My enthusiasm for Cannes Film Festival hasn’t wavered in the nine years that I’ve been coming (I can’t believe where the time has gone, says the ageing veteran!). Yes there is the ubiquitous hierarchy, the excessive wealth on display, but ultimately it feels like the centre of the cultural film industry, a place to properly engage with like-passion-ed colleagues, away from the daily distraction of emails, and a chance to discover a multitude of films that you’d otherwise not get the chance to see… as long as you’re prepared to put in the time, and be a bit more adventurous and opportunistic than pursuing the Official Competition film fodder.
Coming with a newbie to Cannes certainly reinvigorates your passion for the festival and reminds you of the amazing opportunity it is to be one of a multitude of film fans that gets to participate in the frenzied hoopla. I’m tasked with being the guide for Duncan, our new Marketing & Comm’s Manager, to show him around and impart any small nuggets of wisdom that I’ve gleaned along the way (make use of the free coffee and water in the Palais; be strategic in your queuing – go for the bigger auditoriums, don’t bother if you only have 30 minutes ’til the film; and pickup the Le Quotidian daily: it hugely simplifies the endless amount of screenings that are on offer. Not a huge amount to show for nine years, but it gets me through).
Luckily for us our generous colleague, Simon, has collected our passes and bags, and stocked up the kitchen with essentials: cheese, milk, olives, peanuts, crisps, brioche and rose wine. All that is left for us to do is go for dinner with Colin Burch from Verve Pictures, Kate Taylor from London Film Festival and Nico Marzano from ICA, and grill them for top film tips so we can get a good start tomorrow.
With the implementation of a new ticketing system this year for Competition screenings I’ve managed to accumulate… one… for the entire festival! This is poor going for me, where in previous years I was averaging about one a day, but I’m wondering if I’m exactly the type of person that the new system is designed to keep out. This is not too much of an issue as in previous years the most enjoyable experiences have been screenings in the surrounding sections and side bars such as Un Certain Regard, Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week, where I’ve known little or nothing about the film beforehand, par example Girlhood, Omar, La jaula de oro (Golden Dream), Ernest et Clestine, Le Pre De Mes Enfants (Father of My Children). So I take my one coveted Competition ticket for the 8.30AM screening of Nanni Moretti’s (We Have a Pope, The Caiman) Mia Madre.
A film about making a film is never my favourite topic of exploration, so it takes me a while to connect with the story of Margherita (Margherita Buy), a director shooting a film whose main actor is a famous American star (John Turturro) with a passing knowledge of Italian (the language the film is being made in). As the film develops, it is the interwoven narrative of how Margherita and her brother, Giovanni (Nanni Moretti) deal with the decline of their ailing mother that really brings emotional engagement. Conveyed with understated grace and subtlety,we see Margherita and Giovanni struggling to accept that their mother may not get better, and how although the reality of losing a parent pervades all aspects of life, it also allows for the appreciation of siblings, the chance to learn from our, perhaps wiser elder relatives, and that even during the darkest periods, humour endures. Picked up for UK distribution by Curzon Artificial Eye, it seems like a nice fit for a slow-burning piece of art house cinema.
Fortuitously, my lovely colleague Simon has managed to wangle me a ticket to the next Competition screening of Gus Van Sant’s The Sea of Trees. Now, I know I was regaling the merits of being more adventurous and exploring the side bars of the big Cannes programme, but it is somehow impossible to turn down the certainty of getting into a film, over the uncertain one-two hour queue that is my alternative. Also it’s Gus Van Sant and Matthew McConaughey! A hotly-anticipated title, not only due to the one-two pairing of Van Sant and McConaughey, but also for the intriguing setting in Japans Aokigahara forest: quite literally a sea of trees in the shadow of Mount Fuji, where hundreds of people go to commit suicide every year. McConaughey plays Arthur Brennan, a science professor who we see abandoning his car at an American airport, boarding a one-way flight to Japan with no luggage and entering the Aokigahara forest. As he begins his descent into the mass of trees, he’s confronted by numerous signs instilling the value of life, the gift you are to your family and friends, and urging you to call for help. Having found a spot for contemplating his place on this mortal coil he suddenly encounters Takumi Nakamura (Ken Watanabe), a Japanese man who appears to have lost his way. Shot beautifully by Kasper Tuxen (Beginners) the forest becomes a palpable force in the film that undulates and stirs like an ocean, combined with a domineering soundtrack that reflects Arthur’s troubled state of mind. The motivations for Arthur coming to the forest are explored in flashback, where we are voyeurs on the tumultuous relationship he shares with his wife Joan (Naomi Watts). Beginning as an investigation into the motivations and causes of what brings people to consider suicide, and why so many people are attracted to one particular place, sometimes going to great lengths to get there, gives way to a more traditional love, loss and redemption story, that is perhaps disappointing for those that might be wanting a deeper study of above.
With only 30 minutes before the next films, I heed my own advice and don’t attempt a queue that will only lead to unsuccessful results, and prepare for the next film slot at 4PM where I will attempt to see Hrtar (Rams) by Gromur Hokonarson. A top tip from Nico from the ICA, an apparent hidden gem of the festival… and he is so right. Set in a remote Icelandic valley, two brothers Gummi (Sigurur Sigurjonsson) and Kiddi (Theodor Julusson) live on neighbouring sheep farms but haven’t spoken to each other in forty years. As disease looks set to threaten the health and ancient lineage of their beloved rams, the brothers are forced back into communication with each other… although not always verbally! A perfectly-formed piece of world cinema, and a beautiful study of the relationship between two estranged brothers, emotional yet not sentimental with a wonderfully wry wit throughout. Writer and director Gromur Hokonarson puts his documentarian skills to good use, producing a naturalistic portrait of rural farm life and capitalising on the austere yet stunning landscapes. With the success of Of Horses and Men last year, I’m hoping this will usher in a new age of Icelandic cinema in the UK, with a deliciously dark sense of humour. Fingers crossed this title gets picked up.
Buoyed by the experience of Hrtar (Rams) it is time to head for some dinner, picking up the Le Quotidian daily on the way to form my plan of attack for tomorrow. I’d really like to get four of five film titles in tomorrow, so it means being super strategic!