The Universe. Some scratches of Beryllium. Diving. The Navel of the Galaxies. Maybe god. Maybe the void. Maybe you. Maybe it's just cryptical

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Cannes 2011: My Reviews

It's true that the Cannes Film Festival is like a club of filmmakers who always present their latest works there, with recurring names in every selection. This edition is no different: Lars von Trier returns in Melancholia after the controversial Antichrist, Terrance Malick finally presents his much-awaited Tree of Life, Pedro Almodovar reunites after 20 years with Antonio Banderas in The Skin I Live in, the Dardennes Brothers present their fifth consecutive feature in Cannes while Nuri Bilge Ceylan is screening his forth. It's also an edition of surprises (Melancholia is not so controversial) and anti-surprises (the direction of the festival lashes out at von Trier and bans him from the festival after his anti Jewish/Israeli joke-gone-wrong during the press conference of Melancholia). I found the calling of LVT persona non grata is much more shocking than his stupid talk. But I'm sure if he trashed Iran or Syria, he would have been applauded. Oh well, politics.

As to the themes of the selection, many have been shared by various films. Sequestration of youth (pedophilia in Michael, kidnapping in The Skin I Live in, children protection from crimes in Polisse, using a child for the sake of art in My Little Princess), the addressing of refugees (Polisse, Le Havre), questioning of Life and Death (Tree of Life, Hanezu and to a certain extend Melancholia and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia). But what has been striking is that children are at the core of plenty of films this edition, playing major roles (a boy looking for his father in Kid with a Bike, a girl used and abused by her artsy mother in My Little Princess, a young African refugee trying to make it to London in Le Havre, a boy locked in a basement in Michael).

But enough with the random talk. Here are my comments and rating on the 21 films that I saw in Cannes this year.

Caution: LOTS of spoilers ahead!

1. Michael
By Markus Schleinzer


Official Selection: Official Competition

MICHAEL describes the last five months of 10-year-old Wolfgang and 35-year-old Michael’s involuntary life together.

→ Interesting to say the least. I did not see this film coming. And I had no idea what to expect really. A pedophile who locks a 10-year-old boy in a basement while leading a completely normal life. But will his secret be revealed?
I thought it was a fine film, if not surprising one, especially since it’s a first film. The shots were long and repeated to show the routine life, but it’s nicely mastered and I liked the build-up. The story is relevant with all what is happening lately in terms of stories in Europe so it was very timely. The ending left me cold, but I take it it was not the director’s intention anyway.

2. Arirang
By Kim Ki-duk
South Korea

Official Selection: Un Certain Regard

WINNER: PRIX Un Certain Regard (Ex-æquo)

Arirang is
about Kim Ki-duk
playing 3 roles in 1.
Through Arirang I climb over one hill in life.
Through Arirang I understand human beings, thank the nature, and accept my life as it is now.

→ I want to hate this because it could be detestable. I used to love some of Kim’s works. But what the hell was that. Shooting himself on camera and having literally a meltdown on everything and bashing himself, his assistants, cinema and life in general and then sobbing over a sequence taken from one of his films while claiming he makes art and he is a top filmmaker and so on. And it runs for one hour and forty minutes? I almost lost it. And still, he brings up interesting questioning on life matters that I felt it was honest, if not gripping. He questions everything and kind of makes sense. But then again, this honest talk if not random (and almost unedited) talk, you’d rather hear at home or sitting in a bar. Not in front of the screen.

3. L’Homme au Velo (The Kid with a Bike)
By Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Official Selection: Official Competition



Cyril, almost 12, has only one plan: to find the father who left him temporarily in a children's home.
By chance he meets Samantha, who runs a hairdressing salon and agrees to let him stay with her at weekends.
Cyril doesn't recognize the love Samantha feels for him, a love he desperately needs to calm his rage.

→ As any Dardenne brothers film, the script was brilliantly put together, as are most of the scripts by the Dardenne brothers. Every action is well studied and justified. And the young guy who plays Cyril does a flawless job. However, I did not feel anything. The emotions were there, but they were not conveyed to me even if I tried to reach out to them. Many things I found recycled (were they trying to remake L'Enfant in another story?). It’s much more enjoyable than the last one, Lorna’s Silence, but I miss the early days of the Dardenne Brothers.

4. Et maintenant on va ou? (Where Do We Go Now)
Official Selection: Un Certain Regard

By Nadine Labaki


On the edge of a cratered road, a cortège-like procession of women solemnly makes its way towards the village cemetery. Takla, Amale, Yvonne, Afaf and Saydeh stoically brave the oppressive midday heat, clutching photographic effigies of their beloved menfolk, lost to a futile, protracted and distant war. Some of the women are veiled, others bear wooden crosses, but all are clad in black and united by a sense of shared grief. As they arrive at the cemetery gates, the procession divides into two congregations; one Muslim, the other Christian.
Set against the backdrop of a war-torn country, "Where do we go now ?" tells the heart-warming tale of a group of women’s determination to protect their isolated, mine-encircled, community from the pervasive and divisive outside forces that threaten to destroy it from within.
United by a common cause, the women’s unwavering friendship transcends, against all the odds, the religious fault lines which crisscross their society and they hatch some extraordinarily inventive, and oftentimes comical, plans in order to distract the village’s menfolk and defuse any sign of inter-religious tension.

