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Cannes Dispatch 6: Parsing the Prize Winners

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By Dennis Lim

Not surprising given his own directorial sensibility, the defining characteristic of Stephen Frears’ jury turned out to be eclecticism. Whatever your predilections, there was probably not a lot to complain about, given how this year’s awards wealth was distributed between arty young auteurs (Carlos Reygadas, Naomi Kawase) and likely crowd pleasers (“Persepolis,” “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” “The Edge of Heaven”), even between the critically adored (“Secret Sunshine”) and unloved (“The Banishment”). The jury’s most defiant statement, in the end, was its evident indifference (or worse) to studio-backed American genre films. While the Coens, Tarantino and Fincher all left empty-handed, Frears and co. found a way to reward Gus Van Sant, presenting the recent laureate with a 60th anniversary prize for the superb “Paranoid Park.”

As for the Palme d’Or, there could be no less controversial winner — at least among the critical contingent — than Cristian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days,” an overwhelming favorite literally from day one, to the point where its reputation seems to me now in danger of being inflated. Extremely well directed and acted, “4 Months” is a moral tale as suspense movie and it works on the principle of withheld information — those who saw it at its first screening, before it was christened “the Romanian abortion movie,” can attest to the improbable, nail-biting effectiveness of the flatly observed opening minutes. Once its subject is clear, and events turn ever grimmer, the movie becomes less urgent and more methodical in depicting the privations of Ceausescu-era Romania, where black-market economics have polluted human interactions and transactions. With its long-take choreography and low-key naturalism, “4 Months” unavoidably evokes “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” (both films were shot by Oleg Mutu), but, lacking the universality and metaphysical ambitions of Cristi Puiu’s film, can’t help suffering in comparison.

Was this, as many commentators have declared, the best Cannes in years? There were relatively few films I whole-heartedly loved (I counted four: “Flight of the Red Balloon,” “Secret Sunshine,” “Go Go Tales,” “Paranoid Park”), but only the crankiest of critics would grumble about the overall quality. It’s worth noting, though, that more than half of my dozen or so favorites screened outside the competition. The Quinzaine enjoyed a reasonably strong edition: Besides Anton Corbijn’s prize-winning “Control,” high points included Serge Bozon’s “La France,” an almost Bressonian WWI movie with a cross-dressing Sylvie Testud and Belle and Sebastian-ish musical interludes; Nicolas Klotz’s “La Question Humaine,” a wry, cerebral drama that recalls Arnaud Desplechin’s “La Sentinelle” in its view of history as a haunting (substituting the Holocaust for the Cold War); and Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s erotic unhappy-marriage mood piece (and decisive return to form), “Ploy.”

Back in the official selection, the (widely dismissed) “midnight movies” by Abel Ferrara and Olivier Assayas were, for me, superior to almost all of the actual title contenders. And three of my festival favorites came from the Un Certain Regard section: Hou Hsiao-hsien’s exquisite “Flight of the Red Balloon”; Diao Yinan’s “Night Train,” the poised tale of a female Chinese executioner that moves from terse character study to terse existential thriller; and Cristian Nemescu’s “California Dreamin’ (Endless),” the other Romanian film.

It’s a shame that more people didn’t get to see Nemescu’s movie, which had minimal pre-screening publicity and was the last film to screen in Un Certain Regard, where it promptly won the top prize. Tragically, Nemescu was only 27 when he died in a car crash last summer. His debut feature is billed as unfinished — a producer added the posthumous titular parentheses — and at two and a half hours, could clearly have used some additional sculpting, but its verve and expansiveness more than make up for the ragged edges and occasional slack patch.

In 1999, a convoy of U.S. soldiers, en route to Kosovo, is detained in a Romanian village by a despotic stationmaster (they’re missing the necessary paperwork); with most of the locals, from the mayor to the high school’s female population, intent on “seducing” the Americans, culture-clash tragicomedy ensues. It’s not the most subtle allegory for the American habit of forcibly exporting democracy and turning foreign misadventures into messy conflagrations. But it has energy, wit and heart to spare and, as an anti-American smackdown, even maintains an affection for its ostensible targets. Nemescu’s first and last film provided a largely apolitical Cannes edition with its missing Iraq movie and a festival of mostly familiar faces and known quantities with its major discovery.

[Photo: Cristian Mungiu’s Palme d’Or-winning “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” IFC First Take, 2007]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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