Receiving its first public screening outside the U.S. at the 66th Locarno Film Festival, Baltasar Kormákur’s 2 Guns capped the open-air opening ceremony with thunder roaring overhead. Summarising its director’s career arc thus far (his debut feature 101 Reykjavik premiered here in 2000), this heady Hollywood buddy movie also demonstrated the festival’s varied appeal. Diversity might be what every major festival aspires to, of course, but in Locarno this seems especially the case, offering as it does everything from the vertiginously tiered 270-seat PalaVideo theater to the even-surfaced 8,000-seat Piazza Grande, the open-air setup that takes over the city center for the duration of the festival.
While 2 Guns eventually fell victim to a vicious downpour, a pre-festival screening of Chinatown the previous evening had confirmed to this first-time attendee that size does indeed matter. Already familiar with Roman Polanski’s neo-noir, I settled into travel-weary autopilot and sat there bedazzled by the film’s imagery, which seemingly attained a renewed power as it played on Europe’s biggest cinema screen. It was also the first time I had seen the film with an audience. The audible gasps at the “kitty cat” scene resonated throughout the square, and the collective mumble that greeted Faye Dunaway’s “My sister! My daughter!” meltdown eerily prefigured the thunderstorm that marred the official ceremony the subsequent evening.
We’re now at the festival’s midway point. In terms of the films that have screened thus far, the results have been as mixed as the weather. Among those receiving their world premieres in the International Competition, two stood out due to their directors’ previous works: Corneliu Porumboiu’s When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism and Joanna Hogg’s Exhibition. While the former isn’t quite as provocative as its title might suggest, the latter is another clear and precise articulation of its maker’s fondness for interpretable mononyms. Indeed, while Exhibition’s title connotes at least three levels of meaning (artistic, emotional and physical), When Evening Falls simply paints a picture of a director who wants to have his cake and devour it too.
Porumboiu’s prior Police, Adjective, one of the finest features of recent years, was a distinctively minimalist policier that concluded with an epic conversational standoff. When Evening Falls makes abundant use of talky long takes, and in a way that no longer feels necessary or even experimental. To be sure, the last thing we needed from a director as appreciably talented as Porumboiu was a kind of mission statement—much less a retroactive one. His feel for the dialectic remains, but what does his film say about artistry that others, such as those by Abbas Kiarostami and, more recently, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, haven’t already articulated?
In comparison, Hogg’s third feature exhibits the filmmaker’s general sensibilities while also providing evidence of a profitably daring departure. Following the holiday homes that were the site of familial and social tensions in 2008’s Unrelated and 2010’s Archipelago, Exhibition is a pained and probing study of a couple’s declining marriage, conditioned by the stiff interior of their 18-year abode—a house that Hogg herself has been familiar with for years, having been designed and previously owned by architect James Melvin, to whose memory the film is dedicated.
Elsewhere, The Mute, Daniel and Diego Vega’s second feature following 2010’s Un Certain Regard winner Octubre, is unlikely to win over the Lav Diaz-led jury. Though its synopses suggest a dark and brooding thriller about endemic corruption in present-day Peru’s judicial system, The Mute’s more immediate concerns are domestic politics and the burdens of intergenerational expectation. Selected as part of the Cinefondation L’Atelier funding arm at Cannes 2011 and produced by Carlos Reygadas, the Vegas’ latest effort is not without its strengths, among them a strong compositional precision and some deadpan humor, but it wears thinner as it moves along, its visual palette and vocabulary too unvaried to sustain one’s interest in its increasingly absurd plot.
Meanwhile, in the Cineastes of the Present section, Matthew Johnson stars in his own directorial debut feature The Dirties. Doubling up on duties was a presumably easy decision for Johnson, for he and the film both display an instinctive need to turn every life experience into a creative endeavour. Here, the traumas of high school bullying are observed through the prism of a lo-fi short-video homework assignment, of which this may very well be an unwieldy but self-vindicating director’s cut. Unashamedly referencing a kaleidoscope of influences, this reworking of the high school massacre film sets up a metafictional, fly-on-the-wall reality only to demystify it and create something that funnily, unsettlingly, and very persistently eludes one’s grasp. While watching it, I recalled the work of Mexican director Nicolás Pereda, who by coincidence is one of the five jury members overseeing the section.
Perhaps the best film I’ve seen so far is another feature debut, the puzzlingly titled Sense of Humor. French actress Marilyne Canto takes the directorial reins of a script written by herself and Maud Ameline, in which widowed mother Elise (Canto) finds herself falling for lover Paul (Antoine Chappey) in spite of a persistent desire to remain independent. I liked the film’s unfussy embrace of life as inherently complicated, and the matter-of-fact way in which its emotional to-and-fros develop, stall, and progress again in a manner that’s delicately handled and excellently performed. As good as the two adults are, though, Samson Dajczman’s performance as Elise’s 10-year-old son, Léo, is one of the most impressive performances I’ve seen this year.
