CANNES, France — Time to pack up, head home and not think about how many flaky, butter-drenched croissants I stuffed in my maw during my 12-day stay in the south of France.
This was my fourth visit to the Cannes Film Festival, but my first since the Nice truck attacks in 2016, and that meant noticeably increased security. The Manchester bombing midway through the program quieted all who’d been griping about slow lines, bag checks and the counterintuitive, complex routes to events thanks to all the barricades.
I admit I grumbled when my Clif Bars were confiscated before I could ascend the Grand Théâtre Lumière’s famous red steps (if Daesh is coming for us, will they be using rolled oats to do it?) but it’s really best to go with the flow in these matters. Because of the multinational crowd drawn to the 70th anniversary of the world’s most respected film festival, I now know how to kvetch in many new languages.
This year’s festival was not exactly a big win for the Israeli film industry. Not one narrative feature from the Jewish state played at Cannes. I heard conflicting rumors about the absence of Samuel Maoz’s long-awaited follow up to “Lebanon,” “Foxtrot.” One colleague who knows a lot about these things says it was rejected for a competition slot, and Maoz didn’t want to be in one of the sidebars. Another said he wanted “Foxtrot” to debut this September in Venice (a film festival almost as respected as Cannes) where “Lebanon” won the top prize in 2009.
Or, it could just be that it isn’t finished! Or, better yet, maybe it stinks? Hard to know just now. But Cannes has had a very good record of including Israeli movies of late, so let’s not get too worked up just yet. If there’s a shut-out again next year, then maybe we should start asking questions.
But there were some significant wins for Jewish-American filmmakers.
Right on the Boulevard de Croisette hung an enormous billboard for Noah Baumbach’s Netflix-produced “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected).” The poster boasts a cast with Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller and Dustin Hoffman, and features an image of Hoffman in a gray beard and tan jacket looking like he walked straight from the pages of an Isaac Bashevis Singer novel. If you added the glasses from “They Live” it would just read “Jew: The Movie.”
“The Meyerowitz Stories” bears no explicit references to Judaism, but is a terrific, funny-sad look at a New York family with meshugass to spare. The patriarch (Hoffman) is an opinionated sculptor who never made it, and his sons — from different marriages — are a big-hearted, unemployed schlep (Sandler) and a frenzied, successful accountant who lives across the country in Los Angeles (Stiller). Change is coming, though, with Sandler’s daughter going off to college and Hoffman retiring as a professor and thinking of selling the lower Manhattan home he shares with his fourth wife, Emma Thompson.
Yes, this is one of those big emotional movies where everyone airs their grievances, but in the least cliché way possible. I feel like Baumbach watched every middling independent movie about families and feelings and made a check list of what not to do. And apart from being witty, it has (and you may want to sit down for this) a truly remarkable performance by Adam Sandler. He discards his funny voices (not that I don’t like that side of him, in small doses) and, I swear, actually acts. The movie will be streamable on Netflix later this year.
Another surprising turn from an actor who isn’t always atop critics lists came from Robert Pattinson for his portrayal of a Queens, New York, lowlife in Josh and Benny Safdie’s “Good Time.”
The (very Jewish) Safdie Brothers have been making extraordinary, small movies for years in a variety of genres. “Good Time” is their first to have well-known stars in it, like Pattinson, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Academy Award-nominated actor Barkhad Abdi.
It opens with a bank robbery gone wrong, and then descends into a desperate night of rescue and escape. With a striking grainy, color-saturated look, a propulsive score of electronic music and outstanding performances from Pattinson and others, the film is a crafty shot of adrenaline, and one of the most innovative New York crime dramas to come along in quite some time. The film will be distributed by A24 in August.
I said no Israeli narrative features at Cannes this year, but that’s not entirely true. Noa Regev of the Jerusalem Cinematheque came to the Côte d’Azur to debut the remastered version of “Matzor,” an Israeli film that played at Cannes in 1969.
“Matzor” (which translates as “Siege” in English) is truly a recovered gem. It stars Gila Almagor as a young mother whose husband is killed during the Six Day War. While light on plot, we observe as she grieves (or, as some chatty neighbors feel, doesn’t grieve enough) and tries to figure out what to do with the rest of her life. The style is very much of its time, and the period photography is absolutely gorgeous. The original cinematographer, David Gurfinkel was involved in this restoration.
Of note is that the director, Gilberto Tofano, was a documentarian and intellectual from Italy and this is his only feature length film. It definitely has some of the style of Italian movies from the era in its editing, use of music and fashion. But it is very much an Israeli story. (It also has a really innovative and emotionally resonant ending that I didn’t see coming.)
Now that this cleaned-up version is out there you can expect it to make the rounds in Israel, Europe and the United States. I personally plan to drag people by the collar to come see it when it eventually plays in New York.
Those were the big three Jewish movies for me at Cannes this year, but you can’t keep a good chosen people down. We got a shout-out during Arnaud Desplechin’s mediocre “Ismael’s Ghosts” in which the nutty daughter of an established French-Jewish filmmaker played by Marion Cotillard describes herself as a “renegade Jew.”
One of our most talented shandas fur di goyim (Jewish embarrassments), convicted sex offender Roman Polanski, returned to Cannes with an out of competition title. “Based on a True Story” is a bit of a letdown, especially considering how well Polanski has done the “person goes crazy in their apartment” story before. (“Rosemary’s Baby” and “Repulsion” being the more famous examples, but also check out “The Tenant,” which might actually be my favorite.) This one, about an author with writer’s block who lets a manipulator into her world, almost feels like it is toying with the audience’s expectations from this sort of movie. That’s intellectually stimulating for a while, but ultimately a little frustrating.
Nevertheless, French-Jewish actress Eva Green is as alluring as ever, and there are flashes of the giddy, camp classic performance that’s just out of reach. But Polanski’s decision to tone everything down for the sake of ambiguity is ultimately the film’s undoing.
There was also a very entertaining biopic about one of my favorite anti-Semites, Jean-Luc Godard. The abundantly talented Jew-hater, whose work must be seen regardless of his beliefs, is played by Louis Garrel in Michael Hazanavicius’ “Le Redoubtable.”
Much as Hazanavicius (a French Jew of Lithuanian origin) recreated silent movies with “The Artist,” he’s done something similar here with the French New Wave. Godard is a true antihero, and his lowest point comes during a rally at Le Sorbonne in 1968 when he argues that Jews are the new Nazis. He is booed and it’s the moment when his wife Anna Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin) realizes that she should probably leave this guy.
Also, Amos Gitai screened his new documentary “West of the Jordan (Field Diary Revisited)” in one of the sidebars. Many of Gitai’s narrative films are extraordinary, but this collage of political meditations kinda feels like a dump of someone’s hard drive. Gitai himself is also in every scene, barking his opinions. Michael Moore does this sort of thing, too, but at least he’s funny. For those looking for a recent documentary with some meat on its bones about this topic, check out and then discuss “The Settlers.”
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