Most of my Cannes pieces this year originated at Doug Cummings’ superb Los Angeles-based site, www.filmjourney.org.
I have been extremely fortunate to attend every festival except one in the last nineteen years. One thing you learn, trying to summarize your feelings about a given year, is ultimately, you have to go your own way making artistic and aesthetic judgments.
The festival has many pieces and parts, not always smoothly arranged. I saw nearly forty films, and that still seems insufficient to adjudicate, critically, the programming—the competition, the official selection, the parallel programs in Un Certain Regard, Quinzaine and Critics' Week. For instance, I saw next to nothing in the Quinzaine, or Directors’ Fortnight.
We hand out instant grades, or analysis, of a given work though it is necessary to point out how some films actively resist this. More and more, I think, Cannes is like the professional drafts in football or basketball. It is impossible to weigh in the present.
The competition is what sets the discourse. This year’s, I thought, with a couple of exceptions, was distinctive and strong. For the second straight year, the professional jury made the right call on its Palme d’Or, as Turkish master Nuri Bilge Ceylan won the top prize with his painterly, demanding, extraordinary Winter Sleep. The new Jean-Luc Godard feature, Adieu au language, seventy-minutes of awe and wonder in 3-D, transported the festival, as did first-rate new works by Olivier Assayas, Mike Leigh, Abderrahmane Sissako, Andrey Zvyagintsev and David Cronenberg.
From one to eighteen, this is how I’d rate the competition titles.
Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan) A+
Adieu au language (Jean-Luc Godard) A+
Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas) A
Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev) A-
Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh) A-
Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako) A-
Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg) A-
Two Days, One Night (The Dardenne brothers) B+
Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller) B
The Wonders (Alice Rohrwacher) B
Mommy (Xavier Dolan) B
Saint Laurent (Bertrand Bonello) B-
Wild Tales (Damián Szifron) B-
The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones) C+
Jimmy's Hall (Ken Loach) C
The Captive (Atom Egoyan) C-
Still the Water (Naomi Kawase) C-
The Search (Michel Hazanavicius) D
Of course, many times your immediate impulse is dead on. No matter how much time passes or the context, Atom Egoyan's The Captive or Michel Hazanavicius’ ill-labored The Search, are going to be recognized as just being flat out bad movies. Every festival has those. The hope is that you limit them.
I have left out the older works I saw in the Cannes Classics and the tribute screening, in the Quinzaine, of Alain Resnais’ terrific Providence. These are the other titles I saw, in various programs, what I thought of them, at least on a single viewing. I am arranging them by the order I saw them.
The Lovely Girl (Keren Yedaya) C-
The Blue Room (Mathieu Amalric) B+
Red Army (Gabe Polsky) C+
White God (Kornél Mundruczó) B-
It Follows (David Robert Mitchell) B
Jauja (Lisandro Alonso) A
The Rover (David Michôd) B
Queen and Country (John Boorman) B
Bird People (Pascale Ferran) A-
Lost River (Ryan Gosling) B-
Snow in Paradise (Andrew Hulme) C-
Charlie's Country (Rolf de Heer) B
The Tribe (Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy) A-
Party Girl (Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger, Samuel Theis) C+
Les combattants (Thomas Cailley) B+
Regrets are unavoidable. The top of my list are what I missed: Maidan, Sergei Loznitsa’s documentary Ukraine; Turist, or Force majeure, by Ruben Östlund; Jessica Hausner’s Amou fou; and Nadav Lapid’s The Kindergarten Teacher. I wished I’d seen those. Another time.
Even when Cannes is disappointing, the films cautious or familiar or just not terrible exciting, the experience is still exhilarating. Even if the films never match the expectations (or more significantly, fail to warrant the increasingly huge resources necessary to attend), Cannes remains essential.
Photo of Mike Leigh's Mr. Turner, with Timothy Spall, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics and Cannes Film festival.