CANNES: ‘Blue Valentine,’ ‘Tamara Drewe,’ ‘Film Socialisme’

Posted by · 5:19 am · May 19th, 2010

Sadly, this is looking like a second consecutive day of minimal film viewing — thanks to the scheduling of my morning roundtable interview with the “Blue Valentine” team of Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams and director Derek Cianfrance, I had to forgo this morning’s screening of Lee Chang-dong’s “Poetry,” of which I have rather high expectations — I hope to catch the repeat tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the interviews ran late enough to ensure I missed today’s hottest ticket: Olivier Assayas’s five-and-a-half hour “Carlos.” On the one hand, I’m obviously disappointed. On the other, 330 minutes is a pretty lavish gift of time, and it’s thanks to that that I’m able to write this very piece.

So, to every cloud a silver lining and all that — and there are a lot of clouds doing the rounds on this uncharacteristically damp and chilly day in Cannes. Perhaps the sun saw that monk-massacre movie everyone’s raving about, and couldn’t see the point in continuing.

On with the review catch-up.

“BLUE VALENTINE” (***1/2)

“Don’t see it with someone you love,” should be the tagline for Derek Cianfrance’s impressive debut feature, an elegantly time-shuffled marital drama that plays a little like a grubbier, Nudie-jeaned take on François Ozon’s “5×2.” What it lacks in innovation – the marriage in question decomposes in much the same way, and for much the same reasons, as most unions between good girls and disaffected slackers with drink problems – it makes up for in intense specificity. Fully grown men were sheepishly wiping away tears at the press screening.

That The Weinstein Company picked up this otherwise tough sell in Sundance with a view to a December release suggests they smell awards prospects for stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, so it’s just as well they’re both on peak form here. As a scuzzy house-painter whose accidental fall into family-man duties gives him a sense of purpose that he’s not equal to, Gosling is too perceptive an actor to storm and shout his way through the part. Rather, he tempers the angst with goofy wit and unimpeachable tenderness; we know, as we don’t always do in these dramas, what compels the long-suffering spouse to stay.

As said spouse, Williams extends her fine portrait gallery of critically unconfident young women caught between yearning and making-do, with one particularly crushing scene in an abortionist’s office. But it’s in tandem that the performances do the heaviest lifting, their mutual warmth and spontaneity making magic out of throwaway moments. A scene where Williams tap-dances in the street while Gosling strums a ukelele and croons “You Always Hurt The One You Love” sounds excruciating on paper, but it’s subtly tragic in context.

Through Jim Helton and Ron Patane’s smart, elliptical editing scheme, such gentle moments like this are deftly scattered through the heartbreak as we zigzag across the marriage; we know how it ends, but like the characters trapped within, this deeply moving film keeps taunting us with reasons to be hopeful.

“TAMARA DREWE” (**)

“It’s Stephen Frears back in ‘Mrs Henderson Presents’ territory,” an unnamed publicist told me recently about “Tamara Drewe,” a featherweight social comedy set in England’s most airbrushed country dales. She was beaming so sweetly, I didn’t have the heart to tell her how that description put the fear of God in me. Lo and behold, she was right – “Drewe” isn’t as scarring as that alleged 2005 romp, but it’s similarly strained and effortfully jolly, affording the occasional smile but few true laughs.

The film’s cleverest conceit belongs to the Guardian-published Posy Simmonds comic on which it is based: the story is an extended modern-day riff on Thomas Hardy’s “Far From the Madding Crowd,” with Gemma Arterton’s titular journalist the Bathsheba Everdene figure whose unannounced arrival in a sleepy rural village wreaks havoc among its variously lustful menfolk. Most of the original narrative elements are in place, with emails standing in for valentines and numerous overegged Hardy references in the dialogue, just in case you missed the point.

It’s fashioned as a star-making vehicle for one-time Bond girl Arterton, and she does her bit by frolicking around in barely legal denim hotpants, but her rigidly unsympathetic character is something of a dramatic vacuum at the center of the film. The rest of the ensemble is game – Dominic Cooper as a preening, guyliner-caked rock star particularly so – but the banter isn’t quickfire enough to make a choux-pastry piece like this fly. As frilly Frears-coms go, I’ll take “Chéri” over this, if you please.

