Venice Awards 2016: A big prize for a long film

Do Film festival awards mean anything anymore? Some doubt it if the successful film is American and full of stars. That sort of movie will find its way with or without prizes at Berlin, Cannes and Venice, the three major competitive jamborees. But the non-English speaking nations would disagree. To win a major festival can make a director’s reputation and send his or her film round the world.

So the Venice jury might just have known what they were doing when, despite the presence of several hot new American films, accompanied by their stars, the 73rd Venice Festival’s international jury, presided over by British director Sam Mendes, gave its Golden Lion to A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery, a 226-minute Pilipino film by Dav Diaz. The film, about a woman incarcerated wrongly for 30 years after her best friend gave evidence against her, is based on a Tolstoy short story and is one of the shortest of the 59-year-old independent director’s recent works. He won the Silver Bear at Berlin earlier this year for a four-hour drama and a few years ago made a movie is that lasted 593 minutes and is reckoned to be the longest feature ever made. Clearly, the jury had infinite patience since many critics avoided the new film because of its length within a crowded programme.

America, however, came into the reckoning with Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, a psychological thriller about a woman, sent a new novel by her ex-husband which describes in gory detail her rape and death by marauding low-lives. This rightly won the main Jury Prize, effectively the second best award of the Festival. Another American winner was Emma Stone who won the Best actress Lion for her performance in The popular La La Land, a musical romance that has already been called a masterpiece by The Guardian and might well have a leading role in next year’s Academy Awards. A further Hollywood triumph was Jackie, the story of Jackie Kennedy’s life after the assassination of JFK before she married Onassis. This excellent film, for which Natalie Portman might well have won an award as Jackie, got the Best Screenplay nod for Noah Oppenheimer.

Strangely, the film most critics judged one of the worst in the competition, Ana Lily Amirpour’s impenetrable existential Western The Bad Batch won the minor jury prize. One of the best, however, was Russian veteran Andrei Konchalovsky’s Paradise, an original and moving take on the Holocaust. This won him a Best Director Lion, shared with Amat Escalante for La región salvaje.

So the oldest film festival, programmed by Alberto Barbera, but with several other sections which were often just as good, or as bad, as the main competition, wound its way past ten days in wonderful weather, leaving the hundreds of press a bit sad to see it go but much gladder to avoid the prices on the Lido which comfortably beat those of Cannes.

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Fact as fiction or fiction as fact?

How do you dramatise history on film without adding a large dollop of fiction to the mix? Many have tried and most have failed. But Pablo Larraín succeeds better than many with Jackie, the story of Jackie Kennedy, giving an interview to her ghost writer some time after the assassination of her husband Jack. His film leaves a bit out (there’s little or no reference to the President’s serial sexual unfaithfulness) and the hagiographical nature of the film is a little obvious at times. But thanks largely to an intelligent screenplay, clever directorial control and, above all, to a superb performance from Natalie Portman as the troubled Jackie, the film takes wing as a slice of history and a piece of drama too. If Jackie Kennedy will always remain a mystery, possibly to herself as well as others, Portman makes her vulnerability very real and her extraordinary ability to seem in command of herself utterly believable. It is the kind of rounded portrait that must surely attract the Venice jury, headed by British director Sam Mendes, who knows a bit about acting.

The film is less certain in its other parts, though John Hurt is as convincing as ever as the priest who tries to comfort her. But some of those impersonating the President himself, and others of the Kennedy clan, strive a bit too hard to convince. Even so what comes out of this intelligent movie seems more than likely probable, with Larraín, whose last film was the fine Neruda, refusing to rely on too much actual footage to support his storyline. We get the efforts Jackie made to smarten up the old White House, and the fact that the word Camelot, used to describe a short-lived but remarkable period in American political history, was in fact taken straight from the old Hollywood film which Jack loved.

Was Jackie really so impenetrable — an elegant and sophisticated woman of the world who knew exactly what she was doing until the killing of her husband? Perhaps so, but some of the historical footage Larraín uses suggests someone caught in the headlights and never quite able to accommodate herself to the light. Portman is good enough to suggest this as well as the almost stately elegance, and this is the main treat of the film.

