With the recession muting the glitz and glamour of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, many reviewers say the competition films themselves were among the strongest selection for years.
In a year when almost all of the directors in competition had been on the shortlist before, the top prize – the Palme d’Or – went to the Austrian director Michael Haneke’s pre-first World War drama The White Ribbon. One of the pre-festival favorites, Jacques Audiard’s prison film A Prophet was the runner-up, with two films sharing the third prize; British director Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank shared the Jury Prize with South Korea’s Thirst, a vampire romance from Park Chan-Wook.
The acting prizes went to Charlotte Gainsbourg for her role in Lars Von Trier’s controversial Antichrist and Christoph Waltz picked up the Best Actor award for his role in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.
The other key awards saw Brillante Mendoza – from the Philipines – take the Best Director prize for his brutal Kinatay, while the Chinese director Lou Ye, whose work is banned in his own country, took the Best Screenplay award for Spring Fever – a graphic, gay love story.
Cannes veterans such as Pedro Almodovar, Ang Lee, Jane Campion and Ken Loach all failed to get a look-in.
This was a year when no film picked up more than one award, ensuring – as Chris Hewitt from Empire magazine suggested – that the “love was spread around the festival.”
But there was little love for cinema enthusiasts and film-makers, taking time out from selling their movies, as the reservation system made it almost impossible for anyone but buyers and exhibitors to see any of the official selections in the 2300-seater Lumiere theatre.
With so many participants unable to catch a single film at the festival, it’s just as well there was a market to keep them busy, as well as the various sidebars – both official and unofficial – that accompany the big guns on the Croisette.
The more arty films of the Certain Regard selection were easier – if less satisfying – to see. The British team, screening short films out of the back of their yellow van, ran into some trouble this year, with police – and traffic wardens – doing their best to stop their “Cannes in a Van” events. But another of the festival favourites – the Straight 8 competition – was back at the Kodak Pavilion. Ed Sayers presented the best eight entries to his annual competition, in which film-makers from around the world have to do their best with a single cartridge of Super 8mm, without editing the film.
In addition to the variety of screenings, a number of veteran film-makers gave the next generation the benefit of their years of experience. Stephen Frears took part in a Q&A at the UK Film Centre, and Terry Gilliam discussed his battles with the studios and how the death of Heath Ledger affected the shooting of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, during an appearance at the American Pavilion.
Busily at work, while others were watching films, thousands of film-makers from across the world were largely shunning the festival for the market, pounding the Croisette to sell their completed films or raise money to turn their dreams into reality.
A starting point for many first-timers is the Short Film Corner, where recession-hit TV channel Mini Movies came to the market without a single dollar to buy any new films, according to the head of the LA office, Elena Muravina.
Among the film-makers using their short films as a springboard, London-based Italian director Paola Desiderio was busy selling Rollin’ On – her skate-boarding documentary, last seen in a shorts programme at the London Film Festival. But she put every bit as much effort into raising interest – and money – from producers and distributors, for three feature films, in various stages of development – a comic-book fiction, a documentary about young poets and a biopic of an Italian photographer whose notoriety saw her spying in Mexico and having relationships with a wide-range of celebrities – both male and female.
At the more arty end of the cinema experience, Philip Clemo – a London-based composer – was marketing part one of a trilogy, which – with the help of his music, a helicopter, some of the most dramatic scenery in the world and an LA-based producer – could soon be gracing Imax screens across the globe.
And another young film-maker has put out an unusual request for one of the cast members of his comedy Lucky & Rich – a three legged dog. Kiwi director Geoff Talbot is using twitter to search the globe for a canine star to play Scrap. A word of warning to dog lovers – he boasts that during his previous life, as a veterinary surgeon, he amputated limbs from many dogs.
One wonders whether such an idea came from having rather too much fun at one of Cannes’ many parties.