I love you, I love you not: the ambiguous love-hate relationship between filmmakers and film critics
Portuguese actress/director Maria de Medeiros takes her camera around the Cannes Film Festival to interview film critics and filmmakers about their symbiotic, tempestuous, ambiguous love-hate relationship, which may range from sincere admiration to open adulation, poisonous remarks, physical assaults, murder threats and fascist over-reactions (one L.A. Times critic tells us how James Cameron asked for his head because of a "negative" review of "Titanic").
This documentary helps us witness the ravenous "media circus" of Cannes, with embarrassing scenes like watching 96-year-old Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira having to pose with an ID card for photographers as if he was being identified at a police station. Or watching a magazine photographer bluntly "direct" Canadian director Atom Egoyan into making vamp poises. The best moments come from Almodóvar's delightful sense of humor ("if a kid tells his parents he wants to be a film critic when he grows up, take him to a psychiatrist!") while also revealing his resentment for always getting better reviews abroad than in his native Spain. There's a soul-bearing testimony from Wim Wenders ("when we make films, we risk everything: being ridiculed, exposed, rejected"); and there's breathing time in Oliveira's incredible patience, lucidity, modesty and fair-play.
The critics themselves range from witty to vain to overworked to superficial to repugnant. French critics come off best (if you don't count a couple of caricatures) -- no wonder, as France is probably the only country where film criticism is still regarded as a serious, intellectual, quasi-literary activity, and where Bazin, Truffaut, Godard and the others at the Cahiers in the 1950s set the standard of what serious film criticism could be all about.
Though the film is technically precarious (to put it nicely), the theme is a real curio for film lovers. The interviews deal not only with cinema and the "art" of critique, but also compares film criticism in different cultures (one American critic complains that in the US films are primarily expected to be entertaining, whereas in France they are -- or used to be -- expected to be works of art). We also witness the loneliness of the critic's profession, their fight for remaining fresh when facing the loads of films they have to review (especially in festival marathons) and the overall frustration caused by the media's very heavy pressure for nutshell, "thumbs up or down" reviews.
Near the end of "Je t'aime...", Brazilian songwriter/singer and occasional filmmaker Caetano Veloso (whose songs are used ad nauseam on the soundtrack) gives spicy advice: "The artists, the media and the public will always need critics; but artists must always have the right and the will to criticize critics as well". The charm of Maria de Medeiros' documentary lies in the extremely varied (albeit superficial) range of opinions and experiences; film buffs -- and film critics, of course -- should find it interesting, others will probably be bored.
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