Cannes 2013: An Impressive Miele With An Unsavoury Stranger By The Lake

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Peter Willis writes for Bleeding Cool

Arriving a little late to the party, I got my 2013 Cannes Film Festival underway today, with the double treat of an actual on-screen birth and enough non-simulated sex scenes to fill the seediest backstreet sex tavern. And this without the presence of outcast Lars Von Trier.

Nestled between these less than savoury moments, however, came the day’s highlight - Miele.

Assisted suicide is not a topic but for the most daring of filmmakers in their first outing as director, but in Miele, Valeria Golino not only takes on the subject, but comes out deserving much praise for a highly accomplished, mature, piece of work.

Jasmine Trinca (Irene) seeks to help those who are suffering with terminal illness find peace in death, but her conscience takes a battering when encountering a new “client” who simply feels depressed and tired of life.

With heavy emphasis on character, and given the subject matter at hand, the movie leaves a lump in the throat on more than one occasion, though not to any solely manipulative agenda. There is balance thanks to a smart alignment with moments of dark humour courtesy of Carlo Cecchi, who plays the depressed Signor Grimaldi.

At times it feels a little like we’re treading into Lost In Translation territory, with moments of clear emotional connection between our two leads, and the irresistible whiff of strong chemistry, though this never actually leads to anything physical.

The eclectic soundtrack takes us from despair to relative joy in a heartbeat, and helps frame Irene’s personal battle with her job as she tries to remain as removed from the reality of her work as possible.

The movie could easily have swayed into politicised territory, falling on either side of the euthanasia divide, but it never leans in either direction explicitly, which is to the benefit of the final product, as it swerves the urge to preach. Movies at Cannes often have agendas beyond the screen, yet Miele tackles this difficult subject without any obvious underlying pretense.

Given the relatively short 96 minute run-time, there could certainly have been additional development of some of the key themes, including Irene’s increasing concern for her own fate, but despite this and other minor shortcomings, Miele will doubtless prove popular on the arthouse circuit, with Valeria Golino certain to find directorial success on a wider scale in the not so distant future.

Miele was not, unfortunately, the first of my screenings today. That honour goes to the less than pulsating Stop The Pounding Heart.

Never really getting out of first gear, the film follows a few weeks in the life of the 14-year-old daughter of a goat farmer Sara, who finds herself falling for the barely audible Colby, an amateur bull-rider from a neighbouring family in the American bible belt, despite her family’s staunch religious leanings.

Clearly working with a team of non-actors to fit in with his neo-realist style Texas trilogy, director Roberto Minervini has ended up delivering a movie which verges on being more documentary than feature film, with creative choices that straddle both camps, to mixed success.

There is no score to speak of, which further emphasises the need to explore more deeply our key characters and their backgrounds, but this is largely ignored and even seemingly key moments crawl by relatively unexplained. The result is a remarkably demanding experience, alienating all but the most patient of audience members, and leaving precious few rewards even for those who persevere. There are some interesting comments to be made here, and some are flirted with, but there’s very little engagement, and it’s difficult not to feel like a slightly bewildered passenger all the way through.

Stop The Pounding Heart may have lacked some necessary detail, but Stranger By The Lake offered far more than most could wish to see.

Directed, and introduced on-stage, by Alain Guiraudie, Stranger By The Lake is eventually a “thriller”, though it is initially packaged as nothing more than relatively graphic pornography.

Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) is a “cruiser”, heading down to a lake where he strips down to join fellow gay men swimming and cavorting in the nearby woods. He soon falls for the muscular, Freddy Mercury-esque, Michel (Christophe Paou).

Things take a turn for towards more sinister waters when Franck witnesses Michel murdering his former partner, but Franck remains undeterred and continues his pursuit of Michel, culminating in some of the most graphic sex scenes to have graced the big screen, even on the notoriously provocative Croisette.

Scratching below the surface, there are several complex issues tackled in Stranger By The Lake, but I couldn’t help but feel the entirely unnecessary ejaculation scene and on-screen felatio overshadowed anything that proceeded. That definitely didn’t affect the majority of the rather sycophantic audience, who evidently took them as the cue for an extended and (one suspects) disingenuous bout of ovation once the credits rolled.

The final 15 minutes felt somewhat rushed and largely unrealised, with a lack of atmosphere built up to justify the supposed suspenseful conclusion.

Peter Willis, reporting from the Cannes Film Festival 2013, is one of the co-founders of WhatCulture and can be followed here.