Updated: Jun 11
This year, I was lucky enough to attend the 2023 Cannes Film Festival as part of the 3 Days in Cannes program. I am currently in the process of ranking all nine new releases that I saw at the fest. You can read Part 1 of my ranking now. Stay tuned for Part 3, where I will identify my three favorite films that I saw at the fest.
Un Certain Regard
dir. Kamal Lazraq
I went into this premiere blind, as I picked up tickets mere moments before the premiere. I’m glad I did, because I found it rather intriguing. A man, Issam, and his father, Hassan, after a botched kidnapping job, must find somewhere to dispose of the body. It’s Morocco, modern-day. The “hounds” of the title come from the gang leader that ordered the hit, because the now-dead guy’s dog killed his dog in a dogfight. Once you get past the “huh?” of the rottweiler fight club, it gets pretty good!
Really, it’s the “one crazy night scenario” made into a father-son masculinity conflict. Hassan keeps telling Issam, “I thought you were a man,” even though Issam really didn’t want to come along to the kidnapping in the first place. Hassan is the first to devise a solution because he feels guilty, but nothing goes to plan. As you might imagine.
The simplicity of the story does it a thousand favors. The first act is extremely well-paced and a bit sickening in that small-town, paranoid way. It takes place in the countryside, in the dark. It could be a mild night, or it could be an ambush. Once Issam is given the reins, however, the movie loses a tad of its realism and good timing. What once was disturbingly funny just lands as a time-suck diversion and, beyond the main duo, the acting is a bit hit or miss.
Director Kamal Lazraq (making his debut) definitely has a bright future if he learns to tidy up his second act and add a bit more meat to his characters. But the first hour – and that brutal little last-minute jaw-dropper – show much promise.
5) The Goldman Case
dir. Cédric Kahn
The Goldman Case is the first film I saw at Cannes, and it didn’t exactly make an enduring impression on me. It’s a courtroom drama, and, as expected, you sure do see a lot of courtroom and a lot of drama.
Another French piece, this one follows the true story of Pierre Goldman, a radical leftist convicted of committing a robbery in the ‘70s that caused the death of two women. The larger conflict is that he is Jewish, and wishes to use the platform as an opportunity to expose racism in the French system. He refuses character witnesses, saying that the facts should speak for themselves. Admittedly, however, he is a piece of work. He may have acted heroically on an international level in the name of his political values, but he also admitted to committing many petty crimes after returning to France. His lawyers are a bit annoyed by him, but are nonetheless committed to his defense.
The movie doesn’t set out to judge him, and neither do I. The gist of it is that this is a performance vehicle for – forgive me for borrowing this from a Letterboxd review from user Mohammed Deshmukh– “a quirked up white boy with a little bit of swag,” played by Arieh Worthalter, to articulate his grievances against the police and the witnesses in the case that he believes to be conspiring against him. He goes on his rampages, makes his snide comments – to the fervent, unwavering support of a mostly Black audience – and exposes the holes in the testimonies against him with the help of his lawyer.
For what it’s worth, the sentiment about contemporary Jewish solidarity and struggle is important. The civil parallels faced by Jewish and Black communities are worth exploring, as are the historical guerilla movements he took up arms for. It’s one of those competent, good-looking movies that will appeal to you if you really identify with the primary sentiment, and want to get wound up by impassioned speeches à la 12 Angry Men. I doubt it will see a major U.S. release, but note it for later if the topic interests you.
4) Pictures of Ghosts
dir. Kleber Mendonça Filho
It’s a rite of passage for a director to make a documentary about what brought them to movies. After the success of Aquarius (2016) and the startling collaboration that was Bacurau (2019), Brazilian filmmaker Kleber Mendonça Filho decided it was his time. And, all things considered, it’s pretty good.
Recife, Brazil was not on my radar prior to watching this movie, but apparently, it has the third biggest Carnaval celebration in the world. It was visited by neighborly plotting Nazis during WWII. It also may have ghosts. That last one’s a long shot, but Filho almost convinced me that it was true.
The film is split into three chapters: Filho’s connection to his home, to his local cinemas, and to local churches. The latter two are more intertwined, as many evangelical churches sprung up in the ‘80s after a move away from cinemas during the country’s military dictatorship.
The first chapter rang as the truest to me; I, too, have shot short films in my house, and I know what it’s like to be nostalgic for the time capsule that that film may offer you years after the fact. The story of the neighbor’s barking dog, the home’s architectural history and the gradual fencing-in of the neighborhood all feel very familiar. I appreciated Filho's artistic musings and the home-video nature of the contemporary footage.
The other chapters give more insight into Recife as a community, including its complicated political history. There is a tangent where he discusses marquees as timekeepers and representations of the state of society, which any frequent cinema attendee will no doubt identify with. Here and there, he pulled me back in for a universal meditation, but I admit I often zoned in and out, thinking about my own connections to cinema.* In this type of movie, you can create your own personal experience with the text, which I appreciated the freedom to do.
*It is also worth mentioning that this was my last film of the festival, and I was already mourning the end of my time at Cannes.
If you’ve seen at least one of Filho's other movies, that is probably a solid enough foundation to follow along and recognize some of his local influences. If not, tune in solely for a not-so-subtly-staged sequence of Kleber talking to an invisible Uber driver, and chill out to the sounds of classic rock while taking in the city that he loves so very much.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of my ranking, as well as a video about my experience at the festival.