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Doin’ Cannes: The Official Selection

The Official Selection is Cannes’ big league and it attempts to provide a general overview of the best films all over the world. Their idea of “best” may not be everybody’s and Cannes has always resisted pressures (rightly in my opinion) to feature filmmaking that could be too commercial and attempts a healthy balance between films which are artistic and others which may be simply attractive even if flawed.

Old acquaintances

Cannes selection committee has its favourite sons and their films come back to this rection regularly. There is a kind of loyalty in the system and the Festival is militantly auteurist, so even if stars are great, it is really the director’s name that matters. This year, some Festival darlings make it back: Michael Haneke, Todd Haynes, Yorgos Lanthimos, Naomi Kawase, Takashi Miike, Arnaud Deplechin, Michel Hazanavizius, Sangsoo Hong, Sofia Coppola, Lurent Cantet, Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Andrej Zvyagintsev are all either in the Official Selection or in Un certain regard (Xavier Dolan is still sulking after last year’s questioned award), with names like Campion, Lynch, Kiarostami, Roman Polanksi or Alejandro G. Iñárritu elsewhere in the Festival. It goes without saying that this year’s selection is exciting: it always is. Cannes Official Selection defines “exciting” in terms of cinema. Even if the films are not as good as they could be, they will be the one at the center of attention, the ones that represent the state of the art.

Many commentators have chosen their favourite for the coveted Palm D’Or, the most prestigious film award in the world, and this is Michel Haneke. Haneke has won twice already, and a third time might be a bit too much, but he is now reached a stage in which tributes are expected and very few directors of his age are active. His film has a starry cast (Huppert, Kassovitz, Trintignant) and is about a bourgeois family against the background of the refugee crisis in Calais. After the quiet, slightly solipsistic, Amour, we might be brought back to the moral conundrums and mysteries of the wonderful Caché. I do hope this family gathering brings back the mysantropic, panic stricken, Germanic Haneke rather than the one more sophisticated in a French kind of way and mostly concerned about psychology.

Personal Favourites

Although I haven’t seen other films by him, I am also looking forward to Kornel Munruczó’s Jupiter’s Moon, about an immigrant who develops some kind of supernatural powers. The description reminds me of Tarkovsky with a social conscience, and as you can see there is a certain topicality. It is encouraging that so many films this year have found ways to think through immigration, border crossing and the moral torpitude that is signaled by our reluctance to deal with refugees.

Descriptions can be misguiding, so my recommendations tend to be based on the better known filmmakers, but I am also looking forward to Robin Campillo’s 120 battements par minute. Campillo has contributed to scripts of films by Laurent Cantet, one of my favourite French directors, in particula the wonderful The Class, and this is a film about Act Up and their campaigns during the dark 1990s, when thousands were dying, victims were terrified, governments silent and pharmaceutical corporations were unwilling to help AIDS patients. Finally, the story of Krotkaya, a Russian film by Sergei Loznitsa is promising as it seems to explore the less savoury aspects of the current Russian regime telling a story about a woman trying to visit her husband in jail that oddly reminded me of Kafka’s The Castle.

People we love

And from the (for me) unknown, to artists I relate to. We all have one favourite director that, whether we like or not their ouvre, we would like to get to know, to have dinner (or karaoke) with. Mine is Todd Haynes. Somehow he seems to speak my language in terms of what film should be about, how movies work. His contribution this year, after the subtle pleasures of Carol, is an adaptation of a Young Adult novel I must confess I frowned when I read about this. Wonderstruck is about doubles and young kids from different periods developing some kind of connection. Who knows, Haynes could make it work. Then again it could be too, er, young-adultish for me. And there is also Sofia Coppola and a new version of the Don Siegel film The Beguiled. I have a soft spot for the latter and this gives me some concern, but then again I think about The Virgin Suicides and realise that Coppola  has the right tone to make this into something different and very interesting. And even if I know his work less, I am also looking forward to the tensions and relaxed rhythms of Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless. On paper it sounds a bit Kramer vs Kramer to me, but I’m sure Zvyagintsev will appropriate the story about the child of divorced parents and will find fascinating reverberations.

Yorgos Lanthimos does intriguing and pedantic, and the summary for The Killing of a Sacred Deer could go either way. The cast, which includes Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell (who is also in Coppola’s film) and Alicia Silverstone, is probably not a good sign. Then again I like demented plot summaries, and every time I read about this, it looks more bonkers. So again, I am getting up early and attending the 8.30 am screening. It might make me feel like I’m still sleeping. Finally, Hong Song-Soo is actually good at the personal and emotional malaise at the core of the description of The Day After (about marital unease and middle age sehnsucht), so thumbs up for that one as well.

Some maybes

As for the rest, there may be great surprises and duds. Cinephiles are divided into people who adore Jean Luc Godard and those who feel somewhat more detached, and they are also divided between those who thought The Artist was cute and brilliant and those who asssumed its success was due to the macho tactics of Harvey Weinstein. I am in the second group in both dychotomies, and therefore not really looking forward to Michel Hazanavicious’ Le redoutable, his take on a period of Godard’s life (the director is played by Louis Garrell) in the late 1960s when he was shooting La chinoise. Godard himself has already dimissed the effort as silly. Which actually piqued my curiosity.

Naomi Kawase is becoming a Cannes fixture, but I suspect it is because she fits some kind of cliché for art cinema, manging to be both aesthetic and soft hearted. I find it hard to connect to emotions which are produced rather than offered to me. Her film this year is Hikari, and features a young girl and a photographer going blind, one of the metaphors aging filmmakers tend to gravitate about. We’ll see. I am also more wary than optimistic about Bong Joon-Ho’s Okja, produced by Netflix (becoming a big player in the world cinema market nowadays). Bong can be good, but this one sounds like a sentimental version of King Kong with a little girl rather than Fay Wray, and somehow I don´t think we’re up to another enjoyable treat like Snowpiercer.  I also have reservations about the biopic on Rodin, Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stores, Benny Safdie’s thriller Good Time and Ozon’s L’amant double (although it could end up being deliciously bonkers as well), but I will do everything I can to get to see them. After all it’s Cannes and Cannes always matters.

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