By Jeremy Mathews | May 16, 2005

Considering the promising entries yet to play, this year’s Cannes Festival is shaping up as a strong one, although not yet astounding. Most of the films in this year’s competition have at least been interesting, and a few have been daring, including one whose visual language breaks with expectations and toys with cinematic perception.

Michael Haneke’s “Caché” (“Hidden”) came billed as a mystery thriller, but revealed itself as a layered, tense psychological exploration of repressed guilt and denial of responsibility. Daniel Autueil and Juliette Binoche star as a public television literary personality and his wife who are puzzled when they find a video cassette with hours of footage of the outside of their house on their doorstep. The tapes continue to show up, and become increasingly bizarre as they no longer simply spy, but look back at things from the past, as the camera drives to his childhood home. Autueil’s character begins to suspect that the stalker may be related to some bad things he did as a young child, things he isn’t comfortable sharing with his wife.

While the obvious visual representation of the VHS tapes would be low-quality video on a TV screen, Haneke uses a sharp image undistinguished from the rest of the film except when scan lines appear during fast forward and rewind. This creates a creeping blurring of visual context as it becomes unclear whether certain shots come from a tape or simply exist in the film. And Haneke refuses to answer the plot’s questions in the straightforward way that most thrillers would, closing with an unsettling and uncertain end to the troubling events.

From Hong Kong, Johnny To’s “Election” was also a worthwhile entry in the competition. The film examines the convoluted yet fascinating politics of a traditional arm of the Triad mafia. And talk about the difficulties of uniting around a leader after a heated, divided election. Big D (Tony Leung Ka Fai), a loose cannon with an entitlement complex, becomes incredibly angry when his campaign of bribery fails to pay off and the more levelheaded Lok (Simon Yam) wins. Rather than gracefully accept defeat, Big D decides to attempt a coup, kidnapping and torturing several thugs in an effort to obtain the ceremonial staff before Lok receives it.

While it can sometimes be redundant, writer/director To combines the calming sense of tradition and peaceful unity with the violence inherent in the mob lifestyle. As police bring the characters to jail to help them negotiate (they can’t arrest them all, so they might as well keep things peaceful), you might forget just who these people are until they start whacking each other’s heads.

On a lighter side, an Out of Competition selection turned out to be a witty piece of imaginative comedy with great performances by Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer. Shane Black, best known as the screenwriter who revived the action buddy genre with “Lethal Weapon,” has made a snappy and hilarious directorial debut with “Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang,” which pays homage to pulp detective novels and the films they spawned.

Downey’s timing is impeccable as a not-so-smooth petty criminal who winds up in a studio audition when running from the police and is mistaken for a method actor. He flies out to Los Angeles, confidently picks a fight with a guy at a party who mistreats a woman, then gets the s**t kicked out of him, afterwards saying, “I’ve gotta learn to fight one of these days.”

He winds up paired with a Hollywood fixture known as Gay Perry (Kilmer), who is supposed to offer the faux actor background into the life of a private investigator. The job isn’t like the movies, it’s really boring, Perry says, but the next moment they’re in the middle of a murder mystery involving frame-ups, shoot outs and a dismembered finger—not cut off by mob bosses, but lost in an accident with a slammed door. Downey narrates the story while apologizing for his poor narrating skills and talking about movie clichés he hates. While the self-referential narration has been done enough already, Downey’s delivery and Black’s writing make it so it doesn’t really matter.

Film Threat’s 2005 Cannes Film Festival coverage continues throughout the week!

Check out Jeremy’s previous report>>>

Visit the Cannes Film Festival website.

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