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Posts from May 2014

Cannes 2014: Jemma's blog

Posted Thursday 29 May 2014 by Jemma Desai in Festival Reports

This year, opinion seems to be that this year’s Cannes provided a solid but unexceptional selection, but for me it was an experience that was full of ideas that helped me to better understand the importance of arthouse cinema beyond the Croisette.

Cannes is an old master of the film world. It oozes glamour, trash and gravitas in equal measure. Like an old master, it can easily feel out of step with the real world. Spending ten nights in the crazy pressure cooker that is Cannes, where so many big decisions about the films that will find their way to more screens (either through festival selection or distribution), or disappear never to be seen again, is an odd experience, a kind of battle to stay sharp and keen and remember why you are here in the first place. As a colleague eloquently put it, watching films here “you fight to get in, you fight to get out, and in between you fight to stay awake.”

I started to think a lot about the way that we watch films, and how that changes our experience of cinema. I watched films at 8.30 in the morning, and others at 10.30 at night after three in the day and a drinks reception in the middle. I watched films in market screenings with people coming in and leaving as they pleased, I watched films on the wrong side of the Soixantième, where you can hear the sound of the wind and rain lashing outside but also in the majestic and unbeatable Grand Théâtre Lumière. I watched films with old friends and colleagues and made new friends waiting for others. Each separate context was part of my experience and analysis of the film and made me think about the various and wonderful ways that we can watch and engage with cinema in real life, and why those different experiences are all important and equally valid.

Still the Water
Naomi Kawase's Still the Water

For me cinema is important because of the range and diversity of voices and worlds that it allows you to access. In amongst the giants and old masters whose films I saw and loved like Frederick Wiseman’s National Gallery and the Dardenne brothers’, Two Days and one Night and the plethora of films I watched that will only ever be seen in a festival context, I saw three things that I felt really captured the urgency and vitality of contemporary arthouse cinema and its importance beyond Cannes. All three of these titles will prove a trial for UK distributors from a commercial point of view for various reasons, but all three represent a glorious, relevant and exciting experience for audiences and a challenge which I as a programmer am passionate to take on.

Every year before Cannes, a huge debate is ignited about the dearth of female representation in the programme, and most notably in the competition. This year, for the first time, the Cannes jury was made up more women than men and the jury president was the only woman to ever be awarded the Palme d’Or, Jane Campion. Additionally, there were two female filmmakers in the main competition. While both Naomi Kawase’s Still the Water and Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders were beautiful coming of age tales that were accomplished, poetic and stunningly realised pieces of filmmaking, they were films that sat quite comfortably in the within the Cannes tradition. It was an altogether grittier film that invigorated me at the very beginning of the festival.

Bande de Filles
Celine Schiamma's Bande de filles, which was picked up by Studiocanal for UK distribution

Celine Schiamma’s Bande de filles or Girlhood turned the camera into the internal world of a group of girls whose presence on the Croisette was a noisy and startlingly welcome jolt. The film follows a gang of young women of colour - a section of society rarely explored in French cinema - living in the impoverished outskirts of Paris. Never shying away from the limited options and complex impulses represented by their lives, Schiamma’s biggest achievement is her ability to infuse this subject matter with unadulterated moments of joy. A dance sequence with the girls getting drunk in stolen party dresses while lip syncing to Rhianna’s ‘Diamonds’ is heartbreakingly euphoric and was one of my cinematic highlights of the festival. Studiocanal have acquired this for the UK, and I cannot wait for audiences to see it.

Another reality check came at the very beginning of the festival when one of the female jury members Leila Hatami, who starred in the 2012 foreign language Oscar-winner A Separation, was greeted by the festival’s president, Gilles Jacob, at the opening ceremony with a very Cannes welcome – a kiss on the cheek. Hizbollah Students, a group of university pupils with links to Iran's Revolutionary Guard, immediately denounced her with a statement declaring "the action of this film star has hurt the religious sentiments of the proud and martyrs breeding nation of Iran and as such we also demand the punishment of flogging for her as stipulated in the law." This startling news made me view Abderrahame Sissako's Timbuktu, the competition entry set in the west-African state of Mali, which has been taken over by Islamic jihadists, from a new perspective. Sissako's depiction of the day-to-day cruelties of living under such a regime, seemed a million miles away from the freedom of expression enjoyed by attendees at a festival that privileges artistic expression above all else, yet the events surrounding the screening proved these brutalities to be a very real concern for one of its most prestigious guests. I have not yet heard of UK distribution for this quietly assured and accomplished piece of work, but it feels like an urgent piece of filmmaking for international audiences.

