*The Land of the Unknown: Roberto Minervini on What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire? By Jordan Cronk. “Poetry floats up in my memory like sailboats in the fog”:Alexei German’s Khrustalyov, My Car! By Daniel Witkin. With Forever Presence: Jonathan Schwartz (1973-2018). By Max Goldberg. *Soft and Hard: Claire Denis on High Life. By Adam Nayman.
By Mark Peranson
The build-up to this year’s Cannes festival in the daily and weekly standards reached feverish proportions: on paper, it again looked like we were in for a kick-ass auteur battle royale, with the world’s “greatest filmmakers” all poised to premiere their latest masterpieces that would immediately blind us all on sight and render us speechless with their brilliance. Stupefy us they certainly did, but deliver, they did not—and though I’ll discuss this bloodbath in more detail later in what a filmmaker friend lovingly refers to as my “Cannes whack,” a few more things remain on my mind as this issue is being put to rest (note, not “to bed,” but “to rest,” as in, “buried in the ground like a rotting corpse”). Not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but in an interview published prior to my annual two-week Riviera vacation, I think that Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux let slip as to why this year’s Cannes Competition was so disappointing. The goal of a programmer, Frémaux said, is to place a film in its proper home. Note, very clearly, the lack of mention of quality in this statement: it is primarily not a concern of the Cannes selectors to have an across-the-board high quality Competition, but to have a strong Un Certain Regard. This follows that the Competition must be padded out with films that anyone with a decent level of taste would realize constitute dead weight. (Hello, Isabel Coixet?) Frémaux wants to spread the wealth—but in the current economic climate, there’s just not enough to go around (though, like in the real world, where the response to a financial crisis is to print more money, the powers that be are churning out more and more films than ever). So, to reflect the aim of the programmers, we’ve ignored most of the films in Competition and present a number of pieces on films—and their directors—that screened in other sections, including a trio from Un Certain Regard, presenting the real auteur stars, none of whom are the “big names”served well by being in Competition: Corneliu Porumbiou, João Pedro Rodrigues, and Raya Martin. (I do not include the youngest of the Cannes tots, Québec’s wunderkind Xavier Dolan, whose incredibly overrated Quinzaine debut strikes me as a case of mass hysteria.) But there were many duds, too: Why waste a precious slot on anything from the American wasteland of Sundance, let alone an abomination like Precious? And why bother with “Out of Competition” or “Special Screenings” when, by and large, they are all wastes of time? (I suppose one could argue most of those films were well served by their homes.) From the Competition, there were a few films worth going out of one’s way to criticize, and only a few films worth highlighting, including recent efforts by old masters Marco Bellocchio and Alain Resnais. (Coppola’s Tetro, which opened the Quinzaine, isn’t half-bad for a 70-year-old). And then there’s a large chasm in the middle of the Official Selection that the rest of the film world, including the Cannes selectors, seems to be comfortable in calling home; you know, the Loach-Almodóvar-Campion-Giannoli-Ang Lee middlebrow, to which I now feel secure in adding the name of Michael Haneke. Nobody wanted to write about Haneke. On a final note, it’s possible that the rest of this issue, which includes deep analyses of stoner, Mormon, and obscure Italian cinemas, might lead you to think we’ve all gone totally bonkers. I won’t dispel the notion, only suggest that if you look out the window or turn on the television, I think you’ll see it’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world. And, hey, it’s summer!