Just four days into the 71st Cannes Film Festival, our red carpet photographer has already proclaimed this an off year â€“ and you canâ€™t really blame him. With Hollywood shunning the Croisette, the dearth of stardust on the famed crimson walkway is a problem for cinemaâ€™s most glamorous gathering. But the film critics, for once, arenâ€™t complaining, because black-and-white movies from the east with low-profile actors suit them just fine. Weâ€™ve had two so far, both of them good. Who needs America anyway when the (former) Soviet bloc is going so strong?
After Kirill Serebrennikovâ€™s rock-infused â€śLetoâ€ť, set in Leningrad, the focus moved to Poland with Pawel Pawlikowskiâ€™s â€śCold Warâ€ť, a bittersweet tale of love thwarted by stubborn egos and iron curtains. It follows the Polish directorâ€™s acclaimed â€śIdaâ€ť, about the oddest of pairs (a novice nun and her hard-drinking aunt) making a road trip into the countryâ€™s darkest past. Like â€śIdaâ€ť, â€śCold Warâ€ť is superbly photographed in luminous monochrome. Once again, it takes an intimate path into period drama, weaving together the personal and the political.
Set in postwar Poland and Paris, the film reunites Pawlikowski with â€śIdaâ€ť star Agata Kulesza, who excelled as the worldly aunt in the Oscar-winning feature (though this time she is shunted out of the movie somewhat abruptly). Joanna Kulig, who also appeared in â€śIdaâ€ť, takes the lead role as Zula, a plucky and gorgeous young singer who has a passionate affair with pianist and composer Wiktor (Tomasz Kot). Their romance plays out in the increasingly stifling context of a Polish folk music ensemble that is pressured into serving the Soviet cause. Early on in the movie, Zula and Wiktor have an easy chance to defect while on a trip to Berlin, and their fateful decision will haunt their relationship till the end.
â€śCold warâ€ť is a visually stunning film, driven by a beautiful musical score and neatly wrapped up in just 84 minutes. It is a chilling examination of state-sponsored repression and a melancholic meditation on the disappointment of love. Like â€śIdaâ€ť, it feels intensely personal (Pawlikowsky has described his own experience of Paris as being a â€ślost guy in a weird cityâ€ť). There isnâ€™t a false note from the cast or an ugly frame in the entire film. But for all its formal beauty, â€śCold Warâ€ť left me cool, perhaps because the characters are neither endearing nor particularly interesting.
There is a scene in â€śCold Warâ€ť, filmed from a Paris boat, in which the cameraâ€™s gaze gently caresses the banks of the River Seine. Hours earlier, that most romantic of walkways also starred in Christophe HonorĂ©â€™s â€śPlaire, aimer et courir viteâ€ť (bizarrely translated as â€śSorry Angelâ€ť in English). Set in the early 1990s, this deeply moving French drama is another tale of impossible love involving a young student from Brittany and an older Parisian writer. It stars Vincent Lacoste as Arthur, a 22-year-old with cheek and charm, and Pierre Deladonchamps, from brilliant gay-cruising drama â€śStranger by the Lakeâ€ť (2013), as the more mature and forlorn Jacques.
In that riverside scene, Arthur gazes longingly at gay lovers embracing in broad daylight â€“ something this ardent and promiscuous student is yet to experience in his hometown of Rennes. There is a very French subtext here, a liberating countryman-goes-to-the-capital narrative that mirrors the filmmakerâ€™s own experience of moving from the provincial Breton city to the city of light and love. But while the pull of Paris is strong, so are Arthurâ€™s roots; being Bretons (like HonorĂ©), he and his friends talk about their â€śBretonnessâ€ť all the time.
French geographical considerations aside, this is above all a powerful tale of love and friendship at a specific time for gays â€“ one in which awareness of AIDS has spread but the disease is still very deadly. It comes a year after Cannes awarded its Grand Prix to Robin Campilloâ€™s â€ś120 Beats Per Minuteâ€ť, about ACT-UP activists striving to live life to the fullest even as they battle death and indifference. While Campilloâ€™s film had a defiant, almost heroic quality, â€śSorry Angelâ€ť is a more nuanced work, in which some characters no longer have the strength to carry on living and loving.
As in past HonorĂ© films, the love story here is a study in contrasts â€“ superbly conveyed by the two actors. While Arthur is eager to embrace love and â€ślet the body exultâ€ť, Jacques is wistful, often cynical, and resigned. Those who lost sight of Lacoste after his awkward-teenager part in â€śThe French Kissersâ€ť will marvel at his swagger, chutzpah and sexiness. Unusually for a very French tale of conflicted love, â€śSorry Angelâ€ť was broadly hailed by both the home and the foreign press â€“ though local paper â€śNice Matinâ€ť, where one normally goes for gossip rather than film critics, gratuitously dismissed it as â€ś120 Yawns Per Minuteâ€ť.
Date created : 2018-05-12