Everyone was looking forward, some in trepidation, to the latest film by Terrence Malick who, since Tree of Life, seems to have sunk into a parody of himself. Unfortunately Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey betrays all the faults of his latter-day work and few of the virtues of his earlier oeuvre. It looks good, of course (when did a Malick film not seem beautiful to watch?). But the poetic commentary, written by the director himself, is tiresomely repetitive and the enigma of life as put on the screen in what is frequently a portentous manner does not resonate in the mind as long or as often as it should. Even the underwater passages, gloriously shot among the strange creatures who live there, seem more like a good BBC documentary than anything more philosophical, and the sketchy footage of human beings, mostly the impoverished masses in India, make little or no sense. What we get from the 90-minute film is the struggle of a filmmaker who may think he is a visionary but seems stuck in a rut of his own making. You seldom make statements of importance with headlines but with much smaller efforts, like the best bits of Tree of Life. Maybe Malick has less and less to say and shouts louder and louder in attempting to disprove that fact.

Another piece of history as fiction is supplied by Irelands Nick Hamm with The Journey, which details the burgeoning friendship between Ian Paisley, the fiery leader of Ulsters Protestants, and Martin McGuinness, the deputy leader of the IRA. The time is on the cusp of the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement, brokered by Tony Blair and the British Government. It looks likely to fail once again until a wily diplomat hits on the idea of sending the two men on a car journey towards Edinburgh airport, where Paisley will fly off to his 50th wedding anniversary. He is now 81 and still breathing holy fire until he slowly but surely unwinds towards his mortal enemy as the car winds its way passed the sodden countryside. Everything depends on the performances of the two men who see each other as monsters. And Tim Spall as Paisley and Colm Meaney as McGuinness are more than up to it. The mistake Hamm makes is to suggest that the car is bugged so that Blair and co can listen to what is happening from start to finish.

In the end, of course, the two rivals became friends as Chief Minister and Deputy when the Peace Agreement is at long last signed. They were, in fact, so close that they were known as the Chuckle Brothers by a surprised media — testimony to the fact that, just sometimes, if enemies get to know each other their attitudes can change. The Journey is an entertaining movie if more like fiction as fact than fact as fiction. Hamm insists there is a basis of truth in the story and it is relatively easy to believe him.

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The Young Pope, Hacksaw Ridge & Nocturnal Animals

Jude Law as the first American Pope? Diane Keaton as the faithful nun who looks after him? It strains the credulity more than a bit. But maverick Italian Paolo Sorrentino is the director, so we must always expect the unexpected. The Young Pope, a ten-part television series, of which the first two parts were shown out of competition at the Venice Festival, seems far from a masterpiece so far. But despite its unorthodox casting, at least it isn’t the disaster some expected. This new Pope, selected largely because the Vatican thinks it can almost certainly control him, has colourful dreams of both despair and hope, but solidly ploughs through his self-imposed task of reforming those who are determined to keep things as they are. This is clearly only the start of a long TV journey, so we don’t know whether he wins out or not. But both Law and Keaton give performances which justify the casting, at least since the object of the exercise is to attract as many watchers as possible to stay the course by using stars.

Sorrentino and his regular cameramen could make anything look beautiful and do so again here. What’s more, the director of the Oscar-winning The Great Beauty clearly hasn’t lost his touch as a man with radical ideas. His Catholic Church is conspiratorial and conservative minded, and his new Pope, beginning his battles against them despite being hardly a revolutionary himself, clearly has a hard battle ahead. If there is a problem with the first two episodes it lies in a screenplay which is serviceable but less than inspired. You always feel that The Young Pope is covering its options carefully and that Sorrentino, in accepting the job knew precisely how far he could go without offending too many. Only in the dream sequences does he pull out the virtuosity we know he possesses. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be sure who has directed the film, except that it certainly couldn’t be any old Hollywood hack.

