Editor’s Diary: Cannes Film Festival 2013, Day 5
  • by Ada Tseng
  • June 15, 2013
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Diary from Cannes 2013: Day 5

May 20, 2013: As Sunday ended with a Midnight Screening that didn’t end until almost 3am Monday morning (and an after-Andy Lau high that probably didn’t end until 5am), the next day would inevitably be less lively.

So of course, no better way to start off a “less lively” day than seeing back-to-back films about Cambodian genocide and the Bataan death march after World War II.

Rithy Panh’s The Missing Picture is based on the Cambodian filmmaker’s own experience during the Khmer Rouge regime, when Panh lost all his family before escaping to Thailand in 1975. He decides to tell his own story through hundreds of clay figures that are not animated, but strung together like a photo slideshow, interspersed with archival footage from the regime’s own propaganda files — some of which had appeared in Panh’s earlier acclaimed work. An interview with the director can be found at Asia Pacific Arts.

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Adolfo Alix Jr.’s Death March chronicles a time after the Battle of Bataan when victorious Japanese officials forced Filipino and American prisoners of war on a 65-mile walk, which left over 20,000 out of the 75,000 soldiers either dead along the way or upon arrival. The story is told in black-and-white, and it’s filmed with actors on stage with 2D sets. A lot of suffering, a lot of talking about the suffering, and a lot of comparing the suffering to death. Is death better than this suffering?

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But the big surprise of the day: after many unsuccessful attempts to chase down tickets to Takashi Miike’s Shield of Straw Gala screening– mostly because we didn’t actually know who we were supposed to talk to (at some point, we tracked down the Japanese film company’s booth in the film market that consisted of 2 tables surrounded by chairs, with no actual people there) — we got tickets! My first official gala screening, and this time, I’d wear the right shoes.

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At Cannes, you always hear about these films (even ones that ended up being loved later) that get boo-ed at the audience at the end. Some were pretty sure James Franco’s As I Lay Dying would get slaughtered at the press screening this year. (James Franco adapting William Faulkner, seems too easy of a target, right?)

Granted, what I’ve learned from these few days at Cannes is that critics here can be very polarizing — especially on social media, where everyone either wants to be the first to gush about a masterpiece or the first to tweet a cleverly scathing knockout about a film they don’t believe deserves to even be here.

Well, Miike’s film had a rough start. The press screening in the morning was delayed due to technical difficulties, they had to move the entire audience to a different room, and even when it was projected successfully, closing credits rolled to scattered boos. And people seemed to believe that Shield of Straw, which had already opened in Japan to mediocre reviews no less, had no place in the Competition films. That said, controversy only sparks curiosity, so I was still pretty excited to get dressed up, walk the red carpet, and watch a film that could be terrible.

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In the end, I was pleasantly surprised. The film was basically an entertaining cop thriller. Does that make it less impressive than Miike’s previous body of work? Probably. Did it belong more in a commercial multiplex than in the Cannes Competition films? Sure, maybe. But bad? Come on, it’s not bad. The performances were good, the concept was interesting, execution was skilled. If it played as a Midnight Screening, people probably wouldn’t have been as disappointed.

So context is everything, and the extreme love and hate is just part of the Cannes game. After all, even Franco’s As I Lay Dying survived. Hollywood Reporter called it “startlingly effective,” and Variety called it “competently acted and technically adequate. (Can’t you just feel how difficult it is for them to give a real compliment?) So there you go…

Fashion Highlights from the last few days:

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Zhang Yuqi at the Like Father, Like Son premiere.

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