Here is Chaz Ebert’s third video dispatch from the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, followed by a transcript of the video …
The festival this year has been slow on gossip but strong on films, just the way I like it! One of my favorite films thus far is from director Ken Loach, already a two times winner of the Palmes d’Or. His latest, “Sorry We Missed You” is a commentary on the new “gig” economy, and how large corporations are selling the dream of freedom through self-employment while actually trapping their workers in a cycle of longer hours, less pay, and no benefits. The story follows Ricky, a man who has worked his whole life but wants something better for his family, so he decides to become a franchise delivery driver for PDF, a package delivery service similar to UPS. But instead of finding freedom with his time and freedom from debt, he’s required to work crazy hours with unrealistic expectations. This has a spiraling effect on his family, all played by wonderfully compelling first time actors.
This is a very timely story, told with the authenticity that Loach is known for. I admired his attention to details. You can tell he did his research on the lives of a White Van man as they are called in England. He also made the family life relatable, and the problems confronting their children believable. These working circumstances may be new to you, but you’ll surely recognize these characters and the pressure they are under to merely stay afloat while working themselves into the ground.
“Les Miserables” is another strong film in competition this year … so strong in fact, that it was just purchased for distribution by Amazon streaming. The film takes place in Montfermeil, the same neighborhood where Victor Hugo set his world-famous tale. But in this story, created by first-time director Ladj Ly, we follow three modern-day policemen through this same troubled neighborhood. Tensions are high between the residents and police, and get even worse after the botched arrest of a young teenager.
Although he wrote this story 5 years ago, it sounds as if it was ripped from the pages of a Chicago, or New York, or Rio newspaper. And yet there are very place-specfic factors. I love films that immerse you in the culture and customs of another place. “Atlantique” (“Atlantics”), directed by the first Black woman, and the first African woman in competition – Mati Diop, does just that. Set in Senegal West Africa, we’re treated to glimpses of local weddings, engagements, night clubs, and religious customs while we follow the relationship of two young lovers – Ada and Souleimane along with the forces, including mystical ones, that pull them apart as well as those that try to bring them back together. And here, the ocean is a character that calls out to Senegal’s young men to leave to find a better future in Spain.
Brazilian competition entry, “Bacarau,” is another strong contender with cultural significance that transported me to another space. It takes place just a “few years” into the future. But that’s just enough of a separation from present day reality to make this story enthralling. A small, rural village loses its matriarch while it battles the local heavyweight politician about water rights. In the midst of this, the town finds itself under attack from forces that are hard to even understand. This may not sound compelling, but this is definitely a film that will keep you guessing and it’s never boring. And although it is set in the future, it also brings to mind the harsh political situation in present day Brazil.
Out of competition, a number of good films also played early this week, including “Rocketman.” Director Dexter Fletcher does an outstanding job of depicting the early life and career of Elton John. But I was unprepared for the sadness and heartbreak of his life that went into the creation of these famous songs. The flashy outfits and outlandish stage persona are shown as a mask designed to hide Elton John’s shyness and insecurities. But if you like his music, you’ll like this film. The acting is superb from the actors who play Elton as a young boy to Taren Egerton who plays him as a man, Bryce Dallas Howard as his mother, Jamie Bell as his songwriting partner of 50 years, Bernie Taupin, and Richard Madden as his lover and manager, John Reid.
“Bull” is a film playing in Un Certain Regard by first-time American director, Annie SIlverstein. It’s the story of a teenage girl, Kris, who is being raised by her grandmother while her mother is in prison. She wants to do the right thing, but she hardly knows what that is and gets into trouble by breaking into her neighbor’s house as she is hanging with the wrong crowd. Her neighbor is an African-American bull rider who introduces her to that circuit, and her dream becomes to earn money on the local rodeo circuit. The easy-going naturalness of the characters in this film reminded of the recent festival hit The Florida Project.
Also playing the Un Certain Regard section is the animated film “The Swallows of Kabul.” It’s a very serious, often tragic story about how a man’s consciousness can evolve, from throwing a stone at a woman in the square, to imagining freedom for a woman wrongly imprisoned. The animation actually heightens the impact and works well to bring the audience into this very specific culture. And the fact that the film was directed by two women made me feel as if each and every character was well rounded and fully realized.
in the meantime, continue to follow us at RogerEbert.com/Cannes for our daily written reports from Barbara Scharres, Ben Keningsberg, and others, along with our regular video reports.