There’s sand in your size nines. You can smell fromage on every street corner. You’re being engaged in conversations where people expect you to have watched the Dardenne Brothers’ entire filmography. You can only be at Cannes. The lure of the Croisette has proven inescapable for filmmakers for 65 years. Classic films like Pulp Fiction, Taxi Driver and MASH have all taken away its coveted Palme d’Or award and, this year, the competition is as hot and highbrow as ever. And as the film elite from all over the world descent on the beautiful South of France, I’m stuck in rainy Oxford preparing for exams. Bitter? Not a chance.
The problem with Cannes is the assumptions that the jury make about the correlation be- tween a) being written and performed in a for eign language and b) running time and overall quality. A quick look down the list of films that are in competition shows that this ‘elite’ group of films are frequently over two and a half hours long. This is a competition that gave the top prize to The White Ribbon. Clearly the boredom of the audience isn’t factored into the decision-making process. But whilst all this ‘art’ is being screened to sate the ravenous appetite of Hollywood’s ruling middle class, the whole thing is decked in rampant, whorish consumerism. Madagascar 3 is going to be one of the biggest events of the festival, not because of its outstanding cinematic worth but because of the promotional cash that the studio threw at the festival organisers. On top of this there will be hundreds of parties with more free alcohol than grovelling sycophants (of which I’d slightly like to be one) and goodie bags that each have a market value in excess of the sum value of the contents of my room.
It’s a contradiction that is made less appealing because of the fact that there will, undoubtedly, be some genuinely brilliant films on show, but those stellar pieces are liable to get lost amongst the glitter and finger food. The festival’s merits are undeniable, it’s just a shame that they’ve been overshadowed by the dually tedious and crass way that the whole affair is conducted.
My highlights this year, if I were there, would be David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis (starring Robert Pattinson in a proper, grown-up role), Abbas Kiarostami’s Like Someone in Love and John Hillcoat’s Lawless. The jury is unlikely to give the top prize to Michael Haneke again so shortly after The White Ribbon’s success, but his new film, Love, looks phenomenal.
Sometimes the freedom of being screened outside of the main competition provides the most interesting films of the festival. ‘Un Certain Regard’, the second tier of the Cannes echelons, always contains a hit-and-miss collection of films from rising and established filmmakers, and this year is bound to be no different. French Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan follows last year’s Heartbeats with his new film Laurence Anyways, which is bound to make a splash sur la plage. Also worth keeping an eye on is the directorial debut of Brandon Cronenberg, son of David, and Renoir, the latest film from Gilles Bourdos.
Undoubtedly there will be flashes of genius all around the city. Last year’s Palme d’Or winner, The Tree of Life, went on to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar whilst the eventual winner of that award, Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist, was screened, to general hysteria, out of competition. Come January, when the Academy Award nominations are released, many of the names that’ll be adorning the headlines will’ve been seen first at Cannes. For punters and critics it’s the place to see films, but for studios and filmmakers, it’s the place to sell films.
Chances are, though, that some off the wall choice, like Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, will emerge from the shadows and steal the show from the big dogs expected to walk away with the prizes. That is, if they can get in ahead of the shameless PR stunts, 60-foot billboards of Ryan Gosling’s abs and the trollied distributors’ intern who’s trying to get off with Harvey Weinstein.