Cannes Report 2 - 66th Festival de Cannes

By Moira Sullivan

The least important aspect of the Cannes Film Festival for me is the parade of stars up the red carpet, and the parties in the beach tents at night. These events are however what pays for Cannes, in order to offer to film critics the very best of the year’s best films for review.  It takes some time to avoid all of this, but if you really try you can wind up sitting in one of the coveted seats of a new screening. This is because there is a division of badges for seating according to the quality of the venue you represent. This quality is measured in number of readers of your venue, and most important, corporate media status. The critics can make or break a film and the outreach of the corporate dailies attract readers. But I know how to be selective, and listen to the opinions of colleagues standing in line. Their opinions certainly steered me away from some films I had planned on attending.

There are 4,000 journalists and 12,000 buyers , who fill the coffers of this luxury beach town with an immaculate blue sea dotted by colossal yachts. I am glad the mayor of Cannes understands our importance  and invited accredited journalists of this year’s jury  to a traditional luncheon with fish and aioli . The jury was cordoned off and attended to my beefy guards and police who did not hesitate to shove anyone a millimeter from the staked out lunch table seating Steven Spielberg, Nicole Kidman, Christoph Walz and even veteran documentary filmmkaer Claude Lanzmann who was at Cannes with an out of competition film (The Last Unjust). The mayor and the Jury did not speak to us, but there was a photo op with a over 50 competing photogtaphera.  All of this competitives is what stresses out journalists—long lines, avoiding the fans who are there for the stars, cordoned off streets for  guests with invitations to the Red Carpet and premieres, and the line to get espresso inside the Palais de Festival. Celebrity news is exported by corporate media, however Cannes is so much more for the true cineaste.
At the event I met Dr. Christian Jungen whose doctorate is in cinema studies, the second doctor of philosophy I met among journalists in Cannes and there are certainly more. Jungen has written a book "Hollywood in Canne$, a love-hate relationship"that was considered one of the top 100 books on cinema studies in 2012 by the Association of International Film critics FIPRESCI. Christian Jungen, a leading Swiss film critic,wrote his thesis on the role of Hollywood in the foundation of the Cannes Film Festival, especially how later it orchestrated with the organizers to launch its blockbusters.  This is true to present day, as witnessed by the opening film "The Great Gatsby". But not only has Hollywood contributed to the festival but film critics, which is also discussed in Jungen’s book.

This year’s films were exceptionally good, and I will start off with the film that won the Palme d’or - La Vie d’Adèle - Blue is the Warmest Color  by the Franco tunisian Abdellatif Kechiche and actresses Léa Seydoux and Adèle Erachnopolous. In an unprecedented step, Jury President Steven Spielberg and his jury awarded not only the director but the actresses the Palme d’or. Of course this makes sense, and the jury had the intelligence to see that the craftsman of the film who created the composition of the frame could only have done so with the ambition and excellence of the actresses that put their raw emotions into the film. So director and actors were put in the same class as creators. 

Bravo to the 66th Cannes Jury. I was deeply  moved  by this film and saw that this was something different right from the initial scenes. For starters the director uses mostly medium closeups to tell his story about young people who march for educational reform, workers rights and gay pride. How they are impacted by their teachers and important philsophers and writers such as Satre, Pierre Canslet de Mirivaux, and Francis Ponge. How a good teacher engages students with dynamic lessons, the mobbing and romances outside of the classrorom, and the homophobia. In the middle of all this, are the incredible two young actresses, Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopolous who share an immediate attraction and embark on a passionate romance that includes explicit joyful love making on screen.  The expanse of their relatively short romance is slowly built up but  the is shown with frequent ellipses that lead to quick denoument or resolution and end. Its sad yet refreshing to note that it takes two people to make and break a relationship. But until the roller coaster ride hits reality bumps, this is one fantastic piece of cinema. 

The framing and use of the camera make it an exceptional piece and for myself, this film made the Cannes film Festival. It has been lauded by critics, who did not just cruise with a voyeur fantasty of two lesbians in bed but took notice that just as  heterosexuals, there is a lifestyle that is in the middle of the same kind of life we all share - meals, schools, friends, parents, children love. The director and actresses made this all possible. Not only the Palm d’Or but the FIRPESCI jury awarded this film best of all. 

Kechiche said that the film is not about homosexuality but love, echoed by Sedoux and Exarchopolous. Clearly they need to look at their own film again. Perhaps Kechiche is afraid of the film only playing to LGBT festivals but given the award from the hands of Spielberg and the overwhelming enthusiam in the Grand Lumiere Theatre when the award was announced, he had better rethink the message of his film.

Last week I interviewed the actors from "Stranger by the Lake" for Movie Magazine International  that won this year’s Queer Palm award, and also best directing by Alain Guiraudie. One exceptional review in Ecran Noir compares his work to the French direcotrs to Jean Eustache, Luc Moullet and Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu. French has a fantastic word that is seldom used in English :
'dithyrambique' or dithrambic  - a Dionysian tribute lauded on this French director , used in this review. Meaning France is the birthplace of cinema and the work of the masters are a blueprint by which each newcomer is judged. 

The short film directors are tomorrow’s leading auteur. When guest of honor Kim Novak awarded the Grand Prix to Llewyn Davis she said beforehand whoever one that prize would be standing behind an exceptional film, just as she did with Vertigo.

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