Timbuktu
Timbuktu by Abderrahame Sissako

One of my final films of the festival was the jubilant Mommy, Xavier Dolan’s fifth feature. A Cannes favourite (having played films in Directors Fortnight and Un Certain Regard previously), 25-year-old Dolan’s fifth feature finally made it into the main competition with a style all of its own, stomping all over that red carpet like it owned the place (Dolan himself was charmingly  shy, nervous and tearful). The film was a personal favourite of mine for various reasons (the complex female characters; the self-referential, personal style; the use of music), but its wider significance is I think about the youth and vitality of arthouse cinema that his films represent. At the festival press conference that morning, Dolan had said "there might be a proper age to know how to tell a story, but there's no proper age to start telling them," and this truly was a film full of ideas and experimentation – it literally pushed the boundaries of the Lumière’s prestigious screen. 

Mommy
Mommy by Xavier Dolan

Shooting mostly in a 1:1 ratio (a square) that reflects the Instagram dimensions of contemporary social interaction, Dolan hurls open the aspect ratio at key points in the film (to the awed delight of the audience). Watching the film in the Grand Théâtre Lumière with Selina was a moment I’ll remember forever.  It was the only red carpet screening I went to this year and beyond the delights of getting dressed up and taking failed selfies at the top of the red carpet (Selina and I are rubbish at selfies), it felt like I was watching something really exciting unfold and I am delighted that Metrodome have acquired it for the UK.

Cannes 2014: Selina's blog

Posted Thursday 29 May 2014 by Selina Robertson in Festival Reports

Arriving and experiencing Cannes on the second week of the festival has been a very new and really revelatory experience. My Easyjet flight was hardly full to pop; waiting for the bus was a zero bun fight - I think there must have only been 5 people waiting (including me) on benches. After being met by a very Birkin-esque looking ICO-er Sarah Bourne and grabbing some delicious fish for early supper – I headed off to begin my festival viewing by watching the 30th anniversary Cannes Classic screening of Wim Wenders’ Paris Texas.

Wim introduced the film in perfect French together with Cannes head honcho Thierry Fremaux. He reminded us all that Claire Denis and Agnes Godard (Denis’ regular DoP) worked on the film and gave a special mention to the film’s DoP Robby Mueller and Wim’s long-term collaborator. I have never seen the film on the big screen and it was 147 minutes of pure magic. Robby Mueller’s photography looked stunning in the 4K digital restoration and I had forgotten about the very moving father and son storyline.

Charlie's Country
David Gulpilil in Charlie's Country by Rolf de Heer

The next morning I caught Australian agitator Rolf de Heer’s new social drama Charlie’s Country – co-written by and starring David Gulpilil (who also starred in de Heer’s film Ten Canoes from 2006). Gupilil deservedly took away the Best Actor prize in Un Certain Regard. The film is a semi-autobiographical portrait of an older bad-ass Aboriginal man living in north Australia, discontented and out-of-sorts with life. A moving, confrontational, fighting film - still to be bought by a UK distributor.

Next off Jonny and Helen de Witt (BFI/LFF) and I waited together in the sun-drenched line to watch horror trash-maestro Dario Argento’s daughter Asia’s Misunderstood which I really liked. The story is set in 80’s Italy about a young Fiorucci-dressed tomboy who ducks and dives between her crazy divorced parents. It plays like a punk-filled girl’s world (reminding me in tone of Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette – in which Argento also starred in). It’s irreverent, funny and moving with Charlotte Gainsbourg playing the misbehaving mother.

