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Cannes reviews 2014: ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’, ‘Jimmy’s Hall’, ‘Maps to the Stars’, ‘Foxcatcher’ and ‘The Homesman’

Cannes reviews 2014: ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’, ‘Jimmy’s Hall’, ‘Maps to the Stars’, ‘Foxcatcher’ and ‘The Homesman’

Updated and revised (Cannes) May 26

Sailesh Ram reviews another slate of films that appeared in competition here…

CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA” – Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart star in this likeable but dialogue heavy film about a mature actor and her personal assistant. |Marie Enders (Binoche) is a well-recognised actor with her own retreat in Switzerland and is thrown into something of a tizzy as her divorce gets messy and a former close friend and playwright dies suddenly. His famous play, Majola Snake, in which Binoche starred as a young woman is to be recreated for the stage in London but this time with her in the mature woman role and a young Hollywood ingénue in her original part. It is essentially a play about the two women, one young and making her way in the world, the other experienced and knowing and their trajic trajectory.
Binoche is unsettled by the role reversal and leans a lot on her assistant Valentine (Stewart). She is tough, efficient and eventually quite bored by Binoche’s rather constant theorising and whining. There is fun in the second half when we are introduced to her young American nemesis, Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz)There is much (subtle) commentary on the nature of celebrity, media culture and most interestingly of all, the clash between a European art sensibility, as represented by Binoche and American by Moretz. It may be far too arty-farty for some, and is quite French in its cinematic essence with again the feel of a play adapted for the screen.
ACV rating: 2/5

ACV
A scene from Ken Loach's 'Jimmy's Hall'

JIMMY’S HALL” – If you’re a fan of Ken Loach this delivers in every sense.
It’s a very solid offering: good characters, a strong narrative and executed with the skill of someone in the business for more than 40 years now.
The story centres around Jimmy’s hall, literally. He takes it over and refurbishes it and it provides a focal point for the community.
It is 1932 and Ireland, where it is set, still bears witness to the dark scars of civil war and Partition (the other infamous one) and amidst the tumult, activist Jimmy Gralton returns.
He’s a sprightly fellow, full of hope and optimism and freshly returned from New York where he has experienced jazz and racial tolerance.
He’s described by his foes, including the church, as a communist with highfalutin ideas: people mixing and dancing freely and learning about their situation (the hall doubles up as an educational centre).
Gralton was a real historical character and while the film is based on extensive research and information mined from people who knew him and biographies, he’s not particularly well-known even in Ireland.
There’s family and community, spirit and belief, hope and courage. Loach gives Gralton and his supporters a voice as you would expect.
They come up against an establishment that is frightened and cowered and keen to preserve the status quo – this man and his funny dances and the idea of folks mixing freely together scare the beejesus out of them.
It isn’t difficult to see where Loach’s sympathies are, but even if you’re not a lefty or political, this is a good story and well told, if a little conventional.
ACV rating: 3

ACV
Mia Wasikowska and Julianne Moore in 'Maps To the Stars'

MAPS TO THE STARS – We’ve had “The Player” (1992) and “Mullholland Drive” (2001) and this is somewhat in the same territory, but perhaps is the most scathing of all on “Hollywood”. Yes, even more so than Robert Altman’s almost incomparable “The Player”.
Mullholland Drive” still has a positive view of LA and the business in the end, but in David Cronenberg’s latest offering, there is very little sympathy afforded to anyone who is anyone there.
Forget the dream factory, welcome to Bedlam and La-La land like you’ve never seen it (maybe imagined it, but never seen actually on the screen) before.
Cronenberg has fun and we do too in the process.
It is beautifully scathing and comes with a veritable cast of freaks, narcissists, and A1 A-holes.
Yup, if you love movies as sharp and as pointed as a Madonna-John Paul Gaultier bra (reminded of this in “Saint Laurent” here) then this really is a must see.
There’s comedy: it’s rich, dark and perhaps indulgent but Cronenberg is probably telling us – to take a step back and not get so hooked up with the world of celebrity, money and all that hoopla.
It’s so false and cynical in his hands. There’s an ageing star Julianne Moore, desperate to play the role for which her late mother won an Academy Award. Initially, she doesn’t get the part, and it goes to a much younger and prettier actor but then there’s a terrible tragedy (not for Moore’s character) and she’s back where she belongs.
Her whacky personal assistant (Mia Wasikowska) has demons of her own. Where do you want to start? She has something of a ridiculous desire to marry her younger brother, an acting prodigy. He in turn hates his even younger co-star. Their Dad is a self-help guru to the stars and has all the trappings of someone at the very height of the game. The mother is suitably money-driven to the detriment of anything else.
You surely can tell where all this is going. It’s a hell of a maelstrom and Cronenberg for the most part handles it all quite adeptly.
ACV rating: 3.5

ACV
Mark Shultz (Channing Tatum) and John du Pont (Steve Carell)in Foxcatcher

FOXCATCHER – For the seasoned observer and for someone who truly admires the craft of filmmaking this has much to recommend it.
Outside such a group, it’s unlikely to win as many plaudits as it has done here.
The pace is slow and methodical and it builds the characters, who on a superficial assessment have little depth or complexity, but these are layers are to be uncovered, minutely and intricately.
About a team of wrestlers, called Foxcatcher and sponsored by billionaire John Du Point, (played by an unrecognisable Steve Carell reprising a serious role), it’s well constructed as a drama but then it is based on real life and the structure is given.
Channing Tatum as Mark Schultz is a broody, moody, motha…, you get the idea…very much in the shadow of his brother Dave, who like him, has as an Olympic Gold medal in the sport.
Everything changes with the largesse of Du Pont, whose wealth runs into billions and billions. Mens’ wrestling always seems to have a homo-erotic element to it and it may be at the heart of some of the explosive events here but Bennett Miller, the director, makes only veiled allusions to it and leaves more grubby questions to his audience.
Miller is a fine director and brings his talents to bear on this tragic drama. Subtle and slow, it builds its case a bit like a novelist might and Carroll provides the key through which everything will turn. In many ways, the film holds together because of him.
There is no question that a certain fine quality lives here under Miller’s direction but for some (‘fraid so), it’s a bit too methodical and drawn out.
ACV rating: 3

ACV
Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) in 'The Homesman'

THE HOMESMAN – On the surface, this looks like a homely tale of redemption and righteousness.
Tommy Lee Jones, who directs and stars, turns his hand at the American mythological, hoping it might become a classic of sorts and join a canon of cowboy movies, which are more than the sum of their usually very predictable parts.
It is watchable and entertaining at least from a surface level but dig deeper and Mr Jones, we think there are some issues. Centred around a wonderful woman, it loses track when she is not in the frame. The casual violence against women may be accurate but its meek acceptance by its victims in the film is troubling at a larger level.
Hilary Swank is marvellous as Mary Bee Cuddy, a fine upstanding woman whose only fault is that she cannot persuade a man to settle with her. It’s an incredible shame and comes through in the film with more force than it needs. The whole film revolves around her and long after the credits she stays with you. Did these women really exist? Probably.
Handsome, rather than a natural beauty (but who cares?), and intelligent, tough and caring (not mutually exclusive in the right contexts), she’s almost too good to be true, but for the men of that time, she’s just trouble with a mind and an attitude all of her own.
Even George Briggs (Jones) does not want to rest his troubled, blemished soul next to hers.
With a few twists and tweaks, this could have been the film Jones was hoping to make. Out in the wash, it falls short of a classic.
ACV rating: 2.75

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