As I wrote in my Cannes preview last year, when I’m at the world’s most prestigious film festival I’m effectively looking at the movies through the eyes of three different people: a cinephile, a critic and a programmer. Of course, they’re all one and the same person, really, but they do think a little differently. The cinephile in me hopes (somewhat unrealistically, I must confess) that each and every film seen will be superb. The critic, while more or less entertaining those same hopes, looks forward to films that will be interesting to write about. And the programmer in me will primarily be on the lookout for movies that might be suitable either to screen as a preview, extended run or part of a season in the BFI Southbank programme, or to recommend to colleagues who oversee the programme for the BFI London Film Festival.
Cannes is great for the cinephile because it consistently manages to showcase many of the finest new films of the year. But it’s great for the critic and programmer because it’s also a pretty good index of what’s happening in the world of filmmaking – or at least in the less mainstream areas of filmmaking – at any given time.
There are some who complain, of course, that it’s pretty much a sure thing that certain filmmakers – major figures like the Coen brothers, David Cronenberg, Abbas Kiarostami, Michael Haneke or the Dardennes – will make it into the official competition. My response to that is, why wouldn’t they as long as they continue to make movies of the highest standard? Besides, there are plenty of less famous filmmakers in evidence; as well as the usual handful in competition, there are always a fair few in the Un Certain Regard strand, not to mention the Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week if one moves beyond the official selection.
So for the programmer, as for the critic, there’s always a good chance of discovering promising new talent. This year, for example, there are two films in competition – Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders and Damián Szifrón’s Wild Tales – by directors whose work I’m not familiar with, while there are many more in the other sections.
And yes, this year does have some familiar names in competition. From Britain, we have Mike Leigh’s eagerly awaited Mr Turner, with Timothy Spall as the painter, and what is reputedly Ken Loach’s final feature, Jimmy’s Hall, set in rural Ireland during the 1930s. Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language sounds characteristically mystifying, whereas Michel Hazanavicius’s The Search, set in Chechnya, sounds nothing like his Cannes hit The Artist.
Olivier Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria has an intriguing cast that includes Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloë Grace Moretz, Hanns Zischler, Angela Winkler and Brady Corbet, while Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent has an intriguing cast that includes Léa Seydoux, Gaspard Ulliel, Louis Garrel, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Helmut Berger, Dominque Sanda – and Brady Corbet.
Two Canadian Croisette veterans, David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan, are there with Maps to the Stars and The Captive, whereas a compatriot, Xavier Dolan – in the running for the Palme d’or for the first time with Mommy – is still only 25. Naomi Kawase, who surprised many when she won the Grand Prix a few years back with The Mourning Forest, returns with Still the Water (the only Asian film in competition), while Tommy Lee Jones, who impressed many with The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, sounds as if he’s again performing a variation on the western with his second directorial outing, The Homesman. Apart from Foxcatcher by Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball), that’s the only US film in this year’s competition.
I’m looking forward to all these, of course, but along with the Leigh film (like him I’m a Turner nut), I’m probably keenest to see the remaining four contenders for the Palme d’or. It remains to be seen whether the Dardenne brothers, working with Marion Cotillard, can nab a record-breaking third Palme with Two Days, One Night; dependably rewarding, they’re nevertheless up against some extremely tough competition.
Andrey Zvyaginstev (The Return, Elena), returning with Leviathan, and Abderrahmane Sissako (Waiting for Happiness, Bamako), dealing with the conflict in Mali with Timbuktu, are considered by certain betting types to be among the favourites, while Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who has won major prizes with most of his films and who came very close to winning the Palme d’or with Once upon a Time in Anatolia, is surely a strong contender with Winter Sleep. At the very least, Ceylan’s is the heftiest film in competition, its 196 minutes outstripping even its longest rivals by three-quarters of an hour.
And out of competition? A cornucopia. Notwithstanding the presence of films by the likes of Jessica Hausner, Sergei Loznitsa, Frederick Wiseman, Jaime Rosales and others, I have to confess I’m most curious about two titles in the Directors’ Fortnight by British filmmakers: Queen and Country, a belated follow-up of sorts to Hope and Glory from John Boorman, a Cannes veteran who won the best director prize for both Leo the Last and The General; and Catch Me Daddy, a thriller that is the feature debut of Daniel Wolfe. The old and the new: Cannes in a nutshell! Watch this space…