Film Scouts Diaries

1998 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Cannes Diary #2: First Impressions

by David Sterritt

A critic I know described "La Vendedora de Rosas" ("The Rose Seller") as "Los Olvidados" meets "Kids," and I can't improve on that, although I liked the movie better than my colleague did. Victor Gaviria has explored this territory before&emdash;his previous picture, "Rodrigo D, No Future," was strikingly similar in subject and tone&emdash;but this time he does a better job of making his characters fully rounded figures in psychological as well as sociopolitical terms. They're a group of deplorably underprivileged Colombian youngsters who've fled their homes for one sad reason or another (abusive mom, apathetic dad, etc.) and now live in the streets and shacks of Medallin, where the main difference between one group and another seems to be that older boys tend toward gangbanger violence while younger girls sell flowers and/or sex to finance the glue-sniffing that's the recreation of choice for just about everyone.

What makes this sorry community worth visiting is the edgy energy of Gaviria's filmmaking, which telegraphs the relentlessly destablized nature of the characters' lives through constant camera movement accompanied by a steady underdrone of pop music and occasional swoops into a sort of magic realism sparked by a glue-addled girl's hallucinatory fantasy of a better life. The picture rarely gets inside the hearts of its mostly miserable population as deeply as it should, but what it conveys of their surroundings and activities is as vivid as it is disturbing.

Patrice Chereau's new drama, "Ceux qui m'aiment prendront le train" ("Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train)," focuses on a more limited community: an extended family gathered for a funeral that prompts a variety of old memories and new experiences, many of them pegged to offbeat sexual combinations and proclivities. There's as much energy here as in any film of the festival so far, but while the picture is as technically proficient as anyone could wish, there's no sense of real connection with the characters or their emotionally complicated situations. Chereau never runs short of sound and fury&emdash;his bodice-ripping "Queen Margot" proved that once and for all&emdash;and he can craft a resonant image when he wants to, as in a haunting shot of the great Jean-Louis Trintignant sitting gaunt and withdrawn in one of the movie's rare moments of stillness. In the end, though, there's less going on here than all the fuss and bother would lead one to expect.

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