More images from Cannes

Cannes' collage of celluloid was exciting, says GAUTAMAN BHASKARAN, but its individual attributes were not as enticing.

HERE is for more images from the just concluded Cannes International Film Festival. France had the most number: 11 entries in the top Competition slot and the only other official section, "A Certain Regard", though some of the movies were co- productions, but where the French had a major stake.

Five of these made an impact. Catherine Corsini's tale of two women - "Replay" - and their relationship that wavers from platonic friendship to sexual love to hate and jealousy is an interesting study of human behaviour in a world where some suggest that females are happier bonding with females, males perhaps with males.

Emmanuelle Beart and Pascale Bussieres are childhood friends who grow up to become completely different personalities. Beart becomes a stage actress, a profession that Bussieres wanted to take up, but instead winds up as a prosthodontist. When they meet after many years, Bussieres still loves Beart in strange possessive sort of way, and for a while there is reciprocation. But Beart loves her men that leads to a fiery breakup between the two women. Directed with restraint and edited aesthetically, "Replay" ends where another French film begins - in a way.

"Who Knows" by Jacques Rivette is also theatre based, but unlike Corsini's work, it delves far deeper into this world. A touring Italian company is playing in Paris, and while the characters are going about their parts, a parallel drama is being enacted by them. Camille is back in the city after three years, and although she is in love with her boss, the firm's director and her co- star, she has not quite forgotten her former boyfriend.

Rivette does take a long time to say what he could have in two hours instead of two-and-a-half, but at the end of it all what one remembers is the well-structured and wonderfully-scripted piece of celluloid whose wit and lightheartedness turn "Who Knows" into a string of memorable frames. It is no romantic tear- jerker, but a mature plot which takes care to keep the work sophisticated and simple.

Apart from these, France spoke about war and crime. Francois Dupeyron paints in his "The Officers' Ward" the sheer frustration of a young man wounded in World War I. It is a poignant narrative of how a person whose face has been destroyed finds the strength to live and love. The director could have avoided some of the gore, but probably let it pass hoping to make a devastating statement.

Cedric Kahn's "Roberto Succo" is a more temperate attempt at tracing the criminal games of an Italian who robbed, raped and murdered before he was arrested. Stylishly made, the movie - based on a true incident which took place in the late 1980s - is gripping without being loud and shocking. Some of Roberto's (the protagonist) affairs have been handled in a way that wins him a great deal of viewer sympathy: is he naive and clumsy and sentimental or smart and cunning enough to be always a step ahead of the police? We would never know.

"Savage Souls" was another film that left me confused. A period piece set in the Provence (in France) of 1880, its director, Raul Ruiz, is an experimentalist. His main character, Therese, elopes with her lover, but begins to cheat on him when an older friend of hers, a lady of nobility, disappears. The story is full of unanswered questions. "I have structured my movie in a way that there can be many interpretations," Ruiz had said at Cannes. However, despite this puzzle, "Savage Souls" travels close to the Kurosawa/Bertolucci territory. There is strength and beauty in it that made it impressive even to the festival fatigue critics, coming as it did at the fag end of the show.

Japan had seven entries this year against last year's three. And there were two that appeared a cut above the rest. Aoyama Shinji's "Desert Moon" in Competition was a continuation of his last year's "Eurekha". The director felt that "In 'Eurekha', I observed the collapse of the modern family from the outside, while in 'Desert Moon', I am looking at from the inside ... The theme of the family transcends religion, ideology or race. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of this theme through the actions of the three main characters in 'Desert Moon'".

One of them is Nagai, a successful IT businessman, who finds life go to pieces when his company goes public and his wife leaves him and retreats to the countryside. A hardened criminal enters their life and in a fairy-tale twist to the tale reunites the family. A little unconvincing though, but the content has been packaged into an visually appealing cinematic form that kept me absorbed right through the end.

So did Shohei Imamura's "Warm Water under a Red Bridge". This writer saw this film in Paris at a special screening a few days before Cannes opened. There were no English subtitles, and yet he could follow the main emotions, the plot and the innumerable other things, except, of course, the conversations, which, in case, Imamura keeps it to a minimum. Is this not what the medium is all about?

In "Warm Water Under a Red Bridge", the auteur perhaps gives his compelling best. When the unemployed Yosuke meets Saeko with a bizarre illness - she secretes water when she feels physical pleasure - there is enough scope for Imamura to get his imaginative juices flowing. But being a seasoned movie-maker, he has enough control not to let his work degenerate into a ridiculous farce. Shot with precision, "Warm Water Under a Red Bridge" has enough punch in it to tide over barriers like language and other region specifics. Truly cinema of a great kind.

Portugal's 92-year-old Manoel de Oliveira also gave one of his all-time greats, "I Am Going Home". A finely made piece, it is simple without being austere, it is witty without being comic and it is powerful without being aggressive. And what a fine performance by Michel Piccoli, who is an aging Parisian actor caught in the throes of a personal tragedy. How he rebuilds his life around his grandson, (his daily visit to the cafe and his theatre become incidental after a point) has been explored with magnificent finesse. Barring the first scene - of a play - which at 15 minutes is far too long, Oliveira has a firm grip over his film. See the way he focusses his camera on John Malkovich's face as he listens and reacts to two actors. See the way the lens captures two pairs of shoes as their wearers discuss life in a cafe.

Equally stimulating was Mohsen Makhmalbaf's "Kandahar", where he captures the world's current nightmare, Afghanistan. He does this through the eyes, literally the eyes of Nafas, who is desperately trying to return to Kandahar to try and save her sister threatening to kill herself. The journey is fraught with danger, her path strewn with landmines and tricksters. There is horror to confront: bullet ridden bodies and the terrible image of amputees running to grab artificial legs as they are parachuted.

Somewhere, though, I felt that Makhmalbaf was not his usual honest self here: the language is partly English, and the long parachute scene appears contrived. The Iranian director seemed desperate to gather sympathy, though not necessarily for his work as it was perhaps for Afghanistan. He slips at some places and "Kandahar" did not evoke the kind of pure emotion in this writer as some of his earlier movies, "Gabbeh", for instance.

Three more films at Cannes moved this writer, of course for different reasons. Jack Nicholson's role in Sean Penn's "The Pledge" was by far the most controlled in recent times. As a retired policeman obsessed with the rape and murder of a child, he carries a crime thriller on his shoulder, and what a way he carries it. Though Penn's script has a few cannot-be-pardoned flaws, "The Pledge" manages to sail past these with a certain flourish. When it ends, with a dejected Nicholson grown old and weary but still standing guard at the site - with some dusty and weatherbeaten toys in the background - where he had once hoped to trap the molester, even the most hard hearted cannot but feel a pang of nostalgic sympathy for the man.

Both Israel's "Late Marriage," by Dover Kosashvili, and the American "The Anniversary Party", by Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh (both act in it) talk about marriage. Kosashvili weaves a riveting yarn around a young man whose mistress keeps him warm in bed, ensuring that he does not stray out of it and into a wedding his family is keen on arranging. With a kind of animal passion, the two romp through mindboggling obstacles.

"The Anniversary Party" is a post marriage postcard of a couple who in the course of a night and a party face life's most delicate issues: there is the neighbour with a barking dog, there is an attractive actress and there is the man's former girlfriend and in the midst of this motley crowd, the couple try and rediscover themselves and come to terms with a separation that they have just ended. Cannes' collage was fascinating, even if individual movies did not catapult me into an ecstatic high.