We report back from Cannes Film Festival

Critics, festival-goers and film fans heralded the 2011 Cannes Film Festival Official Selection a vintage year as soon as the line up was announced. This year’s competition line up included some highly anticipated films from a number of heavy-weight directors including Terrence Mallick, Lars Von Trier and Pedro Almodóvar.  And after the furore around Lars von Trier’s publicity-pulling gaffs and ‘who should which award’ has died down, I’m pleased to say that they weren’t wrong.   The competition selection featured some notable titles that I’m looking forward to programming at Cornerhouse in the coming months/year.  Stand-out competition titles for me were Lynne Ramsay’s devastating adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel We Need to Talk About Kevin; Michel Hazanavicius’ love letter to cinema The Artist ((Gets the Hayward Award for best dog in Cannes 2011!); Joseph Cedar’s talky father-son battle for academic recognition Footnote and even Michael an Austrian film that makes for exceedingly uncomfortable yet compelling viewing as it recounts the final months of a forced relationship.

As an aside, I’d already headed back to Liverpool airport by the time Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In, Mallick’s Tree of Life and von Trier’s Melancholia screened so that’s why they don’t make my best of list!

The Competition screenings are focused around the Palais des Festivals – where the red carpet is. I’ve had tickets for the exclusive (posh!) evening screenings twice this year and regrettably forgot my camera each time.   Evening wear is obligatory and anyone not satisfactorily dressed isn’t allowed entry!

The festival isn’t all about the Competition screenings however, and although the prestigious Palme D’Or remains the focal part of the festival for most audiences and festival-goers, the festival is divided into a number of other important and diverse sections. Un Certain Regard is a second competition selection, and films in this strand are often the most challenging and interesting to watch!  The 2011 selection included films from Hong Sangsoo, Kim Ki-duk, Sean Durkin and Gus van Sant.

To complement the Official Selection, the Parallel Selections features non-competition screenings such as Cannes Classics and Cinéma du plage (yep, films on the beach!) and Director’s Fortnight an international independent side-bar of feature and documentary work that has been running along the main festival since 1969.

Like the Berlin Film Festival which takes place in February, Cannes has a vast international film market (Cannes boasts the largest film market in the world), which gives attendees the opportunity to watch a large number of films outside of the main competition screenings which can be very difficult to access.   Market screenings are still busy and there can be scuffles to get into the more popular films, but you can generally avoid the three-hour queues (yep, that’s how long I waited for Michael!)

Other top films from the 30-odd features I watched in my week in Cannes were:

  • The Kid with a Bike, a neo-realist gem from the Dardennes brothers.  Cyril is 11 years old and has been abandoned by his father (played by regular Dardennes actor Jeremie Renier)  and his part-time foster carer (Cecile de France) tries to keep him on track.
  • Le Havre – quirky, deadpan comedy from Aki Kaurismäki.  A shoeshine guy tries to get a young immigrant to his mother in London. (Gets the Hayward Award for second best dog in Cannes 2011!)
  • Las Acacias – a contemplative road movie from Argentina.  Very little actually happens in this film, but the three central performances are subtle, nuanced and pitch perfect (not bad seeing as one of the performers is less than a year old). Winner of the Camera d’Or award.
  • Bonsai –  a Chilean comedy from Cristian Jiminez, director of Optical Illusions which screened at ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival 2011.
  • Be Omid E Didar an Iranian film directed by Mohammad Rasoulof who at the time of his Cannes premiere was detained by the Iranian authorities – his travel ban was later lifted. A strong feature telling the story of a female lawyer who has been banned from practising law and is determined to leave Iran for good. Her husband is mysteriously ‘working away’ and she must struggle alone to arrange the details.

Rachel Hayward
Film Programme Manager