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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“A shot is a story. A shot on its own should be a piece of a story. Which is why I talk a lot about watching films, even the films we’re working on, with the sound off. Just to analyze how the film works, because a film should work for an audience without any sound. The biggest problem I see is that someone may have a superficial understanding of what a shot is propositionally, but they don’t have an understanding of how all of these shots are part of a family that needs to connect, and so you’ll get something that’s like a sentence arranged poorly with six nouns in a row. That surprises me, because I think that’s something that can be learned. Some things can’t be, but that can. It’s a grammar. In a classroom I could walk somebody through the difference between a sequence in which the filmmaker has a deep understanding of how images connect, and someone who doesn’t. It’s not really an intellectual process. Some people are just born with it and are just sort of savants at that deep mathematical understanding of shot construction.  I’m better than I used to be, but there are some people I’m just never going to catch. Spielberg. His staging ability. I’m never going to catch him. But when you’re trying to figure out how to get better—I’m not competitive in the sense of looking around at other filmmakers and comparing myself to them. What I do have to think about in trying to navigate myself through a career is: what can I get better at, and what do I have that I can enhance that somebody else doesn’t have?”
~ Steven Soderbergh

“It’s not going to be huge. He and I had been corresponding for a while. When I finally met him, he said, ‘We should collaborate.’ When John Ashbery says that to you, you don’t say when, you just say yes. It has not been easy to conjure this out of nothing. Sean Price Williams and I spent time with him, and it will appear on FilmStruck before the year is out…. I have figured out how to streamline things. I still have dreams of making movies with bigger budgets, and they might be considered to have more of a voice in pop culture. I don’t want to let go of that. I also realize that you grow up a lot of your life with wishful thinking and waiting. I have figured out ways to avoid doing that. I am working on a bigger movie about Nikola Tesla, set in the past, so it is not an easy film to make. I am also working on an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s ‘White Noise.’ That seems more likely to catch fire.”
Michael Almereyda Steps It Up