By David S. Blanco
One of the best films of the day was Bruno Dumont’s anti-musical Jeannette, l’enfance de Jeanne d’Arc. In this film, the French filmmaker excels again in doing a classic story from a historic character –adapted for screen so many times: Joan of Arc.
Dumont achieves this mastery by turning all the foundations of classical musical cinema upside down, starting from its actor, which share virtues far away from dancing and singing, but hold the two hours of screen singing. The characters use songs as another element of their communication. Unlike classical musical, the songs are not used to show their inner thoughts, fears or aspiration, but here they are used mixed with the day by day everydayness. These songs have a high anachronistic content, since, while there are sung in a sort of “old French”, their musical bases correspond to contemporary genres, with a soundtrack that seems to fuse Aphex Twin and Napalm Death.
Regarding space, it’s notable how Dumont escapes the baroque settings and presents us a Jeanette in her natural stage, without decorations, where her movements fuse with sand and where sheep are the only element that we could consider as atrezzo. All of these characteristics give the film a scent of pathetic comical quality, as if a group of friends gathered to emulate a musical one afternoon. The humor through this anachronism rarely fails, and maybe the only weak point for the mass audience was its slow timing –several people left the room-, their extremely long musical numbers –no pyrotechnics- and the necessity of having some context on the story of Joan d’ Arc to follow the whole story in all its moments. This is a film that seems to have been shot by a talented small child.
The biggest surprise so far in the festival was the Bulgarian Direction, special mention on Cannes’ Un Certain Regard, the third film of Stephan Komandarev after the outstanding The Judgement (2013). In this occasion, the filmmaker presents us a film of crossed stories between cabdrivers, who realize their services at night in the city of Sofia.
Beyond the social portrait, what turns this film into something exceptional is its insane mise in scene. Every one of the cabdrivers’ stories is shot in very long sequence shots, loaded with action and dynamics in the frame. Fights –verbal and physical over fifteen minutes where the actors are at the same height than the camera operator and the chief of sound: extraordinary. One could think that the essence of film is the montage, and that this film lacks cuts. This is false. Komandarev edits over the moving shot, plays with different scales, angles and out of focus shots, and just decides not to cut. And he does this with some ability to place us in a real space-time context, to show us that what we see as fiction happens in reality.
The new film by John Cameron Mitchell, How to talk with girls at Parties, is a fun movie places in the 1970’s UK, with three punk friends that enjoy their freedom by going to concerts and publishing critics in their alternative fanzine. In one of those party nights, they end up finding a place where strange beings from another planet seem to have a strange party, a party which they feel a special connection with. From this starting point, Mitchell articulates a film about punk and aliens, in which he pulls topics and clichés to laugh at the musical scene of the 70’s, and some of the most common places in teen movies.
The first feature of the multifaceted Ruth Mader, is an interesting, cryptic film that places us in a dystopic future, where a business called Life Guidance –also the movie’s title- creates perfectly optimized beings, capable of living in a happy society, with no moral cracks.
Mader narrates this through a sober direction, with no place for fireworks, impossible shots or chopped edition. Here everything is flat and gray, exactly as the story and the world she’s telling us about. This element gives the film a particular narrative coherence, which can make certain audience run away from this film. Because the slow time and the abstract ellipsis –that work through a conceptual, almost cognitive montage- sometimes pushed the spectator away from the frontal point of narration, and transform the film into a kind of pseudo contemplative sci-fi, something different that films like THX 1138 could offer, but that frames it in a context where J.G. Ballard himself could drown in easily. An unexpected surprise.
In the Valie EXPORT retrospective, we saw her most acclaimed film, The Practice of Love, a work of dualities and mysteries around the figure of women, through her relation with two different men in the eighties.
This film aims its sight to topics such as pornography and its social implications in society, or the conception of sexual female freedom through a patriarchal system, where we live nowadays. It’s really a delight to find such a radical look in one of the most critical moments of this phallocentric expansion of society, a process of Americanization of Europe, and the loss of community identity.
But EXPORT not only aims in the content the hidden symphony of the world. This discourse is accompanied with a visual treatment that compliments what our intuition seems to surrender without compassion. It’s true that this film is not as groundbreaking as her feature one, but in this one, she perfects concepts that open her more extensive market, without compromising her integrity as an author. The duality of flesh and desire, of personal projection and feminine body, is perceived visually in shots that melt the lead with her visual environment –through the projector- and that offer frames to remember.