→ After her acclaimed Caramel a while ago, Nadine Labaki had so much pressure as to what the follow-up to such a success story would be. Where Do We Go Now is surely much more mature than Labaki’s debut pic. But it has its flaws, particularly in the script that needs more writing and the religious Christian-Muslim treatment. And yet the filmmaker masters the direction and shoots a beautiful film. Acting wise, most of the characters are consistent, except for Labaki herself who plays, just like in Caramel, the leading role. And while she’s beautiful, she does a better job than in Caramel, but it still is subpar to the rest, especially since they all have a villagers’ accent while she does not, and it is clear in her big dramatic monologue. The whole lot of witty rhetorical and spontaneous sentences from the ladies in the village give the film an extra punch and a add to its humorous touch, and it is in a way, a segue to Caramel in the style Labaki is following. But still, I felt the film was finished hastily and made on time just to be presented in Cannes. It could have been on a much higher level had the filmmaker taken the proper time to finish it.

5. Be Omid E Didar (Goodbye)

By Mohammad Rasoulof


Official Selection: Un Certain Regard

WINNER: DIRECTING PRIZE of Un Certain Regard, 2011

A family tries everything to leave Iran

→ The film builds up nicely although to be fair, I had no idea what the director wanted from me, or what he wanted me to understand throughout the film. It wasn’t until way after the middle that some explanations were brought to the thick plot. And for this, I couldn’t feel sympathy towards the character. The mood is very nice though, very icy-like. But still, I expected more, and got so less.

6. The Artist

by Michel Hazanavicius


Official Selection: Official Competition


WINNER: BEST ACTOR (Jean Dujardin)

Hollywood 1927. George Valentin is a silent movie superstar. The advent of the talkies will sound the death knell for his career and see him fall into oblivion. For young extra Peppy Miller, it seems the sky's the limit - major movie stardom awaits.

→ What a little gem. A dash of brightness in the festival’s gloomy selection. You would feel that the film is full of clichés, made seven hundred times, tells you nothing you haven’t seen before, but fuck it works! And it works beautifully. And it brings a smile on your face to be watching a silent film from 2011 and not Eisenstein’s 1925 Battleship Potemkin. Jean Dujardin OWNS the film. He is excellent in his role and the main actress has so much grace and is beautiful throughout. And the dog steals the show. All in all, really liked it.

7. The Tree of Life
by Terrence Malick

Official Selection: Official Competition


The Tree of Life is the impressionistic story of a Midwestern family in the 1950's. The film follows the life journey of the eldest son, Jack, through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father. Jack finds himself a lost soul in the modern world, seeking answers to the origins and meaning of life while questioning the existence of faith.

→ The film is achingly beautiful. In its poetry, in its philosophy, in its studying of life and death, family ties, aging… But it is just too fucking long. Sean Penn doesn’t belong there. I couldn’t understand what he was doing, just walking in the prologue and the epilogue. There is a lot of preaching which bothered me at some point. And the 20 minute + National Geographic shots dragged a bit too much. The music is all over the film. You can make it poetic without putting music on every single shot. That said, I loved the performances of Hunter McCracken as the young Jack and Jessica Chastain whom I don’t know very well, as the submissive yet loving mother. Brad Pitt does his job, nothing more, nothing less. And I like the fact that it is non-linear, very much free-flow and leaves way to interpretation.

8. My Little Princess
by Eva Ionesco

Critics’ Week: 50th Anniversary Special Screening

Hannah and Violetta are an odd couple: an elusive mother and a little girl in search of maternal love, a fanciful artist and her reluctant model. 
When Hannah asks Violetta if she would like to be her model, her life with her loving grandmother is turned upside down. From a normal childhood to muse of the trendy Paris art scene…

→ That was surprising to say the least. I went without even knowing what the film was about. But I love the fact that Huppert is doing so much work with new filmmakers as opposed to sticking to established ones. This is such a cohesive work and the gem is the little girl who plays Violetta with such affirmation and conviction. The film builds up gradually, crescendo after the other and tension throughout that accompanies the awakening of the girl with what her mother is making her do. Sometimes it’s a bit over the top, but it’s still a thrilling film.

9. Le Havre
By Aki Kaurismaki

Official Selection: Official Competition


Marcel Marx, a former author and a well-known Bohemian, has retreated into a voluntary exile in the port city of Le Havre, where he feels he has reached a closer rapport with the people serving them in the occupation of the honourable, but not too profitable, of a shoe-shiner. He has buried his dreams of a literary breakthrough and lives happily within the triangle of his favourite bar, his work, and his wife Arletty, when fate suddenly throws in his path an underage immigrant refugee from the darkest Africa.
As Arletty at the same time gets seriously ill and is bedridden, Marcel once more has to rise against the cold wall of human indifference with his only weapon of innate optimism and the unwavering solidarity of the people of his quartier, but against him stands the whole blind machinery of the Western constitutionally governed state, this time represented by the dragnet of the police, moment by moment drawing closer around the refugee boy.
It's time for Marcel to polish his shoes and reveal his teeth.

→ Finally, a solid film. But then again, it’s Aki Kaurismaki, the man who made the delightful The Man without a Past. This one follows the same path. It’s in French, shot in the region of Le Havre, hence the title, with mostly French actors, but the great thing is that the film is not French at all, and it feels 100% Kaurismaki. It’s well put together, nicely paced, the actors do their roles with a punch, and on top of that, it’s still hilarious. I loved it.

10. Melancholia
by Lars Von Trier

Official Selection: Official Competition


Justine and Michael are celebrating their marriage at a sumptuous party in the home of her sister and brother-in-law. Meanwhile, the planet, Melancholia, is heading towards Earth...

