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The inveterate draw of Cannes- Cinema express

The inveterate draw of Cannes

Straight from Cannes to electronic devices near you, our writer brings you the lowdown on one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world

Published: 04th June 2023
The inveterate draw of Cannes

The day after the curtain came down on the 76th Cannes Film Festival, I found myself continuing to watch a couple of remaining films. Not at the hallowed venue, Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, but on my laptop, back in the apartment. One of them, Augure (Omen), is the directorial debut of Baloji, a rapper-turned-filmmaker of Congolese descent. The Belgium-Netherlands-Congo-France-South Africa co-production is a moody, hypnotic, riveting ride through the occult and witchcraft in Africa. It won the New Voice award in the Un Certain Regard section of the festival and is on many a list of the discoveries at Cannes.

You see, as any Cannes regular will tell you, you invariably miss out on some prized titles, despite your best efforts. At this festival, where, as General Delegate of Cannes, Thierry Fremaux, put it, “films are at the heart of the world for two weeks”, it’s impossible to attend every screening, in between all the press conferences, interviews, and parties. This was even more the case this year, with Cannes laying out the choicest picks. From 86-year-old British auteur Ken Loach’s 16th, and possibly last film, The Old Oak, to 36-year-old French-Senegalese filmmaker Ramata-Toulaye Sye’s first feature film, Banel & Adama. From Wes Anderson big ticket Hollywood multi-starrer Asteroid City to the first film from Sudan at Cannes, Mohamed Kordofani’s Goodbye Julia.

For a festival whose lack of gender sensitivity has previously come under the scanner, Cannes posted a record seven films in competition by women filmmakers—Catherine Corsini’s Le Retour, Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall, Ramata-Toulaye Sy’s Banel & Adama, Alice Rohrwacher’s La Chimera, Jessica Hausner’s Club Zero, Kaouther Ben Hania’s Four Daughters and Catherine Breillat’s Last Summer. The highest award, Palme d’Or, went to Triet, the third woman to bag it after Jane Campion’s The Piano in 1993 and Julia Ducournau’s Titane in 2021.

Anatomy of a Fall is a taut police procedural and courtroom drama about a suspicious death but, more than that, a deep dive into the ambiguities that define individuals and relationships. However, the best of the festival belonged to the old guard. Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s polemical, provocative and conversation-driven film about an equivocal man, About Dry Grasses; Hirokazu Kore-eda’s multi-perspective search for the truth about a seemingly sinister situation, Monster; Martin Scorsese’s epic confessional, Killers of the Flower Moon; and Loach’s heart-warming look at Syrian migrants facing the ire of ill-fated, poor British villagers in The Old Oak.

And then were perhaps the most tender, heart-warming, and deeply humane films of them all, and how fitting that they also come from veterans. Wim Wenders finds poetry in the prosaic in Perfect Days and Aki Kaurismaki takes a typically deadpan, yet humourous take on loneliness, longing and love in Fallen Leaves, which won the jury prize and came on the top of Screen International’s critics’ poll. The other critics’ favourite was Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest which topped the Indiewire poll. It also secured the second biggest honour, the Grand Prix. The anti-Nazi film about the indifference of the common people amid the brutality around them seemed to have rung a bell across quite a few countries and cultures.

Cannes is about statements in cinema and by those who make them. As we speak about veterans, how do I forget memorable statements from two legendary filmmakers? When asked about taking risks with his work, Scorsese said: “Apart from taking risks at this stage what else can one do? Let’s do something comfortable. You must be kidding!” Loach was as witty when asked if The Old Oak was his last film. “One day at a time. When you wake up in the morning and don’t find yourself in the obituary, it’s fine,” he said.

And yes, as with any film festival, there were disappointments too, including the opening film, Maïwenn’s Jeanne Du Barry, Pedro Almodovar’s short, A Strange Way of Life, Nanni Moretti’s A Brighter Tomorrow, Jessica Hausner’s Club Zero and above all, Cannes’ ticketing and queuing system that resulted in cinephiles and journalists having to scramble for tickets and then, queueing up for over an hour to enter the theatres.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was at the Cannes opening last year, but this year, there were no such political statements—apart from Russia going missing from the programming. The festival took place in the shadow of two protests in the international film fraternity: anti-pension reforms demonstrations in France, and strikes by the Writers’ Guild of America over a dispute with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). To the credit of the stars, they didn’t shirk from backing such resistance. Ken Loach took a stand against the ban on protests in Cannes; actor Ethan Hawke wore a ‘Pencils Down’ t-shirt in support of WGA; and even the usually soft-spoken actor and juror Paul Dano spoke about his wife, Zoe Kazan, picketing with their six-month-old strapped to the chest and how he would be joining her in the protests once back home.

So, what about India? This was a relatively better year with three films in the official selection—Film and Television Institute of India’s Yudhajit Basu’s short Nehemich in competition in the La Cinef section, Anurag Kashyap’s Kennedy, which had a grand premiere at the Grand Theatre Lumiere in the Midnight Screenings segment, and Film Heritage Foundation’s restored print of Manipuri filmmaker Aribam Syam Sharma’s Ishanou (The Chosen One), which played in the Cannes Classics segment. Kanu Behl’s Agra, featured in the independent, parallel Directors’ Fortnight, got good reviews. But what’s important now is where these films go from here, and whether they manage to bag good international distribution and exhibition deals. While Southeast Asia and the Middle East and the Arab world left their mark in Cannes with new films, filmmakers, and even grants and funds, India did not quite generate enough buzz and excitement—even despite the announcement of the Korean remake of Drishyam and Michael Douglas’s visit to the Indian Pavilion.

Stars descend during the 12 days at Cannes. Spotting Wim Wenders on the streets, Ceylan at a screening… Memories are often about such off-the-cuff moments. Like going for interaction with Hirokazu Kore-eda at the JW Marriott rooftop and getting a glimpse of Almodovar and Hawke as a bonus. I can’t be blamed for getting distracted with Kore-eda in the foreground, Almodovar in the background, my mobile on the recorder mode and a picture of a lifetime that could never be clicked but refuses to leave my head.

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