Despite two days of damp weather, which is the norm for mid-May, the Mediterranean climate has otherwise been cruelly hospitable -- the only reason the festival happens during this annual prologue to summer. Sadly, the large press contingent covering the event enjoys less of this bountiful natural light, being perpetually jammed in lines, theatres, and workrooms most of the day to churn out the publicity that Cannes craves.
Competition titles may garner the most attention, but films screening Out of Competition and in Special Screenings can be just as hot. This year's rare Southeast Asian title, Duch, Master of the Forges of Hell is Franco-Cambodian Rithy Panh's interview with Kaing Guek Eav (aka Duch), a key Khmer Rouge lieutenant who headed Cambodia's infamous gulags that were instrumental in facilitating the genocide of the late 1970s. Panh's exposition gives Duch airtime to restate his defence, which is that he was following orders and thus a victim of circumstance. There's a chilling arrogance to this disavowal, for his memory is only selectively razor-sharp. Charged and detained since 2007, Duch was convicted last year, with the verdict of his appeal pending.
Retrospecting a life less controversial, Eric Khoo's beautifully animated Tatsumi, playing in Un Certain Regard, is his fanboy tribute to comic artist Tatsumi Yoshihiro, adapted from Tatsumi's 2009 autobiographical manga, A Drifting Life. Tatsumi-san is credited for pioneering the gekiga genre of dramatic pictures, which positioned manga as an adult pastime as well. Khoo mixes his sensei's account of youth with excerpts from his published stories, but the montage's confusing lack of narrative depth renders this memoir's emotional curtain less powerful.
Kawase Naomi's benign Competition entry, Hanezu no Tsuki, is a catchment of emotional quietude despite violent undercurrents, about an adulterous woman who fails to recognize that her two lovers are more vulnerable than she thinks. A fangirl tribute to the history and heritage of Kansai's Asuka region, Kawase's unripe film also functions as a companion piece to the films of her fellow Competition buddies, Terrence Malick and Lars Von Trier, all of whose stories have used historical and cosmic myths as metaphors for human frailties.
This year's selections from Australia have all been awfully dark, which in festival parlance amounts to "a strong year." Ivan Sen's tepid Un Certain Regard entry Toomelah is an anti-colonial dirge thinly disguised as a distressing coming-of-age tale: a raw look at the lives of a wretched aboriginal community through the precocious mind of 10-year-old boy called Daniel, who has already inherited the seeds of decay and despair from the people closest to him. Packing more punch is Justin Kurzel's debut feature, Snowtown in Critic's Week, a dramatization of Australia's most grisly murder spree perpetrated by a team of ruthless vigilantes. Kept alive by tight suspense and superb acting, Kurzel captures the story's horrifying subject and smutty atmosphere so candidly that many audience members were reportedly turned off, even though there's hardly any explicit gore. I can attest to this. At the late evening public screening I attended, the race for the exits during the initial bits of discomfort soon produced a domino effect when things got more and more unpleasant.
Check out Brandon Wee's first dispatch from Cannes 2011: The First Four Days as well as his final Cannes 2011: The Last Four Days.
Stay tuned for more updates!