Cannes 2017: Jonny's blog

Posted on June 6, 2017 by Jonny Courtney

Categories: Festival Reports

We’re continuing to find out what the ICO team made of the 70th Festival de Cannes. Following Jo’s love for Agnes Varda’s Visages, Villages, and Kenny’s first time musings, it’s time to hear what Senior Film Programmer, Jonny Courtney, made of this year’s cinematic offerings.

If Cannes 2016 felt a little light on films from the big-hitting auteurs of world cinema, this years festival seemed to contain them all. The competition line-up alone fielded new films from Michael Haneke,Lynne Ramsay, Todd Haynes, Yorgos Lanthimos, Franois Ozon, Hong Sangsoo, Andrey Zvyagintsev, Bong Joon Ho, Naomi Kawase and Sofia Coppolla.

Away from the main competition, there were also new films from Bruno Dumont, Claire Denis, Roman Polanski, Laurent Cantet, Takashi Miike and Agns Varda, so expectations for Cannes 2017 were high amongst colleagues and fellow programmers!

The Square
Palme d’Or winner The Square

First up for me was Ruben Ostlund’s The Square, which was screening at 10pm in the Salle du Soixantieme; a screen used for the repeat screenings which resembles a fantastic auditorium inside a giant marquee. This gives people the opportunity to catch up on the competition titles that screened the day before, and despite the nearby euro-pop blasting out from a nearby party, it was still a great place to watch the eventual Palme d’Or winner.

The Square focuses on Christian, the director of a contemporary art gallery in Stockholm, who is conned after coming to the aid of a passer-by, and goes in search of the culprit with surprising consequences.Alongside this story, the new exhibition at the museum, ‘The Square,  causes quite astir when the PR agency use a shocking campaign to market it to the public.

To say much more would be to divulge the many shocks that unfold, but like Ostlund’s previous film Force Majeure, the film intelligently examines the morality of the choices we make, and also looks at personal responsibility and the ways we operate as a society in the Western world. And if this all sounds a little too worthy, then think again, this is biting satire which is both hilarious and horrifying, and features perhaps the best scene I’ve witnessed in a cinema in the last year. Curzon are opening The Square on 25th August, traditionally a solid weekend for indie cinemas, and they look to have another foreign language hit on their hands.

Wind River
Taylor Sheridan’s latest feature is an emotionally-charged noir/thriller Wind River

Wind River is the second feature directed by writer Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water) and is likely to be the first UK release for new distributor STX. The film is an emotionally-charged noir/thriller which at times feels like a cross between Frozen River and The Searchers.

When a young Native American girl is found dead on the reservation in Wyoming by local hunter Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), the FBI are alerted and Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is sent to assist from Las Vegas.Whilst unprepared for the harsh cold, she soon proves herself more than capable of working with Lambert to track down the people responsible for the girls death.

The screenplay doesn’t stray too far from Sheridan’s previous work, and although the story is less layered than either Sicario or Hell or High Water, as a director, he proves himself very capable of handling the complex emotions and visceral action needed to make this film work. Renner and Olsen excel in their roles and the film should pick up decent word of mouth to help it perform solid business at the box office for STX this autumn.

I am not a witch
Rungana Nyoni’s debut I Am Not A Witch

One of the buzz-titles of this years festival was Rungana Nyoni’s first feature I Am Not A Witch. Set in Zambia, the film revolves around a 9 year old girl, Shula, who is accused of witchcraft. Tied to a spool with a long ribbon, Shula is told that should she cut the ribbon and attempt to escape, she will be transformed into a goat.

I Am Not A Witch is one of the boldest feature debuts I have seen in many years, and whilst the film isn’t totally successful, Nyoni’s considerable talent is impossible to deny. Visually striking and totally unique, the harrowing tale is punctuated with some brilliantly timed humour and a superb soundtrack (maybe the best use of Vivaldi’s Winter since Park Chan Wook’s Oldboy) to create a film quite unlike anything else in this years festival. Curzon have picked this up for UK distribution, and indie cinemas should look to support this striking film from a fascinating director.

the killing of a sacred deer 2
Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer

I was lucky enough to get a ticket through the official ballot (read more in Jos blog) for Yorgos Lanthimos The Killing of a Sacred Deer, his follow up to the acclaimed The Lobster.

The film tells the story of Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), a respected cardiologist who is regularly meeting with Martin (Barry Keoghan), the teenage son of a man he operated on some time ago. Whilst the meetings appear innocent, Steven has hidden the friendship from his wife, Anna (Nicole Kidman), and there is an underlying strangeness that develops into something much darker as the film progresses.

This unique suburban horror is as brilliant as it is bizarre. Performances are pitch-perfect from all the leads, with a fantastic display of restraint from Farrell in particular. The cinematography from regular collaborator Thimios Bakatakis is exquisite, echoing Stanley Kubrick in both style and tone; one scene in particular of a young boy dragging himself along the floor feels like a reprise of The Shining  while the pacing from Lanthimos is expertly handled; slowly dialing up the tension and creating an atmosphere of malevolence in his own unique way.

The off-beat humour of The Lobster is ever-present, and like that film, Sacred Deer certainly has the potential to divide audiences, but this is superb filmmaking from a director in complete command of his craft.Distributor Curzon should look to release in Q3 in the UK, which proved very successful for The Lobster back in 2015, especially with independents.

the beguiled
More Colin Farrell! This time in Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled

The Beguiled came along at just the right time of the festival for me running at a mere 94 minutes long (remember when people made films at this length…?) this Southern gothic melodrama from Sofia Coppola was just the pick-me-up I needed.

A remake of Don Siegel’s 1971 film of the same name starring Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page (disclaimer I haven’t yet seen the original), Coppola adapts the Thomas Cullinan novel (A Painted Devil) which tells of a soldier, John McBurney (played by Colin Farrell), wounded in the American Civil War, and found by a young girl from the nearby all-girls boarding school in rural Virginia. Back at the school, Miss Farnworth (Nicole Kidman) agrees to take McBurney in to care for him until he is well enough to hand him over to either side. The presence of the soldier more than disrupts the order of things, where the young women in the house are moved to behave in ways somewhat unbecoming of their schooling…

Coppola’s film seems to exist in its own hazy world, with the Civil War rumbling in the background kept at bay only by the gates to the school. With sun-dappled exteriors, candle-lit rooms and pale pastel costumes,visually this is not too dissimilar to The Virgin Suicides, but unlike this earlier work, there is barely any music discernible until late on in the film, as the tension begins to boil over.

The script is a riot, with tongue firmly in cheek the fantastic cast deliver their innuendos and double-entendre whilst Coppola is remarkably restrained, moving the plot along at an unhurried pace which perfectly matches the sultry tone. Sexy, funny and perfectly crafted, The Beguiled will be most welcome for indie cinemas in July when Universal release.

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