→ Where shall I start. I thought the story was so so, maybe Melancholia – the planet – is just a pretext so that Von Trier can shoot whatever he had in mind. And this is the negative aspect of the film for me. Apart from that, it’s just a psychological and yet romantic (!) ride into the realm of two women, Kirsten Dunst, who is achingly beautiful as the bride, and who has matured so much in this film, and Charlotte Gainsbourg, flawless and who overshadows Dunst in the second half of the film. I thought she was even better than in Antichrist.
The film starts as what could be Von Trier going mainstream, while still being Lars Von Trier. But soon, the two-chapter movie becomes a psychological descent into the psyche of each of the actresses. The story looses itself within the complexity of the characters.
And just when you think that planet Melancholia is over, Von Trier brings it again and the film takes yet another direction.
It reminded me of Antichrist so much in various ways. First, Gainsbourg is there, and her Antichrist role is somehow reflected in Dunst’s role in Melancholia, and she even stated that herself. The film has chapters, just like Antichrist, the classical music is VERY prominent, and the slow-motion effect of the prologue is there in both films.
I did really enjoy it, especially the unveiling of how complex the characters were. The flow of the story is a bit disrupted because of that, the second part might be too long, but then again, I prefer to dive into the characters as opposed to dive into the story. The setting in which the story takes place is astounding. It might not be nessessairily my favorite Von Trier, but I think it’s still a well executed one, not as violent as Antichrist, but still enough to flip your mind.

11. Hanezu

by Naomi Kawase


Official Selection: Official Competition

The Asuka region is the birthplace of Japan. Here, in ancient times, there were those who fulfilled their lives in the midst of waiting. Modern people, apparently having lost this sense of waiting, seem unable to feel grateful for the present, and cling to the illusion that all things will move constantly forward according to one’s own plan.
In ancient times, there were three small mountains that people believed were inhabited by gods. They were Mt. Unebi, Mt. Miminashi, and Mt. Kagu, and they still stand. In that time, a powerful official used the mountains as a metaphor for a struggle inside his own heart. The mountains were an expression of human karma.
Time has passed into the present. Takumi and Kayoko, inheriting the unfulfilled hopes of their grandparents, live out their lives. Their tale continues a story of the ages, representing the uncountable souls that have accumulated in this land.

→ Let me state first how much I appreciate the cinema of Naomi Kawase. People could know her groundbreaking film Shara. But it’s her film The Morning Forest which has left a great impact on me a couple of years ago.
This one shares several similarities with Malick’s Tree of Life. Both evolve on life and death reflections. But whereas Malick has a clear establishment of the situations, even if dealt in non-linear style, here, it’s much more abstract. And the “national geographic” type of images from Earth and beyond used by Malick leave place to more intimate images of Earth used by Kawase, including drops of rain, birds giving food to their newborns… The film has so much compassion, has a great deal of depth, even if at times, it looses its oomph. But it still follows the path that Kawase has been excelling in: understand the human emotion.

12. 18 Days
by various Egyptian filmmakers
Official Selection: Special Screening

Interior/ Exterior The day following the infamous "Battle of the Camels" on Tahrir Square, Mona decides to join the demonstrators. Mustafa, her husband, tries to prevent her. Their marriage is about to break.

Curfew: During the curfew , Ali and his grandfather get lost on the streets of Suez on their way home.

Retention: The film revolves around a variety of Egyptian characters who are patients at a mental institution. We learn that some of them were forcefully confined to the hospital by security police forces. As the events of the revolution begin, the reactions of the different characters to the daily incidents and to each other’s opinions start being revealed.
The position of the hospital administration also plays a key symbolic role.

19/ 19: One of the leaders of the revolution gets arrested one day before the big day.

#Tahrir 2/2: This film tells two parallel stories about two people who come from very different backgrounds and how being on the square on February 2nd (Battle of the Camel) has changed their lives for ever.

Quand le Deluge Survient: How two marginalized from a poor social class try and succeed in making financial profit during the revolution from pictures and flags.

God’s Creation: How a girl who sells tea on the street joins the revolution, and how she finds in it a way out of her repressed life. It changes the way she thinks and feels about things, even how she feels about the color of her hair.

Ashraf Seberto: The film tells the story of a barber whose shop suddenly turns into a field hospital treating protesters.

Window: 'Window' tells the story of a young man, who lives in his bedroom, the changes he goes through and his reactions to the revolution he did not take part in, while watching the girl who lives next door through his only window. He barely leaves his room, and we barely leave it as well. Going through many personal details, ‘Window’ reviews the main events in the Egyptian Revolution through Newspapers

→ This is what I call doing things hastily to present them at the Cannes Film Festival. Various filmmakers made a collection of shorts to be presented in one long film about the Egyptian revolution that took place in January/February and that ousted Hosni Mubarak. The idea is of course excellent. It’s just that you can’t make it in such a rapid (and hence graceless) way. It needs time, preparation. It’s not about making a scoop to go to Cannes and present it, even if the festival made an even bigger mistake to select in its official selection to make a political statement rather than an artistic one.
Bottom line, few good things here, lot of bad things. So it’s very much uneven. That’s too bad.

