By Ali Moosavi.
In A Gentle Creature, by the Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa which played at the Cannes Official Competition, a woman in a Russian village receives a parcel, which she had sent to her husband in prison, as undelivered. She sets out to go to town and personally hand in the parcel. Loznista then uses her journey to delve into the lower depths of Russian society. It is a harrowing journey where she is continually subjected to humiliation but somehow remains resilient. We don’t get to know much about the woman, except that she is living a hand-to-mouth existence, or about her husband and his crime. We are, however, thrown into a nightmarish but fascinating world full of lowlifes, unsympathetic officials, and dubious characters. This absorbing and unsettling film features a memorable performance by Vasilina Makovceva as the woman at the center.
Another Official Competition entry, and by far the most bizarre film in this section, is Francois Ozon’s L’amant Double (The Double Lover), based on the 1987 novel Lives of the Twins by Joyce Carl Oates (writing as Rosamond Smith). Chloe (Marine Vacth), a troubled young woman, visits a psychiatrist named Paul (Jérémie Renier). A rapid romance ensues and they move in together. She finds out that Paul had concealed from her the fact that he has a twin brother who is also an analyst. Without telling Paul, Chloe starts to visit his twin for therapy. These sessions can be best described as sexual therapy and we then enter a world normally associated with Polanski, Lynch and Cronenberg. The distinction between reality and imagination, as well as between the twins, is blurred. Ozon’s film is technically impressive and contains some of the strangest sex scenes in living memory. Though in this genre a logical explanation is not always necessary, you need the assurance of Lynch or Polanski to pull it off. For me, Ozon hasn’t quite managed it and the screening that I attended was met with hysterical laughter of the audience, not what the director had intended.
The Desert Bride, a first feature by Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato from Argentina, playing in the Un Certain Regard at Cannes, is a road movie. A middle aged woman (Paulina García) visiting a nearby town to do some housemaid work, leaves her bag in the motorhome of a travelling salesman (Claudio Rissi) after trying out a dress in there. After finding him, they travel together to places where he may have dropped the bag. We get to know more about both of them as they travel from place to place and the Argentinian countryside and the colourful characters that inhabit it. The road travelled is well captured by the first-time directors. At 78 minutes, it is a short but enjoyable journey.
April’s Daughters by Mexican director Michel Franco also played in the Un Certain Regard section. 17 years old and pregnant, Valerie lives with her boyfriend Mateo and her sister Clara. When their mother Abril (Emma Suárez, memorable in Almadovar’s Julietta) finds out about the pregnancy, she come to visit them. Abril’s husband has left her in favour of a much younger woman. Abril likes to be in charge and when the baby is born she decides that Valeria and Mateo are not ready for parenthood and, with consent of Mateo’s parents, adopts the baby. Valeria is incensed and threatens to sue her mother and get the baby back. Abril then becomes a Mrs. Robinson-type character and decides that in addition to the baby, she wants Mateo too and takes both of them with her. Emma Suarez plays the Abril character as a too-familiar self-centred, cold-hearted woman who, having been ditched by her husband, wants to prove that she is still sexually attractive. The film is diverting and entertaining, but does not know where to go. Suarez, though, gives another winning performance.
Ali Moosavi has worked in documentary television and has written for Film Magazine (Iran), Cine-Eye (London), and Film International (Sweden). He contributed to the second volume of the The Directory of World Cinema: Iran (Intellect, 2015) and is based in the United Arab Emirates.