From Fårö to Yekaterinburg

Vicky Krieps in Mia Hansen-Løve’s Bergman Island (2021)

Over the past few days, new work has premiered in competition in Cannes from directors with notably varied histories with the festival. Mia Hansen-Løve’s first feature, All Is Forgiven, premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight in 2007, and Father of My Children won the special jury prize in the Un Certain Regard section two years later. Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom opened the festival in 2012, when Nanni Moretti was president of the jury.

Moretti won the best director award for Caro diario in 1993 and the Palme d’Or for The Son’s Room in 2001. Asghar Farhadi has now had four films in competition, and he won the best screenplay award for The Salesman in 2016. Kirill Serebrennikov, the artistic director of the Gogol Center in Moscow, was under house arrest when Summer premiered in competition in 2018, and this year, he is again unable to leave Russia. In the wake of what many believe to be politically motivated, trumped-up charges of embezzlement, Serebrennikov was given a three-year suspended sentence in June 2020.

Five years ago, Mia Hansen-Løve told IndieWire’s Chris O’Falt that she was “obsessed” with Ingmar Bergman, “so obsessed I’m even writing a film right now that takes place in Fårö,” the island in the Baltic Sea off the coast of Sweden where Bergman lived and worked from the early 1960s to his death in 2007. After a few stops and restarts—Greta Gerwig exited the project just before Hansen-Løve was to have begun shooting in 2018—Bergman Island is now not only the French director’s first feature in English but also the first to compete in Cannes.

Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth play Chris and Tony, two filmmakers who leave their daughter behind to get some writing done on Fårö. Tony, older and more famous, can’t understand why Chris finds writing to be such a challenge. He takes a Bergman Safari—a real thing, by the way—and gives a few talks while Chris struggles and wonders out loud over dinner whether a woman could have gotten away with the sort of imbalance Bergman struck between his life and career. Married five times, Bergman fathered nine children, most of whom he ignored until his final years. “Many films have been made about the fraught relationship between cinema and real life,” writes Michael Sicinski, “but Hansen-Løve has staked everything on Ingmar Bergman as a test case, an exemplar of masculine modernism's failure to embrace the ordinary.”

Many reviewers pointed out the parallels between Chris and Hansen-Løve, who travels to Fårö several times a year, was married to Olivier Assayas, and had a daughter with him in 2009. But Hansen-Løve envelops Bergman Island in yet another meta-layer when the film is given over to Chris’s idea for her next project. In The White Dress, Mia Wasikowska plays Amy, a filmmaker who visits Fårö, where she rekindles an old romance with Joseph (Anders Danielsen Lie). “Not only is the film-within-the-film a far more riveting storyline than Chris’s own,” writes Leonardo Goi for the Notebook, “it also ends up strengthening, as if by osmosis, all that came before, imbuing Chris’s artistic and existential travails with renewed oomph and tension. Bergman Island may not be up there with some of Mia Hansen-Løve’s finest, but it is still a subtle, piercing study of an artistic awakening, of the incommensurable gap between our real-life experiences and how we resurrect them in the stories we tell.”

On the whole, reviews of Bergman Island have been positive, but the film does have its detractors. Jessica Kiang, an avowed fan of Hansen-Løve’s Eden (2014) and Things to Come (2016), writes at the Playlist that she’s found it difficult to become invested enough in this film to work out “which of Hansen-Løve’s indulgent avatars is fictional and which is a projection into the future, a flashforward, or perhaps the product of a localized Nordic wormhole that tinkers uninterestingly with the timeline and turns vibrant cinematic voices pallid with self-absorption.” But Vulture’s Rachel Handler appreciates Bergman Island “as a lens through which to examine larger questions about inspiration, creativity, the contrasting expectations placed on male and female artists, love, partnership, and infidelity.”

Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch was met in Cannes with a nine-minute standing ovation and a few scattered boos. The first round of reviews reflects a similar ratio. If this isn’t “the best Wes Anderson film, it’s certainly the most Wes Anderson film, arguably the purest distillation of his singular aesthetics, storytelling, and predilections,” writes Leigh Singer for Sight & Sound. Opening in 1975, the film presents the final issue of The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun, beginning with an obituary for founding editor Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), who ran the magazine clearly modeled on the New Yorker for half a century in the fictional town of Ennui-sur-Blasé.

Cycling reporter Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson) offers a tour of the town that “comes in a flurry of Jacques Tati-like comic tableaux that rank among the most dizzyingly inventive shots Anderson has ever cooked up,” writes the Telegraph’s Robbie Collin, who calls The French Dispatch “a hymn to human curiosity and compulsions—Anderson is clearly besotted with the style of journalism that hammers away at niche pet topics over thousands of words.”

Three features follow. Arts correspondent J. K. L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton) presents “The Concrete Masterpiece” as a lecture on Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro), an artist and sociopath embroiled in an affair with his nude model and stern prison guard, Simone (Léa Seydoux). At, Ben Kenigsberg notes that Anderson suggested to Del Toro that he take a look at Michel Simon’s turn as a charismatic tramp in Jean Renoir’s Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932) for inspiration.

