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By Jeremy Mathews | May 14, 2004

Check out Jeremy’s previous reports as he braves the 2004 Cannes Film Festival>>>

A day into the Cannes Film Festival and one of its best films has already shown. Indeed, if the competition maintains the quality of Kore-eda Hirokazu’s “Nobody Knows,” it will be one for the books. The film is a quiet, beautiful and heartbreaking exploration of an unfortunate family of four children, the oldest of whom is 12.

Kore-eda made an impressive debut with 1995’s “Maborosi” and the masterpiece “After Life” followed in 1999, as did “Distance,” which I haven’t seen, in 2001. He is one of the best young Japanese directors, and his work often recalls the old masters. In his fourth film, he is assured and deliberate, somehow giving a documentary feel to his carefully composed shots through the use of untrained actors.

The elegant takes aren’t limited, however, to long shots, and Kore-eda’s camera reveals truths in little details—a boy’s feet as he leans dangerously far back while holding a railing, hands gleefully throwing and catching a bottle as the camera tracks.

Inspired by true events, the film begins as a mother (You) and her son, Akira (Yagira Yuya) arrive in a new apartment. The boy’s father is abroad, the mother says. However, she is sneaking two younger kids in her luggage. A fourth child, Kyoko (Kitaura Ayu), Akira’s younger sister by two years, sneaks in at night. All of the children have different absentee fathers, and the mother soon begins leaving on trips with her new boyfriend for long durations, putting young Akira in charge of the house. The others can’t leave, because they’ll be kicked out if they’re seen, nor can they go to school and interact with other children.

Kore-eda shot the film over the course of a year to capture both the changes in the seasons and the growth of the young amateur actors. When the kids are playing or laughing, we feel their joy, which makes the pain they experience all the stronger. Having no adult supervision leads to a messy house and limited money, but the kids can’t go to the authorities because they don’t want to split up. Kore-eda follows his characters as they reach a poignant and stunning conclusion that is one of the most elegantly shot and edited sequences in years.

The other film in competition today, second-time Italian director Paolo Sorrentino’s “Le Conseguenze dell’amore” (“The Consequences of Love”), is also notable, with its sleek style and surreal humor. Toni Servillo stars in a wonderfully deadpan performance as Titta Di Girolamo (“the only thing flamboyant about me is my name”), who has been living in a hotel somewhere in Switzerland for over a decade, sleeping little due to insomnia and speaking even less out of free will. He sits in a cafe everyday and watches, but doesn’t talk to, the pretty waitress, and occasionally plays cards with a formerly rich gambling addict who longs to be rich again. Every so often, a suitcase full of money appears in Titta’s room and he takes it to a bank to be hand-counted.

Sorrentino’s visuals move fluidly, while misleading editing moves the film from one scene to another with disorienting precision that doesn’t let you catch your breath from one scene to the next. The film is made more hip with electronic dance music, occasionally punctuated with uncomfortable moments of natural sound. While it drags a bit in the middle and the barrage of material can be exhausting, the film stays engaging and always looks excellent as it waits to divulge its character’s secrets.

Tomorrow, multi-Palm d’Or-winning Bosnian director Emir Kusturica will premier “Life is a Miracle!” and the festival continues to buzz with word on that film and others in competition, including Wong Kar-wai’s “2046” and Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 911.” If they live up to the hype, it will be a stiff competition this year.
Check back for further coverage of the 2004 Cannes Film Fstival. Until then, let’s have some Back Talk>>>

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