I woke up with a Cannes-do attitude. Sorry about the pun, but I’ve got to bulk these diaries out somehow. This is the second of three days, and the first of two consecutive, during my stay in London where I’ll be catching three films, a task that is made more difficult by the necessity to write reports on all three, plus a daily diary, and all without wifi on this malfunctioning laptop. What work I could get done before screening #1, I’d have to do quickly, as my film-watching day was set to commence at 12:00.
All three of today’s films were Cannes competition entries: from the official selection, Foxcatcher and Leviathan, and, sandwiched between them, Un Certain Regard selection Jauja. That’s the kind of thing that makes you question the Cannes selection process. First was Foxcatcher, a film which I’d been looking forward to as a promising mainstream American product, but was also approaching with a critical eye – would this studio film probe as deeply as the best films I’ve seen here at LFF, or would it be just atmospheric fluff, handsomely made but hollow, effective but forgettable. I was very pleased with how the film turned out to be: sharp, subversive, and most handsomely made indeed. It represents an even more radical deconstruction of the classic American man, whether defined by wealth, physical strength or decent, family-man integrity, than Miller’s first narrative film, Capote, and it’s a whole world away, thematically, from Moneyball. Though its real-life story and straightforward style may seem to reject the notion of multiple interpretations, there’s at least one that rings out very loudly – Foxcatcher is an alternative homoerotic tragedy, gay porn disguised as wrestling thriller, its three central characters each identifiable gay archetypes and each falling prey to the true foxcatcher, the culture that insists on their conformity, then punishes them when they fail to meet their expectations. That’s what I took from the film, at least. Perhaps I was just transfixed by the outline of Channing Tatum’s cock.
With the wifi remaining determinedly down on the laptop, I was forced to seek out an internet cafe. Not the first one, it was shit, the internet barely worked, which only aggravated my anxiety. I tried a second, and was much more successful, getting the work I needed to get done completed efficiently. So efficient was I that I even shed some weight in the process – not a lot, just the equivalent of a pen drive. It wouldn’t be until I returned to the hostel to complete my day’s work after the next two films that I’d realise my mistake. It didn’t end up making m work impossible, just another obstacle to overcome in what was already a stressful experience. Never mind, I have films to watch. That’s why I’m here, and I’m still enthused about seeing each and every one of them, and still exhilarated by the experience. Obviously I’ll be returning to London next year.
Jauja was the one film I resolutely did not want a Q&A for today. I’d have roughly 50 minutes to get out of Leicester Square and make it down the road to Curzon Mayfair; that’s a journey that can be made by foot in 20 minutes, but who knows, maybe the film would start late, and maybe there’d be an introduction, and maybe that introduction would be long, and maybe all that actually did happen and my travel time would be cut to 30 minutes. And maybe the Q&A would be with the film’s lead actor, producer and composer, Viggo Mortensen. And maybe he’d be eloquent and insightful and funny and personable and smartly-attired. By the time I’d ran to and from the tube to the Curzon for Leviathan, I bet he was still talking. He was worth listening to – it’s nothing to do with his stardom, it’s due to all of the above qualities that made his interview thereabouts the most illuminating and interesting of the festival so far, and he’s not even the film’s director or writer. Leaving that session early was almost as great a disappointment as needlessly missing the Q&A with Frederick Wiseman after National Gallery. Jauja, btw, is a beautiful, mystical, intoxicatingly wonderful film, director Lisandro Alonso applying his inimitable style to a narrative with more clarity than his former films, but with an equal amount of cryptic philosophical wisdom, so stylishly rendered via Alonso’s incredible mastery of cinematic language.
Here’s a foreboding detail: Curzon Mayfair don’t like to start their films on time. Last year, when I was late for a screening of Borgman at this cinema, I missed the first part of the film – that’s how it ought to go, right? Perhaps I could have hung around longer to listen to more of what Viggo Mortensen had had to say, because their screening of Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan didn’t get underway until 21:10, ten minutes later than officially scheduled. That’d be forgivable were there special guests to wait for, but there weren’t; that’d be acceptable for my final screening on Sunday, The Duke of Burgundy, were I not booked on a flight that leaves less than two hours after that film finishes. They’d better fucking start that screening on time. They’d srsly better. Leviathan was met at Cannes with such enormous critical praise that Jane Campion’s jury’s decision to reward the film with the Screenplay prize was considered, by many, to be a snub. What nonsense. Leviathan is a good film, ambitious and forceful, an epic satire on an intimate scale. One of the reasons I’d been so satisfied attending the Q&A with Viggo Mortensen was how he remarked on the increased power of cinematic text as universal allegory when its specificities are refined as diligently as possible – this is precisely how Leviathan functions, a narrow portrait of a family’s fight against brutish local authorities to maintain control over their land, but also an expansive portrait of humankind and our irresponsible, destructive nature, both over ourselves and over one another. It’s a film that comments on our species’ need to have a home of our own, but also on our outrageous self-importance in believing that we could ever own a piece of this planet.
And then I noticed my pen drive was missing. It had already been a long day. #sickofthisshit. The films were good, though, very good, in fact. I’d readily watch all of them again – they’d surely all reward repeat viewings. Leviathan has been touted as a potential Oscar contender – against all the odds, Russia selected it as their official submission for the Foreign Language Film category, their first smart choice in years. I’m not certain it’ll get in: it might have to rely on the committee vote, despite its broad appeal and frontrunner status, and that vote could be very competitive in a formidable year in his category. It’s gonna get a main category eligibility run too; the writers might pick up on it, as the Cannes jury did, and the critics’ groups could show it some love. Foxcatcher ought to make a splash in major categories come awards season, it’s good enough, frankly. All of the main performers are worthy nominees for big awards; Steve Carell is just marvellous, utterly outstanding. It’d be a worthier Best Picture winner than most.
Tomorrow, I see Tomm Moore’s animated Song of the Sea, Chiung Chiang Hsiu’s The Furthest End Awaits, and David Oelhoffen’s Far from Men. It’ll be a quick turnaround between those last two, so let’s hope The Furthest End Awaits kicks off on time. And let’s also hope that Viggo’s still in town, cos I’ve plenty of time after Far from Men and would love to hear more from this immensely talented artist.
Please come back tomorrow. Please don’t leave me here. Come back to cold mountain fs
[Scroll down to find links to all seven of Paddy’s LFF Journal entries featured this past week – Ryan]