Incompresa (Misunderstood)
Asia Argento's Incompresa (Misunderstood)

After racing back to the ICO to bash off a few tweets and some instagrams  and changing into my glad rags to do the red carpet with Jemma for Xavier Dolan’s film Mommy – Jonny and I decided to watch another Cannes Classic  – this time Sergei Parajanov’s The Colour of the Pomegranates ... well we thought we were going to watch it. Unfortunately – two programmers' brains are worse than no brains – as the intros started – we quickly realised that we were about to embark on a long portmanteau screening of Les Ponts de Sarajevo to mark the centenary of WW1. Apart from some distinctive films from Jean-Luc Godard, Ursula Meier, Christi Puiu and Angela Schanelec I'm afraid the programme did not leave a lasting impression and anyway I had to leave early to start queuing with Jemma for the red carpet screening of Mommy.

Mommy
Anne Dorval in Xavier Dolan's Mommy

This screening and film was in my top moments of Cannes this year. Maybe it’s because Dolan is still so young (25 years old) and maybe because he makes films that personally connect with me but that night was a perfect storm of a brilliant film (about a young kid who suffers from ADHD and his oedipal relationship with his mother) watched collectively with an audience that Dolan had in the palm of his hand, after which there was the standing ovation where everybody was crying – Dolan, his cast, crew and most of the audience. We left the screening full of bounce to catch the closing of the Critics Week / Morelia Film Festival party on the beach which was full of fizz and fun; we then dashed to the Mommy party where we snuck in the lift with actress Suzanne Clement (one of Dolan’s regulars) and then blagged our way into the Mommy after-party which was where the night ended. The party was full of chubby film executives and skinny girls taking selfies – it was time to go home.

The following day (feeling a little worse for wear) I tiptoed into watch Olivier Assayas’ competition film (Something in the Air) The Clouds of Sils Maria which was a delight - mainly to watch the sparring between Juliet Binoche, who plays a theatre diva and her punchy PA brilliantly acted by Kirsten Stewart.

Sils Maria
Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart in Olivier Assayas’ (Something in the Air)The Clouds of Sils Maria

It was a superb mix of All About Eve with bits of Persona. That evening I met up with a journo friend to attend the closing ceremony of the Quinzaine (which was quite long and bizarre – imagine Eric Cantona’s notorious press conference and you can picture the scene). A French relationship drama called Les Combattants won everything (nobody in my row seemed to have watched the film) and then we sat back to watch the closing film – which was the BFI funded comedy Pride – directed by Matilda theatre director Matthew Warchus – about socialist solidarity between LGBT groups and the miners during the strikes of 1984. The film has been written to play to a broad audience, the comedy is generic – it could even be called Gay in Dagenham. As it’s a Pathe/Fox film let’s hope it plays wide into the plexes. At the end of our screening, people were clapping and crying. The film also won the Queer Palme d’Or.  We had tickets to the Pride party but it was too full, they were not letting anybody in, so we ended up at the Petit Majestic.

My last full day of the festival started early with a croissant and an 8.30am screening of Austrian Jessica Hausner’s new film Amour Fou which I really liked. Hausner takes on German romantic poet Heinrich von Kleist and the suicide pact he makes with a Berlin housewife. Instead of zero-ing on Kleist (who she manages to satirise more than once throughout the film), Hausner directs our gaze onto Henriette (the housewife). Through the friends’ discussions about contemporary politics, ethics and philosophy – Hausner carefully builds a portrait of 19th century society, the position of women within that society and the notion of free will. There is much visual pleasure to be found (in addition to the bedazzling wallpaper) in her rigorous formalism and I’m happy to report that Arrow has just picked the film up for UK release.

Dashing out of Amour Fou, I luckily slipped in the back row to watch Bruno Dumont’s packed out 197 minutes-long scope projected TV movie P’tit Quinquin. A police investigation set in northwest France that reminds at times of Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau, with laugh out loud moments – Dumont finds the funny in a typical existential manner. Next stop was the Dardenne brothers’ Competition social realist drama Two Days, One Night.

Two Days, One Night
Marion Cotillard in the Dardenne brothers' Two Days, One Night

Marion Cotillard excels as Sandra, a married with children factor worker, who in threat of redundancy and has to canvas her co-workers over one weekend to give up their bonuses so that she can keep her job. The film missed out on any awards but possibly Cotillard should have been given a nod.... To mark my final night in Cannes, I ended up watching the Awards Ceremony on French telly with Kate Taylor and Michael Blyth (LFF programmers), Michael Pierce from Scalarama and Jemma. We were all very happy to see Mommy jointly winning the Jury Prize and listen to Dolan’s emotional acceptance speech were he personally thanked Jane Campion and her film The Piano for inspiring him to write complex, rich parts for women. Yes! Michael, Kate and I later on ended up watching Purple Rain on the beach in the Cinema de la Plage. The projection and sound was perfect as was hearing the sea lapping, Prince’s ridiculous guitar solos and being able to dig our toes in the sand.

