Wim Wenders very strong in Cannes: A mixtape on wheels through Tokyo

In the attention economy of a film festival, the “What the Fuck” moment is one of the defining moments that can at best decide whether it’s a memorable or just a good (or even forgettable) vintage. Of course, the former is also possible without a WTF experience if – like this year – the quality of the competition is consistently high. In the worst case, the twelve days on the Croisette drag on slowly; this is also known from Cannes.

Thierry Frémaux likes jokes about Netflix

The streaming services, which festival director Thierry Frémaux would rather keep away from the Croisette, have harnessed the algorithms to control “customer behavior”. The first “What the Fuck” moment must come somewhere between the second and seventh minute, explains the Netflix producer in Nanni Moretti’s meta-comedy “Il sol dell’avvenire” (“A Brighter Tomorrow”) to the director, played by Moretti himself Giovanni – which of course has the laughs on his side in Cannes. But that’s about it: His Giovanni, who follows in the footsteps of the communist movement in Italy, exhausts himself in comical despair and grimacing.

Nanni Moretti is a longtime friend of the festival, the invitation to the Croisette is certainly not due to the Netflix swipe alone. You have to hand it to Frémaux: Loyalty is nurtured in Cannes. It also brings Wim Wenders his tenth participation in the competition this year – with a film that must feel like a return to his beginnings for the festival veteran.

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It goes without saying that Wim Wenders is anything but a WTF filmmaker (even if his previous feature film “Grenzenlos” definitely qualifies for this interjection in some moments). Rather, his film Perfect Days appreciates the quiet moments and the outsiders of Japanese society. Hirayama (Kōji Yakusho) works as a toilet cleaner in Tokyo, and he carries out his job with a Zen-like sense of duty. Wenders and his cameraman Franz Lustig follow the man’s everyday routines as he drives through the city in a small van in which Lou Reed, The Animals, Otis Redding and Patti Smith are playing on cassette tapes. Last but not least, “Perfect Days” is also a mixtape on wheels.

Wim Wenders directs a film haiku

The Tokyo that “Perfect Days” captures (the title aptly describes the outlook on life of its main character) is something you rarely see in the cinema: the outlying parts of the city with their slightly dilapidated, low-story houses that seem to have fallen out of time. Only the “Skytree” television tower, built in 2012, which seems to be visible from everywhere, provides a vague orientation to Hirayama’s journeys on the city highways. What is special about Wender’s haiku production, which doesn’t get by with more dialogue than necessary, is its openness to this city, which he already portrayed in his 1985 documentary “Tokyo-Ga”.

The toilet cleaner Hirayama (Kōji Yakusho) gets a visit from his niece Niko (Arisa Nakano) in Wim Wenders’ “Perfect Days”.
© Road Movies

Wenders, whose 3D documentary “Anselm” premiered a week ago, is interested in people; And that’s less banal than it first sounds. By looking at the outskirts of the city and its inhabitants, “Perfect Days” also avoids the glorification of modern Japanese society – from the perspective of a European (which certainly had an appeal in his American-inspired films). Wenders casually registers what ultimately produces a wonderful typology of public toilets in Tokyo: not for the sake of bizarreness, but as a documentary inventory in the style of Heinz Emigholz’s architectural films.

Laconic observations with subtle wit

Hirayama’s encounters with his fellow human beings are accidental and lack any external drama. They have a subtle wit that is perpetuated in Wender’s laconic observations. His niece Niko’s (Arisa Nakano) visit gives just as much insight into Hirayama’s family history as is needed; and the accidental acquaintance with the cancer-stricken ex-husband of the owner of his local pub does not tip over into sentimental registers. It just ends with the two grown men trying to capture each other’s shadows. Wenders has internalized the teachings of the Japanese grandmaster Hirokazu Koreeda, who is also in competition with the great film “Monster” – and still created his own work full of miniatures, but above all: without discordant tones.

Pope Pius IX  (Paolo Pierobon) in the company of his flock in
Pope Pius IX (Paolo Pierobon) in the company of his flock in “Rapito” by Marco Bellocchio.
© Anna Camerlingo

In the “dream sequences” shot in black and white, Donata Wenders, on the other hand, combines the concrete experiences of everyday urban Japanese life, the biographical traces of Hirayama, who prefers to spend his breaks with his “tree friends”, as Niko once says, in the park, and his analogue photographs from trees to lyrical rites of passage. And not just for Hirayama, who is completely at peace with himself. But especially for the director, who in his old age has rediscovered the eloquence and elegance of casual observation.

The Pope abducts Jewish children

Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio, who at 83 is more productive than ever, also belongs in the category of doyens and Cannes regulars. The historical drama “Rapito” (“Kidnapped”) refers to the practice of the church in the 19th century of kidnapping the youngest children of Jewish parents and converting them to the Catholic faith. With the film adaptation of the true story of the bourgeois Mortara family and their struggle for the return of their son Edgardo, who was kidnapped at the age of six, Bellocchio once again takes up his theme of the interweaving of church and politics.

Despite its routine production, “Rapito” is an amazingly lively historical epic, in which Bellocchio can rely on his decades of experience. Paolo Pierobon plays the Mortaras’ adversary, Pope Pius IX, as a dazzling villain who literally struggles to his last breath against the changing balance of power in modern Italy. After films about the kidnapping of Aldo Moro and the big mafia trials, Bellocchio continues to prove himself as an eminently political filmmaker in Italian cinema.

The fact that even the old masters are to be expected in this Cannes vintage fits into the overall picture. It also gives hope for the final day on Friday, which combines the best of both worlds, so to speak: Italian director Alice Rohrwacher and British justice fighter Ken Loach. They separate almost fifty years.

Source: Tagesspiegel

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