Thursday, April 12, 2018

My Reaction the Cannes Festival Lineup

If it’s April, that means we’re close to May – and May means Cannes. While most of the film that show there, won’t be available to us in the general audience for months – sometimes a year or more – they do help set the conversation for the year in auteur driven film (I am still waiting to see some of last year’s competition films – especially Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here – which I will FINALLY see later this month if all goes according to plan). They announced 17 titles for the official competition – lower than normal, but they do sometimes add titles late (last year’s Palme D’or winner The Square for example was a late entrant). This may have to do with some complications with films they want, and the whole Netflix squabble that turned hot this week, when Netflix refused to bend to Cannes demands to sell their films to a French distributor for theatrical release, and pulled out altogether. For the record, I think both sides here are being idiots – sorry, the French law that requires a 36 month window between when a film is played theatrically, and when it can hit streaming services is idiotic, and Cannes shouldn’t have give into the pressure of French exhibitors to try and enforce it. Still, Netflix could have done more to accommodate – and it is VERY true that Netflix has shown a disregard for some of their own movies – the big ones get a small push, the smaller ones get lost almost immediately (you should check out 6 Balloons and First Match for instance – but you have probably heard of neither). Both are making big proclamations of being on the side of cinema, but both are acting like children.
Anyway, onto the official lineup. I give my thoughts on the 17 films in competition, and then give you my predictions on what is going to win the big prizes sight unseen (I think I missed doing this last year, but mainly I do okay picking what films will win prizes, but horrible at picking which ones they’ll win). The Jury President this year is Cate Blanchatt – which will be interesting. She’s an inspired choice, but I really don’t know what she and her jury will pick.
  • Ash Is Purest White (Jia Zhang-Ke) - I am a big fan of Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhang-ke (A Touch of Sin, Mountains May Depart) in part, because you never really know what he’s going to do next, except look at modern China, and anger his government. Despite being a Cannes competition regular (this is his fifth time in the official lineup) – he doesn’t normally win prizes (A Touch of Sin won screenplay, and that’s about it). This one is apparently a “violent love” story spanning 2001-2017 – and of course will star the great Tao Zhao. I’m excited.
  • At War (Stéphane Brizé) – The director of The Measure of a Man – which won Vincent Lindon the Best Actor prize at Cannes in 2015, returns the Cannes lineup – this time with a story about a group of factory workers, who agreed to take a pay cut to keep their factory open – and then it closed anyway, forcing them to fight back. Lindon is back again, in a film that at least sounds consistent with their last collaboration.
  • BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee) – Spike Lee returns to the Competition lineup for the third time – the first since 1991’s Jungle Fever. BlacKkKlansman is clearly the directors most buzzed about movie in year – it is about an African American police officer who infiltrates the KKK. The film will surely be controversial, and here’s hoping a return to form for Lee.
  • Burning (Lee Chang-dong) – I will always remember the TIFF screening of Lee’s 2007 masterpiece Secret Sunshine, where I walked in knowing nothing, and ended up loving it. That film won its star – Do-yeon Jeon – the Best Actress prize at Cannes that year – and he returned to Cannes in 2010 with Poetry – a film that won him Best Screenplay. But it’s been 8 long years since won of my favorite Korean directors made a film – which makes Burning my most anticipated film in this lineup – even if the plot synopsis – about cat sitting, and a trip to Africa, doesn’t give me much to go one. Still, I cannot be happier than Lee is back.
  • Capernaum (Nadine Labaki) – One of only three films in competition directed by a woman (seriously Cannes, do better) – Capernaum is Lebanese director Labaki’s first feature since 2011’s Where Do We Go Now? There is nothing else about the film to know now – but it does represent a promotion of sorts for Labaki – whose first two films played in different sections of Cannes, but now she’s in the big time.
  • Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski) – It’s been five years since Polish director Pawlikowski won the Best Foreign Language film Oscar for his stunning, black-and-white film Ida. He’s back with this story set in the 1950s – a love story set in Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia and Paris during the 1950s. Expect this one to get a lot of buzz because of how loved Ida was.
  • Dogman (Matteo Garrone) – Italian filmmaker Garrone, returns to the lineup for the fourth time – after winning the Grand Jury Prize for both Gomorra (2008) and Reality (2012), he didn’t win anything for the disappointing Tale of Tales (2015). I don’t see any plot synopsis out there for this one, so who the hell knows what it’s about – but I do hope it’s a return to form for him.
  • Girls of the Sun (Eva Husson) – Husson follows up her breakthrough film – Bang Gang (A Love Story) with this film, that I don’t see a synopsis for – but does star the very talented Golshifteh Farahani from Iran. I liked Bang Gang – didn’t love it, but certainly wanted to see what Husson did next, so I’m looking forward to this one.
  • The Image Book (Jean-Luc Godard) – How many times is Godard going to retire? Did he say Goodbye to Language was going to be his last film (not to mention Film Socialism). Still, if the 87 year old legend wants to keep making films, more power to him. Expect a mixture of rapturous reviews, and complete indifference.
  • Lazzaro Felice (Alice Rohrwacher) – Italian filmmaker Rohrwacher returns to the competition – her last film, The wonders, won the Grand Jury Prize in 2014. Her films haven’t made a ton of noise in North America yet – but she is the type of filmmaker where you can see it happening sooner or later.
  • Leto AKA Summer (Kirill Serebrennikov) – Russian filmmaker follows up the critically acclaimed The Student (I never did see it, but heard good things) with this biopic of Russian singer-songwriter Viktor Tsoi. I’m interested in this because I have heard good things about his films – but also because he’s never been at Cannes before, so jumping straight into competition suggests they really liked this one. Also, he’s under house arrest.
  • Netemo Sametemo AKA Asako I & II (Ryusuke Hamaguchi) – The acclaimed Japanese director of Happy Hour (which ran over five hours) makes his first trip to Cannes with Asako I & II, about a woman who falls in love with a man who disappears, and then falls in love with a man who looks exactly like him, but is complete different two years later. I don’t know if it’s as long as Happy Hour (a film I wanted to see, but as far as I know, it still isn’t available for me to see it) – but the fact that it has two parts in the title, doesn’t make it sound like a short film.
  • Shoplifters (Kore-Eda Hirokazu) – The acclaimed, prolific Japanese filmmaker is back in the official competition for the fifth time. This one sounds right in his wheelhouse – a family of petty crooks takes in a child they find living on the street. His films are usually small and quiet – but often build to something quietly moving.
  • Sorry Angel (Christophe Honoré) – French director Honore returns to the official lineup for the second time – the first being for Love Songs back in 2007. Other than that, I don’t know much about this film – or this filmmaker.
  • Three Faces (Jafar Panahi) – Iranian filmmaker Panahi hasn’t let his arrest and banishment from filmmaking actually stop him from making any films (this is his fourth film since being banned). As with those films, this one seems to be under wraps until it’s unveiled – but it’s always an event in these circles when he does make one.
  • Under the Silver Lake (David Robert Mitchell) – All of us who love It Follows have been looking forward to David Robert Mitchell’s follow-up for some time. This one, a mystery starring Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough and Topher Grace is getting a lot of buzz – and may well be the most anticipated film in competition on this side of the Atlantic. If it weren’t for Burning, it would be mine for sure.
  • Yomeddine (A.B. Shawky) – This is Egyptian filmmaker Shawky’s debut feature – a film about a leper and his apprentice who leave the leper colony, and travel across Egypt looking for their families. The Official Lineup isn’t usually a place for first timer filmmakers – this implies that this may well be something special.
Palme D’Or: Burning – Lee Chang-dong
Grand Prize of the Jury: Yomeddine – A.B. Shawky
Jury Prize: Three Faces – Jafar Panahi
Best Director: Pawel Pawlikowski, Cold War
Best Actor: Andrew Garfield, Under the Silver Lake
Best Actress: Golshifteh Farahani, Girls of the Sun
Best Screenplay: Lazzaro Felice – Alice Rohrwacher
As with my guesses every year, this is pure guesswork. Perhaps my choice of Burning is little more than wishful thinking, and my choice of Yomeddine for essentially second place is pure guesswork (I have to think there is a reason they are including a first time director in the competition). From there, really more guesswork – Garfield is well liked, and the trailer already has people buzzing about him, Farahani is well-known on the international circuit, so why not? Pawlikowski is well liked, and a great director – you have to think they may want to give something to Panahi. As for the screenplay win, it’s just a hunch. Remember what I said at the top – I’m usually not horrible at picking what films will win prizes at Cannes – but I am usually awful at picking what prizes those films will win.

