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Cannes Film Festival 2023 Recap: Part 3

Updated: May 31, 2023

For the final part of my three-part Cannes review series, I identify my three favorite films that I saw at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. Now that the official winners have been named, I can happily say that I saw a few of those selected for major prizes. You can read Part 1 and Part 2 on the site now.

3) Ama Gloria

Semaine de la Critique

dir. Marie Amachoukeli

Now, we get to the really great stuff. The following three movies receive my glowing recommendations, although I recognize that each caters to a different audience. Ama Gloria, bear with me, is French, but it takes place on one of the islands of Cabo Verde. In it, a young girl, Cleo, adores her nanny, Gloria. When Gloria must return to Cabo Verde to prepare for the birth of her granddaughter, Cleo’s single father arranges for Cleo to go visit her. There, Cleo experiences the highs and lows of cultural adaptation and fighting for the attention of her beloved stand-in mother.

Ama Gloria is a gentle film. The little girl who plays Cleo is beyond marvelous. She looks like a toddler, yet she is often capable of expressing her words – or crying – with all the command of a trained adult. The camera routinely follows her point of view as she interacts with the world and determines how to react to each new situation. Nevertheless, you can’t help but feel for Gloria, who obviously loves this child, but feels that she is betraying her actual family in the process.

One of the most charming sequences comes when Gloria has to go to the hospital, and Cleo is left with Gloria’s 11-year-old son Cesar. Cesar wants nothing to do with her, but little by little, his brotherly instincts kick in. The scene of him walking home with her asleep on his back is one of the most tender moments I’ve seen in a movie in a long time.

With the many close-ups, contagious giggling, and personal redemption arcs, some people might find Ama Gloria too saccharine, but I felt it had just as high of stakes as any other movie. It’s just meant to demonstrate how you should treat a child. Cleo makes mistakes, she interprets consequences, and she feels shame. But she is consoled and taught how to act by a woman being paid to instill the right morals in her. There are no doubt tensions between Gloria’s life in France and the one she has left her children to grow up in, but recognizing Cleo’s own innocence is an important part of that conflict. Cleo isn’t aware of the lifestyle discrepancies, and she doesn’t complain about them. At the end of the day, in the purest sense, she desires to be received with love from the woman who has loved her so well.

2) Monster

Official Competition

dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda

It's the monster heard around the world. Perhaps. It seemed like the biggest deal to my own personal circles when I managed to get a seat at the world premiere. No matter what, the experience was going to be special: Hirokazu Kore-eda was there in the flesh! Luckily, the movie is quite good. It is now the recipient of the screenplay prize at Cannes (Kore-eda outsourced his story, so this particular award was won by Japanese TV writer Yuji Sakamoto).

Kore-eda’s latest is a multi-perspective drama following a mother, her son, and her son’s teacher. The twist was quite effective, and I don’t wish to spoil it. I’ll try to keep my lips as tight as possible as I state my admiration.

Once again, the child actors floored me. Soya Kurokawa as Minato and Hinata Hiiragi as Eri are so damn compelling in different ways. The return of Sakura Ando (of Shoplifters acclaim) to Kore-eda's world as Minato’s mother is more than welcome, and although her role is first-act heavy, I don’t doubt that people will be discussing her character as a foil to traditional peace-keeping Japanese dispositions.

The film also takes on the difficult task of examining lives led by children outside the realm of their parents. How much do parents actually know about their kids' feelings? Worry, hypotheticals, and assuming the worst-case scenario endanger the process of getting to know children organically as they grow. It’s not an easy pill to swallow, but the popular reminder that "things are not always as they seem" is particularly effective in this movie. Compared to a, say, Park Chan-wook style reveal, Kore-eda’s style is not so much about making the audience feel mystified or out of the loop as it is about opening one’s eyes to other versions of the truth.

The movie’s final act is one of the most enjoyable 40 minutes I’ve had in a movie theater all year. While you might find yourself gearing up for a story about teacher responsibility, just know: it’s more than that. Kore-eda’s empathy is on full display, and it’s much more sprawling than Broker, if you felt (like I did) that you got slightly shortchanged by his 2022 attempt. Monster is bold, it’s messy, and it’s bursting with life. Don’t miss it when Kore-eda gets his annual Oscar buzz.

1) About Dry Grasses

Official Competition

dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Alright, alright. For anyone who has reservations that I am pretentious, you can stop reading now. My top pick will not convince you otherwise. But I have been starving for something morally grey and intellectual, and what other filmmaker should I go to for that than Mr. Nuri Bilge Ceylan?

I also got premiere tickets for this movie. The reason that that matters is because I had to make a real effort to do so. Both Kore-eda and Ceylan are well-established filmmakers, and their movies were surrounded by anticipatory dialogue before they even dropped. I discovered Once Upon a Time in Anatolia during my A-Z Movie Challenge, and I couldn't help but engage in the buzz of the festival awaiting his newest thinker.

Ceylan’s latest, a nearly 3.5-hour movie about student-teacher relations (here we go again), apathy and jealousy – among other things – is my favorite movie of the fest. I think there tends to be a moment in a great movie when you know it’s made a permanent imprint on your brain. In Phantom Thread, it's the last omelet Alma makes for Reynolds. In Monster, it was a scene in an abandoned school bus. In About Dry Grasses, it’s a conversation at a dinner table. Time stopped, my breathing altered: I had become fully immersed in the scene. It may very well have been happening live in front of me. The perfect mix of theater and reality.

This movie is long and dense. You might not know why Ceylan made a scene five minutes during the first act until two hours later. But it’s that total confidence and command of the craft that makes the movie so interesting. Every movement thoughtful, every edit layered. Ceylan breaks the fourth wall in a way I’ve never seen before, and that’s not even the most awe-inspiring moment.

His protagonist, Samet, a perfect physical combination of Heath Ledger and bearded Billy Crystal, is ultimately a total slimeball, but the audience can’t help but agree with him from time to time. The main female acting prize at the festival went to Merve Dizdar in a performance that routinely provides chills, striking a memorable balance of empowered and weary. Rounding out the love triangle is Musab Ekici, who gives a delightfully sheepish turn as Samet's roommate and fellow teacher.

The feelings that arise because of a momentary comment or a glance are gut-punching, even if there is no obvious cut or movement to instruct how the audience should feel about it. It's a smart, layered movie that can't be reduced to a single narrative concept. Drama, rom-com, slow-burn thriller – whatever the hell genre it is, it just works. Mood is adjusted on a scene by scene basis, just like real life. It reminded me that you can't explain people, you can only try to feel what they’re feeling. I will forever be proud to have seen this on opening day, and I will forever recommend it as an overwhelming engagement of the senses. If you’ve ever wanted to experience a chilly winter in rural Turkey, no need to buy a plane ticket.



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