May 14, 2010 / 5:29 AM / in 7 years

Early Cannes films are polar opposites

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The Cannes Film Festival launched its competition Thursday with two diametrically opposed films, one as authentic as the other was inauthentic.

The authentic one belongs to Chinese director Wang Xiaoshuai. Besides being a finely wrought drama about a grieving father struggling to comprehend the events and reasons leading up to a tragedy involving his son, “Chongqing Blues” portrays the port city of Chongqing as a place undergoing an urban upheaval that leaves its youth to become expert slackers and perhaps frays familial bonds.

Mind you, this is not the film’s subject. The story is about a sea captain (Wang Xuesqi), who returns from a long voyage to learn that his son died at the hands of the police in a hostage standoff. Having abandoned his son and his mother many years before, he guiltily investigates what happened. In doing so, he comes to realize the damage he inflicted on his son by his absence.

Wang’s drama plays out in a city in the throes of social ferment. This transpires in turmoil in the background or in views of a changing cityscape. In subtle ways, the filmmaker’s locations bring home many of his thematic points -- an aerial tram moving warily across the harbor, the closed-in quarters in the old city compared with wide open building undergoing construction, a refuse-strewn riverfront contrasted with a beach with boats bobbing freely in the waves.

Then there is Mathieu Amalric’s “On Tour.”

Let’s salute the festival’s artistic director, Thierry Fremaux, for his loyalty to industry pals who have delivered worthy films time after time, in this case actor Amalric, who has presented nine previous films at Cannes, all as an actor. By why embarrass a friend by putting such an inauthentic film as “On Tour” (“Tournee”), Amalric’s first time in Cannes as a director, into competition? Why not a special screening?

The emotions are prefabricated, the drama is false and the situation itself is ludicrous, as even Amalric seemly admitted in an interview this week in The Hollywood Reporter.

The film is about a former French TV producer (Amalric) who returns to France from an apparently disastrous foray into America. He brings with him an aging team of “new burlesque” strip-tease performers for a tour of the coastal provinces.

In discussing his film with THR’s Rebecca Leffler, the director and co-writer admits that this particular performance art is something completely American. “(W)e’ll never have it here in France,” he said.

Then why impose such an alien spectacle, a far cry from the Folies Bergere, on France? The sight of French audiences wildly applauding the crude gyrations of these “girls” never rings true. One comes to admire the fortitude, resilience and bonhomie of these women, but you wonder why Amalric didn’t choose to make his film in America where the story belongs?

More troubling is the soap opera surround his self-pitying character -- his broken marriage, the squabbles within his family and betrayals by old friends that dog him every step of the way. This allows director Amalric to allow his star -- himself -- to overact his way through the movie, in contrast to the natural performances by his curvaceous troupers. Yet the film never finds a reason to exist. From beginning to end it’s contrived and false.

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