Wednesday was a day at Cannes for a wunderkind and an icon. The former was 25-year-old Xavier Dolan, precocious enough to already have made five movies and gone to Cannes with four of them. The latter was 83-year-old Jean-Luc Godard, who has made more than 50 features and brought many of them to Cannes, though his idea of “bringing” a film to Cannes does not always involve him attending the festival himself.
The Dolan film, “Mommy,” is a typically provocative work by the young director who made no secret of his dissatisfaction when his 2012 film “Laurence Anyways” was selected for the Un Certain Regard section rather than landing in the more prestigious main competition. But now he’s in the big leagues, where he no doubt thinks he belongs – and judging from the reviews and the rampant Palme d’Or speculation, the cocky kid is right.
At the Playlist, Jessica Kiang gave it an “A” grade and wrote, “Centered on an incredible performance from Ann Dorval, with whom Dolan reunites after ‘Laurence Anyways’ and a no less revelatory one from Antoine Olivier Pilon as her son, the film is brimming with the kind of directorial tics and tricks that would in most other contexts be loathsome, but practically every single one of them works here.”
The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw summed up the young director this way: “Prodigies don’t get much more prodigious than this.”
On the other end of the age spectrum was Godard, who in his 80s has made a movie in 3D, no less (photo at top). When festival director Thierry Fremaux first announced that the iconic director’s “Goodbye to Language” would screen at Cannes, he added that Godard had promised to attend – but that promise was broken, which became clear when papers were posted in the Cannes press area announcing that the film’s press conference had been cancelled.
Godard explained his absence in a video clip, though the word explanation hardly suffices for a video that begins cryptically and then gets odder. Here’s the beginning, translation by Indiewire:
“Once again, I thank you for inviting me to the festival, but you know I haven’t taken part in film distribution for a long time, and I’m not where you think I am. Actually, I’m following another path. I’ve been inhabiting other worlds, sometimes for years, or for a few seconds, under the protection of film enthusiasts; I’ve gone and stayed.”
The film itself drew what was by all reports the biggest crowd of the festival – and while most viewers would be hard-pressed to explain what “Goodbye to Language” is about, they liked it anyway.
“With ‘Goodbye to Language’ I think Godard is messing with us big-time, just as he did with ‘Film Socialisme,’ and I don’t mean that in a bad way,” wrote Barbara Scharres at RogerEbert.com. “He’s 83-years-old; he’s top dog; he’s the legendary Jean-Luc Godard, and I think he feels the boundless freedom to do and say what he wants on the screen without giving a hoot how it’s interpreted or whether it’s interpreted … He’s once again the cinema wizard, and his wizardry extends to putting 3-D through paces that no one else has ever tried, and putting it all together with a trickster’s magic.”
Added Eric Kohn, “‘Goodbye to Language’ barely coheres into a fully realized work, but that’s part of its anarchic appeal. Collectively, the fragmentary moments form a confounding poem on the mass decline of human intelligence.”
But it’s not just humans that concern Godard, because much of the film is apparently from the perspective of his dog. And strangely enough, dogs have shown up in lots of major Cannes movies this year, as Guy Lodge pointed out in this tweet:
GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE, WHITE GOD, AMOUR FOU, JAUJA… this year’s Palme D’og competition is mighty fierce.
— Guy Lodge (@GuyLodge) May 21, 2014
The Palm Dog, by the way, actually exists – it’s an annual award given (not by the festival, of course) to the best performance by a dog or dogs at Cannes, with winners that have included canines from “Marie Antoinette,” “Wendy and Lucy,” “Tamara Drewe” and “The Artist.”
And from the sound of a Manohla Dargis report in the New York Times, it may be difficult for any canines to beat the ones in the Hungarian Un Certain Regard entry “White God.” The film, she wrote, “belongs to its remarkable dogs, including Hagen, who is played with soulful expressivity by the Arizona brothers Body and Luke. (A mix of Labrador, shepherd and Shar-Pei, they were found and trained by Teresa Ann Miller.) Told partly through Hagen’s low-angle point of view, ‘White God’ initially evokes ‘Black Beauty, as each new adventure becomes a gloss on human cruelty. Yet just as Hagen seems doomed, the story takes a sharp, wild turn when the dogs rise up against their tormentors, toppling the master-slave dynamic.”
The filmmakers, director Kornel Mundruczo told Dargis, were told that only pedigreed dogs could be trained well enough to perform in the movie – but since the lead dog’s second-class status as a mix was key to the film, the production gathered mutts from local pounds and trained them for six months. “We all became dogs and they became human,” he said.