Commitment and Conviction at Cannes 2012

By Badt, Karin | Film Criticism, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Commitment and Conviction at Cannes 2012


Badt, Karin, Film Criticism


Two of the films in competition at Cannes this year were outstanding, and both earned a prize from Nanni Moretti's jury. Michael Haneke's Love received the Palme d'Or, and Thomas Vinterberg's The Hunt was compensated with a Best Actor's award for Mads Mikkelson's performance. What made these films stand out from the rest was not necessarily their aesthetic achievements, but the feeling one gets that the director truly cares about his subject.

Haneke's Love [Amour] is an intensely still drama about an elderly man (Jean-Louis Trintignant) dealing with his wife's (Emmanuelle Riva) decaying health. The camera never leaves their apartment, just as the husband never leaves his wife's side as she goes from bad (demented) to worse (paralyzed). Isabelle Huppert steps in a couple times, as the couple's concerned daughter. What does Trintignant do in this film? He basically feeds his wife applesauce; he carries her to her bed; he caresses her hands as she moans; he fantasizes that she, a former pianist, is playing Schubert once again. The film--as the title suggests--is a testimony to love. The man gives his wife dignity.

"Why did I make this film?" Haneke mused at his press conference. "Once you reach a certain age, by necessity, you have to contend with the suffering of someone you love, your spouse, your grandfather. In my family as well, there were events that were not very happy. It is very difficult to deal with the suffering of people you love."

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Haneke, of course, has featured a pianist before in his work: Isabelle Huppert in The Piano Teacher plays a sick woman who enters a disturbing sado-masochistic relationship with an admiring young student and eventually mutilates herself with a razor blade. In Love, a young student also visits his piano teacher, the dying wife. But in this encounter, the student rhapsodizes about how meaningful his piano teacher's instruction has been to his burgeoning career. He sends her a CD of his new album: a testimony to the importance of artistic transmission. Quite a different story from the sick teacher-student relationship in The Piano Teacher. Haneke, known for his dark, suffering, violent films, seems to have had a change of heart in Love.

Director Thomas Vinterberg (esteemed for his earlier Festen) delivered a gripping drama about a schoolteacher wrongly accused of sexually abusing a little girl, and the witch hunt against him that ensues. While the topic of The Hunt is (presumably) pedophilia, its greater concern is the probing of how malleable and imperfect human opinion can be: how individuals can easily become victims of mob mentality. The main character goes into a supermarket and is pummeled to a bloody pulp; anonymous neighbors attack his house at night. Vinterberg commented on the mob mentality: "This village is a micro-cosmos, a symbol of the world, where news travels in social media, platforms, very fast, like a virus. You can create a myth very quickly." Actor Mads Mikkelson added: "It was very much about how love can turn to fear: how all can implode to fear."

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What I liked about the film was how the script moves deftly and dramatically from scene to scene, set in conventional village environments: a schoolroom, a kitchen, a sidewalk strewn with fall leaves. Vinterberg responded: "My own favorite scenes are when they are sitting around having beer or in church; I always try to find sets that are a natural room, like kitchens, elevators, toilets: places where you do stuff."

The Competition offered at least five other strong films, speaking to contemporary anxieties in today's world. A main issue: how to find love. Austrian director Ulrich Seidl's Paradise tells the story of a group of terribly unattractive Austrian women on vacation on a Kenyan beach for the main purpose of using the handsome black locals as sexual partners. …

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