My biggest recommendation this year – okay there are two – are:
1. If you possibly can, see everything in competition. There seems to be a great line-up for cinephiles – and seeing all twelve films gives you the chance to argue about who should win the $60,000 cash prize!
2. Do not read too much about these films! It usually totally spoils the surprise, not to mention the punch lines, of most films.
BUT for those more cash and time-poor, or who have a very particular idea of what they want – or no idea at all! – here is my breakdown. NB. Official Competition films screen twice – usually once in the evening, and then again the next morning.
June 3 – Opening Night Gala + June 4
Looking for Eric: Last year we had Mike Leigh being Happy-Go-Lucky; this year, Ken Loach gets happy in what Variety’s Derek Elley describes as a mix of “boilerplate, socially aware Loach; personal fantasy; romantic comedy.” Basic idea is that a depressed English postal worker, Eric, receives an imaginary visitation from his idol, 90s soccer star and Manchester United icon Eric Cantona, who begins to give him life advice, mostly of the romantic kind.
June 4 & 5
The Maid / La Nana: Winner of the World Cinema Grand Jury prize at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. This dark comedy pits a very territorial household maid against a series of new maids, imposed by the family she works for. Second feature from Chilean director Sebastián Silva.
June 5 & 6
Disgrace: this Aussie contender adapts South African author J. M. Coetzee’s Booker prize-winning novel of the same name. Husband-wife/director-writer team Steve Jacobs and Anna Maria Monticelli have created a bleak portrait of human misery, against the backdrop of political change in South Africa. John Malkovich plays David Lurie, a professor accused of improper relations with a student; a man who alludes to himself, poetically, as Lucifer. Disgraced, and exiled from his former life, Lurie visits his daughter out on her remote farm. Lurie’s cynicism about gender and race relations in modern South Africa is contrasted with Lucy’s politically correct idealism – until a tragic, shocking event makes both father and daughter rethink their simplistic views. Does this film paint a bleak portrait of the capacity for reconciliation, on a national level, or a positive one of the personal level? This is a beautiful, desolate film – hard to watch, but well worth it.
June 6 & 7
Bronson: Nicolas Winding Refn’s highly stylised comedy is about the real experience of a young man who went to jail for seven years, but ended up serving 30 years in solitary confinement, during which time his personality was subsumed by a violent alter ego – Charles Bronson. A few years back you may have seen director Refn’s Pusher trilogy – bloody, tongue-in-cheek violence. Bronson is a must see of the festival – sure to be lots of talk.
June 7, 10am.
Altiplano: Straight from competition in Cannes, and set in the high Andes of Peru, this is described as “a lyrical and probing film about our divided but inextricably linked world”. Directors Brosens & Woodworth‘s first feature Khadak won 20 awards internationally, including a Lion at the 2006 Venice Film Festival.
June 7 & 8
Louise-Michel: Third feature from crazy French filmmakers Gustave de Kervern and Benoît Delépine – masters of absurdism. This film reminds me a little of last year’s You, The Living – just in the sense of being almost a series of sketches about the absurdity of modern life. Louise-Michel, as it turns out, is a bit more seriously anarchist than the previous films of de Kervern and Delépine– but it really is funny, in a dark Little Britain kind of way. And probably guaranteed to be the weirdest film you will see at the festival. Unless you see Face, also in Competition.
I particularly love seeing Yolande Moreau in just about anything. In this, she plays a socially inept factory worker who has a brilliant idea, when the factory is shut down: let’s whack the boss! The ladies at the factory all agree, and leave Louise in charge of finding a professional hitman. Instead, she finds Michel. The more I think about it, the more I love this film.
June 8 & 9
Paper Soldier: Alexei German’s third feature, about the early days of Russia’s space program, is a stylistic homage to Russian cinema of the 60s, and the human dramas of Chekov. Paper Soldier won the Golden Osella (Best Cinematography) and Silver Lion (Best Director) at Venice Film Festival.
Described as an tightly-paced drama with exquisite imagery, the film takes its title form a song about a gallant soldier who doesn’t realise that he is actually a small toy made of paper, and meets his death when he walks into a fire.
June 9 & 10
Missing Water: the director of The Finished People returns with a deeply personal tribute to the Vietnamese boat people. The present melds with the past as a quiet factory worker relives the harrowing journey when she took to the sea in a creaky river boat in search of a better life. But the horror of the journey haunts her.
June 10 & 13
Coraline: dark fantasy claymation from the man behind A Nightmare Before Christmas, and based on Neil Gaiman’s book of the same name. Voices include Terri Hatcher (Desperate Housewives) who is visiting for the festival. Feeling neglected and lonely, young girl Coraline wishes for a different life – and her dream comes true, when a portal to a parallel universe opens – or is it a nightmare?
June 11 & 12
Face: prolific Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming-liang’s latest film is – if you can believe it – even more oblique than usual. Roughly speaking, it’s about a Taiwanese director who goes to the Louvre in Paris to shoot a film exploring the Salome myth. Said to be more theoretical and less emotional than his other works (this from the man who brought us the pornographic watermelon scene in The Wayward Cloud), this one is likely to make little sense but be a FEAST for the senses – including indulgent costumes by Christian Lacroix. So indulge.
June 12 & 13
The Girlfriend Experience: Director Steven Soderbergh rarely makes a bad film – so that is your first reason to see this. It’s a cheeky “ideas film”, which pokes fun at modern life by imagining a scenario where high-end call girls provide the services that busy professionals would normally get from a “girlfriend.” Four stars from Ebert.
June 13 & 14
Beautiful Kate: no-one who has seen this film has not raved about it. Dark, haunting, beautiful, this tale of family history and secrets uncovered, from first-time feature director Rachel Ward, stars Bryan Brown, Rachel Griffiths, and Ben Mendelsohn. Tickets selling fast, I believe.