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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2017 Competition

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The Lion Sleeps Tonight: Cinema’s (friendly) ghosts


- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2017: Nobuhiro Suwa cooks up a breathtaking metacinematic concoction that plays with three of cinema’s most basic elements: time, hope and Jean-Pierre Léaud

The Lion Sleeps Tonight: Cinema’s (friendly) ghosts
Jean-Pierre Léaud, Arthur Harari and the kids of The Lion Sleeps Tonight

News of Japanese director Nobuhiro Suwa’s return after an eight-year absence was met with great excitement among the most ardent of film fans. Following his widely acclaimed first steps on home turf (2/Duo and M/Other), Suwa found the perfect excuse to forge a connection with France in H Story, his impossible remake of Hiroshima Mon Amour. Since then, France has afforded him the opportunity to display his directorial sensitivity and flair for the dramatic in two completely contrasting films, A Perfect Couple [+see also:
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(about a marriage) and Yuki & Nina [+see also:
film profile
(about the friendship between two young girls). In his latest film, presented in the official competition at the 65th San Sebastián International Film Festival, Suwa continues to explore the unsullied perspective of children through film’s equally clear-eyed gaze. The Lion Sleeps Tonight [+see also:
film profile
is, right from the opening credits, a breathtaking cinematic concoction that stands face to face with time and hope — two elements which are, quite simply, the most basic pillars on which the seventh art rests.

We can get an inkling of the nature of the film before we even sit down to watch it, for two reasons: its premise (a seasoned film actor is working on a film that is forced to suspend shooting, prompting him to take a trip back into his past) and its title (the same borne by the ditty made famous by doo-wop group The Tokens in the 1960s). The profound and the frivolous are to be found here in equal measure, and, crucially, so is Jean-Pierre Léaud: an actor who is the embodiment of film itself, and whose life and work are an inextricable part of the history of cinema, from his seminal portrayal of childhood in The 400 Blows to his magnetic performance as a man staring into the abyss in Last Days of Louis XIV [+see also:
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interview: Albert Serra
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Jean (Léaud) abandons the shoot, delayed after the actress with whom he is supposed to be working finds herself indisposed, declaring that he has no idea how to approach a scene which calls on him to expire in front of the camera. He decides to pay a visit to an old friend who lives nearby, but it’s actually someone else he truly wants to see, someone perhaps no longer to be found among the living. Armed with a bunch of red gladioli, Jean heads for an abandoned mansion where he meets a beautiful young woman (Pauline Etienne), the spectre of a past love.

The house is not occupied solely by visions of the past, however, but also by some very much of the present: a group of children using it to play at making films with a digital camera and a microphone. Jean enters into an affectionate and meandering rapport with the children which, as it develops, illustrates their contrasting points of view and sets up an intelligent discourse that Suwa in his consummate skill is able to elevate to very impressive heights. Vivid images of the Côte d’Azur, the work of director of photography Tom Harari, beautifully complement the director’s brilliant concept — a wonderful return to the idea of film as an aid to understanding life’s journey and a means of bringing coherence to its disjointed parts, so that we might, indeed, take our last breath with all the eager anticipation of a child opening its eyes for the very first time.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight was produced by France’s Film-In-Evolution and Les Films Balthazar and Japanese company Bitters End, with Shellac managing international sales.

(Translated from Spanish)

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