Andrea Arnold's youth road movie 'American Honey' wins Cannes 'Jury Prize'
Andrea Arnold's 'American Honey' wins jury prize at Cannes Courtesy of Festival de Cannes, used with permission
American Honey by Moira Jean Sullivan, accredited film critic at Festival de Cannes Andrea Arnold won the "jury prize "for “American Honey (UK)” on May 22 at the Cannes Film Festival. It was a strong contender for the Palme d’Or and the third best favorite of the jury. The prolific and talented Arnold has received the second most jury prize awards for "Red Road", "Fish Tank" and "American Honey" after the record set by Ken Loach (UK), this year's Palme d'Or winner. This year, the Palme d'Or was never closer to her grasp and many critics praised the film as the best. "American Honey", more than other films in the official selection, was the most cinematic with highly handcrafted visual architecture and superb mobile camera work and framing. The continuity editing is brilliant and the film serves not only as a road journey for the characters but for the spectator. A youth caravan travels across middle America selling phony magazine subscriptions stewarded by an “Oliver Twist”-like ”Fagin” called Jake (Shia La Beouf) and his boss Krystal (Riley Keough). Her practice is to belittle the crew and recruit a lover from among their ranks; Jake is the current paramour. These young people become a family and occasionally recruit new sellers such as Star (Sasha Lane), an 18 year old young woman from Texas. She claims her name was given to her in homage to the “Death Star” of Star Wars mythology. Elsewhere in the film, references are made to Darth Vadar. Jake also keeps a gun that he threatens to use on a few occasions. But the film never turns completely dark and is reverently respectful of this motley crew of young people. Star is a case in point who comes from a broken home where her father molests her and her mother has abandoned her family preferring to spend her time at a bar doing line dancing. There are two younger children that live with Star and her father and when we first meet her she is hitchhiking with them to get back home.The caravan is thrown into the wilderness of small town USA and the crew is even compared to wild animals. Moreover, there are numerous animals in the film such as a caped Superman dog, a turtle, horses, a variety of insects and a brown bear. The animals never pose a danger but the young people are prey for middle aged men who try to take advantage of the young women, in particular Star.
In the evenings, the crew lives in cramped rooms at cheap motels. Group activities include beating up the seller who did the worst job of the day, though this is done in an a spirit of playfulness The camaraderie the young people show each other is what makes their job so captivating since most come from broken homes. They engage in a lot of singing and dancing so it is a joyful saga as well as a chronicle of despair for the economic conditions of working class USA. Krystal targets the very wealthy or the very poor for the magazine sales and it is fairly clear that none of these people will ever receive their subscriptions. Besides, today there are not many eager customers for magazines with free reading material readily available on the Internet.
Three films in this year's Cannes official competition have tackled important social and political issues of today: “I, Daniel Blake” (Palme d’Or reviewed here), “American Honey” and “Aquarius” directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho starring Sônia Braga. Braga plays a 65-year-old woman who refuses to sell her rental unit to a housing company. This situation is common for many global cities today such as San Francisco. Not far from the Cannes festival is the sovereign state of Monaco. ("Principauté de Monaco"). Below the Royal Palace is a huge banner strung across the streets of old rental units advertising "Commercial Space Available for Condominium Sales”, for this is a state where the wealthy have succeeded in owning virtually everything.
These excellent films reflect the effects of globalization, increasing economic disparity and the commodification of the housing market by corporate greed. The characters of these films represent “Ulysses in a Strange Land”, trying to make sense of why the road map no longer points the way back home but how close to the edge an increasing amount of the working class has become, in particular the young.
Park Chan Wook puts Cannes winner “Mademoiselle” in closet for Amazon market
Ryu Seong-hie's set design in Park Chan Wook's 'Mademoiselle'
Courtesy of Festival de Cannes, used with permission
by Moira Jean Sullivan, accredited film critic at Festival de Cannes
Park Chan Wook’s “Mademoiselle (Agassi, South Korea)” is a skillfully made narrative on sexual bondage during the Japanese colonization of South Korea in the 1930's. Set designer Ryu Seong-hie won the “Vulcain prize for an artist technician” at the Cannes film festival on May 22, one of the top prizes for technical achievement, though this prize is seldom given. A special jury, appointed by the superior technical commission of image and sound (Commission Supérieure Technique de l’image et du son - CST) presented the prize in Paris to Ryu Seong-lie. The set designer also worked on Park Chan Wook’s “Oldboy” and “Thirst” and is definitely a brilliant craftsperson who brings high quality to film.
The virtues of Ryu Seong-hie’s work shines through and at first glance the film is so exquisitely composed that for a moment the Palme d’Or comes to mind. However, for that to succeed there has to be more cohesion than just set design, for neither Park Chan Wook nor 2013 Palme d'Or receipient Abdellatif Kechiche ("La Vie d' Adele -Blue is the Warmest Color") have shown themselves capable of making a film with authentic lesbian characters. Certainly, the actors in "Blue" (Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos) agree and complained how the director exploited them.
This time, whether or not this kind of voyeurism took place on the set of” Mademoiselle”, the relationship between the two women is done more for heterosexual titillation, including the love scenes between them. Primary focus is the usage of an overdone theme of pornographic writing in the style of de Sade's ilk that has been given ample room in films of today. A young girl is bred to read pornographic literature for a wealthy man’s clientele by her Uncle Kouzuki (Jin-woong Jo). He is a book collector but later we learn that it is only porn that he collects. The nightmares of his niece have to do with the sexual violence she is subjected to by him via image, text and touch where there has been a criminal betrayal of trust by him and his housekeeper. Her mother, in fact, was driven to suicide by the uncle.
When the girl grows up she has become the wealthy heiress Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim). A dastardly plan is created by Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha) who schemes to get a pickpocket Sook-hee (Tae Ri Kim) to pose as a handmaiden to the heiress, gain her confidence and assist in making Count Fujiwara her future husband. Their plan is to drive Lady Hideko mad like her mother and make off with her fortune.
It is not only this complicated plot that is the foundation of "Mademoiselle"but the fact that Park Chan Wook chooses to tell the story from different perspectives in three parts to allow the spectator inside information that is not possible by following just one of the narrative arches. This is done well, but not as cleverly designed as the art direction.
The house where Uncle Kouzuki lives is a composite of half western and half Japanese architecture in this Korean screenplay based on the Victorian novel by Sarah Waters" Fingersmith" (made into a minseries in 2005). However, Park Chan Wook’s adaptation, though seductive, relies heavily on heterosexual porn and sexual violence against women to be considered an LGBT classic. Much is owed to Sarah Waters and “Fingersmith” just as "Blue is the Warmest Color" is owed to graphic novelist Julie Maroh . When asked about his film, Park Chan Wook said it was about "three people with secrets". It became known through the Cannes Festival trades that Amazon Studios requested the same sex nature of the film be toned down and the South Korean director complied. He also is on record stating that the story is "cute".