Each year I approach Cannes with much anticipation, especially after last year’s outstanding selection which unspooled Antichrist, A Prophet and The White Ribbon to name but three in one competition. So for 2010 the bar was high and yes it never achieved such heady heights but it produced, after the fact, not a vintage but a handful of stimulating and, in the hands of three British veteran directors, three solid films.
The headline for me seems to be that the critics are always looking for the next big thing whereas it’s in the evolution of the little things that exciting work is happening. Apichatpong Weersatukel’s Uncle Bonaroo is the case in point.
The other headline is that 3D is very much on the agenda and having a real impact on the future of cinema. On arrival my first film in the market was the first Japanese HD 3D feature film which was a classic horror and effective 3D, I followed that with a 10 min promo of a 3D natural history feature film about elephants which looked impressive. In conferences and trade papers everyone was proclaiming the growth in 3D production – Werner Herzog, Dario Argento but two entering the 3D world - and audience take up. I even bumped into film critic Mark Kermode who Watershed goers may know stated that he would eat his shoes if we screened a 3D film by the like of David Lynch. He said he had been researching shoe recipes online!
One of the interesting and exhilarating aspects to Cannes is seeing films before any critical opinion or orthodoxy has settled. In fact it is instructive to look at the daily critics charts to see how divergent opinion can be – one example this year was Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu's Biutiful . I watched it at its 8.30am press screening. Now I am aware of the director’s tendency to pomposity and a theory of everything – Babel being the prime example – but he is also capable of extraordinarily energetic visceral direction e.g. Amore Perros. Biutiful for me held in check the tendency towards the former with elements of the latter all held together with a brilliant central performance from Javier Bardem. (Bardem really has been watching classic Brando.) The critics, well the British critics, savaged the film. I raised this with tentatively with prime suspects Nick James and Jonathan Romney and sensed we were not going to reach a critical consensus.
Major disappointment was Takeshi Kitano’s Outrage which I was hoping might have been a return to Sonatine form, but instead served up everything Yakuza that he thinks his audience wants to see but with no discernable plot and empathy to be had. I ended up not caring and I had worn my best bib and tucker to walk up the red carpet to see the film.
Around the various strands of the festival there were a clutch of titles which have since been bought for the UK and will find their way to Watershed. These include La Casa Muda from Uruguay, a horror film in a single take and it just about pulls it off, its only the necessity of the genre that lets it down; We Are What We Are from Mexican may well do for cannibals what Let the Right One In did for Vampires; Le Quattro Volte felt to me like one of the most satisfying films, I say felt like because I had to leave half way through to go to the Europa Cinemas conference. It follows an elderly Italian goat herder. I have the press pack and from the photographs of the images I hadn’t seen it looked like it could be a real cinematic experience. I spent the rest of the festival trying to see the whole film.
Two films I saw back to back on my final day were coincidently based on fact which gave the films deeper resonance. Of Gods and Men is yes a battle of faith but also one of humanity and common decency. The French monks are in one of France's old colonies in Muslim North Africa. They are, as with their preachings, in harmony with their surroundings, living from subsistence farming and helping out the poor and under privileged. When extremism encroaches they have to choose between their own lives and their faith. Again the premise would have appeared almost too contrived were it not based on a true story and testimony. The result is a moving reflective and powerful film and one which I tipped for the Palme D’Or, it did win the Jury prize.
Fair Game could have been perceived as an American self-obsessed perspective on Iraq, playing up the virtuous American over the very real impact on ordinary Iraqis but when you realise it was based on the real story of CIA agent Valerie Plame, whose undercover identity was revealed in a spat between her husband former Diplomat Joe Wilson and the government over verification of facts about Iraq having WMD capability, it becomes a more interesting perspective revealing how far the State was prepared to go to achieve it's objective on Iraq. The film becomes more interesting on reflection.
And now Godard, his new film Film Socialisme played in the Un Certain Regard. I always pay respects to JLG when he has a new film especially at Cannes, a festival he and colleagues literally stormed and brought to a stop in 1968. Lets face it he changed the way film was made and thought about. In his new one he shows the same creative restless uncompromising energy. Some of the images and contrast of images are sublime. It was however for me a film of two Godards. The first, the experimental filmmaker who is still capable of transforming cinema in front of your eyes – indeed the sound editing in Film Socialisme was for me the most radical and exciting I have come across - and the second the agent provocateur who can’t resist challenging and testing the audiences patience. I know which one I prefer.
Finally I haven’t mentioned the British triumvirate of Leigh, Loach and Frears. I confess straight up that I didn’t see their films knowing that I would get easy access to them in the UK. It was of course great to see such strong presence at Cannes but as critics and indeed Leigh pointed out where are the young generation. These are three directors who cut their teeth on television drama BBC drama at that – where are the new talent going to find there training ground, hone their cinematic skills is the big question. Having said that I saw Alicia Duffy’s All Good Children a strong debut from the award-winning director of short film The Most Beautiful Dad in the World. She clearly has talent but will she have the forum to develop such longevity?
Many, if not all, of the above films will be screened at Watershed over the coming year.