We all know Mel Gibson, recently dubbed the richest actor in America, can direct as well. The Passion of Christ, whatever you thought of it, proved that. And so does Hacksaw Ridge, his latest essay in film-making after a gap of over a decade. This the true story of the conscientious objector who volunteered for the US Army Medical Corps at the start of the Second World War and was almost court-martialled for refusing either to carry or fire a weapon of any sort. In the end, he became a war hero for saving dozens of badly wounded men during the battle of Hacksaw Ridge, where the infantry has to scale the ridge and face a hail of Japanese bullets when they reached the top. Carnage on a giant scale followed and our hero’s bravery and his determination to go back into the battle area to rescue just one more made that phrase famous for years afterwards.

Gibson tells a fairly conventional story about the young man and secures good performances not only from Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss but the whole cast, which includes Vince Vaughn, Hugo Weaving and Sam Worthington. Above all, the extended final battle scenes are horrendously naturalistic, which puts a distinction on the film it might otherwise not have had. The horror of war, at least for the boots on the ground, has seldom been more apparent. You leave the theatre more than a trifle stunned. But the problem is that Gibson’s central idea that religious faith triumphs over almost everything also applies to the so-called Islamic State and most other wasteful and murderous religious wars. Doss was a hero who just happened to be on the right side.

The best film at the festival so far, or at least in the star-studded competition, was undoubtedly Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, in which the director of A Simple Man proved he is potentially one of the finest in America. In the film, Jake Gyllenhaal’s clean living middle-class man goes after the goons who rape and kill his wife and daughter, aided by Michael Shannon’s chain smoking and almost impossibly cynical detective. But this isn’t reality but the plot of a book divorcee Amy Adams is sent by her novelist ex-husband. Not only is it extremely violent but the characters in it have more than a passing resemblance to people she knows, including herself. Totally different from A Single Man, the film bows to Blue Velvet as much as any other movie, with bloody fiction bleeding into uncomfortable reality. It is elegant, acted with real power and has a strong feeling for its an ordinary man faced with circumstances Liam Neeson might attempt to circumnavigate. Maybe La La Land will attract the jury’s attention ahead of Ford’s film, but it must be a candidate for the Golden Lion with British director Sam Mendes, who knows something about such American obsessions, in the chair.

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Venice Film Festival: Film Reviews

You have to take the rough with the smooth at film festivals. Sometimes the films are so impenetrable that boos break out among those left by the end. Sometimes the applause lasts for a full two minutes and nobody leaves early. One of the most popular films so far has been Canadian Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival which has Amy Adams as a young lecturer who saves the world from an alien invasion and from the stupidity of mankind facing it. It is one of those sci-fi movies which attempts a thoroughly human face rather than heaps and heaps of dynamic special effects. Adams is about to give a lecture on a scientific subject when she looks up and sees a much smaller than usual audience. What’s more, they are all looking anxiously at their computer news screens. Anyway, it is clear that most nations of the world face some sort of threat and, in Montana where Adams lectures, the National Guard has already been called out. Fighter planes buzz overhead and a general panic has manifested itself. Then we see a giant half globe descending on earth and, for some reason never quite explained, Adams has to don anti-radioactive clothes and is driven out to meet whoever or whatever is controlling the machine.

It would be a pity to divulge how she does it. But suffice to say she is not painted as a heroine but as an anxious mother with a baby who simply has to do what she has to do. In the end, even General Chang of the Peoples Liberation Army congratulates her and so does everyone else. But Villeneuve, whose last film was the violent thriller Sicario, has here adopted a more philosophical approach to a film which has already been dubbed Blade Runner 2. He clearly wants to tell us that love triumphs over hate, with both alien forces and humans. And that the important thing to remember is that the future generation (ie babies) are what is vital in the world. The film is not a colourful one, with suitably muted cinematography and a sense of realism many such stories eschew. Maybe that’s not the best news for the box-office but it makes for a more intelligent movie of the genre all the same.

