1947 was a special year which forever altered the trajectory of human history. India gained its independence from Britain, Arnold Schwarzenegger was born, and the Festival du Film de Cannes was properly inaugurated a year after its founding. To be honest, it’s a wonder that the world was turning prior to ’47.
Cannes has since become cinema’s preeminent international film festival and is a regular showcase for a who’s who of directorial luminaries. This is undoubtedly due in part to its status as one of the world’s oldest festivals (second only to Venice), but is mainly the result of its delicious exclusivity. I imagine that one look at Cannes’ rules and regulations is enough to make even the most dignified auteur careen into a drooling schoolboy frenzy (exempting, of course, Michael Haneke). Here is a sampling of some of the more titillating by-laws:
Only films that meet the following conditions may be chosen for invitation in the Official Selection:
Films that have been produced during the twelve months preceding the Festival;
Films that have not been released anywhere other than their country of origin;
Films that have not been presented at any other international motion picture event;
If the film (feature or short) has been selected in an international section (competitive or not) of a festival, it becomes ineligible for the Festival de Cannes. A selection is international if it presents films from different countries.
Films that have not been exhibited on the Internet;
During the entire duration of the Festival de Cannes, none of the films invited may be shown outside the Festival’s official theatres before their official screening.
All this hubbub puts film critics and journalists in a particularly feisty mood, most notably evidenced by their unabashedly vocal responses (be they positive or negative) during and after screenings. Standing ovations and booing, for example, are common occurrences with a rich history at Cannes. While I have participated in applauding a film (if my memory serves me correctly, at the Hong Kong International Film Festival screening of Grbavica in 2007), I can only wonder how satisfyingly primal it would be to verbalize a boo or two. Naturally, had I been at any one of The Tourist’s screenings instead of watching a pirated copy of it in Delhi two Christmases ago, this would not have been an issue.
Since attendance at Cannes is by invitation only, over the last years I have had to settle for daily interweb updates of the festival’s goings-on. And while I am no Nostradamus, I thought it would be fun to talk about a few gems that are sure to shimmer on the cinematic stage in the coming year.
1) Amour. Directed by Michael Haneke.
This is the film that the critics have been touting as worthy of the Palme D’Or (as of this writing, the results have yet to be announced). In my opinion, few can compare to Michael Haneke’s almost monolithic status as one of Europe’s most serious directors – reliably offering challenging and thought-provoking cinema. “Cache” and “Funny Games” are just two examples (while I liked his last film “The White Ribbon” – winner of the Palme three years ago – I felt it was a little too scientific in the way the characters seemed to exist solely as vehicles for an underlying discourse). “Amour” is about an elderly couple who must navigate through a crisis after the wife suffers an attack. It sounds like it will be rich in pathos and humanity (much of the film is set in the couple’s apartment) and judging from initial reviews (“Only Michael Haneke’s exquisite tale of an elderly man caring for his frail wife in their Paris apartment ticked all the boxes” – The Guardian), it will have much to offer.
2) Beyond the Hills. Directed by Cristian Mungiu.
Frickin’ finally. Ever since the astounding “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days” (which won the Palme in 2007), I have been looking forward to another film from this Romanian director. Perhaps I too hastily ascribed Michael Haneke as the king of serious, because Cristian Mungiu definitely has plenty of his own chops. “Beyond the Hills” is about two girls, both from the same orphanage, whose paths diverge with one becoming a waitress in Germany and the other joining an authoritarian monastery. Their personalities and beliefs change, which comes into radical focus as they reunite and experience crisis in their relationship. Expect hard questions about the sacred/secular and probably a tortuous emotional journey. Yesss.
3) Rust and Bone. Directed by Jacques Audiard.
This I did not expect. After 2009’s “Un Prophet” (a stellar prison drama which features perhaps the world’s most formidable and endearing “young” actor – Tahar Rahim – who portrays an Arab youth who gets involved in a mafia circus after he’s incarcerated), Jacques Audiard comes out with a film about a female orca whale trainer and a Belgian bouncer who longs to be the next Jean Claude Van Damme (aka a kickboxer). And it’s a love story. Apparently the two leads give devastating performances and I’m sure it doesn’t hurt to have Marion Cotillard (have you seen her in La Vie En Rose?) play the leading lady. The press have had a field day with water references ([The film] “surges out of the screen like a flood tide, deserves to be awash with awards” – The Guarian), but if anyone can pull off a credible orca-kickboxing romance, it’s Jacques Audiard. I’m sure the current critics’ tide (!) of adulation will prove well deserved.
4) The Angels’ Share. Directed by Ken Loach.
I really liked “Looking for Eric,” which was both hilarious and touching. “The Angels’ Share” seems to continue in a similar vein, but might be even better. Like “Looking for Eric,” Loach has enlisted non-professional actors to populate a story about a Glasgow criminal named Robbie who manages to escape a prison sentence only to find himself doing community service with a small band of miscreants. As it is, criminals building social value is a recipe for comedy, methinks. But things get better: the man who supervises the hoods takes them to a whiskey distillery for fun and as it turns out, Robbie is a genius (he has a highly sophisticated and discerning nose) when it comes to whiskey. Need I say more?
5) Moonrise Kingdom. Directed by Wes Anderson.
Ah Wes, you hyper-type-A-control-freak you, how I love that you tried your hand at film-making. There’s really nothing like a Wes Anderson film in its precision of script, quirky understated acting, scene detail and photography, and Bill Murray (my favorite of his films is The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, by the way). And all of these inevitably feature in “Moonrise Kingdom,” a 1965 love story about two 12 year olds who run away and the adults that are drawn in as a result (including Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, and Bruce Willis!). It’s going to be delightful, what with Bill Murray delivering classic lines (in his pajamas, shirtless, with a beer in one hand and an axe in the other) like this: “I’ll be out back. I’m going to find a tree to chop down.” Even this hosted tour below gives me the giggles.
[Editor’s note: Amour won the Palme D’or, Beyond the Hills won Best Screenplay and Best Actress (the two female leads won jointly), and The Angels’ Share won the Jury Prize]