13. Ichimei (Hara Kiri: Death of a Samurai)
by Takashi Miike


Official Selection: Official Competition


Seeking a noble end, poverty-stricken samurai Hanshiro requests to commit ritual suicide at the House of Ii, run by headstrong Kageyu. Trying to dismiss Hanshiro's demand, Kageyu recounts the tragic story of a similar recent plea from young ronin Motome. Hanshiro is shocked by the horrifying details of Motome's fate, but remains true to his decision to die with honor. At the moment of the hara-kiri, Hanshiro makes a last request to be assisted by Kageyu’s samurai, who are coincidentally absent. Suspicious and outraged, Kageyu demands an explanation. Hanshiro confesses his bond to Motome, and tells the bittersweet tale of their lives... Kageyu will soon realize that Hanshiro has set in motion a tense showdown of vengeance against his house.

→ I thought this would be a full Samurai movie. Turns out I was wrong. And for the better. I am not a fan of Samurai films. But this had a kind of Samurai prologue and epilogue (the prologue being the harrowing hara-kiri scene) while the epilogue a fully-fledged Samurai fiesta of swords. The story is woven very intricately, and it took me by surprise. The only problem with the film is that somewhere in the middle, it becomes too melodramatic that it slows down its pace. It’s good though that there are some emotions in this part, because Japanese have a tendency to mask all kinds of emotions, especially in such tales. The 3D, is absolutely unnecessary. I just enjoyed it to watch the beautiful shot of the snow falling, but apart from that, I felt better without. All in all, a very nice and unexpected surprise.

14. La Piel que Habito (The Skin I Live in)
by Pedro Almodovar


Official Selection: Official Competition

© Lucía Faraig

Ever since his wife was burned in a car crash, Dr. Robert Ledgard, an eminent plastic surgeon, has been interested in creating a new skin with which he could have saved her. After twelve years, he manages to cultivate a skin that is a real shield against every assault.
In addition to years of study and experimentation, Robert needed a further three things: no scruples, an accomplice and a human guinea pig. Scruples were never a problem. Marilia, the woman who looked after him from the day he was born, is his most faithful accomplice. And as for the human guinea pig...

→ Here you have a situation of extreme anticipation. I really like Almodovar’s core of work, but some things have been hit or miss lately. In his newest one, I felt like he is keeping on recycling those themes that distinguished him from other top filmmakers. I get the idea that he loves to play with the sexes and the complicated family issues and the mad characters. But it’s just that we’ve seen those a lot already. That said, the story is very complex, and it is treated in a pseudo-thriller way, which is innovative enough for Almodovar. But he didn't push it as far as he should have. I found Banderas extremely good, even if he still has Banderas under his skin, but it was refreshing to see him in a different light after several years of Hollywood stupidity. But the real threat was Elena Anaya who plays the leading role facing Banderas. She just haunts you with her beauty. Young newcomer Jan Cornet also gives a captivating performance. The sets and shots are extremely studied by Almodovar. Sometimes just a single shot make you instantly know it’s Almodovar behind the film. My main “technical” problem though is the music. It’s like the film has one big score that runs from the beginning until the end. Even if it shifts every now and then, from classical to house, it’s still everywhere, and it leaves no space for silence in the film.

15. The Day He Arrives
by HONG Sangsoo

South Korea

Official Selection: Un Certain Regard
Sungjoon heads to Seoul to meet a close friend who lives in the Bukchon area. When the friend doesn’t answer his calls, Sungjoon wanders around Bukchon and runs into an actress he used to know. The two talk for a while, but soon part. He makes his way down to Insadong and drinks makgeolli (rice wine) by himself. Some film students at another table ask him to join them--Sungjoon used to be a film director. He soon gets drunk and heads for his ex-girlfriend’s house.
Whether it’s the next day or some other day, but Sungjoon is still wandering around Bukchon. He runs into the actress again. They talk and soon part. He eventually meets his friend and they head to a bar called Novel with a female professor his friend knows. The owner of the bar has a striking resemblance to Sungjoon’s ex-girlfriend. He plays the piano for her.
Whether it’s the next day or some other day, Sungjoon goes to the Jeongdok Public Library with his friend and mentions that it was the first place he chased after a woman. Later, they have drinks with a former actor who had been doing business in Vietnam. The same female professor joins them and the four go to the bar called Novel. Sungjoon gets drunk and ends up kissing the owner of the pub...
Sungjoon may have spent a few days in Seoul with his friend, or it may still be his first day there. He may have learned something from the encounter with his ex-girlfriend, or may have to meet the woman that resembles her again, for the first time. As life presents itself in no more than today’s worth of time, Sungjoon also has no other choice than to face his "today".

→ OK I just noticed that the synopsis is longer than the 79-minute film! I really like HONG Sangsoo. It’s true he made so many films, sometimes two per year, so he is prolific, but that can harm some works. He can use the same topics over and over and produce a film is little time so it can feel undercooked. That said, I enjoyed this one. I liked Ha Ha Ha (produced just last year and screened and awarded in Cannes) more, but this one is so witty and warmhearted. There are many characters and situations that feel either repeated or put together hastily, but this is the problem of making a film very fast.

16. Okhotnik (The Hunter)
by Bakur Bakuradze
Official Selection: Un Certain Regard

Farmer Ivan Dunaev gets up early. He feeds his piglets, does paperwork, fixes the tractor, and weighs the meat he'll take in his old pickup truck to the market to sell. He has a wife, a teenage daughter, and a young son. And he loves to hunt. His world revolves around these things. Then, one day, two new workers, Lyuba and Raya, on work release from the local prison colony, arrive on the farm. Ivan doesn't notice it at first, but something begins to change…

→ In this beautifully shot Russian dark tale, things have a tendency to be long. And stagnant. The synopsis says things begin to change, well they do. Only not as much as one wants them to. I know some things need to be repeated over and over to show continuity in the story but we after two hours of seeing the pigs, and slaughtering the pigs and feeding the pigs, I couldn’t see pigs anymore!
Still, it is beautifully shot. The characters could have been pushed more. But they talk a lot in their silence.