The Light Between Oceans, adapted from M L Stedman’s best-selling novel and made in a far off part of Australia that fair takes the breath away, has Michael Fassbender has a young lighthouseman who marries his lover (Alicia Vikander) and tries for a child. But twice his wife is unsuccessful and she gets more and more desperate to conceive. Then something happens that will almost ruin the loving couples lives. A boat arrives at the windy seashore and in it is a dead man and a live baby. The temptation is too great. They bury the man and adopt the baby, hoping no one else will know or care. But their secret is exposed when a local woman (Rachel Weisz) on the island appeals for her missing husband and baby, apparently lost at sea. This the stuff of melodrama (who will eventually get the child and what effect will the little girls two mothers have on her tender psyche). As the film slowly progresses, its final plot twists seem more and more unlikely. It is also far too long at 137 minutes. But the acting is good enough to assuage most doubts and the cinematography lovingly details the extraordinary scenery it inhabits. This is what used to be called a woman’s picture. But if you say that now all hell might break loose. So I won’t!

One of the scandals of latter-day filmgoing is the way they make you pay extra for 3D productions. One hopes they don’t do it for Wim Wenders new film, made in French with Italian subtitles for the festival. Quite why it is in 3D is a puzzle many are trying to work out since it simply has two actors (Sophie Semin and Rada Keteb) talking to each other in a garden about love and death and such things. The scenery is nice and Peter Handke’s screenplay could be called poetic. But I can’t see it in the cinema nor adding much to Wenders already uneven reputation. The film is called Les beaux jours d’Aranjuez and there were not many left in the theatre by the end of its 90 minutes or so.

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La La Land, Venice opener

It wasn’t much of a surprise that the 73rd Venice Film Festival cancelled its opening night party on the Lido in deference to the victims of the Italian earthquake victims. The oldest, most venerable festival in the world invariably makes sure it has valid connections to the world at large. After all, it was invented by Mussolini not just to show good films from all over the world but to headline Italian movies he didn’t object to. Nowadays the festival is decidedly left of centre, thanks largely to its director Alberto Barbera, who studiously tries to be fair to all political persuasions but clearly likes the radical part of the show best. This year, however, he offered a rare Hollywood musical as his opener — the eagerly awaited Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone starrer La La Land.

Gosling and Stone have worked together before and with writer-director Damien Chazelle too. But after the highly successful Whiplash no one Chazelle to make a musical. It is, though, pretty unorthodox stuff, bursting into song and dance when you least expect but mainly concentrating on two things. These are the drama itself between the two leads and a semi-satire of the musical conventions of the past. Does the mix work? Not entirely. But it is lively enough to keep most audiences happy, especially at a time when fun in the cinema usually involves vast expenditure of special effects, and heroes rather bigger than life. Here they are not.

Stone is an aspiring actress in LA but temperamentally too vulnerable to deal with the savagery of a series of unsuccessful auditions and screen tests. He is an aspiring jazz piano player who believes in the good old days when jazz was not a watered down branch of pop and rock. They fall for each other and, one way or another,get through their career dilemmas with some elan. She at last has a success as an actress, and he gives up a well-paid job with a successful group who don’t play proper jazz to become the owner of a small club which does.

I have to say that the lively Stone is the true star of the picture, acting with serious intent and singing and dancing at least decently. Somehow her personality shines through even during the film’s more awkward moments whereas Gosling, smooth and sexy as ever, has all the charm of a defective refrigerator when asked to portray romance with the lightness of touch of a Cary Grant. Stone definitely keeps the on-off romance going, and Chazelle wings his unorthodox way through the story with obvious pleasure but at least some sense of the darker nature of Hollywood and the La La Land of showbiz. The film looks good, sounds good and, if you’re not too fussy, it might make you feel good too.

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Party Time at Karlovy Vary

Never heard of Karlovy Vary? Well, it’s in the Czech Republic and a spa town like few others. They drink the healing water all the time and wander the vast gardens before and after. It’s near Marienbad where Alain Resnais made his famously indecipherable classic Last Year at Marienbad.

