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Before every Cannes premiere, the cinema screen shows a live feed of the red-carpet arrivals. Early birds can sit in their seats and watch the stragglers come in. While the cameras are at pains to locate the celebrity guests, it turns out that most of the latecomers are just everyday folk. Harried film critics swinging festival bags, marauding young fans breaking into a run, a pair of old women brandishing their tickets like pistols. The atmosphere’s riotous; it’s a fun thing to see. People pour up the steps to bum-rush security, like a revolutionary rabble storming the gates to the palace.
If you cover the Cannes film festival long enough, you grow accustomed to its manifold contradictions. When the schedule’s not preaching the gospel of peace and understanding via the medium of movie violence, it’s sending jewel-bedecked women tottering among the rough sleepers or promoting lean arthouse produce aboard an oligarch’s yacht. and all that. Except that this year it feels different: more alert, self-aware. The centre can’t hold and the world’s up for grabs. Something’s got to give, either on screen or off.
“I say we kill the people who taught us to kill,” yells a murderous flower-child in the final reel of Quentin Tarantino’s extraordinary Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, a film that caught the festival’s burgeoning mood of insurrection and flux even as it makes hay in late-1960s Los Angeles. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a foursquare TV star struggling to adapt to the age of Aquarius with the help of a laconic stunt double played by Brad Pitt, while Charles Manson’s disciples scurry like rats in the wings. Tarantino’s picture landed late at this festival, still warm from the editing suite, and the crowds fought to see it like a mob at the manger. It’s exultant, explosive, his most ambitious work yet – a defiant overdog drama that defends Hollywood’s old-school business model (and, by implication, the director’s own place within it) against those who’d drag it down. Be warned: the establishment dies hard in these parts.
Or how about Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, which tackles similar themes from the opposite direction and fortuitously was screened just a few hours later? It’s about a family of impoverished grifters who pass themselves off as professional servants and proceed to take over a millionaire’s South Korean home. Set-up complete, Parasite blooms into a brilliant black comedy, perfectly managed and fired by fury; the savage upstairs-downstairs satire the world needs right now. Because, hang about, who are the parasites here? The malodorous fraudsters who actually perform their respective duties with skill, or the undeserving rich with their annoying hothouse children? “It’s a chimpanzee, right?” the phoney tutor says of the mystifying kid’s daub that adorns the living-room wall. “A self-portrait,” snaps back the kid’s affronted, anxious mum.
I don’t know whether Tarantino managed to catch up with Parasite (I’d love to know what he thought of it). But he did rock up at a screening of The Wild Goose Lake, a neon-drenched noir from the Chinese film-maker Diao Yinan. On reaching the auditorium, the director paused in the aisle to soak up the applause, the perfect manifestation of Cannes with his gangster suit and his seraphic smile. He looked like a Zen Buddha who runs a bookie joint on the side.
Such was the heat generated by Tarantino and Bong that some other big titles risked feeling lukewarm. I couldn’t get on board with Young Ahmed, the Dardenne brothers’ earnest, fumbling attempt to project themselves into the mind of a radicalised Belgian teen, while Corneliu Porumboiu’s labyrinthine thriller The Whistlers provides terrific fun in the moment before swiftly fading from view. Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life, by contrast, is a film to worship, not love – a beautifully mounted, deeply serious account of a conscientious objector in 1940s Austria that nonetheless remains as aloof as its subject. And then there was Frankie, from writer-director Ira Sachs, which drops a classy ensemble (Isabelle Huppert, Brendan Gleeson et al) into the Portuguese riviera and leaves them to wander, bicker and learn some important life lessons. One can see what Sachs is aiming for here – an airy, transient profundity in the manner of Eric Rohmer – but his souffle falls flat and the surfeit of cream quickly curdles and sweet death (or the credits) can’t come soon enough.
Top-grade British produce was thin on the schedule this year, and so I darted around to the back of the Palais to catch Asif Kapadia’s excellent documentary Diego Maradona, which played out of competition. Kapadia delivers your classic cautionary tale, detailing the corruption of one man within a corrupt, rancid system. “Football is a game of deception,” the Argentinian player brightly explains at one point. He feints left and runs right and his enemies hack him down.
Every Cannes film festival, it seems, follows its own distinct rhythm. This one initially lulled us with its loping, easy stride before quickening the pace as we rounded the bend to week two. Then all at once caution was thrown to the wind. There were great films on the schedule, discussions in pavilions and protesters on the street. And by about the second Tuesday Cannes started to feel more vital and relevant than it has done in years. If the place is a mess it’s a fascinating mess; a best-of-times festival for a worst-of-times world.
Shining bright in the main lineup wass Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a ravishing 18th-century romance that spotlights the cloistered romance between Noémie Merlant’s portrait painter and her clenched, wary subject (superbly played by Adèle Haenel). No other film at Cannes inspired such wild devotion; few repaid our attention with this level of ardour. Sciamma lays on a soulful celebration of female solidarity and the importance of art. Hers is a film that shoots for the moon, dares to dream, even as it threatens to either collapse or explode from the force of its own surging passions.
Parasite aside, though, I think my competition highlight remains Pain and Glory, Pedro Almodóvar’s elegiac, semi-autobiographical tour de force, which screened on the opening weekend and has haunted me since. Antonio Banderas gives a career-best performance as careworn Salvador Mallo, an obvious Almodóvar surrogate, looking back over his life as he contemplates the surgeon’s knife.
Along the way Almodóvar gives us pain, he gives us glory; he throws in the odd wild aside. The ghosts of the past merrily rattle their chains. Skeletons take off their clothes and dance around in their bones. And yet for all its moments of antic humour, Pain and Glory stands as the warmest, saddest film this director has made; a kind of private unburdening, like the monologue on addiction that Salvador keeps saved on his PC. Amid all Cannes’s upheavals, the film provides refuge. Pain and Glory looks back, not with anger but wisdom. In its pin-sharp autumn tones, we have the sense of Almodóvar (and perhaps, by association, the festival too) coming to terms with a glowing, troubled history. It’s the chance to take stock, draw breath and move on.
Take your pick, we’ve had the lot. Climate-crisis marchers out on the Croisette, abortion-rights activists at the red carpet premiere of Juan Solanas’s crusading documentary Let It Be Law, and women’s rights protesters before an honorary award to noted French actor (and self-confessed domestic abuser) Alain Delon. The flame of Mai ‘68 still burns here in Cannes.
Every night, a different glittering soiree. Every night, the same select group of A-listers. Elle Fanning, Robert Pattinson and, um, Eva Longoria were on heavy rotation, while Mariah Carey treated guests to performances at both the Amfar fundraiser and the Chopard bash. Carey’s stylists reportedly paused the latter recital for a hasty pit-stop – powdering madame’s nose and buffing her diamond wrist bangle.
Shock horror, no scandal
The only thing missing from this year’s edition was a bona-fide film scandal, tossed into the crowd like a firework or a stink-bomb. True, Gaspar Noé swung by with his piece of (excuse the technical term) stroboscopic bollocks, but his Lux Aeterna more fizzled than sparked. Those craving a rush moored up at The Lighthouse, a demented dark-and-stormy night yarn, performed with drunk abandon by Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe. Rocked by expressionistic black-and-white imagery, pitching towards madness, Robert Eggers’s film was Cannes’s copper-bottomed classic from far out of left-field.
Source: The Guardian
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