Two films from the First Feature Competition. These were watched a while ago and written up after discussion with my fellow Young Jurors, so they're more personal reactions than reviews.
The Wait (dir. Piero Messina)
I remember reading a conversation between Zadie Smith and Ian McEwan, from an old issue of The Believer, in which they both agreed that cinema is a "very inferior, unsophisticated medium." But very recently it was announced Smith was, along with her writer husband Nick Laird and Claire Denis, writing a screenplay for Denis to direct. Also at least one great film has been made from an Ian McEwan novel (I'm talking about The Cement Garden, but if you want to substitute Atonement that's your prerogative). Also because it's just a stunningly ignorant thing to say, something you don't imagine people actually thinking any more.
This doesn't have much to do with The Wait apart from that the film makes you consider how grief is represented on screen. Roger Ebert famously described cinema as a “machine that generates empathy” and that's borne out here. In life our only clues to someone else's inner life are how it's expressed externally; we can learn from cinema about these clues, about the lives of people who are different to us. It sounds naïve, but I believe cinema can make us better people. Juliette Binoche plays Anna, a mother who's recently lost her son Guiseppe. When his on-and-off girlfriend Jeanne (Lou de Laâge) arrives, she tells her Guiseppe has gone away and they should wait for him to return. It's a lie that's incredibly damaging and hurtful, even souring Anna's only other friendship with Pietro (Giorgio Colangeli). And yet, at the same time, we accept why she does it and we don't judge her for it. Grief manifests itself in strange ways, sometimes even in unpleasant, selfish behaviour. Achieving this kind of emotional depth is an important achievement from director Messina and Binoche, even more remarkable because it's subtle, not announcing itself with the kind of performance we might want or expect (just as the Oscars frequently conflate "best acting" with "most acting").
There's also an element of generational jealousy involved. Anna is surprised to hear about her son's love life and, as well as vicariously through Jeanne experiencing the feeling of believing Guiseppe's still alive, she uses their new-found friendship to learn more about him. As a French woman living in Sicily she's already culturally and linguistically isolated; this is compounded by her divorce some years ago, her son leaving home, and now her son's death. Her villa is large, empty and dim, but when Jeanne's around it opens up. Anna even manages to laugh, albeit awkwardly and for too long. The Wait is at its best in these quiet, reflective moments – Anna talking on the phone looking at a piece of wallpaper, or Jeanne diving into the lake shutting out the world – and although maybe these moments don't come together to say anything greater, they are saying how it feels to be alive, alone, out of body, and how we grieve.
Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) (dir. Eva Husson)
From the title on, Bang Gang is a very silly film pretending to be a drama. Sure, there's an alleged story about relationships, but what we really want to see is hot teenagers having wild group sex. In that respect the film mostly delivers, while flirting with and ultimately abandoning far more interesting dramatic material. What's behind this explosion of group sex, apart from privilege and boredom? What kind of sex education do they have at school? Do their parents ever talk about sex? Is there some repressed homosexual tension going on between Alex (Finnegan Oldfield) and Gabriel (Lorenzo Lefèbvre), especially when a lot of their homosocial bonding is about watching porn together and seeing each other naked and/or fucking? Why do the two best friends Laetitia (Daisy Broom) and George (Marilyn Lima) have to fall out over a guy? For that matter, why is everyone and everything at these anything-goes parties straight (apart from the brief male gaze-satisfying girl on girl kissing)? Maybe the film would have been far less entertaining had it explored these questions, but it would have been far more interesting.
Still, there's an admirable attempt at being relevant and modern rather than condescending to its subjects, which softens the blow a little when the inevitable third act STDs and moralising arrive. The teenagers all use the internet and social media in believable ways (until, predictably, a video makes its way on to YouTube and no-one can get it taken down, despite the fact that YouTube doesn't allow pornography and would quickly take it down if someone flagged it for review). The central four each take turns being protagonist, each at a key point looking straight into the camera, although their characters remain only superficially explored. It would work as a comedy (there are funny scenes), especially black comedy, but no-one has the courage to push it decisively in that direction. There's a sex and cycling montage set to Schubert's “Auf dem Wasser zu singen”, one of the few pieces of classical music directors know, that in the hands of someone like von Trier could have been hilarious. Then there's the sex. Everyone is so shiny and conventionally attractive that even when the group sex is meant to be sordid it's just airbrushed and dull. In a world that not only has actual pornography readily available but also films like Stranger by the Lake and Nymphomaniac that use explicit sex in interesting ways, who needs this softcore eye-candy fluff?