Cannes Film Festival

By Feinstein, Howard | Filmmaker, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Cannes Film Festival


Feinstein, Howard, Filmmaker


For those who go to Cannes to actually watch movies, the surprise factor is what creates its unique energy, not the interchangeable celebrities, predictable receptions and dinners, or the annual parade of the same ol' faces from the worlds of production, business, and journalism. All of the films in the "official" sections are world, or at least international, premieres (the sidebars are a bit looser); plus, this festival has the pick of the litter. With a few exceptions, usually linked to timing of release, everyone wants to make their international bow here, not Venice, Berlin, Locarno, or Toronto.

The overall verdict this year: thumbs up on films, thumbs down on distractions. The movies were, for the most part, wonderfully diverse and frequently defied expectations. This goes for all four of Cannes's curated sections: the "official" Competition and consolation prize Un Certain Regard, chosen by Thierry Frémaux; the Directors' Fortnight, a product of the politically motivated shutdown of the festival by the likes of Godard and Truffaut in 1968, and selected by artistic director Frederic Boyer, appointed by the French Directors Guild, and a committee of film experts and critics (okay, this is the most uneven strand, maybe because directors are choosing the works of other directors?); and the smaller, more reliable alternative, International Critics Week, the films that are anointed by the inimitable critic Jean-Christoph Berjon and his team.

Let's take a gander at two movies that reflect the variety. The festival began with Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. Not only was it tailor-made to be a Cannes opener - montages of Parisian landmarks; some gorgeous Gallic stars (Marion Cotillard, Lea Seydoux) tossed to the side of the Americans necessarily occupying the middle; French first lady and former model Carla Bruni-Sarkozy struggling to portray a tour guide - but it pathetically expanded upon the Allen tradition of casting the hot actors of the day (Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Owen Wilson) by time traveling backward to add to the butterfly collection of famous French and expat writers and painters living in Paris: Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Dali, Gertrude Stein, and Hemingway, among others.

It's a case of apples and oranges, to be sure, but let's compare Midnight in Paris with the opera prima Las Acacias, by the Argentine director Pablo Giorgelli, which provided a counterweight to Allen's pretense and, for this writer, relieved the nausea precipitated by his shamelessness. A two-hander shot (creatively) almost entirely in the cab of a large truck, with small names and an even smaller budget, this road movie depends on tiny gestures and the slightest of glances to advance the story of an Argentine driver and the indigenous Paraguayan woman and baby daughter to whom he offers a lift from Asunción to Buenos Aires. Unlike Midnight in Paris, Las Acacias, winner of the Camera d'Or, refuses to announce itself as some sort of cinematic achievement: There are no recognizable urban clichés here, no scenery chewing, no namedropping. Giorgelli makes deceptively simple the journey from loneliness to attachment; the trip resonates powerfully in even the most hardened viewer.

No matter that the films in Cannes (May 11-22) were relatively good: They took second place to the sensational news about a cinematic mover demonized by the festival and a political shaker from France arrested in New York. Oddly, or perhaps not so oddly, the alleged sins of Lars von Trier (a genius who cannot control his mouth) and Dominique Strauss-Kahn (celebrated head of the IMF and potential Socialist candidate for president who cannot control something else) echoed one of the recurring on-screen themes this go-round: transgression.

There might be a causal relationship between the two media items: Was the French overreaction to the von Trier episode (declaration as persona non grata, barred within 100 meters of the Palais - a punishment more suitable for a terrorist than a socially inept filmmaker) a government-initiated response to the negative press stemming from Strauss-Kahn's bad behavior? …

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