17. This Must Be the Place
by Paolo Sorrentino


Official Selection: Official Competition

Cheyenne is a former rock star.
At 50 he still dresses "Goth" and lives in Dublin off his royalties.
The death of his father, with whom he wasn't on speaking terms, brings him back to New York.
He discovers his father had an obsession: to seek revenge for a humiliation he had suffered.
Cheyenne decides to pick up where his father left off, and starts a journey, at his own pace, across America.

→ Ok, how many films will still be made about the Holocaust? Because clearly we’ve had our share now. The topic is harrowing and poignant and you name it, but it’s just too many films using it as a backdrop that it becomes tedious by now. This one’s no exception. I found the theme of the Holocaust just a pretext because it could have been anything, really.
Sean Penn stars as Cheyenne, and is really transformed here. Even he metamorphosed himself for the role, and comes as a very witty rock/pop star, he just falls flat by stagnating throughout the whole film with not a single change in the tone of the character.
As to the other characters, and as it’s a road movie, you don’t understand where some of these persons come from and why they are parachuted as such in the film. Why certain situations happen. The script feels undercooked. Not that it has to be flawless, but the flow of the story suffers from it. Like the old man whom Penn meets at the gas station. He drops him off in the middle of the desert and we don’t hear about him. Why? What’s the purpose?
The setting is beautiful, the shots are elegant, Sorrentino and Penn make a nice pair, but the film fails.

18. Drive
by Nicolas Winding Refn

Official Selection: Official Competition



© Drive Film Holdings, LLC. All rights reserved


DRIVE is the story of a Hollywood stunt driver by day, a loner by nature who moonlights as a top-notch getaway driver-for-hire in the criminal underworld. He finds himself a target for some of LA's most dangerous men after agreeing to aid the husband of his beautiful neighbor, Irene. When the job goes dangerously awry, the only way he can keep Irene and her son alive is to do what he does best-Drive.

→ This is one of those films that leave absolutely no impact on you. You enjoy them and that’s it. It’s a straightforward mafia action movie with car chasing, blood and mafia battles. Oh and some gratuitous violence too.
The story is nothing special, very much a déjà-vu. The special thing though here is Ryan Gosling who gives a great performance here. He has this special young aura that adds to his mysterious character. Carey Mulligan also does a fine job, and there is a nice chemistry in the couple on screen. The lighting is also beautiful in the film. Apart from that, well…

19. Elena
by Andrey Zvyagintsev

Official Selection: Closing Film Un Certain Regard


Elena and Vladimir are an older couple, they come from different backgrounds. Vladimir is a wealthy and cold man, Elena comes from a modest milieu and is a docile wife. They have met late in life and each one has children from previous marriages.
Elena’s son is unemployed, unable to support his own family and he is constantly asking Elena for money. Vladimir’s daughter is a careless young woman who has a distant relationship with her father.
A heart attack puts Vladimir in hospital, where he realizes that his remaining time is limited. A brief but somehow tender reunion with his daughter leads him to make an important decision: she will be the only heiress of his wealth. Back home he announces it to Elena. Her hopes to financially help her son suddenly vanish.
The shy and submissive housewife then comes up with a plan to give her son and grandchildren a real chance in life.

→ This is just the opposite of the other Russian film I saw yesterday. It has a story, a flow, a beginning and an end. With such a direct storyline, it doesn’t leave any space for a deviation, you just go straight with it. And maybe this is why I thought it was a bit easy with its treatment, there was no build up, no climax, it ran smooth until the end. The girl automatically reconciles with her father, she doesn’t have a full argument with her step-mother, the ending is too good to be true… The lead actress is very good and so is the directing. The film left me cold though.

20. Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia)
by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Official Selection: Official Competition

Life in a small town is akin to journeying in the middle of the steppes: the sense that "something new and different" will spring up behind every hill, but always unerringly similar, tapering, vanishing or lingering monotonous roads...

→ My only B+ this festival. It’s a bit too long and it’s not your average film, it’s cinema at its best. Every shot is perfectly composed. The directing is flawless. Under the simple storyline lies a talk about life that runs in a very fluid way. Every “action” has a beginning and an end and still leaves space for reflection. This is the cinema of Nuri Bilge Ceylan which is still surprising me with every film he makes. Anatolia was no exception, it was even a revelation, not only by failing to disappoint, but by managing to go even higher than Climates and Three Monkeys.
The only film I nominate for the Palme d’Or this year.

21. Polisse
by Maiwenn
Official Selection: Official Competition

The daily grind for the cops of the Police Department's Juvenile Protection Unit - taking in child molesters, busting underage pickpockets and chewing over relationship issues at lunch; interrogating abusive parents, taking statements from children, confronting the excesses of teen sexuality, enjoying solidarity with colleagues and laughing uncontrollably at the most unthinkable moments. Knowing the worst exists and living with it.
How do these cops balance their private lives and the reality they confront every working day?
Fred, the group's hypersensitive wild card, is going to have a hard time facing the scrutiny of Melissa, a photographer on a Ministry of the Interior assignment to document the unit.

