Before the festival, some of the films from major directors in competition felt quite minor to me, and made me wonder about the selection process: were they chosen on reputation rather than merit alone? However, the press reactions I read in advance suggested this was the strongest competition line-up in years – films such as Toni Erdmann, I, Daniel Blake, American Honey and Sieranevada were gaining a lot of praise and superb word of mouth, and so I arrived in Cannes hoping the quality continued through the second half of the festival.
Graduation – Christian Mungiu
One of the arthouse heavy-hitters who did deliver on their reputation was Christian Mungiu. Graduation (Bachalaureat) is as brilliantly constructed a drama as you’d expect from a director who took home the Palme d’Or back in 2007 for the excellent 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days. Following a doctor in a small Romanian town, the film explores the moral complexities of the decisions he makes to provide a better life for his daughter. As the film progresses, the consequences of these decisions slowly unravel to reveal the layers of corruption still prevalent in Romanian society today. Its superbly made, and you really get the sense of watching a director in complete command of his craft. Apart from his own work, Graduation comps well with Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan and will play well to a similar upscale arthouse audience when Curzon release this in the UK.
The Wailing – Na Hong-jin
The Wailing (Goksung), is an epic genre film from South Korean director Na Hong-jin (The Chaser, The Yellow Sea), which screened out of competition in the prestigious Lumiere theatre. The film is set in a small village in rural Korea, where the arrival of a Japanese stranger coincides with a spate of mysterious infections and deaths in the area. A local policeman becomes personally involved when his daughter contracts the infection, and his investigations lead him into the realms of the supernatural and the occult.
This was never going to be a film that pleased the entire Cannes audience (some walk-outs were evident during some of the films more gruesome scenes), yet its impossible not to be impressed by the sheer scale and ambition of The Wailing. There are numerous extended scenes which either thrill or terrify – one particularly brilliant sequence featuring a shaman performing an exorcism displays Na’s considerable skill for building tension through sound and editing. The film has been a huge success in Korea, achieving the eighth highest box office opening of all time for a domestic film, and it will be interesting to see how this translates if it picks up UK distribution. It comps with Korean titles Memories of Murder and I Saw the Devil and should pick up similarly strong reviews and cult appeal.
Hell or High Water – David Mackenzie
Hell or High Water is a heavily male-skewed crime drama featuring Jeff Bridges as a grizzled cop on the hunt for two bank robbers (played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster). There are no real surprises here; it looks great, moves at a good pace and has a lot in common with John Hillcoats films (Nick Cave and Warren Ellis also provide the score here). Performances are strong from the two leads, but it’s Bridges here that steals the show with another superb performance. Should pick up UK distribution and will play in mainstream sites with some crossover to commercial indies.
Divines – Houda Benyamina
A superb debut from writer/director Houda Benyamina, teenage drama Divines (which Jo talks about here),comps well to Cline Sciammas Girlhood, but perhaps has greater audience appeal thanks to a more conventional narrative and some fantastic comedic elements which were lapped up by the full-house at the JW Marriot. The film shows huge potential for both director and stars and deservedly picked up the Camera d’Or for this vibrant first feature. Netflix have SVOD worldwide rights on this title.
Asghar Farhadis latest drama The Salesman (covered by David here)feels like familiar territory for the Iranian auteur, as it examines the strained relationship between a husband and wife following a disturbing incident in their home. Its beautifully observed and impeccably put together,and like fellow competition film Graduation,explores challenging questions on morality and retribution. The film was rewarded with two awards at the festival (Best Actor and Best Screenplay) and with strong critical support, is sure to prove another modest arthouse hit following The Past and A Separation.
It’s Only the End of the World – Xavier Dolan
Based on the play by French writer Jean-Luc Lagarce, Xavier Dolan’s ensemble piece features a stellar French cast including Marion Coitillard, Vincent Cassel and Lea Seydoux, and follows Gaspard Ulliel’s Louis, as he visits his family for the first time in many years to tell them hes terminally ill. As you’d expect from such a prodigious talent, Dolan does a great job of breaking out of the theatrical confines of the script, and creating something far more cinematic and vibrant than you’d expect of a claustrophobic family drama. Despite the mixed reviews, the film picked up the jury prize at the end of the festival, and this should really go on to be Dolan’s biggest UK hit.