But that’s not the only film connection. Every year at around this time, there’s an international Film Festival which comes neatly between Cannes in May and Venice in late August. It’s a huge event, attracting thousands, from old critical hacks to keen young students. And it is now in its 51st year. It is chiefly housed in the mammoth and transcendently ugly Thermal Hotel and complex which dominates the gardens like an evil spirit. They’ve tried to pull it down and build a better venue. But all attempts have failed, chiefly because they found the valuable spring waters underneath.

I remember travelling to KV many years ago when the festival was under heavy Russian influence, and got into trouble for casting aspersions on the Soviet films on display. Shortly after my report appeared in The Guardian, there was a knock on my hotel door and what I presumed to be a KGB heavy politely asked me to stop criticising Soviet films unfairly. He intimated that, if I complied, there was “some fun to be had” and that included some “lovely ladies” who would love to meet me. Perhaps foolishly I politely declined.

Nothing like that would happen now though most of the hotels are Russian owned the spa has a direct flight daily to and from Moscow. The festival, however, is now fully independent and has been for many years. It attracts American stars rather than Russian who this year included Willem Dafoe and Charlie Kaufman, director of Anomalisa, which I still regard as the best film of the year and certainly one of the finest animated features ever made.

One of the festival’s main problems in that coming between Cannes and Venice there is not much left for the competition section. But around it there is much to see and, if you want parties, there’s nothing quite like KV, particularly at time when most festivals are cutting such expensive events to a bare minimum.

Consider last night, for instance. First, there was a Slovakian do, then a Variety event, then an Italian dinner and finally a noisy Polish shindig. And that doesn’t count an industry event and a distributors dinner. If you can survive that lot, you’re a more avid delegate than I am. I gave up halfway and went to bed at midnight, ready for the 8.30 press show in the morning.

This was a beautifully acted Polish film called Waves, about two young hairdressers learning the trade from scratch and trying to cope with difficult family lives back home. As a portrait of teenage woes, the film, directed and written by Grzegorz Zariczny and taken from a short he made last year, is in competition and could easily get an acting prize for Anna Kesek, one of the two girls the film examines. She is extraordinary while not seeming to act at all.

One of the festival’s strengths lies in its documentary section which includes a remarkable film about five autistic children, one a burgeoning piano virtuoso, from the Czech director Miroslav Janek. The film poses the simple question: who is to determine what’s normal amidst the frequent absurdities of modern life? And talking about absurdities, I have lost count of the number of Brits, castigated for Brexit by disappointed and often angry Europeans, who have protested either than they are Scottish or have Scots blood in their veins.

> 51st Karlovy Vary International Film festival

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If there’s one person they love at Cannes it’s the triumphant but ever modest Ken Loach …

I’ve known Ken Loach for around 40 years, and supported him and his films for most of that time. Not because I agree with all his political views ( I’m just a champagne socialist compared to him) but because he is a film-maker capable of making us laugh and cry and get angry at the unfairness of the world at more or less the same time (Kes, for instance) — and, by the way, he’s a genuinely modest man to boot. But even a supporter like myself was more than a bit surprised that I, Daniel Blake, his film about a working class guy who has a severe heart attack at 50 and gets screwed by the British welfare system, won the Palme D’Or at Cannes. Make no mistake, I liked the film and thought it certainly worth something from Australian George Miller’s jury. But there were other even better films around, some of them not even mentioned by the judges.

This is the second time Ken has won the top award — the first was The Wind That Shakes The Barley — and, well, if I don’t quite agree with the verdict, I am genuinely happy for Ken. He made a good rousing speech at the podium too. They love him at Cannes despite the fact that not many of those in their expensive glad rags watching his films can possibly claim to share his political opinions.

The other awards were even more surprising. In fact, most of them were odd enough to secure hearty boos from the journos sitting in the theatre next door to the main auditorium and watching the prizes on the video screen. Most astonishing was the lack of anything at all for Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann, a hit with almost everyone bar the jury. This German comedy, written and directed by a talented woman film-maker, has an eccentric father trying to persuade his strikingly successful daughter not to take her computer dominated life so damned seriously. It might well have won the Palme D’Or from another jury. There was some compensation, though, when the International Critics Jury awarded the film their prize.

