For the past two weeks, film critic Jon Frosch has been chronicling the Cannes Film Festival for France 24 and The Atlantic. Here are his picks for the movies to catch when they see stateside release, with descriptions drawn from his posts over the course of the festival.
Blue Is the Warmest Color (La Vie d'Adele)
Based on a graphic novel by Julie Maroh about a teenage girl who falls in love with a slightly older woman, French-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche's three-hour Palme d'Or winner is a shattering masterpiece about sexual awakening, heartbreak, and self-discovery. Blue Is the Warmest Color covers six years in the life of Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos, little known now, but not for long), who, at the film's start is a quiet 17-year-old high schooler living with her middle-class parents outside the northern French city of Lille. The story's catalyst comes in the alluring, blue-haired form of Emma (Léa Seydoux, whose star has now officially risen), a lesbian graduate student and artist from a loving, bourgeois-bohemian family. The film serves as confirmation that Kechiche, with his interest in people living on the margins of modern France (North African immigrants and their children, inner city youth, and, here, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals), is French cinema's greatest observer of human behavior—and of French society in all its complexities and contradictions. Warm, sensually alive, and sublimely acted by its two leading ladies, the movie adds up to much more than a lesbian love story. By the time it reaches its quietly devastating, though hopeful, final shot, Kechiche's film has become a map of the human soul.
Read the full review here
Inside Llewyn Davis
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Set in early 1960s New York, the Coen brothers' sorrowful deadpan comedy, winner of Cannes' second-place Grand Prize, ranks with their very best (Fargo, No Country for Old Men, A Serious Man) in its nearly pitch-perfect balance of biting satirical humor and deep reserves of feeling. The film's struggling folk singer protagonist (played by singer-actor Oscar Isaac in a star-making, award-worthy turn) embodies the tricky duality of cruelty and tenderness that makes Inside Llewyn Davis such a treat. Navigating his mess of an offstage life—couch-hopping, mooching, and wrangling with his scam artist manager and another folk singer who may or may not be carrying his child (Carey Mulligan, radiating fury tinged with longing in a wonderfully vivid comic performance) - Llewyn Davis is a schlumpy, scowling grump. But when he performs (glorious folk tunes arranged by T-Bone Burnett and sung live on set), revealing a honeyed, slightly raspy voice, his face mellows, his eyes close, and he seems to be opening his soul to the world. The folk songs in Inside Llewyn Davis (even the ones the filmmakers mock affectionately), with their yearning lyrics and melancholy melodies, don't just offset the dry, Coen-esque wit of the screenplay. They give the movie a rich emotional subtext, allowing the characters' often laugh-out-loud gripes, swipes, one-liners, and accusations to echo with hints of regret and desire.
Read the full review here
A Touch of Sin
A bitter, brutal, often brilliant exploration of violence and corruption in contemporary China, Jia Zhangke's new film won the Best Screenplay prize at Cannes. Separated into four stories (the main figures are a miner, a migrant worker, a spa employee, and a teenage factory hand), A Touch of Sin paints a despairing picture of a country ravaged by socio-economic woes and populated by exploited individuals pushed to acts of rage and destruction. Jia punctuates his ruminative pace and realism-driven style with startling images of horror and sensuality, conjuring a vast, rugged China of snakes, sandstorms, sex workers, and beleaguered-looking villagers slurping bowls of noodles or huddling together in the cold to watch an outdoor opera performance. As in many of the director's films, the characters in A Touch of Sin are restless figures, constantly plotting their escape to another place and a better life. What feels new, though, is Jia's play on various genres—western, crime film, martial arts flick, and romantic melodrama—to tell his stories. The movie is sometimes unpleasant to watch (shootings, slashings, and beatings galore), but its ambition and blistering anger sear themselves into your memory.
Read the full review here
Young and Pretty (Jeune et jolie)
A tender, slyly funny and splendidly shot portrait of an adolescent prostitute, Young and Pretty (Jeune et jolie) is easily the director's best work since Swimming Pool (2003). Revolving around Isabelle, a ravishing 17-year-old Parisian (played by Marine Vacth, in an exquisitely modulated, expressive performance) who leads a double life as high-schooler and high-class call girl, the film observes the young woman's sexual awakening, the time she spends with clients, and the consequences of her actions with a fine-tuned sense of irony, real depth of feeling, and not a shred of judgment. Wisely, Ozon never provides any explicit psychological explanation for why Isabelle, who comes from a well-off family presided over by a loving mother (the terrific Geraldine Pailhas), slips into prostitution. One of the movie's most unsettling and provocative ideas is, in fact, that such a transgression could actually be easy for a young woman who is so consistently an object of desire. If it looks at first like a clinical, quintessentially French study of sexuality, Young and Pretty ventures into gratifyingly risky territory when it ponders the impact of Isabelle's choices on those around her. It is to the director's great credit that the film never turns moralistic, its mysteries deepening as it heads toward its haunting conclusion.