With his latest, Winter Sleep, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s characteristic obsession with his country’s variegated topography takes him to Cappadocia, a remote stretch of the Anatolian countryside whose strange mound-like formations provide the backdrop for an intimate tale of marital take-and-no-give that’s been stretched (for no apparent reason other than indulgence) to over three hours. Much like the lead character, a charismatic former actor who now runs the Hotel Othello, Ceylan’s film doesn’t know when to let an argument rest. The obvious analogue here would be Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage; the key difference lies in Winter Sleep’s absolute refusal to let anything be at emotional stake. The husband expounds, his wife or sister rebuts, and then he uses his considerable rhetorical acumen to put them in their place. A subplot dealing with a dispute between the hotelier and his tenant farmers seems left over from an earlier film. And in case there were any doubt as to the fatuousness of Ceylan’s approach here, look no further than an excruciatingly protracted scene involving an envelope stuffed with money and a crackling fireplace telegraphs its inevitable conclusion from the start. Perhaps such inexorability is Ceylan’s true theme. If so, he still has to answer for taking nearly forever to get there.
Damián Szifrón’s piquant portmanteau film, Wild Tales offers up six hot-blooded and often hilarious stories of revenge, many of which bear the discernible imprint of executive producer Pedro Almodóvar. The film is often most floridly stylish when at its most inconsequential, especially in its comparatively short opening scene: an inventive parable largely set aboard an airliner, all of whose passengers are revealed to have wronged the same man. The final freeze frame is truly a sight to behold. The second story ends in a blood-soaked tableau, but it isn’t much weightier. The final four episodes are longer, with more or less better-defined characters, and Szifrón usually finds novel ways to end an episode on a visual punchline. Each of the episodes carries at least a measure—and often much higher levels—of political subversiveness: a bourgeois in a sports car gets into a series of roadside incidents with a pleb in a pickup, to their mutual detriment; a disgruntled former engineer takes incendiary revenge on the DMV; an aristocrat pays his driver to take the fall in a fatal hit-and-run for his son. The biggest problem with Wild Tales is that Szifrón never pushes these elements into truly transgressive territory, content as he is to resolve matters in tidy and, more often than not, conservative fashion. As in the episode with the engineer turned terrorist, where restitution of the family unit supersedes revolutionary politics, it’s clear that Szifrón lacks Almodóvar’s truly confrontational sensibility.
Jessica Hausner’s anti-Romantic comedy, Amour Fou, takes the final days of the German poet Heinrich von Kleist less seriously than your average biopic. Kleist (Christian Friedel) ended his life in a murder-suicide pact with terminally ill hausfrau Henriette Vogel (Birte Schnoink), a subject that easily could have been turned into a full-on emo Sorrows of Young Werther. Hausner’s real innovation, aside from some wonderfully bathetic dialogue, is her portrait of the Romantic hero as pest. “Die with me” is Kleist’s calling card, wheedling his way into Henriette’s good graces with his proto-Freudian prattle about “fear and desire,” and then dropping her like an unclean thing when he discovers she’s dying, not owing to her illness, but because she’s not committing to her own extermination out of uncontaminated love for him. “I’m sick of existence!” he pouts. An early reference to Kleist’s short story The Marquise of O should clue you in on Hausner’s stylistic debt to Rohmer’s film version, with its static camera setups and gorgeous yet minimalist sets. Maybe there’s a bit much pianoforte practice, but standout performances from luminous Schnoink and pouty stuffed shirt Friedel buoy the proceedings. Henriette gets the last laugh on Kleist when, annoyed at one of his tantrums, she pithily nails his shtick: “All he cares about is himself!”
The Cannes Film Festival runs from May 14—25.