By Moira Sullivan.
On day five, La Semaine de la Critique featured David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints with Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. The introduction given by the organizers impressed even the director. Less impressive was the film, with a story that has been done before: an outlaw does prison time, breaks out, returns home to his wife and a child he has never seen, gets shot and finally meets his little girl. The tint and graininess of the film is what makes it stand out, setting a hazy tone in a poor part of Texas, with careful attention to lighting, costume, and set design. The grittiness here and the framing of the shots is excellent. It would be interesting to see a film with this kind of technical perfection be put to use with a more innovative story. The cinematography won a prize at Sundance where the film debuted. Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck and David Lowery were on hand at Cannes to present the film.
The Last of the Unjust was screened out of competition today by veteran filmmaker Claude Lanzmann. His three and half hour epic documentary about the last Jewish elder of a town given by Hitler to the Jews, the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia, is an important and challenging film to watch. Lanzmann refuses to simplify his work and make it comfortable for his audience, insisting that the length of his film is necessary to appreciate the history at hand. Most of the documentary consists of interviews from 1975 during one weekend in Rome with Lanzmann and Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein. The rabbi worked for Adolf Eichmann from 1938 and was the person who worked out the logistics of the “Final Solution,” and the forced emigration of Austrian Jews from Vienna.
Murmelstein is an interesting interview subject. He demands total attention, cannot be interrupted, and often acts like Lanzmann’s questions get in the way of the story. At times, however, Murmelstein omits some of the necessary background for his anecdotes, like when he mentions, “Then the Danes came,” and Lanzmann wonders about the Danish Jews in Theresienstadt. Murmelstein helped to free hundreds of thousands of Jews but still was considered a traitor by victims of the holocaust, who demanded his public execution. He found this perplexing because even Hannah Arendt, the famous writer of Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963), had not asked for Eichmann to be hung.
Tonight’s midnight screening at La Semaine de la Critique was Johnnie To’s Blind Detective, a comic thriller starring Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng, which unfortunately set itself apart with recurrent jokes about a lesbian cop named Susan. In the film, detective Chong See Tun (Lau) has suffered retinal damage and assumes that since his partner Ho Ka Tung (Cheng) is an excellent marksmen and martial artist, she must look like Susan. Meanwhile, Ho Ka Tung refers to Susan as a “buddy,” but is ashamed that she may look like Susan in Chong See Tun’s mind. Another patronizing comment is made about Minnie, a girl who has gone missing and one of several women murdered by a serial killer at large. At one point in the film, Chong See Tun hypothesizes that maybe she fell in love with a woman, which is normal at her age, signaling that being a lesbian is something one grows out of. There is also a woman who is a very tall basketball coach with large feet, likewise used as a source of ridicule. These flubs in the script are attributed to writer Ka-Fai Wai. Johnnie To has done exceptional work in mentoring young filmmakers in Hong Kong and hopefully their scripts will avoid some of the flaws found in Blind Detective.
Moira Sullivan is an accredited journalist at Cannes, member of FIPRESCI and served on the Queer Palm Jury 2012. She has a PhD in cinema studies at Stockholm University and studied filmmaking at San Francisco State University.