Room for arthouse films

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Asian and European films continue to shine in Cannes despite the influx of American films, reports Gertjan Zuilhof

THE Cannes International Festival, currently running in the south of France, is no doubt the most important international film event with the latest, most talked about, films and celebrities.

But amidst the glamour from American star-studded big-budget films, it is also a place for small Asian movies and European cinema.

Take, for example a short film by Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who won the Palme d’Or or Golden Palm in Cannes in 2010 with Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. This time, he shot his short film Ashes with the LomoKino, which like the other Lomo cameras, looks like a cheap old fashioned toy. It makes distorted photos on film, yet it is very fashionable in a non-digital way.

Lomo stores, galleries and cafes are in all the big cities of the world. Although it is clearly about brand promotion, Apichatpong held on to his artistic integrity and the film is experimental without any compromises.

Apichatpong has a second film in Cannes, the less experimental (although still typical Apichatpong) documentary, Mekong Hotel. The film, just under an hour, focuses on several people — both living and dead — who contemplate while slowly passing the majestic Mekong river.

Although mainstream Hollywood is very much present in Cannes (like the new film Cosmopolis by David Cronenberg), there is also room for the classic kind of European cinema.

New films by Italian director Matteo Garrone and the Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke bring the great historic cinema of Federico Fellini and Robert Bresson to life again.

Reality by Garrone is a bit loud, but it’s a good comedy revolving around television and its effect on people’s lives. The main character in the film, the fish seller Luciano, dreams of being chosen to stay in Big Brother House, the (in)famous reality show that became so popular that it could turn ordinary folk into stars overnight.

Garrone shows in a very colourful and playful way — the way of Fellini — expounding on how this kind of entertainment can also destroy people’s lives. The spectacular film has a fine serious undertone in which it shows the sometimes cruel mechanisms of attaining fame.

Amour (Love) by Haneke is totally different to Garrone’s. It follows the serious dramas of Bresson and that of Carl Theodor Dryer and Ingmar Bergman.

The film mainly takes place in an apartment and has just two actors — Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva who play a couple of cultivated music teachers. They lead a comfortable retired life till the woman gets a stroke and becomes half paralysed. The man nurses his wife, but quite soon her condition deteriorates and, in the end, the situation becomes unbearable .

The acting in this sober and stylised film is very impressive and so is the detailed way the filmmaker captures it.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Michael Haneke and Matteo Garrone are former winners of the big prize in Cannes (2010, 2009 and 2008 respectively). Although Apichatpong’s new films are too short for competition, Garrone and Haneke stand a chance, again.

With Reality and Amour, the festival has already presented two impressive films before it is even halfway through. The festival runs until Sunday.             

Luciano’s family in Reality by Matteo Garrone

Emmanuelle Riva in Michael Haneke’s Amour


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