Séamas McSwiney previews this year’s Cannes Film Festival, which runs from 11 – 22 May 2016.
Cannes 69 shimmers on the horizon and the last of the calculated surprises are added to the red-carpet menu and the various juries are composed and named.
The first striking element this year was the poster. Rather than the usual elegant black and white photo of a screen icon from some golden age, Cannes 2016 celebrates cinema itself with a golden shot of a man ascending the staircase-wall of Casa Malaparte on the Isle of Capri, thus providing a film geek’s field day of interpretation and reference. Casa Malaparte is an Italian architectural icon though most famously it is a location, almost a character, for Jean-Luc Godard’s mesmerising Le mepris (Contempt), a lusciously shot-in-cinemascope celluloid tale of love and loathing in the merciless world of ’60s filmmaking.
This glowing image also provides some sort of compensation as, for once, there are no Italian films in any of the other official selections, though the parallel section Director’s Fortnight does have three.
There is, however, for the first time in many years, a German film in competition called Toni Erdmann, written, directed and produced by Maren Ade. In it, a father, without warning, comes to visit his daughter abroad, for he believes that she has lost her sense of humour and he would seek to remedy this.
The 20th and final film added to this year’s competition line-up was The Salesman, by Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, still in the final stages of post-production at the time of selection. Farhadi has already struck gold and silver at the Berlinale, with A Separation and About Elly, both relationship dramas in Farsi, as is his Cannes entry. So, one to watch.
Other art-house aristocrats, such as Ken Loach, Pedro Almodovar and the Dardenne brothers, will also be vying for the Palme d’Or along with a sprinkle of green shoots to rejuvenate the equation of usual suspects. After saying Jimmy’s Hall was his last film, Loach is back on familiar ground with I, Daniel Blake, a working class tale confronting the bureaucratic iniquities of unemployment and public housing. Grim narrative prospects but we can count on Loach and his screenwriting partner Paul Laverty to wring wry humour from such social strife.
Almodovar’s offer is Julieta, based on three Alice Munro short stories and spanning three decades of his protagonist’s life. One of the rare films to break Cannes protocol of screening only premieres, Julieta has already been released in Spain and respectfully reviewed, though not in ways that promise Pedro the Palme d’Or that has thus far eluded him.
Belgian brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne on the other hand, twice previous Palme winners with Rosetta and The Child, are going for a hat trick with La Fille inconnue (The Unknown Girl). Adèle Haenel plays a young doctor, troubled by guilt after the death of a young woman she turned away. She sets about finding out who the anonymous woman was and finds her conscience has led her into a suspense drama.
Both Almodovar and the Dardennes more often than not have female protagonists, though their preoccupations can seem to be quite different, the former mining the breathier metaphysics of being female with the latter focusing on solid socio-political dilemmas from a woman’s perspective.
While these stalwarts regularly do often pass their Bechdel Test with honours, thankfully, there are, along with Maren Ade’s inclusion, two other ‘femme cinéastes’ in competition, who will bring bona fide female voices to the 2,500-seat Theatre Lumiere; and both bring with them a reputation for bringing heft and uncompromomising originality to their art. Andrea Arnold will walk up the red-carpeted staircase to present her latest opus American Honey. Shia LaBeouf, hooks up with a tearaway teen, played by Sasha Lane, in a mid-western road movie of salesmanship and hard partying. Given Arnold’s previous form, we know this transatlantic venture will not be ordinary. The other woman filmmaker is France’s Nicole Garcia with Mal de Pierres, in which Marion Cotillard, a badly married middle-class wife and Louis Garel, a wounded veteran, are illegitimate lovers in rural post-war France. As with Almodovar and the Dardennes, Garcia has always shown a deft hand in subtly plumbing the depths of the opposite sex’s psyche.
So far so appetising as Cannes menus go though, as usual, on the day, there are more disappointments than pleasant surprises. While nationality is now attributed by the director’s origins, Dutchman Paul Verhoeven will be there with Elle, a French film starring Isabelle Huppert. She plays a business woman who is ruthless in work and in love. She is raped by a masked intruder but her resulting transformation is (controversially?) not what a classic tale of violation might normally predict. Advance word is very promising for the 77-year old Verhoeven, who previously shocked and awed Cannes with Basic Instinct in 1992.
A duo of Romanians proves their new era of cinema is not a mere flash in the pan; they include Bacalaureat, by Cristian Mungiu, who has a habit of getting things right in unlikely circumstances. And also, a first competition slot for Cristi Puiu who comes with Sieranevada. There is also Xavier Dolan, the Quebecois wunderkind, with Juste la fin du monde, a star-studded French flick that includes Marion Cotillard and Lea Seydoux in its cast. An American trio of films includes Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson about a bus driver called Paterson, played by Adam Driver, in Paterson, New Jersey. “Very Jarmuschian” was the only insight offered at the press conference by Cannes artistic director, Thierry Fremaux. Jarmusch also presents a midnight screening of Gimme Danger, his Iggy Pop bio doc. Jeff Nichols’ 1950s interracial marriage drama, Loving, stars Ireland’s own Ruth Negga, and Sean Penn arrives with The Last Face, a love story, starring Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem set in a Liberian humanitarian aid context. Given Penn’s real life political proclivities and his busted romantic affair with Theron, the film will surely carry personal influences… just like Godard’s Mepris.
Which of these will hit and which will miss is mere conjecture and sometimes hearsay or disputed opinion…
Meanwhile here is a compilation of trailers courtesy of Screen International.
Séamas McSwiney is an Irish writer-producer based in Paris