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Doin’ Cannes: Un certain regard and all the rest

“Un certain regard” is not easy to translate into English, as if it was something English speakers couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do. “A certain glance” is an approximation, but I think I would go for the Bergerian “A Way of Seeing”. It is the section in the Festival devoted to films which are not quite pertinent in the Official Selection, for some obscure reason.

The truth is criteria are not very clear. For years, it was claimed films in Un certain regard were more personal, perhaps more off beat, less straightforward. But year after year, there are puzzling exceptions, as these qualifications depend so much on subjective notions, so better let it be. They’re great films anyway, and as I did in my previous post on the Official Selection the recommendation is that you give them all a chance when they come your way. Among other pleasures, these films are mostly from little known or unknown directors who have fresh perspectives on the world.

My personal favourite among this year’s Un Certain Regard entries is Laurent Cantet L’Atelier, which explores the role of the artist in society using the context of a writer’s workshop close to a town that has felt the ravages of neoliberal politics and, a bit as in the Spanish film Mondays in the Sun, has seen its working class culture disappear as a consequence. Cantet is good at grounding himself in vividly real situations and squeeze them for broader political implications, as he did in the masterful Entre les murs.  Santiago Mestre’s La cordillera also starts from a gathering, this time of Latin American politicians, to explore the links between the personal and political situation.

A sense of questioning about contemporary issues is present in most entries. And nothing is as urgent, as damaging to our sense of rightness as European citizens as the immigration crisis, also well represented in the Official Selection. So a number of films have to do with moving, losing roots, rejection, culture clashes. In this group, I am especially looking forward to György Kristof’s Out, which adopts a historical perspective to show how some people can be left behind. A middle aged Slovak shipyard worker wanders around Eastern Europe after losing his job. A similar sense of despair is conveyed by the Bulgarian road movie Directions (Stephan Kommandarev). Rootlessness is also the theme of Mohammad Rossoulof’s Lerd (A Man of Integrity), an Iranian film on the tension between the urban and the rural in traditional societies, and Li Ruijun’s Walking Past the Future, on Chinese workers starting a new life in one of the country’s mega-cities. Valeska’s Grisebach’s Western shows a group of German workers displaced to a Bulgarian site to do manual work. Excited at first, they will have to confront their own prejudices and the consequences of cultural clashes.

Outside this selection, Vannessa Redgrave’s documentary on refugee’s camps Sea Sorrow and Bonni Cohen and Jon Shank’s follow up to An Inconvenient Truth, titled of course An Inconvenient Sequel seem set to generate debate and open our eyes. Also among Special Screenings, don´t miss Techine’s Nous annes folles and Anahita Ghazvinizadeh’s They, both on the experience of trans people.

Another group of films in Un certain regard, focuses on women. Often forgotten or marginalized, in the West but particularly in more traditional cultures, the situation of woman characters is good material for drama. Cannes 2017 boasts an unusually high percentage of women filmmakers and promises precise, emotional and political exploration of women’s lives. Leonor Seraille’s Jeune Femme, from France, and Sergio Castellito‘s Fortunata, from Italy, show the western perspective of working women. La novia del desierto, looks like an exciting exploration of transnationality and is an Argentinean-Chilean coproduction directed by two women: Ceciliá Atán and Valeria Pivato. It stars Paulina García, the exceptional Chilean actress from Gloria, and shows a woman adrift after she loses everything. A good tandem with Kristof’s entry. Other films explore women’s experience focusing on violence (the Tunisian Beauty and the Dogs) or strained relations between mother and daughter (the Mexican Las hijas de Abril).

Beyond the competitive sections, some outstanding films will be shown at Cannes, which works as a catalogue of what the season will have to offer. Few films at the Festival have raised the expectations of Arnaud Desplechin’s Les fantômes d’Ismaël, about a film director haunted by a love affair, with a strong cast including Mathieu Almaric, Louis Garrel, Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsburg.

John Cameron Mitchell makes a rare appearance with How To Talk To Girls At Parties, on the history of punk culture, which seems to have link with his cheeky, radical stories in previous films such as Hedwig or Shortbus. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s offer is a virtual instalation, in coproduction between the USA and Mexico on the experience of immigration. Hard to know what to expect from the descriptions available, but then again Iñárritu’s recent films (Birdman,  The Revenant) were a bit like installations anyway, so I’m curious. A number of films can be promising just because of their setting: A Prayer Before Down, directed by Jean Stephane Sauvaire takes place in a Thai prison where its protagonist takes up competitive boxing. It may just be sensationalist or a hard hitting thriller. Byun Sung-Hyun ‘s Bulhandang could be a typically effective example of South Korea genre cinema, involving gangs.  And nobody does genre more entertainingly then Takashi Miike, which seems to revisit the wuxia genre with Blade of the Immortal. That and the opportunity to watch Jane Campion’s second season to Top of the Lake and, at last, the first episodes of David Lynch’s new Twin Peaks.

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