Dispatch from Cannes: "Antichrist," "Agora," Keats, Il Duce, Ebert
Lisa Nesselson, our guest correspondent at this year's Cannes Film Festival, graces this blog with her account of what's transpired so far, including the long awaited appearance of "Antichrist,"the latest opus from self-confessed "world's greatest filmmaker," Lars Von Trier.
We're, like, five days into the 62nd Cannes Film Festival,
and I gotta tell you, "Agora" rocks and "Kinatay"
sucks. Oh, wait -- this isn't that kind
Five days into the 62nd Festival de Cannes, the lint-free
navel around which the cinema revolves much like the earth in its eternal
trajectory around the sun, one can only gaze at the screen with thousands of
one's fellow acolytes and marvel at being here at the apex and epicenter of
cinematic creativity. Oh, wait, this
isn't that kind of blog either.
Since it would be unwieldy for the auditorium's capacity of
1800 international film critics to shout out how many stars they'd give a movie
they've just seen, the crowd resorts to applause and/or boos. In the
Competition line-up, Lars Von Trier's "Antichrist" has gotten the
most of the latter to date.
Von Trier confesses in the press kit that this is "the
most important film of my entire career!" Although the
writer/director/provocateur has always had a knack for self-promotion -- on no
fewer than three occasions during the film's Monday press conference he managed
to work into the conversation that he's "the best director in the
world" -- even he'd have a hard time topping the wording of the press release from the Pompidou Center in Paris for the
complete retrospective of his work (including films he shot between the ages of
11 and 13) slated from June 8-22.20 For
anyone trying to situate Von Trier's place in the creative firmament, he is
described as "a Danish filmmaker both adulated and decried, and heir to
Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, Fritz Lang and Orson Welles."
Rats. I was going to
drop that very sequence of names to describe myself on a job application. (I
know, I know -- it's not all that often you see a classified ad under the
heading PRETENTIOUS MYTHOMANIACS WANTED.)
"Antichrist" takes place almost entirely in a
remote wooded setting full of tall trees, the better to go out on a limb. Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe, a
formerly loving couple afflicted by bottomless, entirely justified, grief,
throw themselves into a form of self-prescribed couples therapy such as that
dispensed in the environs of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." Throw in some
talking animals, literally stunning visuals and Mother Nature's most devilish
tricks and what's not to like?
Speaking of being anti-Christ, religious opinions create a
world of trouble in Alejandro Amenabar's "Agora." Set in the 4th
century A.D. in Alexandria,
Egypt, the film
introduces us to one of at least three real-life heroines in this year's line-up
who were born far far too soon for their own good.
Rachel Weisz glows with a beautiful mind to match her hardly
shoddy exterior as Hypatia, an astronomer and philosopher whose father Theon
(Michael Lonsdale) is head librarian at the Library of Alexandria.
(There were two -- who knew?
The first branch was destroyed when Caesar hit town and the second one
was sacked by fundamentalist Christians offended by the open stacks of scrolls
and intellectual activity.)
Hypatia is pleasantly obsessed with the question of whether
or not the earth moves, while her fellow citizens are more and more occupied
with dissing each other's gods. In the
lull after the authorities stopped tossing them to the nearest lion, Christians
have been fruitful and multiplied. Once
they are permitted to openly profess their beliefs in the title spot, the
science-and-reason crowd, made up of pagans, is quickly outnumbered. The pre-show for the Dark Ages gets underway
when Christians not only get the upper hand but take lethal issue with the
Two men, one well-born, the other a slave, are in love with
Hypatia who, interestingly, doesn't see the percentage in giving up her life of
free inquiry to be subservient to a man, however much he supports her
Another real-life figure to get the short end of the distaff
stick is Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), a talented and headstrong young
seamstress and clothing designer who, in an English village in 1818, meets the
poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw), to whose name the words "doomed" and
"Romantic" are frequently affixed.
They are the protagonists of Jane Campion's sensitive and affecting
Shortly after meeting Miss Brawne, Mr. Keats calls her a
minx. He may even call her a minxess.
We need to revive this charming and only slightly derogatory
term posthaste. Imagine the cleansing
thrill of reading "Miss Britney Spears, the noted minx, is said to possess
external reproductive organs of a most fetching contour. This our reporter was
able to confirm upon witnessing the minx of the hour's perhaps less than demure
egress from a motor-driven conveyance."
Polite English society of less than 200 years ago was so
attuned to language and so constrained in its courtship rituals and notions of
propriety that a man sending a few lines of prose or verse to a female
acquaintance was on a par with buying someone a drink followed by "Your
place or mine?" today. Anyone
wondering what it might be like to be lovesick will find as fine a cinematic
depiction as possible on screen.
With each utterance an auditory feast and comparative
literature the stuff of spirited daily conversation, one can't help wondering
how we went from this to Twitter in less than two centuries.
The third real-life heroine is Ida Dalser (Giovanna
Mezzogiorno), depicted in Marco Bellochio's "Vincere," who gave birth to Mussolini's son Benito Albino, who the budding
young journalist and politician recognized only to later doctor the documents,
deny Ida's claim and have her committed to an insane asylum.
Ida stuck to her guns with heartbreaking results.
Mussolini in 1907 at a public meeting asks to borrow a
watch. Noting the time he declares
"If God does not strike me dead in the next 5 minutes, He doesn't
exist." God was obviously on his coffee break -- or playing cards with the
unemployed pagan gods left over from the old Roman Empire
-- and so the wider world as well as Ida Dalser and her unfortunate son got
saddled with the original deadbeat dad.
On an infinitely lighter note, on Friday Martin Scorsese
helped dedicate the Roger
Center at the American
Pavillion with Roger and his wife Chaz in attendance and beaming. Scorsese, the
subject of Roger's most recent book, praised Roger for being such a champion of
all kinds of films and Roger, using the voice synthesizer on his computer explained
that he'd spent 7 years of his life in Cannes
"one week at a time."
Filmjerk.com added a few years to Roger's track record,
reporting that "Sisk then introduced the
Cannes Festival Director, Thierry Fremaux, who also spoke of Ebert's key
involvement with the Festival since its inception." Roger is an extraordinary
and prolific writer, but Mr. and Mrs. Ebert hadn't "incepted" Roger
yet when the first festival got underway in 1939, only to be called off when
Germany invaded Poland.
This led directly to WWII and Quentin Tarantino's
Which the world (or that portion of its population in Cannes) will discover on
-- Lisa Nesselson