Cannes 2018: who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch for Irish films?

Everyone loves Jim Jarmusch’s ‘80s playlist but our correspondent remains unexcited by the PR for ‘Climax’

 ‘Happy as Lazzaro’ speaks to the people of the Italian countryside with a sincerity that still allows flourishes of romanticism.

‘Happy as Lazzaro’ speaks to the people of the Italian countryside with a sincerity that still allows flourishes of romanticism.

 

Imelda O’Reilly at L’Atelier

To the headquarters of L’Atelier at the end of an exterior carpet – not up a red staircase, alas – that leads westwards past the official pavilions of various hustling nations. Imelda O’Reilly, a Kildare woman who, after graduating from Columbia University, now teaches in the United States, has been selected to develop her project with the innovative scheme. Part of the Cannes Festival’s Cinéfondation, L’Atelier offers 15 film-makers the opportunity to seek funding, hunt down distributors and acquire co-producers. Formed in 2005, it has, over the years, helped 145 of 202 projects reach completion. Imelda’s script We’re The Kids in America, developed from a successful short film, moves from Ireland to New York via triptych that stretches across 50 years of immigrant life. L’Atelier provides her with her own sunny spot by the Mediterranean, helps with travel costs and arranges meetings. “It’s the biggest film festival in the world,” she tells me. “It has a great market. They paid to have me come over from New York. They give you some partial funding for the accommodation and, as you can see, we have our own little section in the village. And they give you lunch every day.” All that matters. Not least the lunch. 

Gaspar Noe shocks. Sun sets in west.

Oh, Gaspar Noe, you loveable misanthrope. The director is in town with Climax, his latest “drug-fuelled descent into hell”. Either he or his promotional people have decided (probably rightly) that you either buy the aggressive aesthetic or you don’t. There’s not much middle ground. A poster that appeared on Sunday presses that point home. “You despised I Stand Alone, You Hated Irreversible, You Loathed Enter the Void, You Cursed Love. Now try Climax.” But what if I actually did think those Noe films were just about okay? Is there nothing for me?

Rock with Jim Jarmusch

Good old Jim Jarmusch. The film-maker has assembled a personal playlist to be blasted out before the movie begins in the Director’s Fortnight sidebar. The music skews heavily towards the 1980s and includes such tracks as Pull Up to the Bumper by Grace Jones, April Skies by the Jesus and Mary Jane and Night Nurse by Gregory Isaacs. Jarmusch has been a regular at Cannes, most recently premiering Only Lovers Left Alive, Paterson and Gimme Danger by the Med. Why did nobody think of this before?

Good panamas, bad umbrellas

It probably happens in many such resorts, but the speed with which the chaps on the street selling hats switch to selling umbrellas is startling in Cannes. The town must be ringed with lockups containing nothing but stacks of cheap panamas (which do the job fine) and cheap umbrellas (which really don’t). The rain that descended on Sunday afternoon – causing those of us in the Salle du Soixantième to shuffle nervously as hammering broke out on the thin roof – served as a happy equaliser. Northern critics are no longer at a sweaty disadvantage. I saw somebody wearing a cardigan yesterday.

And today’s reviews from the festival. . .

Three Faces
★★★★

Directed by Jafar Panahi. Starring Behnaz Jafari, Jafar Panahi, Marziyeh Rezaei, Maedeh Erteghaei, Narges Del Aram. In competition, 100 min

What is it with Iranian film-makers and their cars? The latest film from Jafar Panahi – banned from travelling by his own government – is not quite so vehicle-bound as Kiarostami’s Ten or his Taste of Cherry or Pamahi’s own Taxi Tehran. But the two principals in this intimate, clever, incisive film do spend a lot time being filmed by the dashboard camera.

Three Faces begins very much in the style of a thriller. Smartphone footage shows a young woman apparently hanging herself as she tells Behnaz Jafari, a popular actor playing herself, how conservative family members and neighbours have frustrated her own desires to appear on screen. Jafari persuades Panahi, also as himself, to drive her to the young stranger’s home village. Has she faked the footage? Are they investigating a death?

The film quickly settles into typically relaxed, discursive meditation on Iranian attitudes to femininity and the performing arts. The two visitors are welcomed wherever they go, but a sense of hostility to their business hangs around all conversations. A famous actress from the pre-revolutionary era – glanced only at a distance – has been intermittently hounded from her home. There remains an enormous warmth to the director’s approach. Both the semi-fictional version and the one actually behind the camera are open to any citizen’s views and never patronise those they disagree with. Nimbly and economically, he establishes a vivid portrait of an isolated locale.

Like many of his compatriots, Panahi pitches his work somewhere between documentary realism and gentle, mildly absurd comedy. Conversation about the destinations of circumcised foreskins will raise eyebrows and cause legs to be crossed. A stubborn injured bull fouls everyone’s plans.

Behnaz Jafari’s intense, furrowed performance assures the film has weight. There’s sadness here. We get the sense that she knows that, though she has more than most, this society won’t give her all she deserves. Another deceptively rich film from a contemporary great.

Happy as Lazzaro

★★★
Directed by Alice Rohrwacher. Starring Nicoletta Braschi, Sergi López, Alba Rohrwacher, Luca Chikovani. In competition, 130 min.

‘Happy as Lazzaro’ speaks to the people of the Italian countryside with a sincerity that still allows flourishes of romanticism.
‘Happy as Lazzaro’ speaks to the people of the Italian countryside with a sincerity that still allows flourishes of romanticism.

 Winner of the Grand Prix here for The Wonders in 2014, Alice Rohrwacher is unquestionably possessed of a singular voice. Her films speak to the people of the Italian countryside with a sincerity that still allows flourishes of romanticism. There are more lovely images in Happy as Lazzaro. The eccentricity is mostly of the charming class. But there is an annoying randomness to the work that makes it hard to connect emotionally. Characters are wont to pop up and then disappear with no formal goodbye. Moments of surrealism and gritty naturalism co-exist awkwardly. Can we let her off by merely mouthing the words “magic realism”? Give it a go.

 The framing story is unquestionably delightful. The endlessly positive Lazzaro (Nicoletta Braschi) is one of several peasants being creatively oppressed by an aristocratic tobacco magnate. She has convinced the community, isolated years earlier by a flood, that they are still tied by ancient feudal regulations. For them the modern world doesn’t exist. About halfway through, as a clutter of storylines intertwine, Lazzaro plummets dramatically to his death. Can we give away a spoiler? Let’s just say if you ponder the biblical implications of the hero’s name you will get some idea how permanent we can trust that death to be.

Braschi is a delight as the naïf who feels able to trust hucksters and friends with equal enthusiasm. Hélène Louvart’s cinematography brings hazy dreaminess to the countryside a cold carapace to the hostile city. Taken in small chunks the film might work perfectly well. But it doesn’t form a coherent whole. It could end (or stop) at any point in the last half hour.

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