Olivier Assayas' sentimental ode to young love and révolution failed to dazzle, while Korea's Kim Ki-duk had audiences squirming.
Carlos director Olivier Assayas revisits another significant chapter in twentieth century French history, this time focusing on the aftermath of the summer of ’68 (the film’s native title, Apres Mai, literally translates as After May) where the warm Parisian air is perfumed with young love and révolution.
The film opens in 1971, where high school student Gilles (Clément Métayer) attends a demonstration organised by Le Secours Rouge in what turns out to be a violent clash with the police. When he’s not handing out anti-bourgeois literature at the school gates, defacing public property with crude anarchist graffiti or taking part in other militant extracurricular activities, Gilles spends his time nurturing his true passion.
He’s a gifted painter who dreams of one day having his work displayed in famous exhibition halls around the world. But as Gilles becomes more occupied by the political turmoil sweeping the country he finds himself torn between his professional ambition and his activism.
After Gilles becomes an accessory to a grievous assault on a school security guard he and several friends decide to lie low for the summer and head south to Italy. It’s a journey of experimentation and self-discovery for Gilles and his new girlfriend Christine (Lola Créton, who impressed in Catherine Breillat’s Bluebeard back in 2010), as they hitch a ride with some nomadic Trotskyites.
Like Assayas’ 1994 film Cold Water, Something in the Air recreates the counter-cultural milieu of the time with staggering, but not distracting, authenticity. Some of the songs and slogans might be familiar to the point of cliché, but they’re presence reminds us that while the student uprising may not have directly resulted in social or legislative change, the cultural impact of the free press – not to mention the boom in expressionistic music and poetry – can still be felt to this day.
Gilles’ coming-of-age looks to have come full circle when he reunites with the sweetheart who leaves him early on in search of new life experiences, but he quickly realises that their moment in the sun has passed and before long he’s on the move again. Assayas clearly has a deep, almost autobiographical connection with his characters, and yet for all its sentimental value and youthful verve this gorgeous road movie fails to dazzle in quite the way we'd hoped.
‘The eighteenth film by Kim Ki-duk’, as an opening credit slide reliably informs us, Pieta is Korean cinema at its grim and cynical best. Peddling the age-old adage that money is the root of all the evil in the world, it’s a bleak and occasionally cruel film that’s not for the faint hearted.
Sneering loan shark Kang-do (Lee Jung-jin) is going about his daily routine, collecting debts and breaking limbs of those poor souls who dare to beg for more time to pay up. Since being abandoned as a child Kang-do has led a solitary life, never knowing what it means to have an emotional connection with another human being. As a result he is merciless in his work, appearing unphased by the pain he causes families each time he steps out of his soulless apartment.
On his rounds Kang-do encounters numerous mothers who plead with him not to harm their sons, all of whom are greeted with the same stony apathy. Then one day on his way home Kang-do is approached by a strange and mysterious woman (Cho Min-soo) who weeps at his feet, apologizing profusely for having given him up at birth.
Angry and convinced this woman is lying, he coldly rejects her before her persistence wears him down and he begins to accept her. The relationship that subsequently blossoms makes Norman Bates and his dearest ma look like the Brady bunch. But events take an unexpected turn when Kang-do’s mother is kidnapped; seemingly by someone he was wronged.
As a winner of the Silver Bear for Best Director in Berlin (for Samaritan Girl) and more recently the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes (for Arirang) Kim’s festival pedigree helped to raise expectation ahead of Pieta’s Venice premiere. Yet it’s hard to gauge to what extent those expectations were met because, well, it’s not always easy to comprehend quite what it is you’re watching.
While the sadistic nature of Kang-do’s actions surely accounted for the vast majority of walkouts – of which there were more than at any other Competition screening – there’s an unpredictability to the film’s ability to blindside you that makes for tough viewing, with special mention going to a game of chicken that escalates into a squirm-inducing incestuous rape scene.
Pieta means ‘pity’ in Italian and refers to a style of sculpture or painting that depicts the Virgin Mary mournfully cradling the dead body of Jesus Christ. With that in mind there’s something melancholy about that title and, although explicit in places, this is an arresting and ultimately moving study of loss, renewal and retribution.