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Waltz & Bashir

Kaleem Aftab assesses some of the films from the first week of the Cannes Film Festival

The start of the Cannes 2008 film festival was dominated by two films that delve into the recent past to raise pertinent and timely questions about how the State deals with those they consider terrorists. Billed as cinema’s first animated documentary, the first to screen was Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir. In it a cartoon version of Folman has a discussion with an old friend who asks him if he can remember anything that happened on the night in Lebanon in 1982 when they were both young Israeli soldiers while Palestinians were being massacred by Christian fundamentalists at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. Folman makes comparisons with the Holocaust and damns the failure of Israeli soldiers to intervene.

Closer to home, former Turner Prize winner Steve McQueen’s feature film debut Hunger is an account of the politics and philosophy that led to IRA figure Bobby Sands going on a hunger strike in the notorious Maze prison in 1981. It’s brilliant filmmaking veering from long stretches with no dialogue to a 22-minute single-take sequence in which Sands (a brilliant performance from Michael Fassbender) discusses his reasons for going on a hunger strike with a priest (Liam Cunningham). The sympathetic portrait of Sands is bound to create controversy when it shows in the UK and Ireland later in the year.

The dark note of these films was also present in the heavily anticipated opening night film Blindness. But Fernando Meirelles’ (City of God) adaptation of the acclaimed Jose Sacramento novel was a hit-and-miss affair. Meirelles managed to give the sense of going blind by playing with the white light on screen but the effect was not as strong as that which Julian Schnabel achieved with his eyelid effects in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. In contrast the Turkish writer/director of Uzak and Climates, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, did not disappoint with his latest film Three Monkeys. It’s a brilliant mystery thriller set around a dysfunctional family.

It’s not been all doom and gloom, even if the weather has been worse than normal, Dreamwork’s animation Kung Fu Panda will delight younger audience with it’s fun, if formulaic, pastiche of martial arts flicks.

Cannes Film Festival last until Sun 25 May. For all the latest news from Cannes, visit


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