Cannes 2011: The S&S blog

Nappy days are here again


Nick Roddick, 18 May

Like Resnais’s Smoking/No Smoking, there are, if not infinite, then certainly a very large number of possibilities at Cannes, depending on which path you take. We all start off at the same point – the opening film (Woody Allen this year as in so many others) – then spiral off into serendipity before returning, exhausted, to our point of departure, aka L’Aéroport de Nice. Which is a roundabout way of saying that there is no such thing as the typical Cannes experience: we all see different films, spot different themes.

At times you can feel fate ganging up on you: on three consecutive days I’ve watched movies featuring incontinence and men (only one of them elderly) having their nappies changed, not to mention two characters taking on-screen craps.

In Alejandro Landes’s Colombian fact-based drama Porfirio (Colombia/ Spain/Uruguay/Argentina/France, pictured at top), about a man paralysed after being shot by a policeman and waiting in vain for his compensation money, the central character’s bathing and diapering are treated with some delicacy, forming part of a daily routine against which he finally rebels.

In Andreas Dresen’s Halt auf freier Strecke (Stopped on Track, Germany, below), the central character slowly succumbs to a brain tumour and Alzheimer’s. Dresen’s background in documentary, coupled with a brilliant central performance by Milan Peschel, make the film a small masterpiece of humanism – but one for which, as with the director’s previous Wolke 9, it will be very hard to find an audience.

Halt auf freier Strecke

As for the third diaper scene (I’m told I missed a fourth in the Icelandic film Volcano), it comes in Urszula Antoniak’s bleakly minimalist story of a self-harming night nurse, Code Blue (Netherlands/Denmark). And that’s quite enough about that one.

Such details apart, the most striking thing about Cannes this year is the discrepancy in scale. At one end the are movies writ large, not to say overblown: Pirates of the Caribbean IV, for sure, but also Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, so determined to capture the essence of an American childhood and to be the Great American Movie (not to mention a complete History of the Planet) that it eventually sinks beneath its own weight.

Then, at the other end of the scale, there have been, mainly in the Director’s Fortnight, a series of films – the most egregious of which is the Irish/Dutch co-production The Other Side of Sleep, directed by Rebecca Daly – where the image (or perhaps more properly the frame) is the prime signifier. Not character, not plot, not theme, but a series of beautifully composed pictures in which (sometimes) something happens or across which someone passes. Most bear the print of the Cinéfondation, in which Cannes recreates itself in its own image. From the nappy, in other words, to the navel.

« Early morning medicine

Bemusement »

See also

Santa, waffles and echoes of turmoil: Adina Bradeanu’s report from the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (December 2010)

Last Updated: 18 May 2011