Cannes 2017: How to Talk to Girls at Parties, Jeannette: the Childhood of Joan of Arc, The Venerable W, Faces Places

I’ve no idea how to speak to girls at parties. But after seeing John Cameron Mitchell’s film How to Talk to Girls at Parties, I’m no less confused. The film, the first Mitchell has made in seven years, is set in Croydon during the 1977 celebrations of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and tells the story of a full-on punk who is really just a nice kid at heart (Alex Sharp) who falls for Elle Fanning’s not so nice girl belonging to some strange alien cult. They do indeed go to a party which appears to be full of weirdos where they meet Nicole Kidman’s manager of the Dyschords, a local band. And the film seems to say that aliens are actually about conformity and punks about freedom and originality. But hey, the film works about as well as a very poor party where the booze runs out too soon.

French director Bruno Dumont scares some people stiff with his radical, and often experimental, way with plot, dialogue and character development. At his best, he’s one of Europe’s most original talents. But his latest effort, Jeannette: the Childhood of Joan of Arc, brings her to life with songs and a cast of kids singing them. If only the music was better and Jeannette was a less precious figure, all might have been well. But it isn’t. The film looks like a Christmas play put on by a school without too much rehearsal.

Barbet Schroeder’s The Venerable W is the third part of his ‘trilogy of evil’ which started off years ago with a study of Idi Amin, infuriating the African dictator. One hopes it does the same for this Buddhist monk from Burma who helps to persecute the wretched Muslims of his country. Despite the peace loving tenets of the Buddhist philosophy, this racist thug recommends burning some of them alive and not allowing the rest to have children.

The film was made in secret as Schroeder toured Burma, sometimes with only a phone camera in hand, and it shows that evil is on the rampage almost everywhere, and especially in Mandalay where a third of the inhabitants are monks, supposedly dedicated to peace and goodwill. Schroeder is now 75 and clearly still up for a fight against injustice.

Agnes Varda is now 88 and if Faces Places is anything to go by she still has a lot to contribute. This charming and skillfully engineered film has two artists travelling around the French countryside as a fond relationship grows between them. A marvellous and touching film from an old master of the New Wave and one of the best films of the Festival so far. Faces Places may be just a documentary but it observes life in a way which makes you feel good about it again, Trump, Le Pen and other evils notwithstanding.

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