Update (April 20)

I knew I was doing this preview too early – and sure enough, the official competition added three films in the week after the first announcement.

  • Knife + Heart (Yann Gonzalez) – Gonzalez’s follow-up to his debut film – You and the Night – is a thriller about a gay porn producer who is trying to win back her lover, and somehow a serial killer fits in. I didn’t see Gonzalez’s first film, and don’t know what to expect here – but it sounds interesting.
  • The Little One (Sergei Dvortsevoy) – Tulpan director Dvortsevoy – who won the Un Certain Regard prize for that film, makes his long awaited (10 years) follow-up to that film. It follows a Kyrgyz girl searching for a girl she left in a Moscow hospital. People loved Tulpan, so you have to wonder if this one could be a sleeper for an award.
  • The Wild Pear Tree (Nuri Bilge Ceylon) – Undeniably the biggest announcement is Turkish director Ceylon’s follow-up to Winter Sleep (which won the Palme to 2014). Ceylon has long been a favorite of the festival (this will be his sixth film in a row to premiere in Competition – and in addition to the Palme, he’s won two Grand Jury Prizes and the Best Director Prize). He also represents the only director in the competition to previously take top prize. This film is about a writer returning to her small hometown, and being overwhelmed by her father’s debts. Former Palme winners – especially recent ones – can go either way – either winning again (like the Dardennes or Haneke) or being overlooked by the jury – as if after winning the Palme, if they don’t want to give it to you again, it’s an insult. With this addition, things certainly got more interesting.


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