In 1998, Wong Kar Wai wins the Best Director award at Cannes for his romantic road film set in Argentina, Happy Together. It is a conjunction of fractured images, distinct in style, a frenetic collage of visual experiments with the materiality of the film support. The story, the highs and lows of a homosexual couple, worked as a kind of mirror to his own professional relationship with his cinematographer, another great artist and visionary, Christopher Doyle. It was about the intensity of physical passion, the vastness of hopes and dreams, and the small space in which one sees life take place. A self trying to belong. These are works of great risk with form. A flurry of editing styles were birthed, and suddenly something from painting appeared in the mainstream cinematic imagination.
Now you have Heli (2013), winner of the same Best Director award. So when I went to see this, imagine my surprise when I realized the definition of terms have been changed. It seems like Best Director no longer means what it once did. Today, Best Director, means something like “most accessible to a wide range of viewers whose limited intelligence prevents them from telling what is good from what is not…”
This is not good, and I am the last one to find out. Apparently, Cannes is no longer a respectable benchmark for discovering emerging artists who produce works which are worth viewing. It is enough to simply give praise to a name, or an idea, in spite of its execution: here is a movie about the cinematic need for violence, but detached enough to make us look at ourselves, like Haneke would do (cruelly), but coming from a post-colonial Mexico, so the overall structure can be considered “primitive”. Are you kidding me?
It is no longer necessary to be visually inventive, to separate a narrative by scenes, and to relay a message of some kind. The message is in the news blurb which describes the awarding of the prize to a filmmaker who represents a concept about world cinema. In fact, the movie must be particularly unwatchable to drive the point home.
I do not know what they are awarding prizes for these days, specially when every shot in this film looks like it cost two cents to shoot. The raw unrehearsed performances merely show that they are unrehearsed, and not authentic. Think of a Napoleon Dynamite, playing a joke on the idea of drug violence in Mexico, and failing to be funny.
This is a shame, because it is so ambitious. It is framed around a teenage love story, the most difficult of templates to get right. To think that this is how Amat Escalante sees the world dulls the imagination.
So what is the problem? I think audiences are the problem. There is a kind of schizophrenic confusion about audience expectations. Escalante thinks we need some Haneke sometimes, then some Bruno Dumont. But Gaspar Noe is also a hot number, so let’s try one of his shots. And because it is important to remain removed through it all, why not inject some Jarmusch deadpan humor into the mix. Maybe Carax will understand all the references.
A failure on the filmic front, a mixed bag gone spoiled, but there is one interesting shot. One interesting shot only, in this otherwise two-dollar peep show.