→ I did very much enjoy it. The documentary feel in the fiction works, it reminded me of Laurent Cantet’s Entre les Murs. Some of the characters are very strong and the stories connect very well. Now there might be too much in a way but it’s still effective, and gives a broad idea of what happens in such a tough space.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Tori in Luxembourg: Smells Like Teen Spirit

Place: den Atelier, Luxembourg
Mood: Ecstatic
Song: Smells Like Teen Spirit * Tori Amos

Tori at the Meet and Greet

September 18. That’s a date to remember. My first Tori show in a year, my first with the band, my first time to Luxembourg, and most importantly, my annual vacation!

Sylvain and I in the agonizing wait

After a rough start with a hectic day at work and a long night flight with kids crying on the plane, I arrived to Luxembourg.

12 years for this!

I thought I’d go to the venue, which was very close to the hotel I was in (thanks Rami!), to exchange my electronic ticket. But the Nazis at den Atelier did not want anyone to go in before 8. Seeing there was no one there, I left.

Tori and Sylvain :-)

My wonderful friend Sylvain made a surprise visit from France and I knew at that moment that it would be a fine day. I went with him to Dranouter to attend that special gig in 2008 and I was so glad he came. Next we went to the venue again and that’s where I met some lovely people: Shirin (ChasingTornados), Rachel (ViolentIndigo), Lenore (lenoreva), Marla, Deborah and Mr. Steven. So we waited all afternoon unsuccessfully hoping Tori would show up. And then just when Sylvain and I decided to grab something to eat, Rachel sends an emergency SMS telling me the meet and greet would happen. So we rush to the venue and there she was! All beautiful!

It was my first time meeting Tori in more than 12 years of listening to her music. I was delighted. Shirin pushes me to the front and Tori comes to me and says “hello, how are you today?” I was like “today”? Did we speak yesterday? So I said I come from Beirut, Lebanon, my name is Rabih and this is my first time meeting you in more than 12 years. She was like OH! Anyway, I asked her a question, and that was about the song Me and You which I told her was gorgeous and wondered if it would ever appear on a compilation or live or anything because the quality that we have is not the best. And she was like “hmm no. That song was just done for the moment. It was special when it was made but I don’t think it will go beyond that.” So good thing she still remembers it but sad that it will not emerge anywhere.

Anyway I got a photo with her and she took the time to talk to everyone there. We were approximately 20. She told someone that they couldn't get the Hammond organ to the venue, and hence, she said the show might be different.

Then she went to sound check and it was a rather lengthy one. She played respectively Caught a Lite Sneeze, Body and Soul, Amber Waves (3 times) so yeah, we heard it four times today, Bells for Her, Hotel, Carbon Lust, Northern Lad (twice), Cars and Guitars (!!!), Juarez and two lines of Beauty and Speed.

A sheet with Carbon was sticked to the piano but later removed

I was praying not to have Cars and Guitars at the show because once at the soundcheck was enough and thank god it was not played!

Me and the beautiful Shirin in the venue

The doors opened at 8 and the opening act started some twenty minutes after that. We were up in the front, just some centimeters from the stage, which was too tiny. We wondered where Tori would be coming from since it all seemed too cluttered with plugs and things. Tori did not come until 9:35 and Shirin and I were wondering if she would cut the set because there’s no way she would perform after 11. And with the Hammond not being there, we knew that Strong Black Vine would not close the set.

So at 9:35, the place goes wild. This being a General Admission show, everyone was shaking at a time or another. I love Give and I think it’s a great song to open the show with. I dig the dark intro and the general feel of it live. Caught a Lite Sneeze was next. Now since I missed the Posse tour, and this was my first show with the band, I wanted Body and Soul and Beauty of Speed so bad. And since Sneeze was second, I knew that my chance to see Speed was almost over since it always comes second. And Body and Soul was performed the night before in Amsterdam. But anyway. I knew she would be playing many singles tonight, this being her first show in Luxembourg. Then she introduces Matt and John and that was the only time she spoke, before launching into Cornflake Girl for which the place went wild and she seemed to have so much fun playing that.

Icicle was fabulous. I was looking forward to see it after hearing so many people raving about it and it did not disappoint. I loved the addition of Matt and John even before the “getting off” part. Matt was doing some cool sounds all through that gave some kind of icicles crashing feel. Take to the Sky / I Feel the Earth Move rocked the house, and then I about lost it with Hotel / Lust / Beauty of Speed played back to back. Venus being my favorite record, I was glad I was getting Lust, even though I thought the bass was a bit overpowering. And Beauty of Speed was just as I imagined it to be.

Then comes this tour’s debut of Amber Waves. Now I’ve been to three Tori shows. I’ve heard this song at all three. Is that luck or does Tori really want me to connect with this song? She forgets some of the words in Glory of the 80’s but continues as if nothing happened. And then she played Flavor, which I thought was odd, considering the fact that she never does 11 songs before the Lizard Lounge. Flavor is among my favorites from the new album and I was delighted to see it. I loved the additions on the other keyboards. They give it such a spacey feel.

The stage being so small, there were no Lizard Lounge signs. The guys left the stage and Tori launched into an emotional combo consisting of Smells Like Teen Spirit and Silent All These Years. I thought Spirit was too mellow first but the two final words were belted and almost shouted. I expected SATY since Leather was performed the night before, and I knew that we would get that or Winter. Then the band returns and I wanted to tell Lenore that Northern Lad would be next (she requested it and it was sound checked) even though I freaked out at the idea of having Cars and Guitars after, Lad and Cars being the combo of this tour. But she played Bells for Her instead, and Lenore thought it was her biggest nightmare. She only wished that this song won’t be played tonight since she has heard it at almost each of the concerts she has attended. I thought it was exquisite and the dark instrumental portion before the final verse was violent and almost threatening.

