Cannes 2018 – The First Saturday

As I took my place at this morning’s press conference for Jean-Luc Godard’s Image Book, in the hope that I’d end up with a better idea what he was trying to do, I was confused by a lack of the name-plates that usually line the desks where the directors and stars sit. Perhaps since there are no stars, there was no need for name-plates as there would be no question who the only individual sitting there was? But no – as there was one person sitting there; he was the moderator of the press conference and he did have a name-plate. “Welcome to this experimental press conference,” he beamed. Oh dear. My heart sank. But I suppose it goes without saying that such an experimental film would be promoted with an equally experimental press conference.

The veteran director Jean-Luc Godard did his press conference for Image Book on an iPhone

So, how was it experimental? The director – the only person due to be on the panel – wasn’t there. But he would do the press conference on a mobile phone. These official press conferences usually begin with bodyguards marching in the talent and a scrum of journalists pouncing on them for photos, all of which led to the somewhat bizarre sight of the same scrum of journalists pouncing on a poor festival worker holding an iPhone above his head. The unconventional spectacle continued as journalists who wanted to ask him a question lined up to address him directly. Whether this was by accident or design, the situation continued to get even more bizarre when the back of my chair just popped out, almost throwing me to the floor.

And did it go any way to explaining his film? Not really. Much of what he said didn’t seem to relate to the film I’d seen at all. Asked what he was trying to say with large chunks of the film taking place in Arab areas, he responded that it was not a political film, he was “just interested in the facts more than anything else.” He went on, “A film is not designed to dictate anything. It just shows what his happening. But very few films show what is NOT happening. I hope mine does that.” Some of what he had to say about film-making more generally seemed to be of worth, even if it didn’t help with Image Book. It seems that the French producer of the film didn’t understand it either, as he gave up on it. But using the invitation to compete in Cannes, Godard managed to find a Swiss company to provide the funding to finish the film.

The BFI’s Harriet Finney says funding will be largely the same after Brexit, but there are still concerns over EU workers in the UK film industry.

Next it was back to the UK Film Centre for more Brexit talk from the BFI and one of its legal advisers. After nearly two years of panic and confusion from many producers in the UK and abroad about the possible effect of leaving the EU on the Britain’s thriving film industry, the BFI was on hand to confirm that there’d been a lot of clarity from government over the past year. From a funding point of view, most money comes from the National Lottery and the tax incentives, neither of which are changing, and many of the other benefits – such as those relating to classifying productions as being British or being able to sell UK productions in the EU – are based on the UK’s membership of the Council of Europe, a separate body from the EU which Britain won’t be leaving. But the BFI does still have concerns about the freedom of movement of British and EU citizens working in the industry. The BFI’s director of external affairs, Harriet Finney, told me, “As an industry, we rely hugely on freedom of movement at the moment, both in terms of he UK film industry employing lots of EU workers, but equally, we make films across the UK, co-producing with a number of different countries across Europe, and we need to make sure that our people and our equipment can move very very frictionlessly across borders and there’s still quite a lot of questions outstanding on that particular issue.”

Back behind the camera.

Either yesterday’s camerawork wasn’t as bad as advertised or my BBC Arabic friend was desperate, because I was asked back to do some more, which took me very close to my deadline for my next appointment: a rendez-vous with Christopher Nolan. This was one of those humiliating Cannes experiences, where hundreds of people turn into beasts, pushing to gain access to a theatre far too small to handle events to handle such high demand. Festival and market attendees jostle for position with people with tickets specific for th event and journalists furiously waving their badges above their heads, screaming. “I’m pink, so I’m better than you, as you’re only blue,” before someone else butts in with “Ah, but I’ve got a yellow dot on my pink badge so I’m more important than you.” It wasn’t just blue-badged press, such as myself, being held at bay by security. A representative from (modestly!) one of the smaller websites was standing on the wrong side of the human barrier beside the founder of one of the biggest, the Internet Movie Fatabase, Col Needham. Don’t panic. We both got in. Eventually.

But was it worth the wait? The humiliation? Nearly two hours of one of the finest directors of his generation should have been illuminating and uplifting, but interesting as it was, it fell somewhat flat. Last year, I attended a similar event with Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron. He fizzed with enthusiasm through as clips of his films were discussed. But in this case, there were no clips and we had a very dry, high-brow French critic asking lengthy questions in French, untranslated, and Nolan responding thoughtfully, and then a lengthy wait for a translator with a phenomenal memory help the critic understand the answers.

Dunkirk director Christopher Nolan discussing his influences and his modus operandi.

Nolan is in Cannes to promote a restored version of Stanley Kubrik’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which he saw at the age of 7 and taught him to “throw the rule book out of the window. It taught me that film could be anything.” The discussion progressed through his often-quoted preference for analogue over digital before finally getting on to his own films, where he revealed – sadly without a visual accompaniment – the depth of his creative process. People who know his films inside out would still have been enthralled by the insights on offer.

At times, he went a little too deep for the arena, into the theories of film criticism, the use of genre and the potential conflict between authorial intention and audience interpretation. More broadly, it was interesting to learn that he didn’t go to film school, quoting Kubrick as saying that the best way to learn how to make a film is to make a film. He spoke of his distaste for Second Units; “If a shot is important enough to be in the film, I should be shooting it.” And it was warming to hear him talk about working with his producer wife and writer brother; “It’s great to be able to work with people with no agenda.”

What this intellectual giant said was indeed illuminating but his  delivery was so introverted that he didn’t once look at the audience. It was as if hundreds of us were rudely listening in to a private conversation. If nothing else, including clips would have invited the audience in.

Eva Husson’s female heavy Girls of the Sun is one of only 3 Palme d’Or nominees directed by a woman

It was now 6pm and I hadn’t seen a film yet, which is unheard of for me in Cannes. While 82 high profile women were marching together up the red carpet to highlight the poor representation of female directors at Cannes – 82 films in the Festival’s 71 year history – I was queueing up to see one of only three films directed by women in this year’s competition. Girls of the Sun was about a French war reporter, struggling with the recent death of her husband, embedding herself with a battalion of women Kurdish fighters, trying to free their village from Islamic State extremists.

Delivering a powerful, often chilling and in-your-face war film, told with rather too much reliance on flash-backs, the female director, Eva Husson put a female sensibility on war. These women didn’t dream of being soldiers as young girls. They were driven to pick up a gun by the injustice and brutality around them. The film was as much about motherhood as it was about freedom fighting.