So much of the time most of us spend at the cinema is simply being entertained – and that’s a great thing, don’t get me wrong. But there comes a time when just being entertained really isn’t enough. As those of you who read my occasional blogs will know, I’m a bit of a fan of the double bill. It’s environmentally friendly – fewer journey times – but often such long evenings out are emotional, intellectual and sensory overload.
At the moment there seems to be a plethora of new releases of many Cannes winners. Some, in my humble opinion are simply foul. An example is the unwatchable first feature by France’s latest raw talent Julia Doucornau. Raw – which wound up a few souls at Cannes – is a blood-fest of over-indulgent drivel that just leaves a very unpleasant and nauseous feeling in one’s entire body. Despite the gongs and adoration of cineaste critics like Mark Kermode it really was not my cup of tea nor did it make me think, other than what better time could I have had doing anything else for those 99 minutes of hapless viewing.
I wrote recently about Asghar Farahdi’s The Salesman, which picked up a couple of gongs at Cannes last year too. That was a film that indeed did make me think a lot. Yet, the greatest gift Farhadi gives me with his films is a feeling of real insight into social and cultural mores in Iran. I followed this up by watching Aquarius, the latest tour de force from Brazil’s Kleber Mendonça Filho, (I had not seen any of his films before). Sonia Braga is simply wonderful in the lead and like another great Brazilian feature, Anna Muylaert’s wonderful 2015 hit The Second Mother, with an equally arresting central performance by Regina Casé, (who I nominated for a BAFTA for Best actress), I was again privileged to reflect upon the social, political and cultural divides of a country I know little about. Like The Second Mother, Aquarius is a film that makes considerable demands on the audience. These are not films that lay the narrative out on a plate. There are spaces in the characters’ lives that asks our imagination to fill. At times, the creative demands on my imagination watching those films were as powerful as listening to a radio play, where the visuals are played out entirely within my head.
The second half of my most recent double bill was another film that takes you from the specific to the general – always a good idea when exploring themes in story-telling. Graduation is set in Romania. Cristian Mungiu made a film released in 2007 that affected me deeply. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a film about a young woman seeking an illegal abortion in 80’s Romania. Now, with Graduation, which shared Best Director at Cannes last year, we get a deeply human story that we can all relate to and set in today’s Romania. This is yet another film that demands much thought and commitment to absorbing a narrative and insight into a cultural reality that feels not so far removed from that of many ambitious parents everywhere.
Whereas Raw is pointless horror, the other director to share the Best Director gong at Cannes was Frenchman Olivier Assayas with his hugely enjoyable spine-tingler, Personal Shopper. Another convincing female lead performance by Kristen Stewart in a film about love, loss and the search for answers, employed some well-trodden horror devices. Assayas may come from a classic French tradition of auteur – his father Jaques Rémy was a highly respected and successful screenwriter and director – and he himself was a critic for Cahiers du Cinema, but he sees himself as on the edge of independent French cinema with a niche making multi-national films. And lest I am accused of completely ignoring thought-provoking and intelligent American cinema, if you haven’t seen it yet, hotfoot to your nearest screening of Get Out by Jordan Peele, another debutant director doing great things. Yes, this is a blood fest too, but boy is it fun. And you will have great time identifying the rich pageant of homages to the genre. Yet black as night, the humour lays bare American hypocrisy on race. It’s powerful and provocative stuff. An independent low-budget movie that is taking the box-office by storm. And of all the films I have mentioned today, is this one the most likely to attain a deserved cult status? I wonder if Peele will follow in the footsteps of the Cohen Brothers whose debut feature, Blood Simple, (1984) chimes in gore at least with Get Out.