Wednesday 21 March 2018

Why the Cannes Film Festival is still king

Brad Pitt in Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly
Brad Pitt in Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly

David Gritten

It is famous for its A-list stars and champagne-soaked soirées, but Cannes remains the cinephile’s festival of choice. David Gritten rounds up this year’s most tempting Palme d’Or contenders .

The Cannes film Festival kicks off today and the perennial question arises: what’s it really about? Is it the stars, the frocks, the red carpet, or even – and here’s a radical thought – the films themselves?

We already know the paparazzi will be kept busy, with Brad Pitt, Sharon Stone, Bill Murray and Marion Cotillard all likely to attend. There’ll be glamour, gossip, mild hysteria and acres of bare tanned flesh. But it’s a fair bet the films at Cannes will prove every bit as interesting.

One often feels the organisers of Cannes can’t win. Each year they select a score of films to contend for the prestigious Palme d’Or – and each year commentators find reason to fault their judgment.

The root of controversy usually lies in the proportion of English-language films (especially American productions) in competition. If there are too many, we can expect sniping about Cannes selling its soul to Hollywood by inviting a glut of American stars to the Croisette to promote their movies.

If too many English-language films are overlooked, the argument flips. Cue widespread moaning that the selection is too “obscure”. It happened in 2010 when Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul won the Palme d’Or with Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. And it wasn’t just American journalists doing the sniping.

This year’s selection, at first glance, is impeccably balanced in this regard. Out of 22 contenders, eight films are English language. And that doesn’t just mean American. Britain’s veteran Ken Loach is in the pack with The Angels’ Share, John Hillcoat (Lawless) is Australian and Andrew Dominik (Killing Them Softly) is from New Zealand. And while the long-awaited adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is, naturally, in English, it comes from the great Brazilian director Walter Salles.

But the entries from the non-anglophone world are impressively varied. Apart from Loach, three other former Palme d’Or winners will display their new work: Romania’s Cristian Mungiu (Beyond the Hills), Iranian Abbas Kiarostami (Like Someone in Love) and Austria’s Michael Haneke (Amour). Mexico’s Carlos Reygadas, a 2007 contender with Silent Light, returns with Post Tenebras Lux.

Italian director Matteo Garrone, who made the brilliant Neapolitan crime drama Gomorrah, has a new film, Reality, in competition. So does Dane Thomas Vinterberg, a founder of the Dogme 95 movement. There are also films from Egypt (Yousry Nasrallah’s After the Battle), Ukraine (Sergei Loznitsa’s In the Fog) and two from South Korea: Hong Sang-soo’s In Another Country and Im Sang-soo’s The Taste of Money.

What more could any lover of world cinema reasonably wish for?

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