Another strange result gave the Canadian Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only The End of the World the Grand Prize of the Jury, which is considered the second best award of the festival. Boos rang out again when this was announced since the film had been generally slated after its press show. Accepting the prize, Dolan looked understandably triumphant. UK director Andrea Arnold’s first American venture American Honey, which some loved and others disliked, won the minor jury prize. Which meant that Arnold won that particular prize for the third time after her excellent Red Road and Fish Tank.

There was further controversy when Olivier Assayas’ eccentric ghost story Personal Shopping was paired with Cristian Mungiu’s infinitely superior Graduation from Rumania in the best director category. Graduation, a coruscating story about corruption in Rumania, reaching out from top to bottom of society, was another critical hit and certainly deserved its reward for the director of the splendid Palme D’Or winning Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days.

Finally, there were two more shocks in the acting categories when Shahab Hosseini was made best actor for Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman (Iran) and Jaclyn Jose was given the best actress award for Brilliante Mendoza’s Ma’ Rosa (the Philippines). Both were good performances but not generally considered for prizes.

So Cannes 2016 ended amidst considerable controversy after a competition which varied from the nearly sublime to the fairly ridiculous. Maybe Miller’s jury gave its prizes accordingly — only sometimes it seemed that they preferred the faintly ridiculous to the nearly sublime.

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Almodovar and the Dardennes Brothers

Almodovar, monarch of the Spanish cinema for some thirty years, has never won the coveted Palme D’Or at Cannes but keeps on trying. Sadly, it is unlikely that his luck will change with Julieta, his new film. It displays much of his flamboyant art, which includes beautiful design and wonderfuL colour schemes. But it all seems in a minor key as old Julieta (Emma Suarez) suddenly finds out that her long-missing daughter (Blanca Pares) is not dead but around where she lives, holidaying with her three grandchildren.

The shock is considerable and Julieta settles down to write a long letter to her daughter tellingly her about her storm-tossed life by way of explanation. We see that life in flashback, with Adriana Uguarte playing her younger self. Eventually, all is well but not until the film has filled up with some of Almodovar’s neatest tricks. Taken from not one but three stories by Alice Munro, the film hasn’t the sometimes frantic and always eccentric melodrama of something like Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. It is calmer and perhaps more thoughtful about the disappointments of life.

Perhaps those who find his former work puzzling will find this more straightforward storytelling more congenial. But somehow something is lost. The panache is not quite there, so a pleasant film just misses the mark of so, etching exceptional.

The Dardennes Brothers from Belgium have won the Palme D’Or twice but it is likely to be third time unlucky with The Unknown Girl, which lacks the brothers usual social realist fluency and their wonderful heart on sleeve feeling for society’s drop-outs.

A young doctor from Liege, dedicated to helping such people, fails to answer her clinic’s door to a young African woman who is later found dead. Stricken with guilt, she desperately tries to discover who the young woman was and what happened to her. The police take up the case but she won’t stop interfering, and the film becomes almost a Hitchcockian detective mystery.

One of its troubles is the playing of Adele Haenel as the doctor which seems stymied by a screenplay that is duller than it need be. The other is the slightly far-fetched thrust of the storyline which often lacks veracity. There are as usual some fine moments in the film, such as the doctor’s treatment of a young cancer patient and her determination to do what’s right for all her patients. But, as someone has rather cynically opined The Unknown Girl looks a bit like a good chapter in the Casualty series. And the Dardennes Brothers have done much better than that. They are wonderful film-makers but perhaps even they should be very careful about their next production.

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Cannes review — Paterson

You wouldn’t expect Jim Jarmusch, that eminent stylist of the American independent cinema, to make a movie about a New Jersey bus driver who writes poetry. Nor would you imagine that a bulldog he owns called Marvin gets so annoyed at his apparent neglect that he tears the diary in which the poems are set out bit by bit apart.

