This year more than most, film fes­ti­val seems to be in flux, Chris Knight writes.

Montreal Gazette - - MOVIES - Ck­night@post­ twit­­film

CANNES It’s been a weird Cannes. In one sense that state­ment is never false at a fes­ti­val where tuxedo-clad at­ten­dees can climb the red-car­peted steps ac­com­pa­nied by stormtroop­ers to watch a space opera with French sub­ti­tles and star­ring a big walk­ing car­pet, then start count­ing down the hours until the world pre­mière of Ah­lat Agaci (The Wild Pear Tree), a 188-minute Turk­ish epic where (to quote the film’s web­site) “all hopes and dreams merge with de­spair.”

But even by the usual stan­dards of oddity and an­tithe­sis it’s been an off year. The very fu­ture of cin­ema some­times seemed to hang in the bal­ance, as Net­flix was banned from bring­ing one of its stream­ing ti­tles to com­pe­ti­tion and re­sponded by pulling all its films, wors­en­ing an al­ready weak year for English-lan­guage cin­ema at the fes­ti­val. Even so, the big­gest deal to come of the fes­ti­val — for about $25 mil­lion — was for an old-fash­ioned movie-movie, the spy thriller 355 that will star Jes­sica Chas­tain, Mar­ion Cotil­lard, Pene­lope Cruz and Lupita Ny­ong ’o.

But in many re­spects in 2018, the 71st year for the fes­ti­val, there was less of ev­ery­thing. Fewer ban­ners and bill­boards dec­o­rated the beach­front ho­tels, trum­pet­ing new and fu­ture projects. Fewer films took to the streets with wacky stunts to pro­mote them­selves. There were fewer par­ties, and they had less crackle.

Some of this reduction had to do with the gen­eral mood at Cannes this year. The 25th an­nual am­fAR party to raise money for AIDS char­i­ties seemed to stag­ger af­ter its chief booster, Har­vey We­in­stein, was em­broiled in sexual scan­dals, although it even­tu­ally went ahead as planned.

And as the #MeToo move­ment con­tin­ued to grow, a team of 82 fe­male celebri­ties (in­clud­ing jury pres­i­dent Cate Blanchett) took to the red car­pet to de­mand greater equal­ity in the film in­dus­try. Their num­bers rep­re­sented the 82 fe­male di­rec­tors who have com­peted for the fes­ti­val’s top prize over the years, slightly more than four per cent of the 1,948 to­tal. (The only woman to win the Palme d’Or was Jane Cam­pion, 25 years ago, for The Pi­ano.)

And many of the 21 films in com­pe­ti­tion this year seemed a touch lack­lus­tre. There were au­di­ence favourites in Eva Hus­son’s Girls of the Sun, about a real-life group of fe­male sol­diers in Kur­dis­tan, and A.B. Shawky’s Yomed­dine, an Egyptian film and quite pos­si­ble the first feel-good leper story in cin­ema his­tory. But both movies were also crit­i­cized for be­ing too stan­dard in their sto­ry­telling. Cannes crit­ics like to see art house in the house.

By this critic’s reck­on­ing (so far; I’ve still got a few movies to go), the best of the bunch has to be Burn­ing, from Korean di­rec­tor Chang-dong Lee. It’s a taut, ter­rif­i­cally paced thriller fea­tur­ing an im­pov­er­ished Ev­ery­man try­ing to solve a miss­ing-woman mys­tery.

And in a bizarre, only-atCannes co­in­ci­dence, the worst could eas­ily be David Robert Mitchell’s Un­der the Silver Lake, which has ba­si­cally the same plot. The difference is that while Lee’s film re­veals much by show­ing lit­tle, Mitchell’s has the te­le­scope turned the other way around.

Sin­gu­lar in its am­bi­tion and power is BlacKkKlans­man from Spike Lee, which stars John David Wash­ing­ton in the real-life story of a black cop in the 1970s who in­fil­trated the Ku Klux Klan. The movie is by turns hi­lar­i­ous and thought-pro­vok­ing, some­times skirt­ing close to Blaz­ing Sad­dles in its lu­nacy, but a pow­er­ful coda com­ment­ing on the racism on full dis­play last sum­mer in Char­lottesville, Va., makes Lee’s film very much a movie of the mo­ment.

Which­ever film takes the Palme d’Or Satur­day, a les­son of sorts may be found in the out-of­com­pe­ti­tion film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote from Terry Gil­liam. The di­rec­tor, now 77 and re­bound­ing from a mi­nor health scare that al­most scut­tled his trip to Cannes, started work on this movie al­most 30 years ago, in 1989. Af­ter a decade of strug­gling for fund­ing, he fi­nally started shoot­ing in 2000, only to have ev­ery­thing go wrong that could. (The doc­u­men­tary Lost in La Man­cha, orig­i­nally en­vi­sioned as a DVD mak­ing-of ex­tra, chron­i­cles the dis­as­ter.)

In 2016 Gil­liam fi­nally got things rolling again, and by late last year had a nearly fin­ished film.

Then, a few weeks be­fore the Cannes fes­ti­val be­gan, Ama­zon backed out of its U.S. dis­tri­bu­tion deal and pro­ducer Paulo Branco went to court, say­ing the film could not be shown at the fes­ti­val. A rul­ing in Gil­liam’s favour came down only last week.

The moral would seem to be that a fes­ti­val, like the movies that com­prise it, can suf­fer ups and downs, good years and bad. Some­times all it takes is one well-made thriller, one Spike Lee rant, one le­gal tri­umph or one well-re­ceived protest to turn things around.

Where there’s film, there’s hope.


Stormtroop­ers stood guard on the Cannes red car­pet this week as guests arrived for the screen­ing of Solo: A Star Wars Story.

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