress prize, in a bit of an upset over Amour’s Emmanuelle Riva), balancing both the symbolic as well as the human aspects of their characters, taking each to different yet equally tragic ends. The way Mungiu separates, contrasts, and mirrors the two within the frame at any given moment pits the two in a quiet tug-of-war through which film gains subtle power. The deep focus compositions enable Mungiu to tell multiple stories and impart subtle details as he stacks the compositions with layers of characters and objects, one on top of the other, his mise-en-scène speaking for outlying characters and at times engaging in a dialogue with the audience itself. Meanwhile, Valeriu Andriuta’s towering Priest is an intriguing figure of contradiction, his thought to be well meaning decisions continually sending his remote religious community further into wells of conspiracy and controversy. Beyond the Hills is fascinating in all the ways you can’t tell at any one moment who’s in the wrong or who’s pursuing the most morally upright motive. It unravels something like life itself: slowly, and with escalating intrigue, before individual plights become intertwined and we can’t take back whatever questionable decisions may have sent us careening into despair. It’s plays as an near-overwhelming discourse on organized religion and the human condition, and it could come to be seen as one of the key works of the still-vital Romanian New Wave.


And with that, it comes to an end. I honestly couldn’t think of a more appropriate way to end an exhausting 12-day festival than with an equally exhausting work of the sort that Cannes traditionally specializes in. It was an untraditional festival in a lot of ways, though, and perhaps a curious one to call my first, but with three films that I would qualify as major works in contemporary cinema, a fruitful one. Beyond that it felt more deep than top-loaded or thin, and there are certainly worse things than seeing a dozen or more solid films in the greatest locale in the world (even the bad films -- and there were some outright bad films -- illicit significantly softer blows because of this). But nonetheless the best standout, and I’ll utilize these closing words to rank what I feel are the ten most significant achievements to play at the 65th Annual Cannes Film Festival. As a note, I’ve excluded both Miguel Gomes’ Tabu and Christian Petzold’s Barbara (both of which I reviewed in these pages) from consideration here, as each premiered in Berlin earlier this year and were not a part of the Cannes Official Selection. Therefore, a rough outline of the ten best from the 2012 Cannes Film Festival:

01) Like Someone In Love (Abbas Kiarostami)

02) Post Tenebras Lux (Carlos Reygadas)

03) Beyond the Hills (Cristian Mungiu)

04) La noche de enfrente (Raoul Ruiz)

05) Amour (Michael Haneke)

06) Student (Darezhan Omirbaev)

07) Paradise: Love (Ulrich Seidl)

08) In Another Country (Hong Sang-soo)

09) You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (Alain Resnais)

10) Holy Motors (Leos Carax)

In the end I only missed a few films I really wanted to see, and many of those decisions we’re facilitated by the fact that they’ll be seeing U.S. release in due time and, more directly, because Cannes is just a glorious place to experience a different kind of life away from the movies as well. But each of these titles has resonated with me for different reasons: Like Someone in Love’s audacious foreplay with real-time narrative; La noche de enfrente’s heart-stirring ruminations of a man reconciling a life even as he confronts death; Student’s paradoxically bold yet subtle character disclosure and stylistic ellipses; You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet’s infectious celebration of Resnais’ own career and the acting troupe that’s seen him through him 90 years; and even Holy Motors, unexpectedly haunting the outskirts of my memory with images of Denis Lavant soulfully removing the day’s makeup only to reembark on a nighttime waltz through some vividly imagined set pieces. This may prove to be the fest’s one true grower, and while it may also, in the end, be not much more than a two-hour gimmick, it is without a doubt an original one and one I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt right now. But like any art worth debating, these and many other of this year’s Cannes titles are open to interpretation, and in every case are worthy of the conversations they have and will be provoking as they (hopefully) open around the world. So it’s an ongoing conversation, then, and one we’ll be having with many of these films for years to come.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta



19. Antwood: Sponsored Content (Planet Mu)

Sponsored Content is a noisy, chaotic, occasionally beautiful work with a dark sense of humor that's frequently deployed to get Antwood's point across. For instance, throughout the aforementioned "Disable Ad Blocker", which sounds mostly like the creepy side of Tangerine Dream's early '80s experimental output, distorted slogans and recognizable themes worm their way into the mix. "I'm Loving It", we hear at one point, the Sony PlayStation startup music at another. And then there's a ten-second clip of what sounds like someone getting killed in a horror movie. What is there to make of the coexistence of those sorts of samples? Probably nothing explicit, just the uneasiness of benign and instantly-recognizable brand content in the midst of harsh, difficult art. Perhaps quality must to some extent be tied to sponsorship. That Antwood can make this point amidst blasts and washes of experimental electronic mayhem is quite the achievement. - Mike Schiller



18. Bonobo - Migration (Ninja Tune)

Although Bonobo, a.k.a. Simon Green, has been vocal in the past about not making personality driven music, Migration is, in many respects, a classic sounding Bonobo record. Green continues to build sonic collages out of chirping synths, jazz-influenced drums, sweeping strings and light touches of piano but on Migration sounds more confident than ever. He has an ability to tap into the emotions like few others such as on the gorgeous "Break Apart" and the more percussive "Surface". However, Bonobo also works to broaden his sound. The electro-classical instrumental "Second Sun" floats along wistfully, sounding like it could have fit snugly onto a Erased Tapes compilation, while the precise and intricate "Grains" shows the more intimate and reflective side of his work. On the flipside, the higher tempo, beat driven tracks such as "Outlier" and "Kerala" perfectly exhibit his understanding of what works on the dance floor while on "Bambro Koyo Ganda" he even weaves North African rhythms into the fabric. Migration is a multifaceted album full of personality and all the better for it. - Paul Carr


17. Kiasmos - Blurred EP (Erased Tapes)

The Icelandic duo of Olafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen, aka Kiasmos, is a perfect example of a pair of artists coming from two very different musical backgrounds, finding an unmistakable common ground to create something genuinely distinctive. Arnalds, more known for his minimal piano and string work, and Rasmussen, approaching from a more electropop direction, have successfully explored the middle ground between their different musical approaches and in doing so crafted affecting minimalist electronic music. Blurred is one of the most emotionally engaging electronic releases of the year. The duo is working from a refined and bright sonic palette as they consummately layer fine, measured sounds together. It is an intricate yet unforced and natural sounding set of songs with every song allowed room to bloom gradually. - Paul Carr



16. Ellen Allien - Nost (BPitch Control)

BPitch boss and longtime lynchpin of the DJ scene in Berlin, Ellen Allien's seven full-length releases show an artist constantly reinventing herself. Case in point, her 2013 offering, LISm, was a largely beat-less ambient work designed to accompany an artsy dance piece, while its follow-up, 2017's Nost, is a hardcore techno journey, spiritually born in the nightclubs and warehouses of the early '90s. It boasts nine straight techno bangers, beautifully minimalist arrangements with haunting vocals snippets and ever propulsive beats, all of which harken back to a hallowed, golden, mostly-imagined age when electronic music was still very much underground, and seemingly anything was possible. - Alan Ranta

It's just past noon on a Tuesday, somewhere in Massachusetts and Eric Earley sounds tired.

Since 2003, Earley's band, Blitzen Trapper, have combined folk, rock and whatever else is lying around to create music that manages to be both enigmatic and accessible. Since their breakthrough album Furr released in 2008 on Sub Pop, the band has achieved critical acclaim and moderate success, but they're still some distance away from enjoying the champagne lifestyle.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image