I have never subscribed to the idea that Jarmusch lacks humour or a lighter touch. After all Only Lovers Left Alive was not exactly fearsomely obscure and lacking in laughter. Even so, this light and airy trifle about the love of words is a bit of a surprise. It enraged some of the director’s Cannes more serious supporters and charmed a lot of the rest of us almost to death.

Our bus driver (Adam Driver) is a simple soul, happily married to Laura (the Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani) whom he cuddles fondly every morning before plodding off to work. The dog sees it all, perhaps jealously, but with a stare Jarmusch watches on and off during the whole film. Any more of this latter trope might suggest the influence of Disney. But the upshot is that our canine friend is a shoo-in for the Palme Dog award given annually at the end of the festival.

Be that as it may, this is a simple story about a fairly simple man whose wife, while he is forging his poetic diary, creates cupcakes, practices country and western singing and looks after her husband like a good suburban woman should. Jarmusch puts a lot of the poetry on the screen, suggesting that our bus driver has taken much of his inspiration from William Carlos Williams who worked as a doctor when not writing his verse. Actually the lines are by the 73-year-old Oklahoma poet Ron Padgett whom Jarmusch admires, and though they don’t seem quite as good as Wordsworth and co, they are nice enough to substantiate the director’s love of poetry and the often odd people that write it.

The film can hardly be accused of dramatic over-emphasis, since nothing much happens from start to finish except Marvin’s wicked murder of the poor bus driver’s diary. But it glides along comfortably enough as a portrait of very ordinary lives somewhat lifted to the skies by both verse and cupcakes. Paterson isn’t a bit patronising. It is just a rather sweet story. And what, pray, is wrong with that, even from a film-maker who usually makes cool seem hot.

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Hands of Stone etc

Robert De Niro, receiving a special tribute for his career at Cannes this year, screened his latest film to some applause on Tuesday. Hands of Stone, directed by Venezuelan writer-director Jonathan Jakubowicz, has De Niro as the veteran trainer of boxer Roberto Duran, a Panamanian world champion who faced Sugar Ray Leonard and other almost mythical fighters and was known as one of hardest hitters in the business. De Niro, whose recent work often looks as if he could act most parts in his sleep, here gives a gritty account of the man who believed in Duran even when others had given up on him. Edgar Ramirez plays Duran and is almost as good as De Niro himself was all those years ago in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull. The film itself, however, is not much more than a conventional sports picture as it details the ups and downs of Duran’s career. It tries to connect that career with the equally difficult history of Panama, where Duran was a folk hero for years. But, though the scenes in the ring are the equal of any, the drama progresses rather like something we have all seen before.

The film was out of competition, and anyone trying to forecast which film is going to win this year would have to be a little mad. There have been no truly outstanding competitors, though two films have so far hit the button among the press. The first is Cristi Puiu’s Sieranevada, a long, detailed and highly personal portrait of a family mourning the loss of the paterfamilias. Hailing from Rumania, where at least a dozen good films have reached the festivals of the world in recent years, the film is clearly the work of a master director but not one which will storm the box-offices of the world.

The other ‘favourite’ is, wait for it, a German comedy called Toni Erdmann, in which an eccentric father desperately tries to persuade his daughter not to work so hard and start to live life other than via a computer. Maren Ade is the director and all one can say is that he has turned what could have been a fairly straightforward laughter-maker into a very shrewd attack on a world so full of stress that it often forgets to enjoy itself at all. Both these movies deserve prizes, and we all agree that Ken Loach, beloved at Cannes, will get something too for I, Daniel Blake. Otherwise who knows? Cannes this year has been more than a bit muted, with less people attending and many of those agreeing that this has only been a passable year. But there are still a few days to go and you never know what will turn up. New films by Almodovar, the Spanish maestro, and the Dardennes Brothers, who have already won the Palme D’Or twice, are on the horizon. At Cannes you never know until the very last moment.

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