Every morning at the festival, those in the know (journalists, market people or the wily groupie) can walk into any of the big hotels on the Croisette and pick up free daily glossies that catalogue all the news and photos of the latest happenings at Cannes. They are an indispensable running history of the whole bash. With all that’s written daily for 10 days in all those publications, how can one summarize the whole shebang in one column? I shall try.
So here’s the third and final lowdown, from my vantage point, of this year’s Cannes saga. First of all, I must mention how impressed I am each year by the organization of this massive festival. It works as smooth as butter, starting at the top, with the departing president, Gilles Jacob, who at 84 will be leaving a great legacy of almost 40 years of innovation. Then there is the all-important artistic director, Thierry Frémaux, who is everywhere all the time, introducing films, stars and events as if in his own backyard, relaxed, knowledgeable and congenial to one and all. There is the press group, headed by Christine Aimé and her hard-working team, helping the 4,000-plus journalists, when they can – there is a lot of grumbling, but the numbers of attendees are too huge to satisfy all.
There is the even bigger Marché du Film team, and let’s not forget all the guards, security people and cleaning teams (whom Frémaux asked to come up on the stage of the Certain Regard auditorium on the final day). Moreover, every film screening starts on time! Above all, there’s the glamorous red-carpet parade of stars and celebs ascending the steps of the Palais every evening, with frantic bow-tied (obligatory) photographers and screaming fans on the Croisette. It’s an incredibly well-run machine, and all its parts deserve due credit.
With 18 international films in competition and press conferences with the cast following each of them, it’s all quite hectic. A master-class with Sophia Loren proved to be a wonderful interlude. As a special guest of the festival for her son Edoardo Ponti’s film, Human Voice, in which she stars, she agreed to a Q&A with a moderator. Looking quite glorious for her 79 years – she herself announced that she was turning 80 in September – she started off somewhat timidly, but her inherent warmth and class came through as she watched clips of her old films with the likes of Mastroianni, De Sica and Cary Grant, nostalgia dispelling her anxiety. It was a lesson in the talent, perseverance, yet down-to-earth modesty of a legendary star.
You probably know the winning films by now – the Palme d’Or went to the Turkish film Winter Sleep, a 3.16 hour-long meditation on the meaning of life, relationships, poverty vs. wealth and the human soul, in a talky Bergmanesque-Chekhovian reverie that is more art than entertainment.
As usual, my favourites were not in that line-up (except for Bennett Miller, best director for Foxcatcher), but it’s well known that festival prizes often go to pseudo-intellectual, twisted creations, rather than to more digestible ones.
I would have given the Palme to Abderrahmane Sissako’s poetic and relevant Timbuktu, about the tragic effects of Islamic fanaticism in Africa. Or Wim Wenders’ magnificent documentary, The Salt of the Earth, on Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, which should have been in the competition (it was shown and won in the Certain Regard). I would have given best actor award to the ensemble cast of Foxcatcher, especially Steve Carell, playing against type, as John du Pont. My choice for Grand Jury prize would have been the socially conscious, dark comedy from Argentina, Wild Tales/Relatos Salvajes, and not the limp Italian Meraviglie, which received it.
The other standouts for me were Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall, about past Irish Catholic tensions (which strangely mirror much of what is going on today in the Middle East), and The Search, a strong anti-war film concerning Chechnya, from Michel Hazanavicius (who last made the award-winning The Artist). I would warn you against Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars, an utterly sick, perverse view of Hollywood – one walks out feeling soiled for having watched it.
This year was actually a good cru, with a mostly westward-looking line-up. However, Cannes is not a festival for the public (except for the free nightly screenings of classic films on the beach, weather permitting), but a huge engine for the stars, press and the cinema industry, a launching pad for their products. It hits you daily, seeing the stream of people standing outside the Palais holding signs asking for tickets to the films. Without accreditation, there is no way you can get into the bunker, as the Palais is called, or the tented village along the sea with the multitude of national pavilions which have their terraces facing the beach, often hosting cocktail parties at the end of the day. Cannes is simply a grueling – and glorious – three-ring-circus for insiders celebrating the 7th art.
So if you want to see films easily or approach the stars, better attend festivals such as Locarno in August or Zurich in late September. They may be less glamorous, but are less hassle and really public-friendly. We are, after all, well-placed here in Switzerland.