Marys of the Sea was next and I was glad we got this one over any other Beekeeper song. This was the beginning of a hot streak of upbeat rocky songs. As soon as the prerecorded sounds of Body and Soul started, I went over the moon. It rocked the house. Matt played some cool things in the bridge that I have not heard before. Such an appropriate song for a GA show. With the absence of the Hammond, Fast Horse/Talula were not played and they were replaced by Juarez which was played on all four keyboards, although not all were really audible. I couldn’t believe I was hearing a third song from Venus! This tour’s version of Juarez with the band is the rockiest since ’99 and is much more powerful than the ‘02/’03 and ’07 versions. But I couldn’t but wonder how I could be jamming like every one else to the loud drums when it’s such a harrowing tune!

Precious Things was the main set closer and it was the only song I did not want to listen to prior to this show to get something to be excited about, after reading that she made some changes to it. The Matt and Tori interaction in the middle was awesome. It was like a song within a song. I’m glad she brought some life to it. By now Shirin and I were wondering if we’ll get any encore since it was past 11.

Rocking a Raspberry Swirl

But the lights were still on, and the guys started to play a long sassy intro for Raspberry Swirl before Tori reemerged with a goofy grin. Actually I have never seen her this happy. She was smiling all the time in the encore. I think nothing beats the ’98 version of Swirl but this was much better than the mess of the ’07 version. Tear in Your Hand was next and I thought it would be the final song of the evening. But she played Big Wheel and the poor security guy didn’t understand what’s the deal with the crowd singing ‘Don’t you forget’!

Gimme 8! Gimme 7! Gimme 6! Gimme 5! Gimme 4! Gimme 3! Let's go!

All in all, the concert was very good. I couldn’t be happier with the song selection. I got the three songs I wanted to see the most (Flavor, Beauty of Speed and Body and Soul), three songs from my Venus, and watched Tori from the closest point I could ever dream of! Add to that wonderful people who made this concert an even more memorable experience! Thank you guys!

See you in Prague!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Gibran on Mercury, Mira in New York

Place: A crater on Mercury
Mood: Blurred
Song: Don't Give Up * Peter Gabriel feat. Kate Bush

Could Mercury have its own prophet? Or is it the first Lebanese stepping on the smallest of the solar planets?
News is that the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has just approved in late August to have a crater on Mercury to hold the name of the Lebanese renowned poet, writer and artist Gibran Khalil Gibran.

Mercury is known for its craters, all of which hold names of deceased authors, painters and artists. These names facilitate the work of researchers studying the planet.

Gibran Khalil Gibran had to move from Bcharre in Lebanon to the US with his family in the late 19th century and that's where he fulfilled his studies and his artistic and literary career flourished. But his heart remained in Lebanon, for he wanted to be buried in his native land.

In mid-August, my dear friend Mira has decided to head to the US and follow her dreams. What I love about her is that once she has an aim, she achieves it no matter what. And now that she's in New York, I have full faith in the path she'll be pursuing for the next couple of years. I don't doubt a single minute that she'll be successful and get the positions that everyone dreams about.

But before that, and I know the road is tough, I'll be taking it next year, I wish she'd enjoy things as they come. She has enough to worry about and hope she'll have a kick at this. And then we, the close gang, will always be there!

"Rest your head
You worry too much
It's going to be alright
When times get rough
You can fall back on us
Don't give up
Please don't give up"

Here's what I would like to tell her:
You know you can and will make it, just jump into the waters. They'll be cold at first, but they you'll enjoy them. You can't be a good swimmer if you're afraid of water!

And you know you have to make it because Gibran needs another Lebanese on Mercury. And it won't be just any Lebanese.

Good luck beautiful Mira! :-)

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Warmest of the Cold

Place: Ridge A.
Mood: Warm
Song: Suleima * Rima Khcheich

Welcome to Ridge A., Antarctica. A land where it is believed that no human could have possibly walked upon. What makes this place special? While looking for the perfect location to build an astronomical observatory, a team of American and Australian researchers have discovered Ridge A., the "coldest, driest and calmest place on Earth" (

Head of Study Will Saunders claims that it is as calm that "there is almost no wind or weather there at all."

There, the temperatures reach -70 degrees Celsius, you could hear your own breathing and see the stars twinkling.
And I bet you would feel so warm in such a cold heaven.

But if you find Antarctica way too far, and you'd like to reach such a state, here is another alternative.

In a genuine initiative from the Beirut Art Center (BAC), singer Rima Khcheich reunited with musician Rabih Mroue to present a thematic night entitled "One Minute Late." The BAC, known for its art galleries, video screenings and lectures, aimed to prove that it was a real center for Arts in the Lebanese capital by bringing to its small stage a musical performance.

The hall in which the concert was to take place is a small 70-something-seat that is shaped in a vertical yet conspicuously narrow manner that its only public entrance is through its right side.

Rima enters the stage in a black ensemble, a scintillant necklace, a yellow scarf and her unmistakable signature smile. She is accompanied by Rabih Mroue on flute. And then she greets the audience by introducing what the evening is about. Now although the presentation looked fuzzy and I did not quite get the true essence of it, it looked to me like Rima was intimidated by the place as much as I am. I felt confined in a coffin and was almost suffocating. Rima made several light mistakes in her speech but she was so elegant in her presentation that actually it made me smile rather than feel more confused with what she was trying to convey.

