Brogen Hayes looks at “The Tree Of Life’ and more at Cannes 2011..

Hello on sunny Sunday from Cannes. Today, was immersed in independent cinema. We felt it was only right, after the wave of love for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides yesterday, that we get swept away in the arthouse-a-Palooza that is the 64th Cannes Film Festival. Sorry, we’ll stop with the bad sea puns now.

We ran up the famous Red Steps of the Palais at 8am this morning to see Michel Hazanavicius’ film showing In Competition – The Artist. The story is of George Valentin, a silent movie star in the 1920s, who must evolve or fade as talking pictures sound the death knell for his career. The Artist is a silent, black and white film, but don’t let that deter you. The film has touches of Sunset Boulevard as George struggles to hold onto his fame, and is definitely reminiscent of the great classical Hollywood musicals, in particular Singing In The Rain.

Jean Dujardin is charming, sweet and tugs at the heartstrings as George Valentin, and there is little doubt that he channelled the late, great Gene Kelly in his performance. Equally charming is his foil and love interest, Peppy Miller, played by Berenice Bejo. John Goodman and Missi Pyle shine in their cameo roles, and the relationship between George and his driver Clifton is beautifully captured in glances and minimal dialogue by James Cromwell.
The twist is that these “Hollywood stars” are actually French actors. Language is not a barrier in silent film, and this is where The Artist excels. It is only in the final frames of the film when George utters his only line with a think French accent that the audience is let in on the joke.
On the way into Martha Marcy May Marlene, we were told that this was the highlight of Cannes for some people. We were duly intrigued.

Martha Marcy May Marlene is the character study of Martha (Elizabeth Olsen), a woman who escapes from a cult and finds that while she did not belong there, she may not belong at “home” either. The more time Martha spends with her his sister, the more she realises why she originally dropped off the radar and joined the cult, two years ago.

The real surprise of Martha Marcy May Marlene is Elizabeth Olsen in the title role. Olsen’s older twin siblings are arguably the more famous in the family, but Elizabeth’s subtle, unflinching performance in this film is sure to get her noticed. This is writer/director Sean Durkin’s first time behind the camera on a feature length film, and his debut is simply filmed and allows the audience’s knowledge to grow with Martha. This is the second film of Durkin’s to show at Cannes – the first was the short film Mary Last Seen, which Martha Marcy May Marlene is based on – and we feel sure that we will hear more from Durkin in years to come.
Duch, Master of the Forges of Hell is a documentary in which Duch – the former director of S21 – tells his story, and what he believes to be the truth about his actions under the Khymer Rouge. Duch is not a very likeable person; even though he claims he has reformed and turned to God, his actions speak for themselves. The documentary does not make any judgement, rather it lets Duch speak for himself, explain what he believes to be the truth and his reasons for acting the way he did. Cheerful cinema, this is not, it is fascinating as it is horrifying – and while it feels a little too long – is an interesting insight into a man responsible for the torture and deaths of thousands.

Rumour wise, we heard that Tilda Swinton was down at the UK Pavilion in the international Village yesterday, answering questions about We Need To Talk About Kevin. Sadly, we missed her. We also heard that Jamie Foxx jumped up at a beach party over the weekend to perform a live rendition of Kanye West’s Gold Digga and we saw Jean DuJardin and Berenice Bejo looking elegant and happy as they took to the red steps this evening for the official screening of The Artist. As always, we will keep our ear to La Croisette, and you informed of all the latest happenings in Cannes.

Monday took to the Red Steps a little before 8 o’clock this morning to be among the first in the world to clap eyes on The Tree of Life – a film which has already seen more than it’s fair share of interest, and controversy.
Not long before the Programme for the 64th Cannes Film Festival was released, it was announced in the UK that The Tree of Life would receive a release in the UK and Ireland on May 4th – well before the scheduled screening at Cannes. A quick chat with the film’s Irish distributor, Eclipse Pictures, told us that this was probably not going to be the case, but nonetheless our interest was piqued.

In a nutshell, The Tree of Life tells the story of a small Texan family whose world is shattered when one of their members dies. In the film, the dead boy’s mother is described as Grace – calm, nurturing and patient – and his father (Brad Pitt) is Nature. Nature is the opposite to Grace; rough uncompromising, and willing to step on any one who gets in his way. While the story is essentially a microscopic look at this family, it is also the macro – a look at the universe, it’s formation and how Nature and Grace came to be. That’s where the dinosaurs come in.
To tell you anything else about the plot would be to do you a disservice. The film is lyrical, poetic and visually stunning. In order to tell the story of the world coming into being, Malick had to use some pretty engaging images, which are all put together in a way that is not dissimilar to Koyaanisquatsi, with a bit of 2001: A Space Odyssey thrown in for good measure. Music and image blend together in a way that leaves the audience asking themselves questions about life, the universe and everything… To quote Douglas Adams.

Brad Pitt, as always, is incredible in his role as Mr O’Brien. It is a change for him to play a character that is not quite evil, but ruthless and tough – especially towards children. Jessica Chastain is haunting as Mrs O’Brien and her gentle and nurturing character is the perfect foil for Pitt’s more abrasive one.

Of course, the audience at Cannes was not all thrilled to have seen the film that Malick famously would not show at last year’s festival because it was only 80% finished. However, the people that booed loudly at the end of the screening, were quickly drowned out by the applause of those of us who were not quite sure what we had seen, but we knew we loved it.

Critics are already calling the movie pretentious and self absorbed, but we, here at loved it, and we recommend that you avoid the reviews, and make your own mind up.  The Tree ofLife was not the only movie shown on the Croisette today, but it was definitely the one that everyone was talking about. There was still plenty of love going around for The Artist, and we saw Snowtown – a hard hitting true story about a serial killer that plagued a small Australian town in the late 1990s.
Cannes was fantastically sunny today, and while the streets were packed, the stars must have been taking advantage of their private pools (or whatever) because there were precious few to be seen. On the upside, we may have discovered where Robert DeNiro is hiding… Watch this space!

Words – Brogen Hayes