AFTER THE DAY BEFORE (Attila Janisch, Hungary, 1)
After this film, my Welsh friend Daniel Owen said, close as I recall: “when people hear that I’m going to a film festival, they think it’s all shite like that.” It’s a simple story about a city traveler coming into a rural community to inherit a farm where there’s whispers about a missing girl. But it’s made mind-thumpingly boring and basically unintelligible because of (1) a blank-faced, hangdog, bored-looking actor in the lead role; (2) The Official High-Cinematic Style of lengthy takes, minimal dialogue, long shots, minimal plot; (3) the plot events being presented in a basically random order as though chronology and intelligibility are for wimps (FOLLOWING is a much better film with this same narrative non-“structure”); (4) the film also being a symbolic parable of alienation (the stranger from outside is barely understood and barely understands what the folk are saying; they don’t want him around; the protagonist is a symbolic artist; he can’t find the house he’s looking for; the characters don’t have names — all of that). The Festival Guidebook calls AFTER THE DAY BEFORE a “deeply unsettling film [that] is about looking without understanding … and searching without finding.” Hard to argue with any of that — I was deeply unsettled, looked without understanding and searched without finding, all right. Janisch has Bela Tarr’s cinematographer, so all the shots of reeds and tall grasses and hill and dale are pretty enough, I suppose. And I’m sure there’s also some Lacan gibberish in there about the mirror phase (the protagonist “sees himself” commit the “crime” he’s been “investigating”), but if an artist doesn’t care enough to make his work intelligible, it’s not my job to do so. So awful on every level was AFTER THE DAY BEFORE that I responded to Dan’s comment that I sure hoped this would be the worst film I would see this festival, because if it wasn’t, if there was a more-awful filmgoing experience in my future, God could only exist as a despicable sadist unworthy of worship and his Church could only be an instrument of evil that I’d have nothing to do with and … well … hmm … Lukas Moodysson, I really hate you.
LA FEMME DE GILLES (Frederic Fonteyne, France, 8)
The amazing thing about Emannuelle Devos’ performance in this film is that it might not even be her best of this festival. In this film, she plays a traditional 1930s wife in small-town France (and in ROIS ET REINE, she is just as good as a contemporary thrice-married social climber). LA FEMME DE GILES begins with a wordless but marvelously-shot, framed and edited sequence of moments from Gilles’ daily life, starting with him at work at a steel plant and culminating in bed with his wife, Elisa (a scene that was absorbing without being ostentatiously “hot”). But fairly soon, Elisa starts to suspect Gilles is cheating on her with her sister. As Elisa, Devos looks a bit like Sandra Bernhard, only without the harsh sneer chiseled into La Sandra’s face and with much better natural command of her face and body language. That wonderful face and the way she uses it gives Elisa a combination of intelligence and innocence — she can read the signs but can’t believe Her Gilles would do that to her — without a hint of Modern Woman. Devos plays opposite Clovis Cornillac, who has a broad-shouldered, round-faced mensch quality, ideal for playing a pre-psychological working-class male. Much of the film’s drama, like in last year’s brilliant THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS, comes from exchanges of glances, things unsaid and suspected, and a few voyeur’s peeks. Fonteyne also reveals a bit more of an eye than I recall him demonstrating in the also-excellent AN AFFAIR OF LOVE from 2000 (the cut to a movie theater, when Elisa becomes convinced Gilles is cheating, is marvelously dry and ironic). This film would have been a contender for best of the festival if it hadn’t been for the last 3 minutes (an “acte gratuit” coming at the end of a meticulously-observed character study — wrong in every conceivable way). And I could REALLY have done without the after-film Q-and-A and hearing Fonteyne’s lame (“it was in the novel”) and nonsensical (“she had come to realize she could be someone other than Gilles’ wife”) excuses for a blot on an otherwise excellent film.