Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Cannes Film Festival 2012

IFI Director Ross Keane reports back from a whirlwind trip to Cannes.

Part One.

My first trip to the Cannes Film Festival was quite an experience. Nothing can prepare you for the hectic pace and constant buzz that surrounds the Festival. From the moment you arrive (I hadn’t even checked in to my accommodation) you get bombarded with film recommendations, warnings of long queues and looming internet deadlines for competition film tickets. It’s quite a culture shock.

Fireworks © AFP

I wasted no time in getting to my first film and managed to squeeze one in that evening. Even films playing in the market can be difficult to get into and require long queuing times – I had to be in line almost two hours before my first film Au Galop (In a Rush). Louis-Do de Lencquesaing (star of Caché (Hidden), the forthcoming Polisse, and probably known to IFI audiences for his recent role in Elles and last year’s IFI French Film Festival hit Jeanne Captive) directs and stars in this typical French drama about a woman in love with two different men. De Lencquesaing displays great charisma in the role but the film fails to charter any new territory.

Saturday was a day filled with meetings and films. Cannes is great place to find films for the IFI French Film Festival programme, so I continued with a second French film, Farewell My Queen (Les Adieux à la Reine). Director Benoît Jacquot’s film looks at the relationship between Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger) and one of her readers, Sidonie (Léa Seydoux), in the final days of the French Revolution. This was a very one-dimensional portrait of Marie Antoinette and allowed for no depth of character. Portrayed as frivolous, with a questionable relationship with Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen), the film failed to use its impressive cast to any great effect.

Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Be Kind Rewind and 2009 IFI French Film Festival’s The Thorn in the Heart) presented his latest offering, The We and the I, at the Festival. This delicate urban tale from the Bronx divided audiences at Cannes. It follows a group of school-kids on their raucous bus journey after their final day of school before the summer break. Filmed in the cramped confines of the bus (and in real time), this fast-talking (I actually read the French subtitles at times to make out what the kids were saying!) and quirky film has great heart and draws you into the complicated lives of the teenagers, from the geeks to the bullies. Played with a constant soundtrack (which grated slightly after a while) The We and the I is unlike anything else you’re likely to see and well worth a watch – even to make you grateful for being past the woes of teenage life!

Saturday was also the day for the Irish Film Board’s annual soirée at Long Beach and thankfully the weather held up – it was soon to dramatically change! Minister Jimmy Deenihan was in attendance and details were announced of the co-production agreement the IFB was due to sign with South Africa the following day.  

Beyond the Hills

My highlight of that day was Palme d’Or winner Cristian Mungiu’s (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) Beyond the Hills (Dupa Dealuri), which played in competition and packed quite a punch. This haunting piece tells the tale of Alina who returns to Romania after working in Germany in order to convince her ‘friend’ Voichita to go back with her. Alina finds Voichita is a changed person, living in a monastery and compelled to become a nun. Now pious and deeply committed to the order, she makes quite a contrast to the harder, rebellious, non-believing Alina. Things turn out to be even more complicated when it transpires that the two girls were more than just friends in the orphanage where they grew up, and the sexual tension, which appears to go unnoticed by the convent's ‘Papa’ and ‘Mama’, is palpable. Mungiu’s intriguing film avoids the obvious trap of portraying the monastery’s religious leaders as evil or as having dubious motives for repressing the girls. Despite Alina’s regular taunts that ‘Papa’ wants to have sex with her and accusations that he had done so with Voichita, the film never becomes that black and white. While perhaps a little overlong, it’s still a compelling piece of filmmaking.

Ross Keane

Cannes 2012 Blog - Part Two to be published shortly!

Photo credits: Festival de Cannes, IMDB

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