Film Scouts Diaries

1998 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Cannes Diary #5: More Film Impressions

by David Sterritt

"Velvet Goldmine" flashes the flip side of Todd Haynes's sensibility: It's as innovative and adventurous as the extraordinary "Safe," his previous feature, but where that movie was muted and contained, the new one is exuberant, extroverted, and sometimes exhilarating as it explores the transgressive ecstasies Haynes associates with the glam-rock scene of the early-'70s era. For all his enthusiasm about the scene he's chronicling, however, he's too intelligent a filmmaker to celebrate it uncritically. The picture's frequently explosive glee is tempered with a mournful undertone that's embedded most obviously in its "Citizen Kane"-like narrative about a young British journalist tracking down the elusive truth about a glittered-decked popstar who shot down his own career with an assassination hoax. The story of "Velvet Goldmine" doesn't work particularly well, and many of the complaints I've heard about the film ("It's just a long MTV video," etc.) center on its lack of linear coherence. But open your eyes and ears to its explosively imaginative images and superbly chosen music (Brian Eno, T. Rex, Lou Reed, etc.) and you'll have one of the most authentically original experiences this festival has offered.

Music also surges through the aptly titled "Tango," another in Spanish director Carlos Saura's long string of dance-based movies. This one is at its best during (you guessed it) the tango sequences, with attractive dancers leaping about to Lalo Schifrin's lively score in exquisitely lighted images captured by Vittorio Storaro, perhaps the world's greatest living cinematographer. By contrast, the picture's dramatic scenes are trite and dull, centered on a hackneyed love story and an underdeveloped political conflict. In all, Saura's recent "Flamenco" was more successful, focusing entirely on performance with no superficial nods to narrative. "Tango" is a visual knockout, however, and fans of the sultry dance-and-music genre shouldn't miss it.

"The School of Flesh" is based on a work by Yukio Mishima, an author I've always found much tamer than his image (or personal history) would have us expect; and filmmaker Benoit Jacquot is accordingly mild in his treatment of the not-so-daring tale of a respectable woman infatuated with a bisexual male prostitute who himself is wooing a rich man's daughter. If the movie were inspired by Tennessee Williams it might have worked its way to a really interesting climax, perhaps with the characters literally eating each other for breakfast. As it stands, the picture is standard "amour fou" stuff with little to distinguish it from a host of similar exercises over the years. Jacquot should return to the stylistic experimentation of "Une Fille seule," which turned a genuinely unusual idea into a critical and commercial success. Audiences may embrace "The School of Flesh" as they've welcomed equally ordinary French dramas over the years; but aside from Isabelle Huppert's perennial charm there's nothing to get excited about here.

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