Cannes Halfway Point: Female Sexuality Dominates
CANNES:Five days and it is midway through the Cannes festival. Among the films screened so far it is astonishing to see so many of them on women who need and seek personal freedom, predominantly in managing their sexual life.
The Korean film ‘The Handmaiden’ leads here with its steamy and sensuous lesbian love scenes.
The very next day, the American film ‘American Honey’ by British woman director Andrea Arnold, in which a stifled, miserable 18-year-old girl makes a living by caring for the three small children of another woman and living with a boorish lover. The film opens with her searching garbage bins for food. She decides to free herself from her enslavement and escape into a freewheeling life on the road with a group of young people who sell magazines door to door, region to region.
The film is forced and unconvincing except for the actress who plays the lead role. Her devouring need to be free, makes her turn to the fast life in every possible way, especially towards the handsome male colleague she is strongly attracted to. She knows he is weak and a cheat, but her larger goal is to be honest to her libido because that, the film seems to say, is the creed of the American youth today. At the Press Conference, the director skirted around uncomfortable questions about why magazines would sell anyway in this day and age, why would people open their doors with such trust, etc. She said she experienced it all firsthand in what turned out to be the recce for the film.
The France-Belgium competitive film ‘The Land of the Moon’ went to extremes on the same subject, a woman determined to satisfy her strong sexual desires in her own way. Set in a cloistered village of the 50s, the film follows the wayward yearnings of a pent-up young college student, who throws herself with abandon at her professor, insulting him publicly when he rebuffs her, and then goes into a nervous breakdown. She is totally unable to control her physical needs.
With no other choice in her small conservative village, she agrees to marry a local farmhand, who is taken by her beauty as well as her family providing the means for him to go to a bigger city and start a business there. Her condition is that he should not sleep with her and he stoically agrees. When he goes to prostitutes every weekend, she dresses up like one at home and she says he can do the same with her for what he pays them.
The man gives in to her every whim. Finally her crippling cramps (could be fake, her mother says) sends her to a hospital where she meets a severely ill ex-soldier. She tends to him, nursing him day and night until they enter a physical relationship. Her lover is sent for further treatment to another hospital. She believes he will return to her. Her letters come back to her in a bundle one day. She believes she is now pregnant by him.
The film’s ending has a surprise twist (lots of them this year), one so contrived that it casts a shadow on all that precedes it. The actress Marion Cottilard seems hemmed in by this unpleasant role which she attacks hysterically. It is difficult to bond with a character that does not elicit any feeling of worth or appeal.
There are films that support fatherhood. Maren Ade’s comedy ‘Toni Erdmann’, the German film in competition, deals with crazy parenting by a kinky, well-meaning father trying to bring some humanity into the life of his work-driven daughter. Surprisingly this film has got the highest rating so far by a panel of critics who evaluate the films in competition every day.
After being barraged by films that present extreme oddities of behaviour in people, it was soothing to see American director Jim Jarmusch’s delicate and charming ‘Paterson’. Paterson is the name of the city in New Jersey where the protagonist by the same name resides (played by Adam Driver). The film is driven by the name and poetry of William Carlos Williams, who too hails from the same city.
Poetry hovers in the air in this film as it whimsically follows the small, humdrum lives of a handful of its inhabitants, mainly the amiably silent bus driver, Paterson. His face reflects an inner melancholy as he goes about his daily routine, a smile emerging as he overhears the telling exchanges between his passengers and surprise at the many identical twins he sees around him. His own inertness is offset by his wife’s constant inventiveness, whether in her cooking, sewing or learning the guitar. The villain here is their surly pug dog, who sidelined as he by the loving couple, takes revenge.
Nothing really happens in this film except the way it depicts people facing their day to day worries. But it unfolds with such warmth, wisdom and amusing asides on the human condition that it has a vision of its own. Reassuringly, the film comes pre-sold in many territories, ensuring that it will be seen widely as it deserves to be.
Cover Photo: Still from American Honey
Photographs:Land of the Moon, Staying Vertical,Peterson