As the biggest event in world cinema comes to a close, a few notable themes emerged at this year’s Cannes film festival – Twilight lead actors taking on adaptations of respected American novels, promising young directors faltering on their second or third films, and Michael Haneke cementing his stature as a great artist with a critical standing and body of work unparalleled in contemporary cinema.
For the most part, however, it was somewhat lacklustre. It had a solid line-up of films, but somewhat thin in the end after rumoured projects from the elusive Wong Kar-Wai and Terrence Malick failed to materialise in time and many straight up disappointed the rabid masses of critics, where every film had pratically hundreds of 140-character reviews doing the rounds on the Twittersphere before the credits stopped rolling.
It lacked the fanfare or controversy of previous festivals, certainly nothing as memorable as Lars von Trier’s Nazi sympathising in 2011, or Lars von Trier rebutting the criticisms of Antichrist with “I’m the best director in the world” in 2009, or even Lars von Trier flipping the bird to everyone, abusing the jury, and storming out of the awards ceremony because Europa only won second place in 1991.
The selection of films in competition did come under heavy criticism however, as 22 of 22 films selected were from male directors and while the Festival’s directors defended this with standard politically correct rhetoric, it is indeed an alarming figure that needs to be highlighted for future festivals.
But now that the festival is done and dusted, what is there to take from it all? Well, the great films that were on show, and the prizes awarded by the small and idiosyncratic jury headed by figures as diverse as Nanni Moretti, Ewan McGregor and fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier.
As soon as Haneke’s Amour screened half way through the festival, it was clear that the coveted Palme d’Or was his to lose – the bleak and moving story of the relationship and love of an octogenarian couple tested as the wife is on her deathbed was the only film that critics unanimously loved, a film reportedly more personal and emotionally engaging than the Austrian’s often more detached and cerebral films like The Piano Teacher and Hidden. The only mark against it was the fact that the top prize had been given to Haneke just three years earlier for The White Ribbon, but “love prevailed” and Haneke joined a very elite club of double winners and is the only person to have won the top prize with consecutive films.
Other prizes were less predictable – Matteo Garrone’s Reality disappointed most after his promising crime drama Gomorrah, yet walked away with second prize and Ken Loach’s record-setting eleventh film at Cannes drew a muted reaction but third place. More polarising still was the Best Director award to Carlos Reygadas for Post Tenebrae Lux, a film that had been called “pretentious” and “self-conscious”, and considered far below the high reached with his 2007 Silent Light.
Despite a near unprecedented number of Western films at the Festival, few made much of an impact. John Hillcoat’s (The Proposition) prohibitionist Western Lawless and Lee Daniels’ (Sapphire)The Paperboy were widely disliked. Walter Salles’ adaptation of Kerouac’s On the Road with Kristen Stewart was received well, as was Andrew Dominik’s Goodfellas-esq Killing Them Softly with Brad Pitt and Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom (the opening film of the festival) but none had a real shot at the big ones.
The only American film to have great success was not even listed for the main competition – it was the apocalyptic post-Katrina drama Beasts of the Southern Wild which won the Camera d’Or for Best First Feature for Benh Zeitlin.
Celebrated big name auteurs also had intriguing showings – Cronenberg’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis with Robert Pattinson, French New Wave icon Alain Resnais’s (just shy of his 90th birthday) You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet and Abbas Kiarostami’s Like Someone in Love all had fans and detractors. Perhaps the most memorable film from the festival was the bizarre Holy Motors from Leos Carax that apparently was so inventive and wild it needs to be seen to be believed, and was the only real perceived contender to Haneke’s throne, yet Carax walked away empty handed.
All in all, there were some very interesting films shown proving that important, original and challenging cinema isn’t on life-support just yet – the only sombre note is how few of these films will ever get a theatrical release over here – 2010’s Palme d’Or winner, the beautifully poetic Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives never showed over here, and last year’s celebrated Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is only just now showing in Australia, and only on two screens nationwide, neither in Sydney. So keep a close lookout for these films mentioned, and at the very least, there’s always torrents.