The perennial question: how was it?
First, I am reminded of a story a friend related in one of the first years I covered the festival. He was explaining, in detail, about a close friend who was having a brutally difficult festival, from trying to deal with his uncomprehending and staggeringly ill-informed editors to scheduled interviews that went south and movies that apparently left him rather unfulfilled.
My friend was about halfway through with the story. He suddenly stopped, paused and considered his friend’s plight and what he was saying. His tone and look got deadly serious.
“You’re in the south of France watching films. How bad can it be?”
Was it the greatest Cannes ever? Obviously not. Top to bottom, the competition was not that strong. Part of me could care less. But the great missing piece, as the above anecdote illustrates, is perspective.
For my money, even when Cannes is bad or disappointing, it’s still somehow great.
I mean that as a complete and immersive experience: the way a serious, thoughtful, probing art film is privileged above all else; the chance to find new talent or have your thoughts and feelings about a specific director or actor validated; catching up with friends, especially from other parts of the world, you only see once or twice a year; or best of all, the opportunity of meeting new friends, or just having a chance to talk seriously, passionately and get into a lot of arguments about directors, movies, in all of its bruising, contentious glory.
A lot of directors I care about talk about cinema opening doors. Yet, whenever I am home and having to look at new commercial movies I feel just the opposite, that wonder and possibility is being slammed shut. Imagine the alternative: staying home and having to watch bad Hollywood movies and try to write something interesting or trying to find a different angle on Prince of Persia, the new Shrek, and Sex and the City 2.
For a lot of people Cannes was a disappointment before a single film publicly showed.
The festival was partly to blame, I think, because of the unusual way they announced this year’s program. They moved the official presentation up a week, and left several pieces to the schedule tantalizingly open.
The best film in the festival, Olivier Assayas’s exhilarating Carlos, played out of the official competition. It was one of several titles whose announced appearance was delayed, apparently in this case by various political maneuvering by the different power players, including Canal +.
This has not been a recent Cannes phenomenon. In 1997, the festival’s fiftieth anniversary, Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry, was not officially announced, as I recall, until a full day into the festival. That was more a function of political wrangling between Kiarostami and Iran’s cultural czars who mandated all Iranian films must premiere at the state sanctioned festival in Fadj. It ended up sharing the Palme d’Or with Shohei Imamura’s The Eel.
More recently, Laurent Cantet’s The Class was not part of the original announcement of two years ago. It, too, won the Palme d’Or.
The festival left the door continuously ajar to the possibility of a late “cinema miracle,” as it were. A lot of people nonplussed or unexcited by the original list of competition titles had their hopes simultaneously dashed or their downwardly scaled expectations come all too disappointingly to fruition.
The initial reactions and instant verdicts have been fairly harsh, and those are valid arguments. But my own take is a little more forgiving and optimistic. One problem with the three major European festivals is that is the announcement of the jury prizes have a disproportionate hold over the aesthetic evaluation of the festival.
Cannes is a festival of many layers (and impossible to fully investigate, no matter how diligent). I didn’t see a single Quinzaine or critics’ week film. I saw one movie in the market. (The only Cannes classics’ title I saw was Jean Renoir’s great Boudu Saved from Drowning.)
But I was active. If you consider the Assayas as three films, I saw forty movies. I regret missing the Charles Ferguson documentary, Inside Job, about the financial meltdown, but I’ll have obvious access to that title. The only film I really regret missing was Andrei Ujica’s three-hour The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu.
After enough time has passed, the only thing that anybody will care about is that these movies first appeared at Cannes. At the end, I don’t think it really matters whether the program that facilitated it was competition, official selection out of competition, like Carlos, or Un Certain Regard, that gave us the new Cristi Puiu, the Oliveira, the Godard and Hong Sang-soo.
We’ll just remember that we saw them at Cannes. They bleed together, perhaps, but the disappointments, revelations and surprises bounce off each other.
These were the ten best films I saw at Cannes. I can’t wait to see them again.
Carlos (Olivier Assayas)
Aurora (Cristi Puiu)
Poetry (Lee Chang-dong)
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recount His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weersethakul)
Tuesday, After Christmas (Radu Muntean)
Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami)
The Strange Case of Angelica (Manoel de Oliveira)
Film Socialisme (Jean-Luc Godard)
Another Year (Mike Leigh)
Ha Ha Ha (Hong Sang-soo)