Monks, poetry and terrorism prove a worthy combination for our Cannes correspondent.
20 May 2010 - 4:25 PM  UPDATED 16 Jan 2014 - 1:03 PM

Things picked up on the 7th and 8th days of the festival in that stony silence or pained winces no longer meet the conversational query "What have you liked?"

Xavier Beauvois' Des Hommes et des Dieux (Of Gods and Men) is the numinous, beautifully told tale of a small community of French monks making honey and providing medical care to poor Muslims in a North African mountain village in the 1990s. Their faith is tested as fundamentalist marauders terrorise the region. The local authorities as well as the French government believe the monks should return to France. Each brother searches his conscience. Beauvois – with the help of a splendid cast led by Lambert Wilson and Michael Lonsdale – finds cinematic ways to convey moral courage, spiritual resolve and the collective beauty of sincere faith. If there were a TV game show called 'Who Wants to Choke Up an Atheist?' these eight gentlemen in humble robes would surely triumph.

Lee Chang-dong's Poetry, is also completely convincing although central protagonist Mija (Yun Jung-hee) seems to have been shunted into the 'unfair' aisle in life. She visits the doctor because she's experiencing tingling in her arm. A coquettish, well-preserved woman in her mid-sixties, Mija has taken to forgetting basic vocabulary words. Her 16-year-old grandson lives with her in a modest apartment. Mija works part-time caring for an elderly man who has suffered a stroke.

Mija signs up for a month-long poetry-writing class at her local cultural centre. This mundane commitment heightens her sense of observation. The film conveys the beauty of precise, well-chosen language without burdening us with pretentious dialogue or off-putting recitation.

There is intrigue galore, which it would be unfair to reveal here. Mija is a magnificent heroine. Yun Junghee, who began her screen career in 1966, has appeared in over 330 films – despite not having acted for the past 16 years.

For some 2000 festival attendees, much of the day on May 19th was devoted to Olivier Assayas' Carlos, which began at noon and ended at a quarter to 6 (with a 15-minute intermission). The fact-based account of the Venezuelan terrorist stars Edgar Ramirez in a breathtaking performance covering two decades of alleged freedom-fighting.

The film is ineligible for the Competition as it was made as a three-part series for French pay TV station Canal+. It is impossible to imagine a livelier, more suspenseful account of Carlos' 'career' as a brash, fearless 'soldier' determined to deliver an internationalist message with rocket launchers, car bombs, grenades and bullets.

I would be happy to report on Jean-Luc Godard's press conference except that Godard neglected to show up. His latest film, Film Socialisme (Socialism), is a patience-testing visual experiment that carries its commitment to annoy..., er, challenging viewers straight through to the subtitles. People (one hesitates to call them 'characters') are heard speaking, sometimes at length, in grammatically correct sentences, in French. But the subtitles, rendered in what Godard has dubbed "Navajo English," consist of two or three words at most, doled out with Scrooge-like parsimony – if Scrooge were so stingy that he couldn't even be bothered leaving a space between words.

Like Carlos in his revolutionary heyday, Godard is still pleading the cause of the Palestinians, as well as other alleged victims of history. On the cusp of 80, the man who made such fetching use of lightweight cameras and sound recording equipment at the advent of the French New Wave has lived long enough to be able to offer up Film Socialisme on the Web, starting right now.

At the same time that Godard has embraced high and low definition video (some of the images were shot with a cell phone), his 22-year-old wunderkind admirer, Xavier Dolan of French-speaking Canada, has followed up his video-shot debut I Killed My Mother with Un Certain Regard entry Les Amours Imaginaires (Heartbeats), shot on 35mm. At an intimate event for Canadian directors Atom Egoan, Dolan and Noah Pink on the afternoon of May 18th, Dolan announced that he'd fallen in love with 35mm and wished to continue working with celluloid.

Egoyan said that he was able to watch the standing ovation after Dolan's screening on YouTube. Dolan allowed that the Internet is a wonderful tool for raising awareness but "I'd hate to tell my friends 'You have to check out my Web-film.' "