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Kitano and Inarritu examine different faces of crime as Cannes hits midpoint

Text by Jon FROSCH

Latest update : 2010-05-18

Cannes took a dark turn with two offerings from Japanese director Takeshi Kitano (with "Outrage") and Mexican film-maker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu ("Biutiful"). But not all that convincingly, according to FRANCE24’s film critic at the Croisette.

Hitting the halfway mark, the Cannes competition got a double shot of darkness Monday with new films from Japan's Takeshi Kitano and Mexico's Alejandro González Inarritu. But those complaining that the competition thus far has been less than dazzling left screenings of Kitano's "Outrage" and Irritu's "Biutiful" - films that deal in different ways with the themes of crime and family – with their minds unchanged.

The nastiest bad guys can be found in Takeshi's Outrage, which is the director's return to the sleek, sinister underworld of yakuzas (Japanese gangsters) for which he is best known. The film is structured as a series of violent confrontations between members of different clans trying to humiliate each other. And what violence it is: Kitano gives us snappily choreographed set pieces ranging from the classic gunshots to the heart to more gruesome bloodbaths involving chopped fingers, slashed faces, smashed teeth, crushed tongues, and other varieties of brutally delivered corporal punishment. These sequences are interspersed with scenes of pokerfaced clan members gathering to re-strategise and admonish each other for either going too far or not far enough in their retribution.

Fans of Kitano, who competed for the Palme d'Or once before in 1999 with “Kikujiro”, will likely drool over the director's new offering. The rest of us can admire the technical skill on display, while finding 109 minutes of this stuff ultimately very tedious.
A softer-hearted criminal is at the centre of Alejandro González Inarritu's Barcelona-set film, called Biutiful. Spanish star Javier Bardem plays a former drug addict who helps run a ring of illegal immigrant workers, while battling terminal cancer and raising two kids with an often-absent bipolar wife. If it sounds like a downer, that’s just the beginning.
Biutiful arrives on a wave of expectations and curiosity: Inarritu has known Cannes success before, winning the Critics Week Grand Prize in 2000 for Amores Perros and the Best Director award four years back for “Babel”; this is his first film in his native Spanish since “Amores Perros”; and his first film without former writing partner Guillermo Arriaga. There’s some good news to report. Bardem is, as always, a completely commanding screen presence, and the script is mercifully free of the chronological cross-cutting and interlocking fates that were starting to wear precariously thin in the director’s work with Arriaga. Inarritu also creates a visually potent portrait of a gritty Barcelona underworld teeming with struggling outsiders who spend their days far from the city’s sun-dappled terraces and palm tree-lined beaches.
But that’s about it. The filmmaker overloads his story with highly charged themes (drugs, immigration, family, death, redemption, adultery, sexuality), resulting in a movie that feels almost arbitrarily heavy with misery of almost every conceivable type. And while Inarritu shoots beautifully, those perfectly composed close-ups of people in agony start to feel almost like self-parody when the film offers nothing much to say about their suffering. You walk out feeling like you’ve been put through the wringer but aren’t quite sure what for.
Now all eyes turn to Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy, headlined by French actress Juliette Binoche, to redeem the competition Tuesday. If it disappoints as well, heads may roll.

Date created : 2010-05-17