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Saturday, May 15, 2010
Cannes Day 4: A screaming man
Today I watched a sad film about a civil war: it's titled A Screaming Man, made by Chadian director Mahmut Saleh-Haroun. We've seen movies on the subject before, about Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, America, etc, but never before had I felt the shudder like I did today, for the distant, disembodied jpeg images of bloodied Bangkok streets had haunted my mind since yesterday. A screaming man -- sure, aren't we all at the moment?
The film is in the main Competition, and it is perceived by critics as an exotic decoration in the top-tier category that usually favours big-name filmmakers. Yet Saleh-Haroun's film is not a souvenir of African exotica served up for European liberals; A Screaming Man maintains the right distance between humanism and family drama in the story of an ageing pool guy in a Chadian hotel and the crime he commits against his own son. Adam used to be an African swimming champion and now works as a pool attendant in a hotel owned by a Chinese. His family is struggling to get by while the civil war between the government and the rebel rages on in the background. We don't see the actual fighting; the war exists as crackling radio reports and the exodus of villagers with bundles on their heads. Yet that's precisely what the film is about -- the tragedy isn't just the killing, but the immediate effects, the terrible ripples that crash in on the people's lives and threaten to destroy whatever humanity left in us.
What the movie tells us, however, is that war can bring out the humanity in us as well, and we must realise this before it's too late. I don't want to be presumptuous as to make an analogy to what's happening in Bangkok, but hey, how many screaming men will it take before we understand that death isn't statistics but something terribly real?
The gravity of A Screaming Man -- nowhere near a masterpiece, but solidly thought-out -- is a contrast to other films showing in Cannes today. From Mike Leigh we saw Another Year, a touching ensemble drama that emerges as a strong contender for the Palme d'Or. Here we see a group of middle-aged friends sitting, talking, drinking, cooking, and lamenting about the great wonder of the world why life is kind to some and not to others. It's the performances of the cast (Jim Broadbent, Leslie Manville, Ruth Green) that bless this comedy/drama with genuine feelings and subtlety. Again, it's not up there with Leigh's Secrets and Lies, yet it's sure to be a memorable one.
Then we have Woody Allen, a lite Woody Allen, as it happens to be the case in the past many years. Likeable and with many hilarious moments, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger won't repeat the recent triumph of Allen's Match Point or Vicky Critina Barcelona. Here Allen proposes a theory that I'm sure most Thais already know: if you're depressed, divorced, lovelorn, or afflicted with any form of psychological insecurity, don't go see a shrink -- go see a fortune teller. Allen's sharp wit and punchy dialogue are all evident in this London-set story about a divorced couple in their 60s (Anthony Hopkins and Gemma Jones), their daugher and her American husband (Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin), and a slick gallery owner (Antonio Banderas). Human folly, as usual, is Allen's forte, though it all seems pretty thin this time around. War, of course, is also a form of human folly, and as I'm filing this at midnight it's A Screaming Man that will follow me into my dream, or more likely my nightmare.
It's just Day 4. Another 8 to go. My mousepad is waiting. Please bear with me.
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