Sunday, May 25, 2008

Cannes Film Festival: Singapore roundup

Eric Khoo's My Magic, the first Singaporean film in the main Palme d'Or competition at the Cannes Film Festival screened on Friday, and I've been looking for some reactions to the film. But like Stefan at A Nutshell Review ("Probably Singapore's #1 Movie Review Blog"), I haven't had much luck finding anything. It's as if the press have already gone home as the festival starts winding down.

But I did manage to uncover some things.

My Magic is the story of a single father who switches from working in a bar to doing a job he really loved -- being a magician. The character is portrayed by a real magician, Francis Bosco, who performed some of his amazing feats on the red carpet in Cannes. Agence France-Presse, via Google News, has more:

The father-and-son tale, shot in nine days on a "super-shoestring budget," Khoo told AFP, is the story of a down-and-out depressed former magician, most often so downright drunk his 10-year-old cleans up his vomit at nights.

Star of the movie is Francis Bosco, a real-life fakir -- or magician -- who performs amazing feats of endurance and is a longtime friend of Khoo's.

He specialises in glass-chewing, fire-eating, levitation and pulling other rabbits out of hats.

Greeting the 2,000-strong Cannes crowd at the film's premiere, Francis waved a hand and produced flames from nowhere, then whipped open his wallet, which also caught fire.

Minutes later, at reception for the film, he offered to eat a glass but instead was handed a glass bulb -- which he chewed and swallowed after breaking off the metal parts.

"This is to prove I do all the magic in the film," he said of acts that include slipping large needles through his arm or tongue.

Khoo told AFP that the film was inspired by his friendship with the magician, who had been estranged for years with one of his sons.

The making of the movie, in which father and son finally come together, also brought Francis' son back.

Apparently the industry press has taken the weekend off, but I did manage to find one review of My Magic at Screen Daily. Here's an excerpt:

Eric Khoo's films are an acquired taste, and he hasn't moved much past the festival circuit since 12 Storeys emerged internationally in 1997. Exposing My Magic to the noise and attention of the Cannes competition doesn't particularly benefit either this film or the festival, although needless to say Singapore is delighted to have its first film in Competition. Hidden in one of the Cannes' more obscure corners (a single afternoon screening on the last Friday for all accredited guests) would seem to indicate that the programmers weren't convinced either. Any of the parallel sections would have been a far more comfortable berth for this slight story of a relationship between a drunken former magician who cleans bars for a living and a 10-year-old boy.

Khoo's usual minimalism here is pared down to a level where the direction almost appears non-existent. Neither of his leads are professional (playing a magician called Francis, Francis Bosco is himself a real-life magician), a conceit which probably looked better on page than it does onscreen.

Guess that explains why press and blogosphere coverage has been so minimal. It sounds as if the sweet My Magic didn't really fit in with the likes of the predominantly darker, dearly serious fare, like Clint Eastwood's Changeling, Steven Soderbergh's Che or the animated Israeli drama Waltz With Bashir. Nor can My Magic compete with the ridiculously high-voltage spectacles of the gala screening of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or Jack Black prancing around to promote Kung Fu Panda.

About all that's really left is to speculate on which film might pick up the Palme d'Or tonight. Critic Glenn Kenny has more on the odds of Che vs. Waltz With Bashir:

[F]or a Cannes jury led by Sean Penn to give a Palme d'Or to a movie named Che is just too obvious. Me, I'm sticking with the prediction I made to pals on the first night of the festival -- that Ari Folman's animated inquiry into Israeli guilt, Waltz With Bashir, would take the Palme. Not only does it fulfill Penn's obnoxious requirement of being conscious of the world we're living in today, but it examines a phenomenon that most Israel-boosters in the U.S. would baldly deny even conceivably exists. Also, the mere act of a French film festival honoring an Israeli film would be big symbolic/semiotic news to those who pay attention to such things. How could Penn resist? Unless he's so anti-Israel he can't even countenance Folman's vision, which is entirely possible, I guess. But still. That's my prediction, and I'm sticking to it.

Kenny then highlights a bit of the power of the Cannes jury president, namechecking juror Apichatpong Weerasethakul:

You think Natalie Portman's actually going to stand up to Sean Penn? You think Alfonso Cauron and Sergio Castellitto don't have better things to do with their lives than bicker with a steamrolling Yankee asshole? ... You think Apitchatpong Weerasethakul is anything but just happy to be there? No. The only jury member I can see giving Penn any significant resistance is feisty Persepolis creator Marjane Satrapi, who delivered the lone rejoinder to the president's asinine relevance rules at the opening press conference. And she's likely to be pretty partial to Waltz, for reasons easily inferable.
Penn, in an interview with Le Monde, and leaked a day early, said the jury needs to have an "anti-Oscar" spirit:

Penn, 47, told French daily Le Monde that he and the rest of the nine-strong jury at the world's biggest film festival should reward a picture at the closing ceremony Sunday that bucks current trends in cinema.

"The best way to be honest is to try to emancipate ourselves from the effects of fashion, to try to find what will stay with us forever," he is quoted as saying.

"We've got to do the opposite of the Academy that gives out the Oscars, where manipulation and very good marketing are rewarded."

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