MIFF Director on Bonsai, Beauty, and Bob Marley Docx at Cannes

Film Fiend features dispatches from Miami International Film Festival Director, Jaie Laplante, as he scopes flicks on the indie film festival circuit.

A "melancholy" mood has set over the Cannes Film Festival today: in a few hours, Film Fiend and 2,299 of his closest personal friends will settle into the Lumiere Theater for the eagerly awaited premiere of Lars von Trier's epic new film, Melancholia. Film Fiend has never seen people more excited, dazzled, and happy to be clutching tickets to a movie with such a sad title.  

The hype of the film, with an all-star cast that includes Kristen Dunst, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skaksgard and Udo Kier, has only become more stratospheric due to the early-morning advance reviews by trade publications Variety ("mind-blowing") and Indiewire (who graded the film "A", the only film of the Festival to earn this score thus far).

Film Fiend will have a full report of the red carpet in his next Cannes

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feed, but today it is all about the letter "B":  Bonsai, Beauty,

and Bob. Bonsai is the second film from Chilean director Cristian

Jimenez (his first film, Optical Illusions, was at Miami International

Film Festival in 2010). It's based on a 2006 novel by Alejandro

Zambra, which is widely considered a significant cultural milestone in

Chilean literature.  

Having to translate a literary masterpiece into cinema, where it must

retain the soul of the original but take on a new form to live and

breathe as a movie, is no easy task, and the results can be sublime

(such as when Phillip Kaufman adapted Milan Kundera's The Unbearable

Lightness of Being) or a complete disaster (such as when Brian de Palma

adapted Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities). 

It's a thrill to report that Bonsai is much closer to Being than to Bonfire. At first we follow Julio (Diego Nogurea) as an awkward young

student living in Valdivia, exploring Proust and puppy love for the

dark-eyed, moody Emilia. In the next chapter, it is eight years later

and Julio is living in Santiago, struggling to find his own voice as a

writer, while carrying on a casual sex relationship with neighbor

Blanca. 

As layers are revealed with careful and intelligent subtly, we come to

see that Emilia represents something that is passing in Chilean culture,

a connection to the dark past that some Chileans have found difficult

to shake off. Whereas Blanca is a voice of the new and the progressive,

ready for the world stage while proudly maintaining a distinctively new

national character; and Julio could be Chile itself, working to make

sense of its influential past while cautiously exploring a confident

attraction to the future.

I absolutely adore this movie (and Norguera's touching lead performance)

and I think it has a strong shot at winning the Un Certain Regard Jury

prize, although I can only hope that the jury members were not at

yesterday's 2 p.m. screening at the Debussy, where the film had to be

shut off after 20 minutes and restarted due to sound, subtitle and DCP

freezing problems (yes, even Cannes has projection issues from time to

time).

Another film playing in the Un Certain Regard program is Skoonheid

(Beauty) from South African filmmaker Oliver Hermanus, a shockingly

mature work from the 28-year-old filmmaker. Belying its title, the

protagonist of Beauty is a deeply ugly, sick, twisted, insidiously

psychotic individual - a 40-something Afrikaans hardware story owner

named Francois, a bullying homophobic closet case, married with two

grown and beautiful daughters.   


He lies to his wife constantly and cheats on her with a club of racist,

homo-hating white Afrikaaner men who meet up in a rural farmhouse to

watch gay porn and have sex with each other on the down-low.  He drinks

to combat his feelings of anxiety, when his doctor has given him strict

orders not to.  When Francois meets son-of-family-friend Christian

(South African model Charlie Keegan, who is take-your-breath away

beautiful), he becomes obsessed in a creepy Monsieur Hire kind of way. 

It is not easy or pleasant to watch Francois descend so far away from

any semblance of moral values, as his homophobia becomes a vicious

sickness that results in a horrifying final act. Bravo to Hermanus for

driving his narrative head-on into the blackness of his protagonist's

illness, every step of his exploration is terrifyingly logical.

And finally, some of Film Fiend and MIFF documentary programmer Thom

Powers's most memorable Cannes moments are those that don't appear on

any official schedule. Last week, a private screening was held for a new

Bob Marley documentary. Directed by Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of

Scotland and Touching the Void), the film titled Marley is still being

edited. But the sales agent Fortissimo Films gave a taste to

international buyers with 30 minutes of scenes. The date happened to

fall on the 30th anniversary of Marley's death in Miami.

MacDonald introduced the segments by saying "the big challenge is what

can you say that's different about Bob Marley?" Turns out, "quite a

lot," he found. The quest to make a definitive Marley doc has gone

through several directors, including Jonathan Demme, who couldn't come

to terms with the fractious parties who exercise control over the

musician's legacy.

Somehow, the boyish-faced MacDonald has navigated the personal politics

and gained interviews with people who haven't gone on record before. The

footage is rich with archival footage and eyewitness testimony from the

Wailers' inner circle. MacDonald also looks at how Marley still exerts a

powerful influence all over the globe. He summed up his goal to "make

you listen afresh."  Film Fiend is tantalized by the prospect and can't

wait to see the completed film.

Read Film Fiend's first and second dispatch from Cannes 2011.

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