Think of the best performances from the past 20 years.
OK, make it a little easier on yourself. Think of the Academy Awards from recent years: Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln, Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, Nicole Kidman as Virginia Wolff in The Hours, or Tom Hanks in Philadelphia. Roles that pop usually have a big character twist, anything from a period friendly dialect to full body makeover to a life or death problem on their plate. "Normality" is rarely praised and rewarded when it comes to acting, simply because it doesn't pop. That's why the Cannes Film Festival debut The Past is downright revelatory: it's people acting like people while chewing up scenery Day-Lewis style.
Director Asghar Farhadi, who won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for 2011's A Separation, shifts his lens from Iran to Paris for Le passé to examine a deteriorating family. Academy Award-nominated actress Bérénice Bejo (The Artist) plays Marie, who we first see picking up her soon-to-be ex-husband Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) from the airport so their divorce can finally be settled. Farhadi introduces us to the fissuring couple from behind a pane of glass that blocks out the sound — a choice made several times during the film. The motif hones our attention in on the physical performances of Farhadi's ensemble while speaking to the issues that slowly percolate throughout The Past. As Ahmad settles in for a few days with his former family, he digs up secrets that everyone thought were better left unsaid.
In a challenging move, Farhadi takes most of the usual exposition and setup and unrolls it over the course of the film. Turns out Ahmad and Marie's tense relationship is only the beginning. Marie's boyfriend Samir (Tahar Rahim of A Prophet) has a heap of his own issues, putting the responsibility of caring for his son on her shoulders. As Ahmad witnesses, the boy requires attention Marie doesn't have. Her dwindling relationship with older daughter, Lucie (Pauline Burlet), is strained as it is. With every scene, The Past complicates the scenario. To reveal the twists would only unknot Farhadi's breathtaking execution.
The Past doesn't play M. Night Shyamalan games. instead, the reveals are fuel for naturalistic drama. To allow the acting to breathe, Farhadi stages his action in a theatrical fashion. One or two angles suffice when Bejo rages out against her surrogate son and Mosaffa calms a downward spiraling Burlet. Having been introduced to Americans in a silent era throwback, Bejo proves herself a starlet to contend with one devastating moment after another. In contrast, Mosaffa remains collected while being haunted by the past. Farhadi has a musician's ear for dialogue. Out of his actors' mouths the words are rhythmic and provocative, the young Burlet acting as the film's soft soprano. She's simply stunning, and yet the polar opposite of any of the aforementioned "best" performances.
Oscar talk is a component of Cannes and The Past is certainly a contender for year-end awards. But while the cast is deserving, Farhadi's latest may be limited to foreign and writing categories. Despite the fury of dramatic wordplay and understated work across the board, this is not a collection of Daniel Day-Lewis-style performances. No broad characterizations, no identifiable mimicking, no showy explosions. It may not be a fit for the Academy Awards, but over the thrilling two hours of The Past, they're everything that makes "the best."
[Photo Credit: Sony Pictures]
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The Cannes Film Festival: where big name Hollywood stars and renowned American directors rub shoulders with the global elite. It's like moviedom's version of the Olympics, filmmakers and performers from around the world spend a week along the beaches of France, showing off their latest work in hopes of generating buzz and finding breakout success.
This year's slate of films sports plenty of recognizable faces: Ryan Gosling reteams with his Drive director Nicolas Winding-Refn for Only God Forgives; the Coen Bros. will show their loose Dave Van Ronk biopic starring Oscar Isaacs, Carey Mulligan, and Justin Timberlake; Steven Soderbergh's HBO movie Behind The Candelabra touts Matt Damon and Michael Douglas; and the "Out of Competition" category boasts Emma Watson's bad girl crime pic Bling Ring and the James Franco-directed Faulkner adaptation, As I Lay Dying. A packed roster.
On top of that, Cannes 2013 also has an eclectic collection of foreign films that look equally fascinating — if they can live side by side with the Hollywood elite, that means something.
