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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“I had this friend who was my roommate for a while. She seemed really normal in every way except that she wouldn’t buy shampoo. She would only use my shampoo. And after a year it’s like, “When are you going to buy your own shampoo?” It was her way of digging in her heels. It was a certain sense of entitlement, or a certain anger. It was so interesting to me why she wouldn’t buy her own fucking shampoo. It was like,“I’m gonna use yours.” It was coming from a place of “You have more money than me, I just know it”—whether I did or I didn’t. Or maybe she felt, “You have a better life than me,” or “You have a better room than me in the apartment.” It was hostile. And she was a really close friend! There was never any other shampoo and I knew she was washing her hair. And clearly I have a thing about shampoo, as we see in ‘Friends with Money.’ I had some nice shampoo. So I found that psychologically so interesting how a person can function normally in every way and yet have this aberrance—it’s like a skip in the record. It was a sense of entitlement, I think. I put that in Olivia’s character, too, with her stealing someone’s face cream.”
Nicole Holofcener

“When books become a thing, they can no longer be fine.

“Literary people get mad at Knausgård the same way they get mad at Jonathan Franzen, a writer who, if I’m being honest, might be fine. I’m rarely honest about Jonathan Franzen. He’s an extremely annoying manI have only read bits and pieces of his novels, and while I’ve stopped reading many novels even though they were pretty good or great, I have always stopped reading Jonathan Franzen’s novels because I thought they were aggressively boring and dumb and smug. But why do I think this? I didn’t read him when he was a new interesting writer who wrote a couple of weird books and then hit it big with ‘The Corrections,’ a moment in which I might have picked him up with curiosity and read with an open mind; I only noticed him once, after David Foster Wallace had died, he became the heir apparent for the Great American Novelist position, once he had had that thing with Oprah and started giving interviews in which he said all manner of dumb shit; I only noticed him well after I had been told he was An Important Writer.

“So I can’t and shouldn’t pretend that I am unmoved by the lazily-satisfied gentle arrogance he projects or when he is given license to project it by the has-the-whole-world-gone-crazy development of him being constantly crowned and re-crowned as Is He The Great American Writer. What I really object to is this, and if there’s anything to his writing beyond it, I can’t see it and can’t be bothered. Others read him and tell me he’s actually a good writer—people whose critical instincts I have learned to respect—so I feel sure that he’s probably a perfectly fine, that his books are fine, and that probably even his stupid goddamned bird essays are probably also fine.

“But it’s too late. He has become a thing; he can’t be fine.”
~ Aaron Bady