Film­mak­ers de­fend a lan­guage switch at English-heavy Cannes


The Cannes Film Fes­ti­val is as close as could be to the movie in­dus­try’s an­swer to the United Na­tions. The film­mak­ers and me­dia of the world are usu­ally rep­re­sented in one way or the other. The Croisette, Cannes’ sea­side prom­e­nade, is usu­ally a bab­ble of tongues.

So this year’s fes­ti­val slate of films was greeted with con­ster­na­tion in some cor­ners when a com­mon­al­ity was no­ticed across­many of the fes­ti­val’s in-com­pe­ti­tion se­lec­tions: the English lan­guage.

Though there are only two Amer­i­can film­mak­ers in com­pe­ti­tion for Cannes’ Palme d’Or and no Bri­tish di­rec­tors, this year’s fes­ti­val is lit­tered with Europe’s elite film­mak­ers work­ing in a lan­guage not their own. On a con­ti­nent that has war­ily watched English be­come a kind of de facto com­mon lan­guage, fears flared that con­tem­po­rary Euro­pean cin­e­mawas­be­ing lost in trans­la­tion.

UKnews­pa­perThe Guardian says an “An­glo­phone virus” is ram­pag­ing.

Italy’s Paolo Sor­rentino pre­miered on Wed­nes­day his sec­ond English lan­guage film, Youth, with Michael Caine and Har­vey Kei­tel. Four other no­table names in in­ter­na­tional film — Nor­way’s Joachim Trier, Italy’s Mat­teo Gar­rone, Greece’s Yorgos Lan­thi­mos and Mex­ico’s Michel Franco — are all mak­ing their English-lan­guage de­buts. And Que­be­cois film­maker De­nis Vil­lenueve, an Os­car-nom­i­nee for his French lan­guage In­cendies, pre­miered his English-lan­guage drug war thriller Si­cario on Tues­day.

As the fes­ti­val has un­spooled, many di­rec­tors have de­fended their de­ci­sion to switch lan­guages for the sake of cre­ative cu­rios­ity and for the greater op­por­tu­ni­ties it af­fords them.

Af­ter mak­ing the Os­car-nom­i­nated Dog­tooth and his fol­low-up, Alps, Lan­thi­mos moved from Greece to Lon­don. His Cannes en­try The Lob­ster, star­ring Colin Far­rell and Rachel Weisz, cer­tainly showed no loss of idio­syn­crasy in its satir­i­cal tale of di­vorcees and sin­gle peo­ple who face be­ing turned into an an­i­mal if they don’t find a spouse.

“I don’t know what the fuss is about,” Lan­thi­mos says. “It’s been al­ways hap­pen­ing in this time and age, peo­ple live any­where in the world, work any­where in the world. I guess it’sas­trange, in­ter­est­ing co­in­ci­dence. But other than that, I don’t think it re­ally means any­thing. Inmy case, for sure, it is eas­ier to make a film in the English lan­guage and have a few­more re­sources than I did in Greece. Sothat’spartof the choice.”

Gar­rone, the direc­tor of the ac­claimed mob drama Go­mor­rah, made his English de­but with Tale of Tales de­spite a deeply Ital­ian story adapted from 17th-cen­tury Neapolitan fairy tales.

“My choice wasn’t pre­med­i­tated,’’ says Gar­rone. “The fact that I shot in Italy, the fact that ev­ery­one came to my coun­try helped­meto no end feel that I had a very close link to my roots andmy cul­ture. So I didn’t feel this was trau­matic in any way when I moved from Ital­ian to English.”

Such a tran­si­tion, of course, has been go­ing on for as long as movies have been made, from F.W. Mur­nau to Ro­man Polan­ski to Ale­jan­dro Gon­za­lez Inar­ritu.

“If you want to go to the Amer­i­can mar­ket maybe you need to have a film in English, but I still think all the great di­rec­tors make films in their own lan­guages,” says fes­ti­val direc­tor Thierry Fre­maux, who says English func­tions like “the new Esperanto”. “I’m not sure if it’s a trend. We’ll see.’’

Cannes, it­self, fos­ters a cross-pol­li­na­tion of tal­ent. It’s the big­gest movie mar­ket in the world, and many of the in­ter­na­tional casts at this year’s lineup were partly as­sem­bled in deals forged at pre­vi­ous vis­its to Cannes.

Big­ger stars, nat­u­rally, means po­ten­tially more ex­po­sure and bet­ter fi­nanc­ing. But some­times a film­maker’s strengths don’t come through as loudly with­out sub­ti­tles. Joachim von Trier’s Louder Than Bombs is a sub­ur­ban New York drama about a fam­ily deal­ing with a mother’s death, star­ring Gabriel Byrne, Jesse Eisen­berg and Is­abelle Hup­pert. But at its Cannes pre­miere, it wasn’t re­ceived as well as Trier’s pre­vi­ous Nor­we­gian films, Oslo, Au­gust 31 and Reprise.

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