Cannes: "Blueberry" Is Uneven But Touching; Plus The Best From The Fest's First Two Days

by | May 17, 2007 | Comments

Wong Kar Wai‘s “My Blueberry Nights” opened the 2007 Cannes Film Festival yesterday — did it measure up to all the pre-fest buzz? Plus, more on the Tsui HarkRingo LamJohnny To helmed “Triangle,” and “Control,” about the late Joy Division singer Ian Curtis.

My Blueberry Nights” is uneven, but it has a wrenching sense of melancholia — and enough of Wong‘s trademark visual beauty — to make for a successful whole. In her feature debut, Norah Jones stars as Elizabeth, a recently-jilted woman who wanders into a pastry shop run by Jeremy (Jude Law). She returns night after night to share some lonely meaning-of-life chat and slices of blueberry pie. In an attempt to move on from her recent breakup, she hits the road, stopping in Memphis to work as a waitress and bartender. There, she crosses paths with a heartsick, alcoholic cop (an outstanding David Strathairn) and his sultry, damaged ex-wife (Rachel Weisz). From there, it’s on to Vegas, as Elizabeth falls in with a card player (Natalie Portman) with a veneer of toughness and secrets just under the surface.

So, how is Jones in her debut? In her early scenes, she’s a bit skittish and uncertain playing angry, but she settles into a groove as things go along. Jones emanates enough presence here to demonstrate that she has a future in movies — she’s certainly likeable enough — as long as she works out some of the kinks. Ironically, one of the film’s best scenes comes courtesy of another singer-turned-actress, Cat Power‘s Chan Marshall, playing Law’s long-lost ex.

Norah Jones and Natalie Portman in “My Blueberry Nights.”

“Blueberry” has received something of a mixed reaction from the festival crowd; while most pundits have praised its visual style, some say Wong’s first English-language film is not quite up to the standard of the festival darling’s best work.

At the other extreme of contemporary Hong Kong movies is “Triangle,” a film that lives up to its title in more ways than one. It’s co-(tri?) directed by three of HK action cinema’s biggest names (Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam, and Johnny To). It features a love triangle, a trio of thieves who’ve discovered hidden treasure, and more double- and triple- crosses than a film noir marathon. Created like a game of cinematic telephone, each of “Triangle”‘s three directors shot roughly half an hour of the film, picking up where the previous action left off, but without readily noticeable cuts; this isn’t an omnibus film in the traditional sense. “Triangle” contains several strong action scenes, but while it’s never uninteresting, it’s often difficult to follow, and the tension runs out toward the end. Ultimately, “Triangle” is a slightly-better-than-average crime flick. Both the Hollywood Reporter and Variety are calling this one rotten, saying it’s not as sharp as the individual directors’ other works.

Water Lilies,” the debut from writer-director Celine Sciamma, is a beautifully observed coming-of-age story that’s sometimes painful to watch. The film tells the story of Marie (Pauline Acquart), a shy tween who becomes enraptured by synchronized swimmer Floriane (Adele Haenel), whose apparent luck with boys is something of a show. Marie also shares a complex relationship with Anne (Louise Blachere), a chubbier girl who hides her insecurities under an outgoing façade. Sciamma explores the frustrating love lives of these girls with heartbreaking sensitivity; they’re all confused about their feelings, but Sciamma is clear-eyed in her portrayal of the teen experience without resorting to anything bordering on easy laughs or cheapness. The characters’ motivations are often unclear, but then again, most 15-year-olds’ motivations are unclear, even to themselves. “Water Lilies” seems unlikely to draw a big American crowds, but it’s a compelling portrait of teen angst that should please a specialty audience. (It got a fresh from Variety.)

Mark Ruffalo smoking a cigarette, earning “Zodiac” its hard “R” rating.

Also screening Wednesday and Thursday at Cannes: RT’s own Jen Yamato loved “Control,” Anton Corbijn‘s pulsing but meditative biopic of Joy Division leader Ian Curtis (a review is coming soon); David Fincher‘s “Zodiac,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr., is at 87 percent on the Tomatometer; “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” a harrowing story of a woman’s desperate attempt to get an abortion in totalitarian Romania has received raves for its strong performances and suspenseful script; and “The Flight of the Red Balloon,” Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao Hsien‘s French-language debut starring Juliette Binoche, has generated some solid word-of-mouth.

On Friday, we’ll be checking out the latest from the Coen Brothers, “No Country for Old Men,” starring Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem, and Olivier Assayas‘ “Boarding Gate,” starring Asia Argento and Michael Madsen. Check back later for more from Cannes.

Click here to read Rotten Tomatoes Cannes festival blog!

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