The Locarno Film Festival runs from August 7—17.
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay
This season, Hollywood is invested in celebrating the films they love while dodging the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.
You know, if it weren’t for the show’s producers effectively and repeatedly saying everything about the Academy Awards is terrible and needs to be changed, and the year’s top-tier contenders inadvertently confirming their claims, this would’ve been a comparatively fun and suspenseful Oscar season. None of us who follow the Academy Awards expect great films to win; we just hope the marathon of precursors don’t turn into a Groundhog Day-style rinse and repeat for the same film, ad nauseam.
On that score, mission accomplished. The guilds have been handing their awards out this season as though they met beforehand and assigned each voting body a different title from Oscar’s best picture list so as not to tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film. SAG? Black Panther. PGA? Green Book. DGA? Roma. ASC? Cold War. ACE? Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Even awards-season kryptonite A Star Is Born got an award for contemporary makeup from the MUAHS. (That’s the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild, not the sound Lady Gaga fans have been making ever since A Star Is Born’s teaser trailer dropped last year.)
Not to be outdone, the Writers Guild of America announced their winners last weekend, and not only did presumed adapted screenplay frontrunner BlacKkKlansman wind up stymied by Can You Ever Forgive Me?, but the original screenplay prize went to Eighth Grade, which wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar. Bo Burnham twisted the knife into AMPAS during his acceptance speech: “To the other nominees in the category, have fun at the Oscars, losers!” In both his sarcasm and his surprise, it’s safe to say he speaks on behalf of us all.
As is always the case, WGA’s narrow eligibility rules kept a presumed favorite, The Favourite, out of this crucial trial heat. But as the balloting period comes to a close, the question remains just how much enthusiasm or affection voters have for either of the two films with the most nominations (Roma being the other). As a recent “can’t we all just get along” appeal by Time’s Stephanie Zacharek illustrates, the thing Hollywood is most invested in this season involves bending over backward, Matrix-style, to celebrate the films they love and still dodge the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.
Maybe it’s just tunnel vision from the cultural vacuum Oscar voters all-too-understandably would prefer to live in this year, but doesn’t it seem like The Favourite’s tastefully ribald peppering of posh-accented C-words would be no match for the steady litany of neo-Archie Bunkerisms spewing from Viggo Mortensen’s crooked mouth? Especially with First Reformed’s Paul Schrader siphoning votes from among the academy’s presumably more vanguard new recruits? We’ll fold our words in half and eat them whole if we’re wrong, but Oscar’s old guard, unlike John Wayne, is still alive and, well, pissed.
Will Win: Green Book
Could Win: The Favourite
Should Win: First Reformed
Watch: Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, Starring Honor Swinton Byrne and Tilda Swinton, Gets First Trailer
Joanna Hogg has been flying under the radar for some time, but that’s poised to change in a big way.
British film director and screenwriter Joanna Hogg, whose impeccably crafted 2013 film Exhibition we praised on these pages for its “disarming mixture of the remarkable and the banal,” has been flying under the radar for the better part of her career. But that’s poised to change in a big way with the release of her latest film, The Souvenir, which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Prior to the film’s world premiere at the festival, A24 and Curzon Artificial Eye acquired its U.S. and U.K. distribution rights, respectively. Below is the official description of the film:
A shy but ambitious film student (Honor Swinton Byrne) begins to find her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man (Tom Burke). She defies her protective mother (Tilda Swinton) and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship that comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams.
And below is the film’s first trailer:
A24 will release The Souvenir on May 17.
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing
For appealing to voters’ nostalgia for drunken karaoke nights of yore, one film has the upper hand here.
Given what Eric wrote about the sound editing category yesterday, it now behooves me to not beat around the bush here. Also, it’s my birthday, and there are better things for me to do today than count all the ways that Eric and I talk ourselves out of correct guesses in the two sound categories, as well as step on each other’s toes throughout the entirety of our Oscar-prediction cycle. In short, it’s very noisy. Which is how Oscar likes it when it comes to sound, though maybe not as much the case with sound mixing, where the spoils quite often go to best picture nominees that also happen to be musicals (Les Misérables) or musical-adjacent (Whiplash). Only two films fit that bill this year, and since 2019 is already making a concerted effort to top 2018 as the worst year ever, there’s no reason to believe that the scarcely fat-bottomed mixing of Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody will take this in a walk, for appealing to voters’ nostalgia for drunken karaoke nights of yore.
Will Win: Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody
Could Win: A Star Is Born
Should Win: First Man