Huck joins the film cognoscenti to bring you a series of special reports.

Huck joins the film cognoscenti to bring you a series of special reports, kicking off with fresh talent in the director's chair.

The 67th Cannes Film Festival is not exactly conducive to work. Queuing for films, watching films and fraternising with film-lovers could easily fill every long, sleep-deprived day leaving no space for writing about what’s actually going down. The sun turns up with loyal regularity. It glistens off the yacht-strewn sea that runs behind the Palais Lumière. In this atmosphere, it’s not much of a stretch to feel 67 years of film history humming in the air.

Seeing the films requires a level of queuing unrivalled anywhere else in the cinema-going world. Queuing is a humbling experience. Until you’ve spent 90 minutes in a gated pen, sun beating down, you will not appreciate the extent to which the international press value films ahead of comfort. Despite the pack bloodlust (pity the poor films that become fodder for Sharpest Tongue competitions), intense geekiness and status obsession that permeates the critics brigade, dedication and love compels them to turn up every day at odd times to join gigantic queues just to sit down and watch a film.

With our sister magazine Little White Lies covering the high-profile Competition (films up for The Palme d’Or and Un Certain Regard strands), it falls to Huck to contemplate the emerging talents. In the first instalment of Cannes 2014 Field Notes, we take a look at the films competing for the Caméra d’Or, a prize awarded to directors who have just made their first feature.

 

Party Girl

 

Party Girl

Angélique Litzenburger in Party Girl

Party Girl has an encouraging concept that it never fulfils. French triumvirate, Marie Amachoukeli-BarsacqClaire Burger and Samuel Theis direct a cast of non-professionals headed by Angelique Litzenburger. Angeligue plays (wait for it…) Angelique, a chain-smoking, hard-drinking 60-year-old cabaret dancer whose rock-chick look and sexual freedom telegraph that she isn’t growing old in the traditional mould. Or so it would seem until a marriage proposal from a former-client opens up the possibility of finally embracing convention.

The ensuing big match – adapting to a quiet life -v- sticking to the old spiky identity – sounds on paper like an under-explored feminist quandary. Yet Litzenburger’s inscrutable, and sometimes unsympathetic, performance makes her character play like an over-entitled brat: more jewellery-swathed gutter princess than bold, grown-up feminist.

Perhaps this is a cautionary tale about staying too late at the party more than it is a celebration of a life less ordinary but, either way, the story is muddled and the narrative arc all over the place. Confused as it is, Party Girl is not without rousing elements. Amachoukeli-Barsacq, Burger and Theis favour the John Cassavetes school of shooting aka long, naturalistic takes of social and familial situations. Assisted by the fact that Litzenburger’s real children are playing her on-screen children, the directors bring out the conflicts of wanting to please loved ones even as it erodes autonomy. Equally the scenes with Angelique getting rowdy with her mob of glittery galpals expresses – like Girlhood which played in the Director’s Fortnight – the joyousness of female friendship. Party Girl isn’t the directors’ Cinderella story but neither is it their ugly sister. Meanwhile, anyone craving a great character study of sexual 60-year-old lady should immediately seek out Gloria.

Catch Me Daddy

 

Sameena Jabeen Ahmed in Catch Me Daddy

Sameena Jabeen Ahmed in Catch Me Daddy

Anyone who has seen the music video that British talent Daniel Wolfe directed for The Shoes will know he isn’t afraid of spilt blood. Forewarned generally means forearmed however in this bleak thriller co-directed by Daniel and brother, Matt Wolfe, the viewer is lulled into a false sense of security.

Leila (Sameena Jabeen Ahmed) and Aaron (Conor McCarron) have fled one Northern town for another and are living a low-key existence in a trailer just outside of town. Despite the approaching forces of darkness in the form of two sets of thugs, the tender way the brothers shoot their runaway young couple makes them seem protected. The Wolfes allow passionate newcomer Ahmed to charm with style and energy as she bounds playfully around her tiny orbit. McCarron’s Aaron is jumpier and more alive to peril but even he melts after a dance sequence from Leila composed largely of jumping up and down.

Surrounding Wuthering Heights-like landscapes are shot with great reverence for natural vistas. Static, well-composed shots set a serene tone that sticks in the mind long after the calm has been, not so much shattered as stabbed in the face and repeatedly run over. Lars von Trier likes to build doll-houses and then smash them to bits and so, it seems, does this pair. Here’s to hoping they find signature themes not already taken by Danish wildcards.

Darker Than Midnight

 

Darker Than Midnight

Darker Than Midnight

Cross a Dazed & Confused photo spread with a flare sent up regarding Sicily’s intolerance to queer culture and you’ve got the look and intention of Italian director Sebastiano Riso‘s drama. His intentions are gleaming and his cast (and their clothes) very easy on the eye but once again we meet a film stymied by structural and narrative weakness.

Davide Capone plays (wait for it)… Davide, a flame-haired, milk-skinned, lightly freckled 14-year-old boy. Riso searched long and hard for his star feeling that the film rested on casting the right boy. What ‘right’ means is perfectly androgynous. The camera shares our fascination with the young star’s indefinable appearance, drinking in his flawless but non-gendered features as he runs away from a homophobic father to kick about with the city’s high-spirited hustlers.

Fans of Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho will recognise the ‘outsiders looking after outsiders’ feel but this time there’s more sparkle and pizazz. Peaks form from good-natured combative dialogue and a slew of misadventures with Davide and his merry band of misfits. Unfortunately cinema – and Cannes in particular – love misery and as the vital counter-cultural bubble implodes so does the dramatic hook. Riso has based this film on the true story of an Italian drag queen he met on a plane and it feels like he has made the mistake of loyally reciting events instead of crafting a cinematic arc.

The 67th Cannes Film Festival runs until 25 May. Stay tuned for further Huck reports and [spoiler alert] two of the next Caméra d’Or films are peaches.