Force Majeure
Ruben Ostlund's Force Majeure

My final film on a blurring Sunday morning was a screening of the Swedish big buzz title Force Majeure (Turist) directed by Ruben Ostlund. The film played in Un Certain Regard where it rightfully took away the Jury Prize. A brilliant script that delivered a bitingly funny satire about a bourgeois family whose cosy facade falls apart during a winter ski holiday in the French Alps. Watch out for the scene stealing moment with the invading toy flying saucer, one of the funniest and surprising moments in cinema I’ve seen for some time.....Signing out.

Cannes 2014: Jonny's blog (part 2)

Posted Tuesday 27 May 2014 by Jonny Courtney in Festival Reports

Cannes is gorgeous at the best of times, but at 7:30am it has something extra special about it. With fewer people around and a cool air blowing, it has a rare sense of calm, as if the town is braced for the wave of excitement and madness the day will inevitably bring. I amble over to the Palais for the 8:30am screening of Ken Loach's final film, Jimmy's Hall. Having not yet seen the Lumiere, the sheer scale of the auditorium is staggering, resembling an arena as much as a cinema. I'm right up near the back in the cheap seats, I feel Ken would be proud...

Jimmy's Hall
Ken Loach's reported last film, Jimmy's Hall

The film is exactly what I expect; well-made, crowd-pleasing fare but it lacks the energy of Loach's earlier work. It still has a bit of fight, but it feels like quite an old-fashioned film. That said, the crowd love it, even clapping along to the Irish jig on the credits, and it will surely play well to its intended audience.

It's slightly disappointing that my iPhone weather app couldn't accurately predict the biblical downpour two hours after I checked it in the morning, so I'm trapped for a while in the Palais sans umbrella (despite Simon telling me to bring one a number of times!). Sarah saves the day though, offering me her own flowery umbrella to keep me dry. Ever the gentleman I gladly accept (she is already soaked after all...) and experience the joy of queuing in the rain with Selina for Asia Argento's new film Incompresa (Misunderstood) which I know little about, but turns out to be a funny and bizarre little film with a great punky spirit. A fantastic central performance from young Giulia Salerno helps balance the film, which often intentionally veers towards the ridiculous to show the heightened reality of this strange, celebrity world (more than likely based on some of Argento's own experiences growing up).

Incompresa
Asia Argento's Incompresa

We're excited about seeing Sergei Parajanov's 1969 film The Colour of Pomegranate next, and end up with couple of seats right at the back. I've never seen the film but have always read good things, so I'm looking forward to it until Selina realises we're sat in the wrong screening...and obviously being English we're far too polite to get up and leave during the introduction. Our disappointment is fully realised when we learn it's the two-hour portmanteau feature Bridges of Sarajevo, which is admirable in its intent, but struggles to keep our attention despite the calibre of its directors, which includes Godard and Cristi Puíu.

Luckily, I have a ticket for the 00:30 showing of Korean director Chang's action flick Pyo Jeok (The Target), but also have tickets for a beach party later on. It's a tough decision, but I want to make the most of the films (and have also recently been to a party in 2008), so I'm in the queue once more (and in the rain again!). There's a real party atmosphere as a few people have been out earlier, and with the music blasting out it's more akin to a music festival at the moment. As it's the European premiere of the film, Chang and the cast are in attendance and my first real experience on the red carpet is something I'll remember, not least as I managed not to fall up the stairs as my sabotaging mind kept telling me I would!

The Target
Pyo Jeok (The Target)

The film is ridiculous, but in a good way! It is based on Fred Cavayé's recent Point Blank, and much like a Cavayé film it is trashy and tense, but also dials up the action tenfold; exactly what's needed to keep me awake when it starts at 1:00am. The screening has the most raucous crowd I've seen at Cannes, clapping, whooping and generally breaching Mark Kermode's cinema code of conduct, but it actually added value to my last Cannes experience rather than making me hateful (my usual response to this kind of behaviour). It's a great way to finish my Cannes screenings, and as I head back to the ICO apartment (via the robot shop for some vending machine goodness) I decide I could definitely do this again next year...

