5 Must-See Films Produced by Michel Merkt
It is not very often that a career award is bestowed upon a person who’s been active in his field for less than ten years (his first official credit, according to IMDb, dates back to 2008). In the case of Michel Merkt, however, the Premio Raimondo Rezzonico of Locarno70 is richly deserved, as the Geneva-born producer has already amassed an impressive list of credits, working alongside several high-profile directors like David Cronenberg, Paul Verhoeven, Xavier Dolan, Miguel Gomes, Walter Hill, Philippe Garrel and Xavier Beauvois. This year’s Academy Awards ceremony featured no less than three nominated films on which he worked, including a rare example of a foreign-language production being up for one of the major prizes (Isabelle Huppert was nominated for Best Actress thanks to her performance in Elle). To honor the Festival’s exceptional guest, here are five gems from his filmography.
Maps to the Stars (2014)
Hollywood has always been depicted as both the land of dreams and a place of despair, insanity and death. After Billy Wilder, Vincente Minnelli, Robert Altman and Shane Black, Canadian auteur David Cronenberg puts his own spin on the second categorization with a vicious satire drenched in madness, frustration and sexual perversions. Working from a dazzling script by Bruce Wagner, the director draws sterling performances from Mia Wasikowska, Julianne Moore, John Cusack and Robert Pattinson as he recreates Tinseltown in his native Toronto, giving the City of Angels an eerily unfamiliar look that, much like some of its characters, burns itself into the viewer’s mind and doesn’t leave.
Arabian Nights (2015)
Having wowed arthouse audiences with his powerful drama Tabu, Portuguese director Miguel Gomes’ follow-up to that silent cinema throwback is a highly ambitious retelling of the famous story collection, set against the backdrop of his own country in a time of crisis. Split across three volumes, for a total of six hours divided in sections, Gomes’ intimate epic is a portrait of a nation facing hardships and, in its final stretch, a reflection on his own struggles to give the project its definitive form. Birds, dogs and surreal suggestions add to a fable-like atmosphere mixed with all too real images of contemporary Portugal.
Ma vie de Courgette (2016)
Joining the ranks of Hayao Miyazaki, Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud, Sylvain Chomet and Isao Takahata as one of the few directors to have a foreign-language film nominated in the Best Animated Feature category at the Oscars, Claude Barras’ stop-motion tale of childhood and grief is a visual and emotional delight. Lovingly adapted by Céline Sciamma and Barras himself from Gilles Paris’ book, the story of Icare a.k.a. Courgette is a spellbinding feel-good adventure for all ages.
Originally set up as Paul Verhoeven’s American comeback, this darkly comic thriller about a rape and the female victim’s unexpected reaction to it moved back to the novel’s original French setting when no major Hollywood star was willing to commit to the project. Their loss was the film’s gain, as Isabelle Huppert gamely delivers a career-best performance that is perfectly in sync with Verhoeven’s politically incorrect sensibilities. Her Oscar nomination was further validation for one of the boldest, most entertaining European productions in recent years.
Like Courgette the previous year, Sharunas Bartas’ latest made, its acclaimed debut in Cannes, as part of the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar. Staged as a road trip from Vilnius to the Ukraine, the Lithuanian director’s new drama is a stark depiction of the ongoing conflict in the region as seen through the eyes of two young people who might not fully understand what is going on in the areas surrounding them. Their increasingly nightmarish journey makes for a harrowing, unforgettable cinematic experience.