By Jake Howell jake.howell@utoronto.ca

Cannes 68: A Wrap

It was a Festival divided from the outset. Critical consensus was out the window from Film 1 to Film 19—not that we’re looking for that—but it made getting a handle on the Competition vibe the trickiest it’s been since 2010.

DHEEPAN - Still 1

But the 68th Festival de Cannes wrapped today just the same, with Joel and Ethan Coen’s jury giving Jacques Audiard a Palme d’Or for Dheepan, a tiger-out-of-jungle immigrant drama that feels like a Parisian History of Violence. Audiard is worthy of a Palme; A Prophet and Rust and Bone are both excellent films that could have won the same title.

But Audiard’s latest rough-and-tumble drama gets in quickly with its emotional claw: actor Antonythasan Jesuthasan plays the title role with a complex sadness. He plays a former Tamil Tiger man caught in a bad neighborhood with his family to feed, and there’s a strong motif related to elephants in the film. Audiard continues to cut away to shots of the endangered species—and it recalls the sense that Dheepan is one: gentle, emotional, but will charge when provoked.

Second place was to the remarkable Son of Saul, Laszlo Nemes’ feature debut that used a shallow focus 35mm aesthetic to capture the horrors of the Auschwitz Sonderkommando. It doesn’t need a Grand Prix to be remembered down the road, but this is a Good Call by the jury—this is art.

Stewing in an awkward third place bisque is Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, which had a great shot at something higher if its ending wasn’t marred by an exhaustion of ideas. There were some good laughs here, and Lanthimos is definitely operating on a level that remains something to write home about, but this win feels more to celebrate the film’s oddities—it stood out from the relatively safe Competition.

Hardcore cinephiles felt ripped off when favorite Hou Hsiao-hsien took home only Best Director for The Assassin, a wuxia drama that arrived on the Croisette after many years of production. It’s filled with rich photography that beguiled critics here, despite a story that left some confused.

The “Best Script” award at Cannes seems to be the strangest one to call—how can you comment on say, some Turkish screenwriting when you only speak English or French, really?—but it went to Michel Franco for Chronic, a film that takes Tim Roth’s male nurse character on a milk run of uncomfortable scenarios. I can see this, actually; a lot of the film’s dialogue takes place off screen, so you might not actually notice it as much as a normal shot-reverse-shot, but the voices are quite natural. But is the prize for believable dialogue or “emotional events that are hard to watch?” Tough call; either way, expect to either love or hate it—or, if you’re like me, walk out feeling punished and apathetic.

I’m pleased with the acting trophies this year, save for Emmanuelle Bercot in Mon Roi, a forgettable French romance. Bercot shares the Best Actress award with Rooney Mara’s tender turn in Carol (who will Harvey push for the Oscar, Blanchett or…?). Mara outclasses Bercot by a country mile, but I’m pleased Todd Haynes’ masterful new film got something to take home. Vincent Lindon, the spotlight show in Stephane Brize’s The Measure of a Man, was a sure bet for an acting prize outside of Tim Roth. Lindon plays a down-on-his-luck security guard who is forced to make some tough calls in the grey areas of a supermarket, and it’s a stirring performance.

But that’s it. It’s all over. Despite major scattershot impressions throughout the Festival, the films that remained afloat or alive in the conversation are, for the most part, the films that were given prizes—a silver lining, or perhaps validation. Thanks for reading.

Other awards:

Caméra d’Or: Land And Shade by Cesar Augusto Acevedo

Palme d’Or, Best Short Film: Waves 98 by Ely Dagher

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“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
James Gray

“I’m an unusual producer because I control the destiny of a lot of the films I’ve done. Most of them are in perfect states of restoration and preservation and distribution, and I aim to keep them in distribution. HanWay Films, which is my sales company, has a 500-film catalogue, which is looked after and tended like a garden. I’m still looking after my films in the catalogue and trying to get other people to look after their films, which we represent intellectually, to try to keep them alive. A film has to be run through a projector to be alive, unfortunately, and those electric shadows are few and far between now. It’s very hard to go and see films in a movie house. I was always involved with the sales and marketing of my films, right up from The Shout onwards. I’ve had good periods, but I also had a best period because the film business was in its best period then. You couldn’t make The Last Emperor today. You couldn’t make The Sheltering Sky today. You couldn’t make those films anymore as independent films. There are neither the resources nor the vision within the studios to go to them and say, “I want to make a film about China with no stars in it.”Then, twenty years ago, I thought, “OK, I’m going to sell my own films but I don’t want to make it my own sales company.” I wanted it to be for me but I wanted to make it open for every other producer, so they don’t feel that they make a film but I get the focus. So, it’s a company that is my business and I’m involved with running it in a certain way, but I’m not seen as a competitor with other people that use it. It’s used by lots of different producers apart from me. When I want to use it, however, it’s there for me and I suppose I’m planning to continue making all my films to be sold by HanWay. I don’t have to, but I do because it’s in my building and the marketing’s here, and I can do it like that. Often, it sounds like I’m being easy about things, but it’s much more difficult than it sounds. It’s just that I’ve been at it for a long time and there’s lots of fat and security around my business. I know how to make films, but it’s not easy—it’s become a very exacting life.”
~ Producer Jeremy Thomas