Two weeks and 15 movies later, my experience at the 65th Cannes Film Festival has come to a close, with the dust finally settling and the red carpet rolled up and stowed away for another year. Some of the films will find their way to North America over the next few months amid much fanfare, while others will be relegated to art houses and enjoyed by only a select few.
Amour was the big winner, taking home the Palme d’Or, the highest prize at the festival, an award that is given to the best feature film. This film is directed by Michael Haneke, who also won the award in 2009 for White Ribbon¸ but is perhaps most well known in North America for his remake of Funny Games starring Naomi Watts and Tim Roth.
Admittedly I came late to the party and did not see either of those movies. I did however catch Jagten (The Hunt)¸ a Danish drama starring Mads Mikkelsen as a kindergarten teacher accused of molesting a child. The compelling story is wrenching and chilling, and Mikkelsen won the Best Actor award deservedly so for his performance of a man slowly being destroyed and alienated from his friends, family, and community.
Curiously, the Best Director award went to Carlos Reygadas for Post Tenebras Lux, a disjointed, surrealist, and semi-autobiographical film about a Mexican family living in the country. It was, to me, the most insufferable and frustrating film I experienced throughout the festival, as each scene exists in no particular time frame, do not necessarily follow one another chronologically, and may be real or just a dream of a character. Still, the director has earned his spot for past successes, and there is something to be said about making a piece of art that is entirely for yourself, and incredibly novel at that.
Two of the most noteworthy actors I saw on screen were surprisingly Matthew McConaughey and Nicole Kidman. The two shared the screen in The Paper Boy while Kidman started at journalist Martha Gellhorn in Hemingway and Gellhorn, while McConaughey played the titular character in Mud, giving one of the most impressive performances in his career.
Unfortunately at the other end of the spectrum were two younger actors that tried but failed to carry their much anticipated movies. Linked by Twilight, Robert Pattinson let down mightily in David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis as a wholly uninterested pout, while Kristin Stewart seemed out of place as a member of the beat generation in On the Road.
It may seem like the whining of the privileged, but watching dark and despairing movie after dark and despairing movie can take a toll. The Cannes Film Festival is filled primarily with dramatic stories that test you physically, mentally, and emotionally. I did not see Amour, the winner of the Palme d’Or, but everyone I heard from who say it said it was fantastic, but wrenching. The Hunt is an exercise in frustration and paranoia. Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy is lurid and grotesque, while Killing Them Softly is filled with bloody violence and desperation, and Cosmopolis muses on emptiness and the frivolity of life.
There were some lighter films, such as The Sapphires, a very Hollywood movie about a female pop group from Australia in the 1960’s, but the majority of the films, as expected, contain one or all of the following: deviant sex, loss of innocence, murder, suicide, corruption, and emptiness. This may be a slight spoiler, but in one day I saw three movies, all of which ended with the main character either committing suicide, or trying to.
That is not to say any of the films are bad. They are interesting and worthy, and many off notable commentary. Even the film which I thought was the most inane, pretentious, and meaningless in Post Tenebras Lux has merit, if for no other reason than it is intrepid.
If you were to only see one film from the collection, it is certainly Holy Motors, a French film unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Starring a very talented French actor by the name of Denis Lavant, Holy Motors takes audiences on a journey through the romantic, the grotesque, and the bizarre, following a mysterious character throughout Paris on his work day. Talking cars, chimps, a troll, a suicidal flight attendant, a masked bandit, and an accordion player are among the many characters in the beautifully strange masterpiece.
If a movie is worth talking about, it is worth seeing. And mostly for better, but occasionally for worse, there isn’t a film at Cannes that I saw that wasn’t worth discussing.