The Wages of Fear
  • The Wages of Fear

This week, the French romance drama Blue Is the Warmest Color opened in two Chicago theaters, Landmark’s Century Centre in Lakeview and the Century 12/CineArts 6 in Evanston. I reviewed the film when it played at CIFF, and I really don’t care for it. Director Abdellatif Kechiche has a weighty, methodical style that frequently undercuts what’s meant to be a passionate love story between two young lesbians. The film, like Kechiche’s previous work, is essentially an exercise of visual uniformity, something I normally enjoy. But over the course of the film’s three-hour run time, the experience gradually grows burdensome and somewhat oppressive. At the risk of sounding redundant, a long film is something I normally enjoy, but Blue Is the Warmest Color feels every microsecond of three hours and eventually buckles under the weight of its own run time. Then, of course, there’s the controversial sex scenes and suspect depiction of a homosexual relationship, a subject broached by people much smarter and more qualified than me, so I’ll let that bit lie while simply saying that the film, as a whole, left me cold.

Blue Is the Warmest Color was bestowed the prestigious Palme d’Or at this year’s Steven Spielberg-juried Cannes Film Festival. After the jump, you can see my five favorite Palme d’Or winners. Note: a few of my picks are for films that won the award when it wasn’t known as the “Palme d’Or” but rather the “Grand Prix du Festival International du Film.” This strikes me as a minor quibble, because the top prize at Cannes is the top prize at Cannes, regardless of its name.

5. The Go-Between (dir. Joseph Losey, 1971) I like to think of this as more of a lifetime achievement award. It isn’t Losey’s best film, but his most superlative work remains so underappreciated that his Palme d’Or helps redeem his lack of recognition. Polished, sexually charged, and intelligent, it’s actually a great introduction to Losey’s films despite the fact that it’s one of his last.

4. Viridiana (dir. Luis Buñuel, 1961) One of Buñuel’s most important films. As he demonstrated throughout his career, he could be a cold and even antagonistic director, never one to shy away from disturbing images and debilitating themes of sorrow and violence, and this parable on religious contradiction is no exception. Indeed, Viridiana isn’t an easy film to watch, but the overall effect is surprisingly spirited thanks to Buñuel’s lively, invigorating filmmaking.

3. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (dir. Jacques Demy, 1964) An audacious reinvention of the movie musical as a movie opera, in which every word of dialogue is sung. In his review, Dave Kehr credits Demy for avoiding “the pat, the obvious, and the sentimental,” a true feat when you consider how corny the idea of a “movie opera” is. But the film succeeds on the sheer conviction of Demy’s vision. Colorful and energetic yet contemplative and somber, it evokes a wide range of emotions that offset its gimmicky premise.

2. The Wages of Fear (dir. Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1953) Clouzot’s famous exercise in tension remains a high-water mark in the suspense genre. Some of cinema’s most genuinely exhilarating moments exist in this film, but Clouzot, who understood and utilized narrative subtext as well as anyone, wasn’t content with making a simple thriller. Some of the film’s most aggressive moments lie in its depictions of corporate exploitation, American imperialism, and human folly; these themes are articulated in the elaborate action set pieces, which operate as passages of physical poetry.

1. Taste of Cherry (dir. Abbas Kiarostami, 1997) Maybe Kiarostami’s most divisive film, a brusque and leisurely meditation on mankind’s relation to life and death. The film’s pensive long takes create a visual distance from the audience and the characters, giving the film an observational style that underplays the dramatic nature of the story. (The main character is out looking for someone to bury dirt on his already-dug grave after he commits suicide, his rationale for such an action left ambiguous.) Methodical form builds to an ending so disarming and euphorically designed that the preceding action, in all its solemnity, is contextualized as not just a meditation on life and death, but on what’s real, what’s not real, and why the difference between the two is irrelevant.

Drew Hunt writes film-related top five lists every Sunday