Across the wide, bleak expanse of Nebraska Alexander Payne cuts two charcoal figures — Will Forte and Bruce Dern. Nebraska is a name that stands alone. It’s the name of one of Bruce Springsteen’s best albums and it’s now the name of one of Alexander Payne’s best films.
As Woody Grant prepares to check out for good, he is driven by the singular goal of cashing in on a Publisher’s Clearing House letter that promises, “You have won $1,000,000!” His wife (the shrill and effective June Squibb) can’t handle him anymore so she calls upon her younger, compassionate son David (Will Forte) to come and take care of the old man. David agrees to drive Woody to Lincoln, Nebraska to cash in on the hope of a lifetime’s dream.
David isn’t a son who’s determined to change his father, get some last-chance validation from him, or argue with him over his ruinous alcoholism. It’s not that kind of story. They are past all that. All David wants now is to help his father chase what remains of his dignity. Payne almost got there with About Schmidt, which was about a retiree with too much time to contemplate his place in the universe, but Woody is far beyond contemplation. He is simply trying to make sense of the full day.
As they close in on the ugly truth that companies lie to millions of Americans every day, forever dangling the bait of the American dream, father and son settle upon an understanding of who they once were to each other and what they’ve now become. Woody’s complicated past emerges belly-up when they hit his hometown. Everyone there thinks he’s struck it rich so those he owes money to come out of the woodwork. Little by little, a man’s whole life in a small mid-western town is colored in. At the tail-end of that life it seems that all Woody’s got left is a wife who can barely tolerate him, two sons still trying to wriggle out from under his shadow, and a simple dream that never materialized. In a town like this it’s all the more humbling when a man’s dream might amount to no more than a brand new truck.
The story of my festival-going life tends to be that I miss the one film that winds up on everyone’s lips. It’s some kind of uncanny anti-radar that never fails. This time though, I managed to catch one that had everyone buzzing to the extent that people were turned away at the door of the next morning’s pick-up screening. La Vie d’Adele (Blue is the Warmest Color), Franco-Tunisian writer/director Abdellatif Kechiche’s Palme d’Or candidate, is a three hour telling of the emotional and sexual coming of age of a young woman loosely adapted from Julie Maroh’s graphic novel. I waited an hour and a half in the rain with no coat or umbrella knowing only it was from the same filmmaker behind 2007′s widely praised arthouse favorite The Secret of the Grain. The irony is that I think I’m the only one who ultimately found the earlier film a little bit disappointing. Not so La Vie d’Adele. Driven by a subtle and naturalistic star-making (and possibly Cannes award-winning) performance from its young lead Adele Exarchopoulos, this is the kind of film experience you hope to have when you come to a film festival.
Helen Mirren for the ultimate win. The Queen? Not so much, unless she’s ill, of course. Mirren won the Oscar, among many other awards, for her portrayal of the Queen. That was one of the most richly deserving Best Actress wins in recent history. Mirren, a veteran who’d been acting for decades turns in the role of a lifetime and wins the Oscar. That is really the Oscars are their best.
When a dying boy’s wish to meet Queen Elizabeth was rejected, Helen Mirren, acting as the Queen, stepped in to have tea with the boy.
Mirren paid for 10-year-old Oliver Burton, from Leicester, England, and his parents to attend her West End show, where she plays the Queen. Afterward, she invited them backstage and had her butler serve them tea, while Oliver played with her Corgis.
Invariably, those of us who attend the fest count the days back home until we depart, then about three quarters of the way through we start counting the days until can get the hell out of here. It isn’t the fault of the lovely festival, which is like a breath of fresh air every year. It is more about missing home. Maybe that’s only true for me. Maybe many people love being here, away from everything. But I have a girl who is about to turn 15 — I don’t want to miss any of it, even the sometimes sullen teen phase. Time away from her is great for a while and then I start to get antsy and homesick and I hate myself for being gone so long.
It is, as all things with life, important to be in the moment, to live it, never to take it for granted. It was with that philosophy that I decided to walk up to Le Suquet region of Cannes. It is the medieval area which has been turned into an enclave of very expensive homes, apartments and restaurants. I’d driven through it, looked at it from the outside but in four years I’d never gone into it. After the morning screening, I took a stroll on the backstreets to find a sandwich shop. My plan was to snap a few photos on the way, since it was a blindingly beautiful sunny day. I would take a small picnic up there and find a bench or something to wolf down a sandwich in front of God and everybody. I went to a little bread place I always frequent when I’m here. We return to the familiar. I bought a baguette filled with vegetables and cheese, a bottle of water and headed upwards towards the tower.
JC Chandor’s Oscar-nominated screenplay, Margin Call, took him ten years to write. It is a deliberate, careful study of what it takes for a man to survive on Wall Street. He’s applied the same deceptively simple writing and directing to his new film, All Is Lost, starring just one person: Robert Redford.
The film begins with a few plain-spoken words from Redford. From that point on, the film relies only on Redford’s actions, with no other dialogue spoken. Still, we learn much about his character from watching what he does. He reveals his character through a series of tests. He isn’t Job, nor is he Pi — this isn’t a film about questioning faith in a higher power, rather, about faith in one’s resourcefulness, faith in one’s self.
After all, we are born with these giant, fancy, spectacular brains. We never know what that intelligence is capable of achieving until we’re put to the test. Redford’s character brings to his challenge to survive decades of life experience etched on his face and lighting his eyes, along with basic education, courage, and good, old-fashioned wits. All Is Lost is a film about perseverance, not survival.