Cannes weekend one round-up: The Bling Ring proves as hollow as its title suggests

 

While Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian is probably the front-runner so far for Steven Spielberg's jury to consider as a Palme d'Or winner it has strong competition from A Touch of Sin, a sprawling but propulsive drama from China.

Director Jia Zhangke has long been one of Chinese cinema's radicals, and here he's made a powerfully angry thriller, a set of four linked stories about characters reacting violently to the social and economic abuses of the new China. Chinese directors have in the past had troubles with the authorities for presenting even implicitly critical films in Cannes, so it's a matter of some amazement here that Jia has managed to make a film so overtly critical of corrupt officialdom.

While Cannes this year is thin on high-profile British titles, there's been one much acclaimed UK film. The Selfish Giant is a Northern drama by Clio Barnard, about two young boys drawn into the dodgy underside of the scrap metal business. Tenuously inspired by the Oscar Wilde story, it's a gritty, pugnacious - and sometimes poetic - piece of realism, with two astonishing performances by young discoveries Conner Chapman and Sean Thomas.

Some bigger names have been less successful. In competition, Iran's Asghar Farhadi - director of art-house hit A Separation - divided audiences with his French film The Past. It stars Berenice Bejo, from The Artist, as a woman in the throes of divorce from her Iranian husband, but while some critics loved the film, others - myself included - found it a laboriously overwrought melodrama.

One prestigious dud was Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring, based on a Vanity Fair article. This was about a group of teenagers robbing the residences of minor Hollywood celebs, including Paris Hilton (whose real house is seen in the film, in all its tasteful glory). The Bling Ring proved as shiny and hollow as its title suggests, but Harry Potter graduate Emma Watson scored points with a witty turn as an LA airhead.

And major shocks? Only one so far, but nasty enough to be getting on with - the graphic torture in a striking Mexican drama about drug gang violence. The actual title of Amat Escalante's film is Heli, but it's now routinely referred to on the Croisette as “the Mexican Flaming Penis Movie”.

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