It was hard to make much of "Adieu au Langage" (Goodbye to
Language), except to say it features a man and a married woman
having an affair, a stray dog and gangsters in a Mercedes who
threaten to shoot people in a town on the shore of Lake Geneva.
The film quoted from writings of painters and philosophers and
contained shimmering images of water, trees and flowers.
It also punned on the French word "adieu", using it to mean
"goodbye", "to God" and "oh God". That suggested - though no one
said so officially - that Godard, the onetime enfant terrible of
French film who was a founder of New Wave cinema with his 1960
film "Breathless", might be waving goodbye.
In a video message to festival director Thierry Fremaux, Godard
explained his absence from the red carpet, saying: "Dear old
friend, once again thank you for inviting me to climb your 24
majestic steps, slightly lost in the herd."
His words were accompanied by images of a herd of cattle.
"Adieu au Langage" was the second French film to be shown on the
eighth day of the 12-day festival, the other being "The Search",
set in Chechnya and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, an Oscar
winner for "The Artist".
But fans of the Hollywood fairy tale will be in for a shock with
"Welcome to this big shit-hole - Chechnya," are the movie's
opening words, uttered by a Russian soldier videotaping scenes
of burnt-out buildings, dead livestock and, later, the murder of
villagers in a war seen by some as Russia's Vietnam.
Chechnya fought a war in 1994-96 to shake off Russian rule, but
was brought back under Moscow's control by then-prime minister
Vladimir Putin in another war in 1999-2000.
HUMAN BEINGS IN WAR
Hazanavicius cuts between two story lines to portray the war and
the lives torn apart by it. In the main one, 9-year-old Hadji -
played by Abdul-Khalim Mamatsuiev - flees his destroyed,
abandoned village, his baby brother in tow, after his parents
are killed by Russian soldiers.
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He is discovered outside a refugee centre by Carole (Berenice Bejo),
a European Union human rights worker documenting abuses and
struggling to galvanise public outrage to spur a strong response to
the war from the West.
In the second strand, 19-year-old Kolia (Maxim Emelianov) is
arrested for smoking pot and forced into the Russian army. He is
seen going through a stomach-turning training process designed to
prepare him psychologically to see Chechens as "terrorists".
When he reaches the front, he loses no time in killing his first two
"terrorists" - an old man and a boy.
"I think everyone knows the Russian army massacred hordes of people
in Chechnya. It's a historical fact," Hazanavicius told journalists
and critics at a press conference.
"The film is a political one but I've tried to ensure it doesn't
take sides, ultimately," the director said, adding that his interest
was in showing "human beings subjected to war".
"I've tried to focus on the human angle because that's what
While the movie finds its emotional centre in Hadji, the screenplay
stumbles with its heavy-handed reproach of the West's hands-off
approach, expressed by Carole in lines such as: "I'm sick of your
indifference while people are dying."
"Bejo's considerable talent is squandered by treacly dialogue,"
wrote the movie site Indiewire. The Guardian cited "sincerity and
commitment, and an earnest rejection of the horror of war" but
criticised "sentimentality is at its core".
Canadian director Xavier Dolan's "Mommy" was due to be shown in the
evening, the 14th film to be shown of the 18 in competition for the
Palme d'Or, the festival's top prize, which will be awarded on
(Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
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