Dive in to the full lineup below and watch out for Hollywood.com's coverage of the 2013 Cannes Film Festival when the debuts begin in mid-May:
Opening film: The Great Gatsby, dir: Baz Luhrmann
Closing film: Zulu, dir: Jérôme Salle
CompetitionOnly God Forgives, dir: Nicolas Winding-RefnLa Grande Bellezza, dir: Paolo SorrentinoBehind The Candelabra, Steven SoderberghThe Immigrant, dir: James GrayVenus In Fur, dir: Roman PolanskiStraw Shield, dir: Takashi MiikeNebraska, dir: Alexander PayneJeune Et Jolie, dir: Francois OzonThe Past, dir: Asghar FarhadiInside Llewyn Davis, dir: Joel & Ethan CoenJimmy P., dir: Arnaud DesplechinHeli, dir: Amat EscalanteGrisgris, dir: Mahamat-Saleh HarounLike Father Like Son, dir: Hirokazu Kore-EdaLa Vie D’Adèle, dir: Abdellatif KechicheBorgman, dir: Alex Vann WarmerdamA Touch Of Sin, dir: Zhangke JiaMichael Kohlhaas, dir: Arnaud DespallièresUn Château En Italie, dir: Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi
Out of CompetitionBlood Ties, dir: Guillaume CanetAll Is Lost, dir: J.C. Chandor
Un Certain RegardThe Bling Ring, dir: Sofia Coppola (Opening film)Omar, dir: Hany Abu-AssadDeath March, dir: Adolfo Alix, JrFruitvale: dir: Ryan Coogler*The Bastards, dir: Claire DenisNorte, Hangganan Ng Kasaysayan, dir: Lav DiazAs I Lay Dying, dir: James FrancoMiele, dir: Valeria Golino*L’Inconnu Du Lac, dir: Alain GuiraudieBends, dir: Flora Lau*L’Image Manquante, dir: Rithy PanhLa Jaula De Oro, dir: Diego Quemada-Diez*Anonymousv, dir: Mohammad RasoulofSarah Préfère La Course, dir: Chloé Robichaud*Grand Central, dir: Rebecca Zlotowski
Midnight ScreeningsBlind Detective, dir: Johnnie ToMonsoon Shootout, dir: Amit Kumar*
Homage To Jerry LewisMax Rose, dir: Daniel Noah
Special ScreeningsSeduced And Abandoned, dir: James TobackWeekend Of A Champion, dir: Roman PolanskiMuhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight, dir: Stephen FrearsStop The Pounding Heart, dir: Roberto MinerviniBite The Dust, dir: Taisia Igumentseva (Cinéfondation)*
Gala Screening in honor of IndiaBombay Talkies, dirs: Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar, Karan Johar
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With each outing in his evolving filmmaking career actor-turned-director Ben Affleck has amped up the scope. Gone Baby Gone was a character drama woven into a hard-boiled mystery. The Town saw Affleck dabble in action pulling off bank heists many compared to the expertise of Heat. In Argo the director pulls off his most daring effort melding one part caper comedy and two parts edge-of-your-seat political thriller into an exhilarating theatrical experience.
At the height of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 anti-Shah militants stormed the U.S. embassy and captured 52 American hostages. Six managed to escape the raid finding refuge in the Canadian ambassador's home. Within hours the militants began a search for the missing Americans sifting through shredded paperwork for even the smallest bit of evidence. Under pressure by the ticking clock the CIA worked quickly to formulate a plan to covertly rescue the six embassy workers. Despite a lengthy list of possibilities only Tony Mendez (Affleck) had a plan just enticing enough to unsuspecting Iranian officials to work: the CIA would fake a Hollywood movie shoot.
There's nothing in Argo or Affleck's portrayal of Mendez that would tell you the technical operations officer has the imagination to conjure his master plan — Affleck perhaps to differentiate himself from the past plays his character with so much restraint he looks dead in the eyes — but when the Hollywood hijinks swing into full motion so does Argo. Mendez hooks up with Planet of the Apes makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to convince all of Hollywood that their sci-fi blockbuster "Argo " is readying for production. With enough promotional material concept art and press coverage Mendez and his team can convince the Iranian government they're a legit operation. A location scout in Tehran will be their method of extracting the bunkered down escapees.
Without an interesting lead to draw us in Affleck lets his eclectic ensemble do the heavy lifting. For the most part it works. Argo is basically two movies — Goodman and Arkin lead the Ocean's 11-esque half and Affleck takes the reigns when its time to get the six — another who's who of character actors including Tate Donovan Clea Duvall Scoot McNairy and Rory Cochrane — through the terrifying security of the Iranian airport. Arkin steals the show as a fast talking Hollywood type complete with year-winning catchphrase ("ArGo f**k yourself!) while McNairy adds a little more humanity to the spy mission when his character butts heads with Mendez. The split lessens the impact of each section but the tension in the escape is so high so taut that there's never a moment to check out.
Reality is on Affleck's side his camera floating through crowds of protestors and the streets of Tehran — a warscape where anything can happen. Each angle he chooses heightens the terror which starts to close in on the covert escape as they drift further and further from their homebase. Argo is a complete package with the '70s production design knowing when to play goofy (the fake movie's wild sci-fi designs) and when to remind us that problems took eight more steps to fix then they do today. Alexandre Desplat's score finds balance in haunting melodies and energetic pulses.
Part of Argo's charm is just how unreal the entire operation really was. To see the men and women involved go through with a plan they know could result in death. It's a suspenseful adventure and while there's not much in the way of character to cling to the visceral experience tends to be enough.