Fifty years is a long time to wait for anything, let alone a prize from a festival located in a country who’s cinema you’ve helped define. But that’s where 90-year-old Alain Resnais finds himself in 2012, at the Cannes Film Festival, 53 years after his debut feature, Hiroshima mon amour, won a special prize at the fest. In a neat connection, Emmanuelle Riva, who I’m guessing takes home the Best Actress prize this year for AMOUR, starred in Resnais’ debut. His 18th (and potentially final) feature, the appropriately titled You Ain’t See Nothin’ Yet, marks his latest attempt at snatching the Palm d’Or, an award he’s arguably had coming to him for the entirety of his career, since his days unintentionally spearheading the nouvelle vague (Hiroshima, one of the movement’s key texts, was notoriously left out of Competition because of it’s subject matter). If he does win, however, it thankfully won’t only be a result of longevity and outcries of being “overdue”. The charming, slyly brave You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet finds Resnais’ aesthetic prowess in fine form, continuing a run of twilight-era films nearly as radical as what he was doing with the form in the 1960s and ‘70s.
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It’s five days into the Cannes Film Festival, but today feels like the day when things finally hit their stride. There’s been a handful of very strong films (Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise: Love, Raoul Ruiz’s La noche de enfrente) in the various line-ups, but until today, nothing that felt like a capital-E event, works to inspire intense dedication, fierce argument, and private contemplation in equal measure. Two of the three premieres I caught on Sunday, however, firmly stand in that elite category—and the other marks yet another strong addition to a subtly complex filmography.
Sight unseen, I’d imagine the two Competition titles most given to charges of probable irony were Paradise: Love and Michael Haneke’s Amour. The former, while certainly not a skip through the proverbial cinematic fields, was still uncommonly sympathetic, while the latter, one of the fest’s most cautiously anticipated titles, proved to be a near-total encapsulation of it’s title’s various implications. The follow-up to his masterful 2009 Palm d’or winner, The White Ribbon, Amour stands easily as the German pessimist’s most humane, heartbreaking work. Lest we think Haneke has softened—or, less likely, let the audience off the hook—the opening sequence presents a stark juxtaposition, cutting bluntly from a perfectly dressed dead body lying prone on a bed to the title card, slyly poking at expectations with a macabre, contradictory wink.
When the Competition lineup for the 65th annual Cannes Film Festival was announced a few weeks back, two questions came immediately to the fore: Why aren’t any female filmmakers represented, and after a 2011 slate that featured four?”; And, “What’s with the generous inclusion of so many American films?” I don’t have an answer for the former, particularly with the quality of some of the films included. But in regards to the latter, in addition to fest opener Moonrise Kingdom, there are a whopping six more American films in the Competition strand this year (for comparisons sake, there were two last year, and as a fest that prides itself on international democracy, it’s rare to see the selection committee so liberal with the national selection ratio). Would these films really be that good—or worse, were the other foreign products so disappointing as to not warrant inclusion (well, I’m here, and I can tell you that’s certainly not the case). Or were there other factors at play, something that would facilitate a Lee Daniels film (um, for example) in the main category of the world’s biggest film festival?
I can only speak for two films thus far—and I’m certainly in the tank for the charming Moonrise—but if the inclusion of John Hillcoat’s Lawless is any indication, we may need to keep our guard up for the last quarter of the fest, when five of these remaining American films premiere over the last five days. And it’s not even that the film is bad, per se, but it’s glaringly flawed in a way that provokes curiosity concerning the selection process. A film already stacked with A-list talent and sporting the heavy-hitting distribution muscle of the Weinstein Company wouldn’t seem to need the added exposure of a international festival bow (or at least not a Competition slot). Then again, it’s a genre film (remember, Drive premiered here last year), and it’s nice in a sense to get some relief from the stern disposition of the majority of it’s competitors.
Being my first time at Cannes, I’ve quickly come to find out that half (if not all of) the secret to a satisfying festival experience is quite simple: pacing. There are too many films for any one person to physically be able to see anyway, so why not do your body a favor and not rush anything—work, play, relaxation, anything. Granted, there hasn’t been a whole lot of time to relax since the fest began, but as assignments pile up and activities present themselves, it’s become easier and more practical to space things out and enjoy the two weeks as it comes to me.
I’ve inevitably had to cut some titles from my schedule—apologies to Lou Ye, Darezhan Omirbayev, and Matteo Garrone—as obligations and, I’ll just be honest, less academic possibilities came calling (come to find out France doesn’t have the greatest beer, but I don’t mind continuing the search for a winner). Luckily, if one doesn’t feel the need to be at the very first daily 8:30am press screening or evening Red Carpet premieres of certain Competition titles, then the programmers have us relatively covered. Most films screen multiple times at different locations and on different days (which is how I plan on attempting to catch Garrone’s Reality late next week). But then trying to shuffle your schedule too much leads to overlap, and certain films I just won’t miss, leaving some interesting looking titles left waiting for my attention.
I mentioned intense jet lag in my day one Cannes dispatch, and while an early press screening of Wes Anderson’s heartfelt Moonrise Kingdom found me relatively fresh, if disoriented, from a day-and-a-half without proper rest, an evening screening of Yousry Nasrallah’s After the Battle saw me finally succomb to the laws of nature. Sure enough, I was dozing during the opening credits, and from there was forced to submit to my body’s need for sleep. From the sound of it, I didn’t miss much. Indeed, After the Battle has been roundly maligned, and judging from the over half dozen folks who kept waking me up as they walked out on the film, my body may have made the proactive choice, particularly with a day two slate of films holding interesting potential waiting in the wings.
Along with the new film by the legendary Alain Resnais, France itself is represented in the Competition strand at Cannes by the increasingly popular Jacques Audiard, who’s last film, A Prophet, set the Croisette alight in 2009 and turned out to be quite the crossover success in the States. Audiard’s new film, Rust & Bone, parlays some of that goodwill into his first star vehicle of sorts, with Oscar winner Marion Cotillard co-starring in his latest machismo-infused melodrama, which lends some much needed estrogen to his decidedly muscular filmmaking style. Beyond that, however, Audiard stays the course with his latest. Blunt, wrenching, and about as subtle as a brick to face, Rust & Bone embodies it’s title in both style and substance. It’s a film even my energy-sapped self would find difficult to sleep through.
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