Dir: 35 leading directors. Fr. 2007. 120mins
Conceived as a homage to the 60th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival, this improbable congeries and potentially incoherent work of cinema (35 different directors making three-minute shorts about the movie-going experience and their own introduction to the world of film) is surprisingly successful.
Most critics roll their eyes, with good reason, at the mere mention of a 'compilation film' but fully 80% - a huge number - of the sequences of Chacun Son Cinema run from good through very good to excellent. Since this probably overlong baggy monster relies so heavily on in-jokes and a long-standing acquaintance with the aesthetic minutiae of contemporary auteurist cinema, commercial prospects appear minimal, if non-existent. However, the film should do well on television worldwide.
It's unclear on what basis the participating filmmakers were chosen, beyond the whim and personal tastes of Gilles Jacob, long-time director of the festival, but one serious fault is that out of the 35 directors on display, only one, Jane Campion, is a woman. This choice seems rather anachronistic for a film produced in 2007.
Overlooking that considerable flaw, however, what is left is an amazing variety of funny, wise, sad, political, and occasionally egomaniacal contributions of surprisingly high quality. The three-minute format seems to have had the beneficial effect of forcing filmmakers to conceive their segments in mostly visual and aural terms, rather than relying on narrative. The single, crystal-clear perception or efficiently told joke also show to advantage in this format.
Though a couple of the segments list their directors at the beginning, the authors of most are not known until the end of each contribution, and part of the fun for obsessed cineastes will come from trying to identify the directors on the basis of characteristic style, technique, or themes, before the names are revealed.
Wong Kar Wai's contribution, with its haunting sensuality, powerful composition and lush visuals and sounds, is readily identifiable. And it may be cruel, but it's not too far off the mark to say that it's a better film than his My Blueberry Nights which opened this year's festival with a thud. Takeshi Kitano's delightful take on a farmer trying to watch a film in a theatre run by an incompetent projectionist (naturally played by Kitano himself) is wonderfully simple, like a single musical note played at perfect pitch.
Theo Angelopolous' contribution, a reunion of sorts between Jeanne Moreau and Marcello Mastroianni, ends appropriately with a signature Brechtian flourish, while Nanni Moretti's is of course all about himself, and quite funny. Hou Hsiao-Hsien's denuded but powerful piece features families entering a theatre, followed by a shot of a run-down cinema on whose screen Bresson's Mouchette is playing to an empty house.
Females sobbing (and getting robbed) is a motif that reappears several times, apparently by accident, and is featured in a touching piece by the Dardenne brothers. The other brothers, the Coens, contribute a hilarious vignette called 'World Cinema' about a cowboy (played by Josh Brolin, in a nod to their current film in competition, No Country For Old Men) debating between watching Renoir's Rules Of The Game and Ceylan's Climates at an art house he wanders into.
Atom Egoyan's piece on contemporary text-messaging teens watching Artaud in Dreyer's The Passion Of Joan Of Arc is one of the most haunting, while the title of fellow Canadian David Cronenberg's weirdly droll yet chilling 'At The Suicide Of The Last Jew In The World In The Last Cinema In The World' says it all.
Duds include Michael Cimino's whacked-out and incoherent episode featuring him smoking a cigar and running around a theatre shouting at a Cuban band performing there, and Campion's weird fantasy about people dressed as bugs isn't much better. Claude Lelouch proved that even limited to three minutes, he is incapable of making a movie that is not sentimental.
The most egregious is Youssef Chanine's segment, which features him finally getting the recognition from Cannes, after 47 years, that he is obviously deeply convinced he has always deserved. Amos Gitai drew some boos from the critics by going a straight, uncontextualised political route in which a movie theatre full of laughing Israelis is bombed.
And despite a general celebration of cinema throughout, the film ends with Ken Loach's funny but dispiriting little bit showing a father and a son, disappointed by the offerings at their local moviehouse, deciding to go watch a football match instead.
Gilles Jacob (conceived and produced by)
Cannes Film Festival
Ethan & Joel Coen
Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
Manoel De Oliveira
Hou Hsiao Hsien
Alejando Gonzalez Inarritu
Gus Van Sant
Lars Von Trier