Cannes Diary—Day 3: The Souvenir Sequel, Kogonada’s Second Film, and a Walkout

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Festiville correspondent Brian Formo stages his first walkout on day three of the 74th Festival de Cannes, but is impressed by Joanna Hogg, and Kogonada, and a head full of Velvet Underground.

After including some words in my previous diaries that the Cannes Film Festival ticket site had intermittently been down for the first two days, should I mention that there were no ticket problems today? Or will that jinx it for tomorrow? Without any Croisette grumblings to report, I can quickly get into the films seen. 

I started four films but I only finished three, so that’s all you’ll read here. Yes, dear readers, I did a film festival first for me and left in the middle of a screening. I was not jiving with it at all, it was making me a little dizzy, and knowing I still had two more to go I made the decision to get some actual lunch instead of losing my non-existent lunch. I won’t mention the title, partially out of politeness and partially so I won’t look like a dum-dum if it wins the Palme d’Or. Sillier wins have happened, that’s for sure.

On that front, the films in competition have had lighter praise so far than two movies that debuted today outside of the Palme eligibility (reviewed below). But I should mention that another film in competition that debuted tonight, Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World, had a pretty solid reception from its first screening. So I grabbed tickets for tomorrow morning (I think; we’ll see.)

The Souvenir: Part II

F9 is not the only sequel screening at Cannes this year. Joanna Hogg’s follow-up to The Souvenir, though unlikely to have nine installments, debuted in the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs (Directors’ Fortnight) section, which is an independent arm of the festival. Already many are saying if it were included in competition it would have the loudest buzz of the festival so far; the review praise was immense by 10:15am before the beach boardwalks had even filled.

However, your mileage with The Souvenir: Part II will likely be determined by how you felt about the first film, as they are perfectly constructed as bookends. The first has Tom Burke as the love interest who’s hiding his drug addiction. The second has a film-within-a-film that’s a substitute for the audience of Hogg’s film (that Russian doll descriptor will make sense when you see it, and it is dazzling). Both films center on a young film student (Honor Swinton Byrne) as she attempts to find her artistic voice. In the first film, her lover tries to persuade her to move away from the working class realism that her upbringing is far removed from. In Part II, she’s unpacking her grief in order to move onward and discover her own interests. It’s a portrait of an artist as a young woman. Tilda Swinton (Honor’s mother), Richard Ayoade, and Ariane Labed co-star in both films.

For me, the sequel had the same type of bath through my brain that the first one did: a delayed impact; the more I think about The Souvenir I & II, the more I fall in love with them. It’s a shift from passive viewing to active thinking on the films and their purpose that open them up for me in a very appealing way. For other Letterboxd viewers, that journey has many different personal reactions. Douglas Greenwood writes that Part II, “captures the exorcising of grief through art so imaginatively, but never sacrifices the humanity of that experience in the process.” Filmmaker Isobael Sandoval said she “loved it even more than the first.”

After Yang

After Yang is Kogonada’s sci-fi followup to his magnificent debut feature, Columbus. It opens with an amazing dance sequence, and has wonderfully written philosophical conversations with each of the three main characters talking to an a.i. “brother” (Justin H. Min), who was purchased for a couple’s adopted Chinese child to help teach her her roots. 

The girl’s father (Colin Farrell) discusses with Yang why he is drawn to tea, the girl’s mother (Jodie Turner-Smith) discusses the meaning of a Buddhist quote about a caterpillar’s metamorphosis, and the girl herself (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) listens to Yang’s allusion to tree grafting as being similar to her family tree. 

There is a larger plot to After Yang, of course, which is that Yang has a malfunction one day and a memory chip is discovered in his core which could reveal either secrets about the family or about Yang himself. But it’s these conversations with Yang that are the most special moments in the film. This, coupled with various ideas like a corporation outlawing disassembling the core of a.i. for their own self interests in data feel similar to the stories of Ted Chiang (Arrival). (The film itself is based on a short story by Alexander Weinstein, whom I’m not familiar with, so I mentioned Chiang whom I have read). To look into the memory of your a.i. or not and if so, how deep? If suspicions of a previous ownership are found to be true do you watch other people’s memories? Etc.

Letterboxd member Iana Murray sang Yang’s praises, writing that it “really hit me hard. Gorgeously rendered low-key sci-fi that explores not just what it means to be human, but what it means to be Asian.” Ilyassm highlights another aspect of the film, the music, from the original score to a key original song written for the film: “You had me at Ryuichi Sakamoto/Aska Matsumiya/Mitski.” Though Liz liked the film, she asked “is this Black Mirror?”

The Velvet Underground

Todd Haynes (Carol) is out of competition this year with a documentary on every band’s favorite band, The Velvet Underground. Haynes mostly veers away from talking heads, instead using archival footage from the era depicted to make it feel more like watching a visual collage while hearing a sound collage. 

Instead of getting into all the solo work that the bandmates created, Haynes zeroes in on what brought the three most famous members (Lou Reed, John Cale, and Nico) to New York City and how they were accepted into Andy Warhol’s Factory. The second half of the doc does get into more standard “this album and then this album” territory, but how Reed and Cale came together is a nice encapsulation of a very specific era of NYC, from gay clubs to fringe movements in soundscapes.

The Velvet Undergound will debut on Apple+ on October 15. On Letterboxd, Fabrizio Carelle calls it “an indulgent and enjoyable experience.” Leo says “just as experimental, messy and energetic as the band itself.” I should mention that there were a handful of walkouts at the screening I attended, which perhaps could be due to unawareness that Haynes had made a documentary—or it could be people doing the same thing half of Warhol’s art crowd audiences did at Velvet Underground live performances: leave because it was too loud for them. As Brimmer-Beller mentions, “the sound absolutely rocks you, from all sides and with a ferociously physical volume.”

No, this was not the film that I walked out of. I love The Velvet Underground, I love Lou Reed and John Cale, but I also think the film, much like the band, was best when they were in it together.

As I write, it’s now very early Friday morning. And while there aren’t VU lyrics about Friday that immediately pop to mind, there is an awareness that by the end of Friday night I will have seen Paul Verhoeven’s new movie. And thus, as I go to bed I can sing to myself, “I’m waiting for my man” and Pauly V is my man.

Bonne nuit.