By Jake Howell jake.howell@utoronto.ca

Wrapping Cannes 70

Can a filmmaker intentionally write an ending so grating it ruins the movie? Should a performer be stopped because their performance becomes violent and unsafe? By its very artistic ambition, does the performance require its audience to stop the artist from becoming violent?

These are questions Ruben Östlund’s magnificent The Square leaves as its too-long conclusion reaches its final moments. This ending left a lot of viewers deflated—for two hours, the film fills you with the feeling you’re seeing something truly special. Another half hour, though… well, that this now-Palme d’Or-winning art goes too far (and comes across so anticlimactic) is entirely the point: A film this prismatic could never be a perfect Square.

It’s good to put Cannes 70 to bed after festival attendees tired of taking sides in a suggested debate between “cinema” and Netflix (as if they were diametrically opposed). And with the final awards ceremony complete, we can now confirm Jury President Pedro Almodóvar (how fun is that to say?) was true to his word: the streaming service took home zero awards, even when it was rumored a few days ago the director signed some sort of production deal with Netflix. (Maybe the announcement was a way of shirking potential conflicts of interest?)

For Best Actor, Joaquin Phoenix accepted on behalf of Lynne Ramsey’s You Were Never Really Here, the final film in Competition, which wound up wowing exhausted critics.

Similarly, Diane Kruger’s first German-language production (Fatih Akin’s In The Fade) was deemed the Jury’s Best Actress prize. My only issue is that the race was limited to begin with—indeed, jury member Jessica Chastain found it “quite disturbing” that the festival had a dearth of female representation on screen.

There was a tie for Best Screenplay: You Were Never Really Here (which I was unable to see) was neck-and-neck with The Kiling of a Sacred Deer, one of the most divisive films this year. Given that Sacred Deer’s dialogue is as striking as its visuals, I can’t wait to see Ramsey’s latest to see what’s in store.

It’s wonderful to see Sofia Coppola take Best Director for her remake of The Beguiled. The filmmaker has been booed at Cannes (like many masters before), so to see her take a major award is great (especially when it’s a trophy a woman hasn’t held since 1961).

The Festival’s Jury Prize went to Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless, which is a totally respectable prize for a totally respectable movie. I didn’t meet a single critic at Cannes that disliked the film; folks were either moderately cool on the film’s themes, which are heavy-handed, or deeply impressed by their gravity. No one debates its technical feats, however: the film is a cold stunner.

The Grand Prize was more predictable—at least in that Robin Campillo’s 120BPM (120 Beats per Minute) felt guaranteed to be on the board with something. It’s political, it’s timely, it’s accomplished, it’s French: the ingredients for a Cannes prize-winner. But don’t let me reduce its win: The film is a powerful, compassionate drama.

The Square, though. I can’t wait for actual audiences to see it. I can’t wait to discuss its many possible interpretations. It’s one of the best Palme decisions in years.

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“We’re all going to die so it makes it very easy. I haven’t always thought that way but I’ve realized it’s the truth. I think age gets you there, questioning your mortality… When you realize that, it’s so liberating, it’s so free, you can fly! There’s no need to hold on to anything. Like, think of the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you; it’s probably happened to 500 million people as well. Who gives a shit!”
~ Steve McQueen

“Let’s lay it right on the line. Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today. But, unlike a team of costumed super-villains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot, or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them—to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are. The bigot is an unreasoning hater—one who hates blindly, fanatically, indiscriminately. If his hang-up is black men, he hates ALL black men. If a redhead once offended him, he hates ALL redheads. If some foreigner beat him to a job, he’s down on ALL foreigners. He hates people he’s never seen—people he’s never known—with equal intensity—with equal venom. Now, we’re not trying to say it’s unreasonable for one human being to bug another. But, although anyone has the right to dislike another individual, it’s totally irrational, patently insane to condemn an entire race—to despise an entire nation—to vilify an entire religion. Sooner or later, we must learn to judge each other on our own merits. Sooner or later, if man is ever to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill out hearts with tolerance. For then, and only then, will we be truly worthy of the concept that man was created in the image of God–a God who calls us ALL—His children.”
~ Stan Lee, 1965