Onto the first part of the concert: "One Minute Late from Reality" or actually 33 minutes late as Rima introduced it since it would be a 33-minute piece. The original text of the song is written by Abbas Baydoun and ended up being performed in its entirety.

Mroue set the infrastructure by playing a tender flute intro that reminded me of the flutes of the Andes Heights in South America. And then Rima would sing Baydoun's lines a cappella. For the next 33 minutes, Rima and Rabih would alternate between her graceful singing and his crescendoing flute play (especially on the unsettling yet powerful third stanza which he mastered beautifully) only to meet at the very end in a perfect harmonized cacophony before Rima chants a final "I always arrive on time to the meeting, yet it's Time who's late."

Part two is introduced by Mroue as four traditional old poems which will be sung by Rima, all written between 1926 and 1928 by the likes of Ahmad Chawki and composed by Abdel Wahab. Mroue said that Rima would be making a unique composition out of the four poems, comparing that to a screwed up computer which would mix its files when they would be printed. I know this was supposed to make the audience smile because of the heavy performance that was coming up, but comparing a poetic composition to a deflated machine certainly wasn't the most intelligent association to come up with.

The actual composition surely felt like perfect territory for Khcheich. I have never been a fan of real 'tarab' but I certainly came a long way to finally learn to appreciate it. She made the poems breathe through her velvet voice and her yellow scarf felt so warm against these concrete blocks that she was surrounded by. Her voice was like a gymnasium undulating between high and low notes and it felt like she was on the edge of a cliff refraining from jumping.

The concert was rounded with the always welcomed Suleima, in an even more stripped and dirge-like rendition through the distinct sound of an accordion played by Mroue. By now, Rima has taken off her golden scarf to let Suleima cry more freely and wrap the concert.

And that was it. After an hour and some ‘minutes late’, Rima managed to enchant the small crowd no matter the circumstances, and no matter the place. And I’d bet that she’d charm the spectators anywhere she might be, even if it were on Antarctica's Ridge A.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Let's Shoot Stars!

Place: Comet Swift-Tuttle
Mood: Stargazing 
Song: The Stars * Patrick Wolf

"And all the Unseen came into sight
The pull, the scales, the dark, the light
Mama, Papa, voila! The night!"
From The Stars by Patrick Wolf

And to accompany a magical night, here's a magical setlist with the songs I have been enjoying lately.

01. The Stars (by Patrick Wolf) - from the album The Magic Position [2007]

Mama, I saw the stars tonight
Orion, the plow, the burning bright
Cannot recall where I drove
An empty lane, the lonely road

So to kick off this journey, what's better than Patrick Wolf's own journey towards the stars? I love this little song. It's dreamy and takes you straight to the Kingdom of the Stars. Each one has a special star, why don't you check if yours is waving at you tonight?

02. New Age (by Tori Amos) - from the album Strange Little Girls [2001]

Had a funny call today
Someone died, someone's married (...)
And something's got a hold on me
It's the beginning of a new age
Oh you little sick little fucks, yes
It's the beginning of a new age

And through the distinct sounds of the Wurlitzer, Tori (or Tori's character anyway, the Librarian pictured here) launches this cover of Velvet Underground's live version of New Age, which opens her cover album Strange Little Girls. It's the song that pushed me to write this entry. How can you have a wedding and a funeral during the same day. And how many people are born, how many die, how many give birth, how man get married, how many divorce in one day. Is that Karma? Is that the true balance of life?

03. If You Want a Rainbow, You Must Have the Rain (by Annette Hanshaw) - from the Sita Sings the Blues OST [2008]

Take your share of trouble
Face it and don't complain
If you want a rainbow
You must have the rain

And speaking of Karma, here comes this exquisite animation film by Nina Paley who brings the voice of late 1920's jazz starlet Annette Hanshaw to recreate the story of Sita, wife of Rama, in this Indian tale. I have never heard this song prior to watching the film, and I must say it's everything I could think of at the moment. Without rain, no rainbows. So if I truly wanted the rainbow that's about to change my life, I know I have to get rid of all the rain that has been pouring on me.

04. The Time Is Now (by Moloko) - from the album Things to Make and Do [2000]

Tempted by Fear, and I won't hesitate
The Time is now, and I can't wait
Give up yourself onto the moment
Let's make this moment... Last

Whatever this moment is. As long as it's enjoyable, let's make it last. I truly enjoy this song by Moloko. Now I still like Roisin Murphy's solo career, but I think Moloko had a distinct sound. And this album, while less electronic and more organic than its predecessor, is still a beautiful treat to the ear. Murphy challenges her voice all through. So wether it was the phone call I received, the wedding I was enjoying, or the meteor shower, I wished the moment lasted longer. And hence I advise anyone to enjoy the true moments while they last. 

05. Feelin' Love (by Paula Cole) - from the City of Angels OST [1998]

What would I place with your hot conscious
Oh baby babe babe babe
I will be your death the moon light
Take your time
You make me feel love

Last thing I would expect from the passage of a comet, from a dozen shooting stars, from wishmaking, is to discover love. Or rediscover love. Or feel love. Or feel loved. Normally I am not into this type of songs, but this has to be the sexiest sassiest hot and steamy lovesong ever. Is it the sensuality of Paula's voice, is it the direct horniness of the lyrics, is it the oh-so-awesome steadiness of the drums? I don't know. But this song WORKS. And to this amazing person, among the numerous ones, who has been making feel love and loved lately, bless you wherever you are :)

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