Sight & Sound weighs in on Cannes

Posted by · 5:15 am · June 9th, 2008

OK, so Cannes is old news, but for me it’s never really over until Sight & Sound prints its annual Cannes review – for my money, the British magazine offers the most expansive and thoughtful coverage of the festival around. It’s not available online, but it’s worth grabbing a copy if you can. Meanwhile, I’ve picked out a few highlights from editor Nick James’ commentary on the key festival films.

Interestingly, James agrees by and large with the jury’s selections. He names “The Class” as his favourite film of the festival, declaring it “so electrifying, satisfying and inspiring that it’s hard to believe it isn’t the work of professional fiction weavers at the top of their trade.” He also joins the chorus of approval for “Gomorra:” “So compelling is the detail that there’s no need for thriller conventions … Garrone’s direction makes incredible use of desolate locations and the acting is impeccable.” I must admit I am getting more excited about this film with every notice I read.

Elsewhere, he rubs salt into the wounds of “Blindness,” calling it “a huge disappointment,” though he singles out the contribution of Gael Garcia Bernal for praise. James also follows form by singing the praises of “Waltz With Bashir,” making a very lofty comparison indeed: “It’s the dreamlike eloquence of the animation that gives (the film) that sense of sleepwalking into horror that also dominates “Apocalypse Now.”” Wow. Could this be a lock for a Best Animated Feature nomination?

Moving onto the films that have generated the most Oscar talk so far, James is, like many, agnostic on Steven Soderbergh’s “Che.” He also offers the first criticism that I’ve read of Benicio Del Toro’s award-winning turn, complaining that he grants the character “little more than a stern sagacity.” On the film:

The model seems to be “The Battle of Algiers,” but Pontecorvo’s command of suspense of sorely lacking here … much of the rest of “Che” is an enervating, fragmentary history lesson, hardly likely to inspire a new generation of political activists. I hope Soderbergh finds the sharper film within.

He interestingly groups “Che” with “Synecdoche, New York,” commending both for being “laudably ambitious” but musing whether they were overly rushed in time for the festival. On Kaufman’s film:

Mild pleasures get lost among the rag-picking of severed plot ends. Long-running gags … outlive their potential. The conceit generates great comic ideas, but the execution stymies the laughter.

On another American comedy, Woody Allen’s widely-liked “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” James again swims against the tide, calling it “yet another clunky, ham-fisted comedy from the fading genius,” though he does give Penelope Cruz’s performance the thumbs-up. It’s worth bearing in mind that British critics have generally been harsher on Allen in recent years – “Match Point” was widely reviled on this side of the pond – but Allen may not be entirely out of the woods yet.

Finally, on the film that probably emerged as the biggest future awards-season prospect, “Changeling,” he finds it a film of two halves and ultimately sides with the dissenters:

One was impressed by the vivid storytelling in the first hour, only to wish it didn’t crush so much subtext into the second by being quite so linear … One feels Eastwood’s intelligence in the best moments, but producer Ron Howard’s bland crowd-pleasing at others. And the parallel exposition of twin trials gets tedious towards the end.

Plenty more good stuff in the issue besides, Cannes-related or otherwise, including really worthwhile interviews with Errol Morris and Charles Burnett.

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3 responses so far

  • 1 6-10-2008 at 7:14 pm

    Fielding said...

    Sight and Sound routinely trash Woody Allen – it’s obviously an editorial decree. I think it’s because he’s smarter than all its pretentious pseudo-intellectuals put together, and they know it.

    As for British critics hating Match Point – it was obvious from the start that those bitchy Limeys would whine about the American interloper stealing funding from their own precious directors.

  • 2 6-14-2008 at 8:00 pm

    Mack said...

    Serbis – the worst movie in Cannes this year… and in the past decade!