In “Revisions to a Manifesto,” writer Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) becomes romantically entangled with Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet), a chess master who leads a group of student revolutionaries into Anderson’s version of May ’68. Here, the director “attempts both a gimlet-eyed take on the follies of the activist left and a tribute to their utopian optimism,” writes Vulture’s Nate Jones, “but he can’t quite thread the needle, and the segment’s tragic conclusion comes too quickly to make much of an impact.”

Jeffrey Wright nods to James Baldwin in his performance as food critic Roebuck Wright in “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner,” a convoluted story of a kidnapping involving said commissioner (Mathieu Amalric), his personal chef (Stephen Park), and a shady accountant (Willem Dafoe). “Inspired physical comedy figures throughout the film but reaches particularly giddy heights in this section, which features gorgeous animated escape sequences in a bandes dessinées style reminiscent of Belgian cartoonist Hergé, creator of The Adventures of Tintin, while also evoking classic New Yorker covers,” writes the Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney. “While The French Dispatch might seem like an anthology of vignettes without a strong overarching theme, every moment is graced by Anderson’s love for the written word and the oddball characters who dedicate their professional lives to it.”

The single critical punching bag in today’s round is Nanni Moretti’s Three Floors. “Dramatically stilted, cinematically drab, and morally dubious at multiple turns, this soapy lather of assorted crises concerning the residents of a single Roman apartment block may come as a crashing disappointment to fans who have been waiting six years for a new Moretti feature,” writes Guy Lodge in Variety. “Michele D’Attanasio’s camera is leaden and televisual,” finds John Bleasdale in a dispatch to Sight & Sound. “There’s no zip to scenes. Actors appear unable to walk and talk. They just stand around saying lines at each other and looking vaguely embarrassed. Even the extras are unconvincing.” And from Ben Kenigsberg: “Nothing that happens in this movie happens for any reason other than the screenplay’s whims, and they’re bad whims.”

In Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero, Ramin (Amir Jadidi) is given a two-day temporary leave from a debtor’s prison in Shiraz, and he plans to sell the seventeen gold coins that his girlfriend Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust) found in a woman’s lost handbag to settle his debts with his former brother-in-law, Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh). But the coins aren’t worth as much as he’d hoped, so Ramin puts up flyers calling on the woman who lost the bag to reclaim it, a good deed that the prison turns into a PR campaign. “Epitomized by the heart-wrenching uncertainty of 2011’s A Separation,” writes IndieWire’s David Ehrlich, “Farhadi’s social melodramas begin with straightforward predicaments that are peeled back—layer by layer, and with deceptive casualness—while the hard bulb of a moral crisis is revealed deep underneath.”

The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw finds that A Hero has “the unsatisfactory, unclear messiness that real life has. There is plenty of interest here—and yet I have to admit to slight reservations about the melodramatic contrivances, which stretch credulity a little.” But for Pat Brown at Slant, it’s the “alternating of sympathies that results from almost imperceptible shifts in Farhadi’s emphasis in a given scene—like one in which Rahim encounters Bahram by happenstance at an outdoor market—that lends the film its emotional and ethical ballast. In such moments, A Hero reveals that it’s more than a political parable about the cascading injustices of the debtor’s prison. It’s also a demonstrative examination of the way our raising of heroes onto social media pedestals diminishes the messy, sometimes impenetrable truth of human lives.”

Petrov (Semyon Serzin) is a mechanic by day, a comic book artist by night, and the flu that’s gripped the Russian city of Yekaterinburg has him coughing, wheezing, and hallucinating around the clock. The effect on his wife, Petrova (Chulpan Khamatova), seems even more pronounced, turning her from a prim librarian into an avenging angel. In the Hollywood Reporter, Leslie Felperin writes that Kirill Serebrennikov’s Petrov’s Flu is a “hallucinatory, deeply confusing but skillfully executed and mesmeric work [that] flows back and forth across time periods, parts of the city of Yekaterinburg and its characters’ memories, often literally within the space of a single shot.”

The film is an adaptation of a popular novel by Alexey Salnikov, and Serebrennikov talks to Deadline’s Tom Grater about tackling this “surreal and multi-layered, complicated, but extraordinary” work, first for the stage and then for the screen. “I was under house arrest, and [producer Ilya Stewart] told me, ‘you have a lot of time, could you think about how to do something with it?’ I jumped into it and it grabbed me completely. It is poetry, the author is a poet who started to write prose, the construction of the text is poetic—and cinema is poetry.”

In Variety, Guy Lodge finds Petrov’s Flu “driven by swollen, all-encompassing, sometimes hilarious fury at a general place and way of living, one its director is currently legally forbidden from leaving. Through its heady stew of impulses and influences, however, Petrov’s Flu is cinema to the breathless last, riding the camera like a bucking horse as single shots carry us between locations, eras and states of mind—the thrilling, messy work of a man released.”

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