We report back from Cannes Film Festival

Our Film Programme Manager Rachel Hayward reflects on her time in Cannes…

It’s been a good few weeks since my return from the Cannes Film Festival and now that I’m fully readjusted to daylight and keeping normal hours, it’s been exciting to reflect on the thirty-odd films that I saw in my eight days around the Croisette.

At Cannes I’m always on a mission to watch as many films from the various programme selections as possible and go on the lookout for quality films for our festivals and seasons such as ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival as well as the main Cornerhouse programme.

Our own Cornerhouse Artist Film, Swandown also screened to a full house in the ACID section of the festival – a line-up of nine films specially curated by filmmakers. Andrew Kotting gave an excellent introduction to the screening and his Q&A was entertaining, as always, and the whole night was a very special experience.

This year’s main competition line-up included some highly anticipated films from a variety of Cannes favourites and first-time Palme d’or contenders such as Arnaud des Pallières. I was impressed by many of the films I caught this year and there were three standout films for me from the competition selection:

Blue is the Warmest Colour is a most deserved Palme d’or winner from Franco-Tunisian filmmaker Abdellatif Kechiche (Couscous, L’Esquive). I saw this in a late evening showing after a full day of screenings and from the first 30 minutes I was enthralled. Adapted from a graphic novel, Blue is the Warmest Colour begins with 15-year old Adele and follows her from her first taste of sex with a boy from school to her relationship with a mysterious blue-haired girl whom she first encounters in the street. This three hour love story is an enchanting film that effortlessly keeps the viewer’s attention from the opening scenes to the final credits. Blue is the Warmest Colour is erotic, passionate, emotional and most of all, devastating. Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux give excellent performances as the film’s young lovers. Masterpiece isn’t too strong a word for this film.

Alexander Payne’s Nebraska is a real delight. Nebraska has a balance of comedy, drama and pathos and is an absolute gem of a film that I can’t praise highly enough. Bruce Dern is outstanding as Woody Grant, an aging father of two with dementia who drinks too much. Woody firmly believes he’s won a small fortune in a sweepstake when he receives a letter asking him to travel inter-state to claim his prize. After much badgering and despite realising that the prize isn’t real, his son David agrees to take his father on the road trip. The drive takes them through Woody’s old hometown where they meet family, friends and foe, and word of his windfall spreads through the town like wildfire.

Like Father Like Son is firmly in my top three competition films from this year’s line-up. This wonderfully nuanced film was awarded the 2013 Jury Prize and tells the story of two families who discover that their sons were swapped at birth. With Like Father Like Son, Hirokazu Kore-eda (Nobody Knows, I Wish) continues his explorations of family relationships and more specifically his explorations of father/son and absent father/son relationships. The film is emotional without ever being maudlin and there was not a dry eye in the house at the screening I attended.

Other notable highlights from the competition that found favour with critics include Inside Llewyn Davis, a pretty much faultless Coen brothers film, in which Oscar Isaac plays the titular Llewyn, a hapless singer-songwriter chancing his way round the Greenwich Village folk scene in the early 1960s and Asghar Farhadi’s highly anticipated The Past. In this Paris-set follow-up to his Oscar-winning divorce drama A Separation, Farhadi stays firmly in fractured family territory.  Bérénice Bejo (The Artist) won the Best Actress award for her performance as a frazzled mother trying to improve her relationship with her teenage daughter and this gripping and dramatic tale of love and deception lives up to expectation, receiving a number of five star reviews.

No British films were featured in the main competition selection, but the British industry was well represented in the Directors’ Fortnight section by Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant, an intense film that brings social realism bang up to date. Clio Barnard’s second film follows best friends Arbor and Swifty who progress from bunking off school to stealing copper when influenced by local scrap merchant Kitten. The Selfish Giant won the Europa Cinema award and serves to confirm Clio Barnard’s reputation as one of Britain’s strongest contemporary filmmakers following the success of the acclaimed The Arbor.

And there’s one last highlight from the Critics’ Week selection that deserves a special mention. The Lunchbox, the debut feature from Ritesh Batra was one of the finest discoveries of this year’s festival and was universally adored and admired. A mistaken delivery in Mumbai’s famously efficient lunchbox delivery system connects a young housewife to a stranger who mistakenly receives meals destined for her husband. The two lonely people begin a friendship through handwritten notes passed in the daily lunchbox deliveries. This Indian film boasts warm, likeable characters, humour and a touching, tentative love story that never becomes sentimental. The Lunchbox will be released in UK cinemas, the date is still to be set, but this is definitely one to look out for.