Cannes this year has got off to a pretty good start with highlights so far including the Romanian existential thriller One Floor Below by Romanian filmmaker Radu Muntean. Muntean’s excellent earlier films Boogie and Tuesday After Christmas never got a theatrical release in the UK but are available on the Second Run DVD label. His latest kept reminding me in tone of early Polanski. Patrascu, a middle age vehicle licensing fixer,is a dedicated family man. One morning, returning from walking his dog he overhears a heated argument between lovers in his neighbours apartment but chooses to mind his own business and walk on by. Within hours a woman is dead and Patrascu begins to turn in on himself for failing to intervene or inform the police. Meanwhile the dead neighbours boyfriend is wondering why Patrascu hasn’t turned him into the police Its a minimalist, beautifully performed tense thriller which may just be the film to see Muntean finally get deserved UK theatrical distribution if were lucky.
I was all set to adore Matteo Garrones (Gomorrah) gorgeous looking Tale of Tales following a good deal of critical buzz and a series of dazzling stills which have been appearing online over the last couple of months. A curious, expensive, starry, cruel fairy tale interweaving three grotesque stories looks like it was a lot of fun to make… see a King (an unlikely but terrific John C. Reilly) battle an underwater sea beast in order to cut out its heart; see his Queen (Salma Hayek) eat the beasts heart in order to become pregnant; watch Vincent Cassel have sex with an old crone witch; watch er… another King (Toby Jones) rear a giant flea; enjoy an ogre taking a princess to live in his mountaintop cave… and all of it sumptuously mounted and clearly deeply in love with the craft of cinema and storytelling. But somehow for me it didn’t quite have the power of say Svankmajers (Alice, Little Otik) adult fairy tales to stir the primordial soup of our collective storytelling consciousness… I was mildly amused but otherwise pretty unmoved. Having said that, given all the adulation being heaped on it here, maybe I was simply not in the right mood to be receptive to its undoubted absurdist charms. For spectacle and its gorgeous visuals alone it should do healthy business in UK indie cinemas.
For me so far, (and it is er, only Day 1 for me) the stand-out is Our Little Sister, the latest film from Kore-eda Hirokazu (After Life, Still Walking, Like Father, Like Son). Kore-eda continues to sustain his rich and typically understated dissection of contemporary Japanese life which clearly marks him out as the heir to Ozu. This time, we’re taken into the everyday lives of three sisters all at the beginning of their adult lives, who take in the young teenage daughter of their estranged father after his untimely death. It’s a moving, heartfelt and transcendent tale of parent/child relationships, sisterhood, grief and the simple pleasures of youth and growing up. The film seemingly effortlessly unpacks a series of moving and truthful observations about, dare I say it, the Human Condition. Kore-eda has such deftness, such lightness of touch, before you know it, what begins as a familiar set up (siblings reuniting at a family funeral) rife with opportunities for winsome sentimental homilies about family life, and pretty soon has your heart and mind in a vice like grip. Hugely emotionally satisfying, and such an evocative depiction of a place and season that I felt I’d just spent Spring under the cherry blossoms of rural Japan, rather than in the hustle and bustle of Cannes.