Cannes 2014: Jonny's blog (part 1)

Posted Friday 23 May 2014 by Jonny Courtney in Festival Reports

Tuesday

And so to Cannes...after a trip on the Gatwick Express (which seems to use the word in the loosest sense) and a delayed flight/lost sunglasses, I arrive for my first time at the famous festival...very excited!

The Palais at Cannes
The Palais

I'm met by ICOer and Cannes veteran Simon Ward, who gives me a comprehensive tour of the Palais complex. It's all a tad overwhelming and a lot to take in, but Simon makes a great tour guide despite his sleep deprivation caused by endless films and meetings!

After a great dinner in the old town, myself and Sarah Bourne make a move to queue for actor / writer / director / musician / office-favourite Ryan Gosling's directorial debut Lost River. My hopes of seeing it/him are soon dashed when we see what Sarah tells me is one of the longest queues at Cannes! Clearly his popularity extends beyond the walls of Kenilworth House...

Cinema de la Plage
Cinéma de la Plage

Disappointed but undeterred to experience my first Cannes film, we head to the Cinéma de la Plage for an outdoor screening of Walter Hill's classic The Warriors. The film has certainly dated, but works brilliantly for this type of screening and the new print looks stunning. My viewing experience is considerably enhanced by Sarah's fit of giggles at some of the outfits on show in the film, it's hard to believe these guys even looked tough in '79!

After this it's off to the Petit Majestic, a great bar behind the Croisette where the patrons spill out onto the surrounding streets. Very reasonably priced compared to a lot of places here...all the Cannes fun without the Cannes prices?

Wednesday

I'm thinking I probably should have prioritised sleep over soaking in the Cannes nightlife, so it's with tired eyes that I squint into the morning sun whilst queuing to see Wang Chao's (Day and Night, Luxury CarFantasia. Unfortunately the film does little to wake me up with its incredibly slow pacing and minimal happenings! It's solidly made and seems reasonably well received by the Cannes crowd, but it lacks the bite of Jia Zhangke's recent A Touch of Sin, which dealt with similar themes of Chinese economic hardship in far a more dynamic way. Zhangke's actually sat a couple of rows in front of me, which makes it twice in as many weeks we've shared an auditorium, hope people don't start to talk!

Fantasia screening
Wang Chao's Fantasia screening at Cannes

After lunch and finding out where to get free, much needed coffee, it's time for a second go at getting into Lost River. This time I get in the queue two hours before screen time, and there are already 100 or so people in front of me. Clearly the previous night's press reaction has done little to dampen the excitement.

Ryan Gosling
Ryan Gosling promotes his directorial debut Lost River

The film certainly wears its influences on its sleeve (Lynch, Refn, Noe) and the narrative isn't the strongest, but it looks exquisite, with several scenes and images that will stay with me long after. The excellent cast offer some memorable performances (Matt Smith in particular), although I felt Gosling shared the screen time out amongst them too much. It would be good to see Christina Hendricks carry a film soon as she certainly has the talent. The plot is kind of crazy, but I found it refreshing to see such ambition in a first film, and can't help but think the press onslaught wouldn't have happened had a different director made this film...

A text from the ICO's resident Ghibli expert Sarah Bourne convinces me to head down the seafront to the Marriott Hotel, where the latest from Studio Ghibli's Isao Takahata (director of Grave of the Fireflies, Pom Poko and Only Yesterday) The Tale of Princess Kaguya, is screening. It's charming and odd in equal measures, based on a Japanese folk tale that doesn't all translate perfectly. The charcoal drawing-style animation is quite a departure from recent Ghibli output, but looks beautiful and made me feel like we were delving inside a children's story book.


The Tale of Princess Kaguya
Isao Takahata's The Tale of Princess Kaguya

The pacing is a little off and the story felt stretched, with a considerable sag in the middle and it's hard to see this repeating the commercial success of the big Ghibli films - or even Miyazaki's latest, The Wind Rises - but Ghibli fans will gobble it up as there's still a lot to love here.

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