Ah, the Festival de Cannes (or Cawww-nes, if you want to get all faux-pretentious about it). It’s the apex of high film culture, a bourgeois celebration of the cinema (not “movies”; that’s crass) that takes place along a sparkling European beachfront that James Bond might frequent. Accordingly, Cannes is also the most unattainable film festival that I can think of. Seriously, does anybody other than journalists, industry people, and Saudi princes attend this thing? Not even all journalists are allowed, as yours truly found out when his e-mails requesting accreditation went unanswered (on second thought, maybe I shouldn’t have sent it from my firstname.lastname@example.org account… oh, well).
Who am I kidding though? We all still love Cannes. The glitz, the glamour – it’s all a very classy old-school demonstration of celebrity. But most of all, they always have an amazing line-up of hotly anticipated new films that basically sets the course for the rest of the year. Guests may not be allowed to take selfies on the red carpet anymore (more on that later), but the people in charge sure love and respect the art of film.
So here’s my preview of the 2015 edition of Cannes, as I sit here in my Toronto apartment, staring out the window at the brick wall of a subway station, fantasizing about strolling down la Croisette with Gerard Depardieu. Not talking or anything… just strolling.
Art directors exploring their genre sides
Cannes has often welcomed artsy genre pics before – just look at when Nicolas Winding Refn won the Best Director prize for Drive four years ago. But this year seems to feature a higher than usual number of lauded international directors debuting films that tip right over into fantastical territory. Bizarro Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, who broke out with Dogtooth and Alps, brings his epic futuristic sci-fi love story, The Lobster, to the festival, which features Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, and John C. Reilly. Meanwhile, Italian director Matteo Garrone (of the much-acclaimed Gomorrah) jumps into the horror-fantasy world with The Tale of Tales, an F/X heavy fairy tale adaptation with Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel and, again, John C. Reilly. And then there’s also Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien, a specialist in quiet and naturalistic dramas, switching gears with his expansive martial arts saga, The Assassin.
So it looks like festival attendees who are craving a big-budget genre fix won’t just be relegated to lining up for the Mad Max premiere.
International filmmakers making English-language debuts
Alongside Lanthimos and Garrone, there are a handful of other international directors making their English-language debuts, often with star-studded casts. After the Oscar acclaim of The Great Beauty, Paolo Sorrentino now brings his Michael Caine-starring Youth to the festival, about a retired orchestra conductor who is invited to perform for the Queen. Danish director Joachim Trier, who made the beautifully heartfelt Reprise and Oslo, August 31st, appears with his family drama, Louder Than Bombs, starring Jesse Eisenberg, Gabriel Byrne, Amy Ryan and David Strathairn.
Actresses making an impact as directors
Long has been the tradition of actors eventually wanting to take up the camera and make their own film, and Cannes has generally been pretty receptive to that. This year, however, sees three actresses making a mark with entries of their own. First off, French actress Emmanuelle Bercot’s latest directorial effort, Standing Tall, with Catherine Deneuve, was chosen as the opening night film – the first time a female director has opened Cannes since 1987. Bercot also stars in her friend Maïwenn’s fourth feature, Mon roi. Also a French actress originally, Maïwenn made a splash at Cannes a couple of years ago with Polisse and has been picking up speed ever since.
And then, of course, we can’t forget about Natalie Portman, making her directorial debut with A Tale of Love and Darkness, a Hebrew language coming-of-age story set in Jerusalem in the 1940s and ‘50s. It’s a pretty ambitious project for Portman, one which could go either very well or very very poorly, as can often happen with American actors stepping behind the camera for the first time at Cannes. Just ask Ryan Gosling after last year…
Canadian fare is typically warmly invited to the festival. Cronenberg and Egoyan are Cannes mainstays, and in recent years, Xavier Dolan has been the talk of the town. Just last year alone saw Maps to the Stars, The Captive (cough, cough) and Mommy all competing for the Palme d’Or, while Stéphane Lafleur’s Tu dors Nicole snagged a Director’s Fortnight slot. And yet this year, there isn’t a single Canadian title to be found throughout the whole lineup. Maybe none of our big guns had anything ready in time for this year’s selection (although Egoyan did just finish up his new film, Remember) or maybe anything that was submitted just wasn’t deemed good enough to make the cut.
In any case, our only representation comes from Denis Villeneuve, who brings his American-produced drug cartel thriller Sicario to the festival, which is sure to be awesome and is sure to inspire many of us patriots to claim it as our own.
Lastly, it’s important to note that Thierry Fremaux is quite disturbed by the increase in people taking selfies on the red carpet. He stated that selfies are “extremely ridiculous and grotesque” and he hopes to discourage guests from taking them. So to anyone going, be on the lookout for Old Man Thierry or he might just confiscate your phone. This seems like the perfect moment for Lars von Trier to sneak in with a selfie stick and go wild.
Reporting from behind my computer desk in my apartment, far away from France, this is Mark Hanson for Toronto Film Scene.