Cannes Film Festival 2013 highlights
Hannah McGill tells us what's worth caring about in this year's Cannes Film Festival line up
What is the Cannes film festival, apart from a beach resort shindig where starlets model frocks, Lars Von Trier winds people up, and headline writers are driven to terrible Cannes/can puns? The film festival was set up in 1946 as a free world rival to the then Fascist-inflected Venice film festival, with added impetuses to promote France as cinema’s spiritual home, and draw tourists to the Riviera. Since then, its glamorous location, lavish budget and a consistently good eye for talent have helped to keep its profile and credibility high. Alongside its main competition and sidebar section Un Certain Regard have grown two separate strands, Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week; but perhaps most significant to the Festival’s industry profile is the massive parallel event the Marché du Film, which draws buyers and sellers from every level of the movies. Cannes is, said Agnes Varda, 'at once the pinnacle of cinema, and a big, vulgar bazaar.'
Announcement of the competition titles invariably causes a minor kerfuffle of unstable predictions ('It’s going to be a vintage/mediocre/appalling Cannes!'), angry accusations ('Not enough female/British/famous directors!'; 'Too many American/French/famous directors!'), and impossible predictions ('My hunch for the Palme d’Or, based on persusing a list of films that I have not seen and of which little is known, IS…'). By the time of the actual festival, this interest dwindles to a trickle of celebrity gossip – albeit one anxiously stoked by those journalists in whose interests it is to convince their editors that they absolutely NEED to be there. It’s a scientific fact that a week after the Palme d’Or is awarded, no-one can remember who won it, except that there’s often a good chance it was Michael Haneke.
Still, this year the main competition includes some of the most interesting of the festival’s alumni, as well as a few newcomers. Japan’s wonderful Hirokazu Koreeda is there, alongside countryman Takeshi Miike and the always interesting Zhangke Jia from China. Italy’s Paolo Sorrentino, another favourite of the Competition, is back, as is Iran’s Asghar Farhadi, made a star by A Separation, and Arnaud Desplechin, part of a potentially strong French showing. I’m never quite sure why Cannes is so hot on James Gray, but he’s back in competition; his fellow Americans are the Coen brothers, Steven Soderbergh and Alexander Payne. Two directors with variable back catalogues but high current standing, Nicolas Winding Refn and Francois Ozon, are in the mix - oh, and speaking of reputation there’s some guy called Polanski...
Are there enough female directors in the competition? Well, there’s one – Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi – out of nineteen, so pretty definitively not. Cannes’ Artistic Director Thierry Fremaux has argued, reasonably enough, that his organisation can’t be blamed for the fact that women are generally underrepresented as directors. However, few would deny that Cannes is generally a highly traditional organisation – one that aligns itself with old-style movie magic, that has little interest in matters digital or online, and that balks (and boos) at overt artistic unconventionality – rather than a force for change. And while male directors seem to get into the Competition again and again even if the quality of their output slips, matters don’t seem as cut and dried for the ladies. So Claire Denis, whom almost any cineaste would rate as world-class, this year falls into Un Certain Regard, as does Oscar-winner Sofia Coppola. 'If you count Un Certain Regard, there are seven women in Official Selection,' Fremaux says of 2013, adding that 'Un Certain Regard is as important for me as the competition.' But the fact is that those films are seen by fewer people, and don’t compete for the Palme D’Or. And if selection there is a parallel honour to Competition entry, why does Fremaux himself note in the same interview that Denis’ relegation is down to the fact that she 'couldn’t find the film in the editing process'? (Careless woman!)
Still, innovation, progressiveness, fairness, the levelling of playing fields… this is not really what we look to Cannes for. What it does do is offer a platform, and the chance of global distribution, to films the like of which the Hollywood sequels’n’franchises machine is all too close to squeezing out of commercial viability altogether. Cannes briefly makes arthouse cinema big news and subtitles the norm. However stuffy its self-image and some of its traditions (you still have to wear black tie to attend the premieres), it widens mainstream tastes and expectations – and for this alone we might consider treasuring it a little longer.
Main competition list
A Chateau in Italy by Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi
Inside Llewyn Davis by Ethan and Joel Coen
Michael Kohlhaas by Arnaud Despallieres
Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian) by Arnaud Desplechin
Heli by Amat Escalante
The Past by Asghar Farhadi
The Immigrant by James Gray
Grigris by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
A Touch of Sin by Zhangke Jia
Like Father, Like Son by Hirokazu Kore-Eda
Blue is the Warmest Colour by Abdellatif Kechiche
Shield of Straw by Takashi Miike
Young and Beautiful by Francois Ozon
Nebraska by Alexander Payne
Venus in Fur by Roman Polanski
Behind the Candelabra by Steven Soderbergh
The Great Beauty by Paolo Sorrentino
Borgman by Alex van Warmerdam
Only God Forgives by Nicolas Winding Refn