By Moira Sullivan.
The reviews for The Great Gatsby were not overwhelmingly positive and most critics, including myself, recognized the film as ambitious but flawed. As an out of competition film, this imperfection is expected. Still, it is the kind of film that will attract audiences as it did a cadre of divided critics.
Seen and heard around Cannes: “If Sofia Coppola doesn’t win an award for (the out of competition) The Bling Ring, I will eat a piece of my accreditation badge.” (Just a piece?) Coppola repeats her iconography from Marie Antoinette (2006) with lingering shots of the obscenely abundant wardrobes and paraphernalia of celebrities. In this case, a pack of young people (Claire Julien, Taissa Farmiga, Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, and Emma Watson) discover the addresses of celebrities like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, and show up while they are away. Apparently, most of the celebrities leave their doors unlocked. The question is whether the “Bling Ring” was doing their victims a service by emptying out their closets and stealing wristwatches, wads of cash, handbags, shoes and sunglasses – all clearly excessive, non-essential assets. The items shout out a barrage of labels and some of the products even find endorsements in the film’s credits. Paris Hilton actually cooperated in the making of the film. What is more disturbing is the lifestyle of these Hollywood burglars: airhead teens with limited vocabulary who party, snort coke, and lead double lives in front of their clueless parents. They boast of their accomplishments on Facebook and even when they are apprehended and spend time in jail, they become celebrities in their own right. Niki (Watson) shares the same jail time as Lindsay Lohan and can hear her crying in her cell. Later, Vanity Fair interviews her about her “spiritual crisis”. Coppola inventively follows the crime scene and chronicles the life of the young and aimless. Emma Watson shows that she can be a clever American airhead. As Hannibal Lector says, we covet what we see everyday. The lifestyle of the rich and famous is what these teens see every day and esteem, which makes their crime a complex social problem, especially since they all seem so sociopathic.
What comes to mind is how Cannes sells the lifestyle of the celebrities for fans and creates desire with obligatory evening attire, and exclusive and restricted gatherings. This part of Cannes is what gets the most attention from large media outlets.
Jia Zhang-ke’s Tian zhu ding (Touch of Sin) is a commanding film in competition that should be on the jury’s short list. As with Zhang-ke’s other films, the director chronicles the new development and transformation of China after the Cultural Revolution. The director weaves four stories from four provinces, each concerning the struggles of a particular worker in China as the country embraces global capitalism. In each case, the power of self determination is undermined by a corrupt system that cripples the human spirit: a man who fights for official acknowledgement that his village’s factory was sold to pay for the boss’s car and private jet; a woman who works as a pedicurist and refuses to sleep with one of the clientele and stabs him (an event that occurred in 2009 in the Hubei province); a young man who works at a hotel with a covert sex trade; a traveling migrant worker who survives by theft and even murder. The director’s mise en scène, which calls attention to Maserati cars and Calvin Kline underwear, illustrates the displacement of the Chinese worker through chaotic economic forces, as far from The Bling Ring as can be.
Moira Sullivan is an accredited journalist at Cannes, and served on the Queer Palm Jury 2012. She is a member of FIPRESCI with a doctorate in cinema studies from Stockholm University and graduate studies in film at San Francisco State University.