Photo Copyright – Cannes Press Office 2017
“Cinema is the ultimate pervert art. It doesn’t give you what you desire – it tells you how to desire.” – Slavoj Zizek
Black Chalk picks seven films showcasing at the Cannes Festival, including a fantastically strange Gothic Western from director Sofia Coppola starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell to a Korean sci-fi film starring Tilda Swinton from director Bong Joon-ho for your viewing pleasure.
Jeanette: The childhood of Joan of Arc
Ever since I visited The Met in New York and stumbled across the helmet worn by Joan of Arc into battle on display there, she has become something of an obsession to me. I usually find myself pondering how is it that a girl who hears voices could unite a nation at war, lead a series of successful military campaigns with no training, and then end her life being burned at the stake as a witch to transform into a national icon after her death? French director Bruno Dumont took his inspiration on the subject of Joan’s childhood directly from the Charles Peguy poem The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc.
Peguy’s poem dives into the spiritual mysteries of the visions and voices that inspired this young lady to join the fight against the English during the Hundred Years’ War. Dumont does a brilliant job creating a visual narrative that takes Joan from an innocent child to the moment of her powerful spiritual awakening. He says “Everyone knows her story in adult life and her end. I don’t want to re-visit what’s already been done. What hasn’t been explored so much is her childhood… What interests me is how Jeannette became Joan of Arc.” He certainly did his best to answer that question. What adds to the value of this film for me is the fact that all the actors in it were individuals I didn’t know. I found I could lose myself in Joan’s story more easily because of this. Plus the musical scoring was simply fantastic with the visual narrative. It was crafted by Gautier Serre.
Flesh and Sand / Carne y Arena
We in America have become distanced from the plight of the modern refugees and immigrants, the horrifying truth of what most individuals go through just to make it this country. We are overwhelmed by daily doses of powerful messages from people like President Trump who wants to “build a wall to keep them out” to Pope Francis who preaches an ethos of “understanding for their plight.”
What we lose in the translate of these messages are the ‘real life’ struggles of the individuals who are making their way here to the US. Director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu has spent the last four years following a group of immigrants on their journey from Mexico to the US, and this film showcases all their individual hardships. Alejandro says in a statement about the film that it is “an attempt to break the dictatorship of the frame – within which things are just observed – and claim the space to allow the visitor to go through a direct experience walking in the immigrants’ feet, under their skin, and into their hearts.” Alejandro is the first mainstream director to shoot a feature in virtual reality. Flesh and Sand clearly speaks to the level of his dedication to his craft as this 6-minute short delivers a “you-are-there” narrative with its 360-degree visuals.
Honestly anything with Tilda Swinton in it is a must-see for me. I find myself truly enthralled by her amazing ability to utterly transform herself into each of the various roles she plays. Added to the fact that Okja is a sci-fi film that speaks to subjects near and dear to my heart like the downside to globalization, the impact we are having on the environment and our never-ending quest for the ‘next big thing’ and what that will really cost us…
With Okja, director Bong Joon-ho cast a dark spell over my heart, as it takes the audience on a journey with a hippo-like monster Okja and her caretaker a young child named Mija from the forested hills of Korea to the skyscrapers of Manhattan. I found myself getting emotional over Mija’s quest to protect her companion Okja from the dark mysterious corporate entity that wants to use her as a new food source. You might recognize Bong Joon-ho from his film Snowpiercer which is on Netflix starring Chris Evans. Sadly this amazing film has been sidelined by the behind-the-scenes drama this year at Cannes as the festival banned streaming-only films from the festival starting next year. This is a direct action taken against streaming services like Netflix and Hulu that are rapidly growing aka cutting into the profits of cinemas and cable networks.
I don’t know where to begin with director Sofia Coppola’s latest feature, except to say I am addicted! I wasted a whole weekend watching her remake of the 1971 Clint Eastwood revenge story set in the Deep South during the American Civil war alongside the original. No offense to Clint, but I found Sofia’s version much more engaging as she shifted the narrative from the masculine to the feminine in her story. Sofia’s film stars Nicole Kidman as the headmistress of a girl’s boarding school who agrees to shelter a wounded Union Soldier, Colin Farrell with Kirsten Dunst. The film is based Thomas Cullinan’s 1966 novel “A Painted Devil.” As the rivalry between Kidman and Dunst heated up the screen for the attention of Farrell, I found myself spell-bound by all the sexual tension. “The main crux of the story is about the dynamics between a group of women all stuck together, and then also the power shifts between men and women,” Sofia told Entertainment Weekly. “So for me, it’s very universal, but it’s in this exotic setting of the Southern gentility.”
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
I don’t want to give away the story here, but what captured me about this horror-chiller by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos was the cast. Colin Farrell once again partnered up with director Yorgos (their last film, The Lobster, won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2015) to create this psychological mind fuck that left me oddly emotionally numb for hours after watching it. The film plays with the what it means to be a father, and the bond between adults and children. Nicole Kidman stars alongside Farrell as his wife in this film, which also features Barry Keoghan as a fatherless child and Alicia Silverstone as his mother. Yes, it is Alicia’s return to the cinema is a very unstated manner. Worth seeing, yet be prepared to have your mind messed with.
Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power
Honestly, I wasn’t aware of this film being at Cannes until my friend, Shannon who works for Al’s eldest daughter Karenna told me about it. I am glad she brought it to my attention as it proved to an eye-opening documentary. Directed by husband and wife team Jon Shenk and Bonni Cohen, this feature is a follow up to the 2006 Oscar-winning Inconvenient Truth. This sequel brings that story full circle into the new era – one which sees Donald Trump as the new American President. The narrative follows Al Gore around the world as he spreads the dire message about global warming. What makes this film interesting is that it isn’t a repeat of the original. It doesn’t focus on Al’s high-tech presentations on global warming, if anything it is more of a behind-the-scenes look at the human faces affected by this problem. Highly recommend watching this once it is released as it provides a much-needed human element to the problem of global warming.
120 Beats Per Minute
I found myself moved to tears by this film from Moroccan-born French filmmaker Robin Campillo. It tells the visual story of the Paris chapter of the infamous protest group Act Up (Aids Coalition to Unleash Power.) Set in the 1990s early in the days of the AIDS crisis when HIV was little understood and labeled a “Gay Disease,’ this film follows a group of activists who fought the French government’s inaction and public disdain for those with the virus. They combated this cultural attitude with the slogan “Silence = Death.” Campillo is one of three gay filmmakers with features among the 18 in competition at Cannes this year, alongside Todd Haynes and Francois Ozon. A record number of LGBT-inspired films and filmmakers are being showcased this year in Cannes.