Cannes 2014: Simon's blog (part 1)

Posted on May 23, 2014 by Simon Ward

Categories: Festival Reports

With so many films from around the planet playing in the festival and accompanying market, it’s a bewildering smorgasbord of upcoming titles for the year ahead. Many of the giants of cinema are represented here – especially in Competition – Cronenberg, Ceylan, Godard, Wiseman, Hausner and on and on. But so too are a host of discoveries showing promise and, equally often, particularly in the market, drivel.

So, I’m going to go through a few of the highlights and some disappointments I’ve seen so far with an eye on whether they are likely to get UK distribution, and how they might fare critically and financially when they hit UK screens.

Amour Fou
Amour Fou by Jessica Hausner

My first film on arriving (after the French Air Controllers strike delayed me by 24 hours – boo) was Jessica Hausner’s (Lourdes, Lovely RitaAmour Fou. I adored Lourdes. It was in my top five films of that year. So my hopes were high for this one. Too high as it turned out. It was an uneasy blend of comedy and existentialism inspired by an apparently major German Romantic poet (on a par with Byron et al) who was completely unknown to me. The film centred around a feckless aristocrat down on his heels who seeks a woman with whom to die in a suicide pact. Cue an uneasy mishmash of slapstick (oh look, his gun jams!) farce and endless ruminating on the place of death in our lives. It left me pretty cold and I think will struggle to get any kind of meaningful audience in cinemas in the UK – despite Hausner’s name.

White God is an interesting one from Kornl Mundrucz, the Hungarian director of Huckle and Johanna, for those of you who remember them from a decade back. A pet dog is dumped by the roadside as part of the fall-out of a broken marriage. As the dog goes through various trials, it becomes increasingly brutalised; forced to flee the dog catchers from the city pound, it’s trained for dogfighting and eventually leads a canine revolution fighting back against the inhumanity of man. It’s an incredibly striking allegory for the outsider, and deserves an audience in UK cinemas – but some of the dog fighting is pretty strong stuff and may well make it difficult for some audiences to appreciate just how interesting and accomplished this film is. As of yet it hasn’t been picked up for distribution but I hear offers are pending!

Bande de Filles
Girlhood (Bande de Filles) by Celine Sciamma

Girlhood, from Celine Sciamma is a terrific film in a similar vein to her previous titles Water Lillies and Tomboy – both of which were releases in the UK – but on a slightly bigger canvas. It charts a hot summer in the lives of a teen girl gang on the cusp of adulthood as they struggle to assert themselves in a tough estate in the Parisian banlieue. Beautifully shot and supremely confident it oozes style, humour and chutzpah. The big challenge, which UK distributor Studiocanal will face, is how to bring in a young teen audience to a subtitled film. But if that hurdle can be overcome, then this film will really speak to both young audiences but also adult audiences interested in the next chapter in what is fast becoming a major new voice in European cinema.

Timbuktu was another highlight from the competition. A heartfelt, but never overly earnest account of an African village under the unwelcome heel of Islamic fundamentalism. Lyrical, searing, and impeccably crafted, this turned out to be one of the most engaging and emotionally charged films in the early stages of the Competition. From Abderrahmane Sissako, director of Bamako, this seems sure to get a theatrical release in the UK, and while undeniably its subject matter is tough, it is told with an at times beguiling charm and wit and should see solid if unspectacular returns at the box-office for more adventurous cinemas.

Lost River, the keenly anticipated directorial debut of actor Ryan Gosling, saw some of the longest queues in Cannes. An atmospherically hypnotic blend of Lynch, Argento and Gosling’s Drive mentor and friend Nicholas Winding-Refn, it’s pure eye-candy. Set in a post-apocalyptic feeling Detroit, it concerns a single mothers (Christina Hendricks of Mad Men and Drive) struggle to make ends meet and avoid the repossession of her home, while her sons romance with Saoirose Ronan and his run-in with local psychopath gang leader provide the emotional and narrative engine of the film.

Lost River
Christina Hendricks in Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut, Lost River

It completely split critics and audiences. The screening I saw, with Gosling attending, was rapturously received. Yet the critics have been less than kind. I found it thrilling and engrossing at the level of atmosphere but underdeveloped in terms of script and character. I suspect if the same film had been made by an unknown rather than Gosling, it would have had a much easier ride with the press. While it clearly wore its influences on its sleeve, itcertainly marked Gosling out as a filmmaking talent to watch. I for one am thoroughly looking forward to seeing what he does next and I imagine it will do pretty well for cinemas when it eventually sees a UK release.

More to follow!

Subscribe to our mailing list

What would you like to receive emails about?
* indicates required