Cannes 2008 diary: ’Lion‘s Den‘ and 'Three Monkeys'

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Geoff Andrew likes Pablo Trapero's 'Lion's Den', but loves 'Nuri Bilge Ceylan's 'Three Monkeys', both of which screened at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival

Cannes 2008 diary: ’Lion‘s Den‘ and 'Three Monkeys'
Pablo Trapero's 'Lion's Den'
Only a couple of days into this year’s Cannes, it looks as if imprisonment might turn out to be one of the themes or metaphors running through the festival. Following hot on the heels of two of the opening films (‘Blindness’ and ‘Hunger’, already reviewed by Dave Calhoun) comes ‘Lion’s Den’, by Pablo Trapero, the Argentinian writer-director of such low-key gems as ‘Crane World’, ‘Familia Rodante’ and ‘Born and Bred’. It starts with Julia (Martina Gusman), a young librarian, waking up bruised and bloodied and going off to work in something of a daze; only after she returns home do we (and she) realise that there are two naked men in her flat, one seriously wounded, the other dead. She’s soon in a prison for pregnant women, awaiting trial for murder; but the legal system works slowly, and long before she gets to court, she gives birth to the baby she never wanted…

It’s a fairly simply story, though Trapero makes the most of it by only revealing salient facts at sporadic intervals and by focusing so closely on character: not just the superbly played Julia, but also her mother Sofia and Marta, a fellow inmate who helps the novice adjust to prison life, As the film slowly zooms in not so much on what exactly happened in Julia’s apartment but on how she’ll respond to the child and its future, Trapero teases out the various social, psychological and ethical strands of a morally complex situation with commendable clarity; and as in his ‘Familia Rodante’, what can sometimes seem a fairly straightforward film of no particular originality or consequence is transformed by an ending that is at once pleasingly ambiguous and almost unexpectedly affecting. This man certainly knows how to finish off his movies.

On the surface, the best film here so far for me – Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Three Monkeys – is only very superficially about incarceration, in that the story is quickly kick-started when a local politician facing elections persuades his driver to take the rap for him after the former knocks over a man with his car; in return he’ll pay his employee’s salary to his teenage son, and hand over a large lump sum when he emerges from prison after six months or so.

But if we actually see only a couple of prison-set scenes, when the son visits his father, that doesn’t mean that imprisonment isn’t a central, almost Dostoievskian metaphor for what happens to the driver, his wife and son, and the the politician. For that lie told to the cops is merely the first – and indeed the fount – of many more deceits that shape the increasingly twisted and dangerous interactions between the four protagonists, all of whom soon find themselves trapped like rats by their own fears, desires, doubts and suspicions.

This fifth feature is arguably the most ambitious film yet from the maker of ‘Uzak’ and ‘Climates’. It has the dry humour, assured pacing, astute psychological insights and sharp sense of moral and dramatic irony that has been conspicuous in all his work, but in many respects the film feels like an expansion upon ‘Climates’, not only in extending that film’s clear-eyed, unsentimental assessment of male-female relationships from a couple to a whole family and its acquaintances, but in exploring the rich potential afforded by digital technology; if you thought Ceylan’s photographer’s eye produced stunning images in ‘Climates’, ‘Three Monkeys’ pushes the envelope still further. It’s been bought for the UK, so when it turns up, see it – and marvel!

Read Cannes review of Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Che’ here

Read Cannes review of Clint Eastwood's 'The Exchange' here

Read Cannes review of Terence Davies 'Of Time and the City' here

Read Cannes review of Woody Allen's 'Vicky Christina Barcelona' here

Read Cannes review of Nuri Bilge Ceylan's 'Three Monkeys' and Pablo Trapero's 'Lion's Den' here

Read our review of Steve McQueen's 'Hunger' here

Read our review of Fernando Meirelles Cannes 2008 opener,' 'Blindness', here

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