Dramatically different works from French New Wave legend Jean-Luc Godard and American newcomer Derek Cianfrance illustrate why the Un Certain Regard category is as hot an attraction at Cannes as the main competition.
The Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival, intended to showcase works of original vision and style from around the world, has attracted as much attention this year as the official competition. Part of this is thanks to Jean-Luc Godard, whose Film Socialisme was screened in the category on Monday to mostly baffled crowds also nursing disappointment at the New Wave iconoclast's absence from the Croisette.
But Godard’s thunder was stolen Tuesday by the little-known Derek Cianfrance, a director whose name people have had trouble pronouncing, but whose smashingly good drama Blue Valentine is likely to be remembered. The unlikely coexistence of these two filmmakers (the European lion and the American newcomer) in Un Certain Regard is an illustration of why this particular segment of the festival is followed as closely as the main line-up.
Anyone claiming to understand Godard’s Film Socialisme is lying. This fitfully engaging, totally exhausting experimental movie - called a symphony in three movements - opens on a cruise ship, continues in a French gas station, and ends up stopping off at various locations around Europe. People and animals come and go; various languages are spoken; music and noise crescendo and dissipate; bits of politically charged text float across the screen (Palestine: Access Denied, for example).
Peter Bradshaw, film critic for The Guardian
Meanwhile, English subtitles for non-French speakers are chopped up into fragments that translate grossly condensed versions of dialogue and narration (German Jew Black appears while a conversation about race carries on offscreen).
It is cinema as polemical video art. And while individual sequences carry a charge of perverse fascination, Film Socialism as a whole has a certain desperation about it. Godard’s fury is obviously worth expressing, but he seems more interested in keeping his talent above everyone’s heads and making sure his name is hot on cinephile’s lips than on than sharing anything with an audience.
How satisfying, then, to discover an unpretentious Un Certain Regard entry one day later, which made a splash because of its artistic worth rather than its reputation. Blue Valentine is a devastating dissection of a young marriage in crisis that is written, directed and acted with passion and clarity. The movie is about Cindy and Dean (played by Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling), a semi-blue-collar twenty-something couple raising a child in Pennsylvania and struggling to keep their relationship afloat. It is a story that has been done before, but the film throws you right into the tangled problems that these characters face. The result feels like one of the most lived-in portraits of disintegrating love seen on a big screen in recent years.
Blue Valentine is the rare romantic downer that actually identifies precisely what is causing the couple's dysfunction. Cianfrance makes purposeful use of flashbacks to show us the particular circumstances of Cindy’s and Dean’s romance, and how their initial chemistry has given way to knots of festering resentment, disappointment, and suspicion. The device of alternating scenes of a budding romance with sequences of domestic turmoil has rarely been employed to such ingenious and ultimately heartbreaking effect. Cianfrance uses a jittery handheld camera to capture the nervous hopefulness of the early courtship, while he frames later scenes with downbeat lighting and claustrophobic close-ups. Meanwhile, Gosling, all charm and thinly masked neediness, and Williams, with her slightly harried nonchalance, deliver performances of great control and searing emotional power.
The film by the relatively inexperienced Cianfrance, deeply sincere but totally unsentimental, couldn’t differ more dramatically from the master Godard’s impenetrable tease. Guess which one hits you harder.