Sicario is a great start to the festival: an immensely confident film, dark tonally and thematically, with Emily Blunt as an FBI agent working around the US / Mexico border who makes an unpleasant discovery and is called on by Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro’s team to help investigate the powerful cartels channelling drugs into the States. Blunt is very good, both believable and sympathetic as tough but vulnerable, quintessentially American agent Kate Macer. Pulled out of procedural ops into the ambiguous workings of the drugs war on a grand scale, surrounded by people whose propensity for staggering violence and amorality is deeply troubling to her, embodying a kind of cultural American naivety, she gradually attains an understanding of her superiors’ worrying motivations. Sicario is beautifully shot by Roger Deakins, with bleak desert landscapes, city scapes of Ciudad Juarez and militaristic overhead sequences using infra red cameras that make the surface of the earth look alien and implausible, increasing our sense of Kate’s estrangement. And the score is great; propulsive and malevolent, it adds further unease to this Michael Mann-esque thriller.
Afterwards Jonny and Hatice go to The Chosen Ones while I get my bearings, run errands and meet up with everyone for supper, before going to the Lorton party for drinks and yacht-gazing.
On Wednesday I meet Jemma for a Critics’ Week screening of Krisha, Grand Jury winner at SXSW. It’s a directorial debut in which the titular character, a sixty-something troublemaker, turns up to a family reunion hoping to make amends for past misdeeds. It’s energetic and has some interesting stylistic ideas, but feels uneven and not especially convincing.
Hatice and I then go to watch Taklub in the Salle du Bazin. The latest film from Brillante Mendoza (Kinatay, Captive) it’s a study of survivors living in a region hard hit by typhoon Haiyan; all of whom are suffering from post-traumatic stress and are steeped in griefs both personal and societal. Still living in tent-like houses, they are waiting to be relocated and in the meantime are stuck at the site of their losses, mirroring their psychological stasis. Mendoza’s film is eloquent on the impact of large-scale grief and the echoes of unimaginable trauma but also offers hope, not least by affording his well-acted characters considerable dignity.
So it’s a familiar story of culture clashes and the differences between first and second-generation immigrant experiences, but the subtlety and individuality of the characters, allowed complexity and to persistently defy narrative expectations, as well as the glimpses of Fatima’s inner life and poetic soul (she writes down her thoughts in Arabic at night) enable it to transcend this, and it ends on a note that is hopeful and touching whilst evidencing all the other emotions running through the narrative. At the end the cast and Faucon receive a standing ovation and Hatice and I leave on a high, creep up on Jonny at the Cinema de la Plage, scare him and go for dinner.
Typically ambitious, it offers a treatise on the perils of ‘going west’ (the Pet Shop Boys’ track opens and closes the film) and the losses – both for its individual citizens and as a country, and both contemporary and potential – for China in blindly following capitalism. Zhao Tao, Zhang-ke’s wife and frequent collaborator stars as Tao, who must choose between two suitors, coal miner Liang and entrepreneur Jingsheng, and two paths. Marrying Jingsheng, they have a son (the horribly named ‘Dollar’) who takes up the story in the film’s melancholic, futuristic final act, set in Australia where Dollar lives with his father, estranged from his mother, China and any real sense of identity. This part of the film is flawed, but still absorbing and both physically and intellectually expansive; Zhang-ke exploring ideas of cultural and emotional alienation that feel key to his always rich, always compelling depiction of modern China.