With Amazon Studios having snapped up the US streaming rights to six films screening at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, we head to the Croisette to check out some of the other movies on offer. Will they be a VOD service’s next big acquisition?
The feral landscape of rural Romania is the backdrop to Bogdan Mirica’s debut, playing in Un Certain Regard. Essentially, it’s a Romanian Western (or Eastern?) with the distinctive deadpan flavour of that country’s New Wave.
It’s a land-rights showdown with a twist; here, the villains already run the show, and it’s a newly-arrived city-dweller (having inherited the land) who threatens decades of lawlessness.
It’s at once tense and intriguing (a night-time reconnaissance mission is palpably exciting), but also driven by a grisly, sardonic wit – check out the police chief inspecting a severed foot using his dinner cutlery. With genre elements subverted by the story’s sly allegory of post-Communist progress (and some typically elliptical plotting to deny obvious crossover appeal), it’s a natural for a day-and-date VOD release.
Hell Or High Water
Another neo-Western playing in Un Certain Regard, this Texas tale’s present-day cowboys are Chris Pine and Ben Foster, whose oil-rich ranch is about to be foreclosed. Their solution? To pay back the bank by robbing its very branches. Jeff Bridges is the days-from-retirement Marshall on their heels; not hot exactly, more lukewarm, since his preferred plan is to sit and wait for the robbers to slip up.
Like Brit director David Mackenzie’s last film, Starred Up, here’s an old-fashioned genre workout with real-world resonance. The message is overplayed (there’s a limit to how many roadside signs offering debt relief we need to see), but surprisingly intricate. Even as it lambasts modern-day corporate capitalism for overturning good ol’ Texan entrepreneurial zeal, there’s a reminder in Bridges’ Native American partner that what goes around, comes around.
Crucially, though, the film is also witty and exciting. Mackenzie has fun exploring the local colour of this environment (the best laugh involves a waitress who pours scorn on anybody who breaks from ordering her diner’s speciality) and brings muscular style to the chases, shootouts and stand-offs.
What do you say when you’ve said it already? Say it once more, with feeling. Pedro Almodovar’s Competition entry about the titular woman revisits his career in microcosm, with a dual structure that goes from sex to sorrow for a smart blend of the fresh and the familiar.
In the past, Julieta is played by Adriana Ugarte, looking like a spiky-haired punk from the director’s early days and engaging in a passionate affair with a Banderas-a-like hunk. In the present day, however, Julieta is now Emma Suarez, altogether more pensive and melancholic.
How she came to be this way is a characteristically eventful chain of events – less histrionic than Almodovar is capable of, but infused with deep-grained emotional detail, not to mention literal detail in the typically dense use of colour and décor.
The real coup goes to the actresses, though: while they look uncannily alike, they also create a superb dovetailing of gesture and mood to paint a full picture of Julieta’s life.
Neighbouring Sounds marked Brazilian director Kleber Mendonca Filho as a major talent; his first film in competition at Cannes, Aquarius confirms it. Here’s a filmmaker with a sense of social justice but a sinewy, surprising sense of story, novelistic in intent but full of well-judged flourishes of cinematic skill.
It’s the story of Clara, a widow holding out against the property developers who want to buy – then knock down – her beloved apartment. Tensions mount; the probing zooms and suggestive sound design hint at a Haneke-esque thriller as they try to drive her out via psychological mindgames.
However, it doesn’t play out like that, because Clara is played by the formidable Sonia Braga, and she is utterly fearless. A survivor of breast cancer and a music critic with delightfully Catholic tastes, her apartment means everything to her. It’s the hub for her extended family, a place of memories and moments, somewhere to dance and drink and screw. Heart is where the home is.
Braga’s performance lifts the film somewhere that is consistently shifting but always entertaining – a study of Brazilian society, a hymn to bloody-mindedness, even an exquisitely dark David vs Goliath comedy. This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius; make sure you catch it when it reaches the UK.
For more on Cannes, including VOD acquisitions, interviews, keynote speeches and reviews of Amazon’s big hitters, click here.