“FILM SOCIALISME”

Upon reflection, I’ve decided not to rate Jean-Luc Godard’s latest attempt to reconfigure the language of cinema, since what’s he ended up with isn’t a film at all, but a particularly wilful gallery installation: something to be looked at and admired and preferably discussed in the open. It trades in ambiguity, of course, though it’s not as entirely impenetrable as many have made out. There are at least a wealth of theories to be drawn from its random assembly of found and filmed footage.

Is this a comment on the distracted viewing habits of the YouTube age? Are the broken-English subtitles a built-in comment on global communication barriers, ensuring viewers gain a completely different understanding of scenes according to their level of bilingualism? None of this, no doubt, and Godard is just having us on. He didn’t even pitch up at Cannes to represent the film; “take it or leave it” is the implied message, and I’ll second that.




→ 13 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily · Reviews

13 responses so far

  • 1 5-19-2010 at 6:06 am

    Michael said...

    I have been excited about seeing Blue Valentine since Sundance, your review only adds to the fire. Comparing it to 5×2 has piqued my interest further, as I think that is one of Ozon’s better “mature” movies that he has made. I feel like Tamara Drewe will be a worthy netflix rental when there is nothing more pressing to see but I doubt I will make it out to theaters to see it. Godard is really hit or miss with me, there are so many of his more classic and important early films that I have not seen that I would much rather watch before seeing something as heady and unconventional as this most recent film. Love your coverage Guy, keep it up!

  • 2 5-19-2010 at 6:54 am

    Cal said...

    I generally like Godard because of “Breathless” and “La Chinoise”, though this seems like it could be similar to the latter? In any case, he appears to be getting ever more politically-cynical and abstract with each project.

    As for “Blue Valentine” my expectations are already peaking. Awards-wise, I can’t help but think a late-December release is pushing things, considering it’s a very small movie that will likely need time to gain support. I suppose that they’re hoping for renewed buzz at either Venice or Toronto, but it will need to sustain it through the Autumn.

  • 3 5-19-2010 at 7:18 am

    red_wine said...

    My favorite Godard is Pierrot Le Fou and maybe Contempt. His latest film seems to have drawn blanks from a lot of critics wondering what it was exactly he wanted to say. Dargis liked it but said she would have to watch it again to form an opinion.

    I really like Arterton and think she has potential. She’s a smart screen presence though she has mostly done silly blockbusters as of late.

  • 4 5-19-2010 at 3:27 pm

    Sieben said...

    I’m with you, Guy; any film that even vaguely resembles Mrs Henderson Presents is one I’ll steer clear of.

    I’m looking forward to seeing your thoughts on My Joy when you get around to it – the excellent Vlad Ivanov alone makes it one of my most anticipated, along with the Weerasethakul.

  • 5 5-19-2010 at 4:54 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Sadly, I missed the My Joy press screening for my red-carpet appointment with Certified Copy — I’m hoping to catch the repeat screening, but the domino effect is in full swing.

  • 6 5-19-2010 at 5:01 pm

    ninja said...

    Any hope for Michelle`s BA nom? She`s the real talent from Dawson`s Creek and we know that Cruise will try to buy Emmy for his slave wife for her performance as Jackie Kennedy in a TV movie/mini series, so may Michelle get in for the real deal. Michelle`s so talented and Ryan too.

  • 7 5-19-2010 at 5:07 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I think Gosling and Williams are both in with a shot if the Weinsteins play their cards right.

  • 8 5-19-2010 at 5:17 pm

    Sieben said...

    Ah, that’s a shame. I suppose you can’t keep on top of everything, especially while keeping up with reviews.

  • 9 5-19-2010 at 8:03 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Godard makes me roll my eyes. Such pretense, so little substance.

  • 10 5-27-2010 at 10:59 am

    Terry said...

    Hey Guy, I saw Blue Valentine in UCR at Cannes and was absolutely blown away by it. I noticed you’ve put Michelle Williams as one of your 2010 Contenders, but why not any love for Gosling for Actor (or even the film?). I don’t think he’s any less deserving, and he’s also on the boards as a previous nominee.