This year, opinion seems to be that this years 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 Soixantime, where you can hear the sound of the wind and rain lashing outside but also in the majestic and unbeatable Grand Theatre Lumiere. 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.
Every year before Cannes, a huge debate is ignited about thedearth of female representation in the programme, and most notably in thecompetition. This year, for the first time, the Cannes jury was made up more womenthan men and the jury president was the only woman to ever be awarded the PalmedOr, Jane Campion. Additionally, there were two female filmmakers in the maincompetition. While both Naomi Kawases Stillthe Water and Alice Rohrwachers TheWonders were beautiful coming of age tales that were accomplished, poeticand stunningly realised pieces of filmmaking, they were films that sat quitecomfortably in the within the Cannes tradition. It was an altogether grittierfilm that invigorated me at the very beginning of the festival.
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 festivals 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.