Arts Express: Final Reflections on Cannes, The Festival and Beyond

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In this last in our series of Cannes Film Festival on location reports, Annette Insdorf has been the correspondent for the Arts Express at this year’s Festival 2011. We are honored to feature her coverage, which will also include breaking news announcing the winners at the end of the Festival.

Annette Insdorf is Director Of Film Studies at Columbia University, and the author of Indelible Shadows: Film And The Holocaust, and other books on cinema. Professor Insdorf is an internationally renowned educator, and her works are hailed as the definitive texts on their subjects. She has also been a jury member of numerous international film festivals.

Professor Insdorf has reported from Cannes for over a quarter century, previously co-anchoring with Roger Ebert for Bravo and The Independent Film Channel. Her knowledge and insight about cinema, past and present, is a veritable treasure trove of film history and culture. And we’re extremely proud to have her on Arts Express, as our correspondent reporting from Cannes this year.

The Cannes Film Festival Report And Beyond

By Annette Insdorf

Now that the 64th Cannes Film Festival has ended, we can expect some terrific films to be released in the second half of 2011. The general consensus was that the 20 films in competition included gems that can reach a wide audience, even beyond the few that received awards at last night’s closing ceremony (list of winners below). And there were dozens of acclaimed movies presented by other sections over the 12-day period.

My favorite Cannes film of 2011 was Nadine Labaki’s “Where Do We Go Now?” (shown in the “Un Certain Regard” sidebar). The second feature of the Lebanese director of “Caramel,” it is about Christian and Muslim women uniting to prevent male violence from erupting. This fable is humanist as well as femi0nist, poetic as well as political. Labaki (who also stars in “Where Do We Go Now?”) was awarded the Francois Chalais prize by a jury of French filmmakers on May 21: it is named in honor of a major film critic, and is given annually “to a fiction filmmaker who has best captured the world’s reality.” The prize was presented by actors Marisa Berenson and George Chakiris (yes, the “Shark” from “West Side Story”).

One of the most enthusiastically received films in competition is remarkably similar in theme: “The Source” calls itself a “fairy tale” and presents a group of women who are exhausted from carrying water to their arid village from a distant source. Angry that their men are lazy, they decide to go on a “love strike”: no sex till the men get the irrigation going. Starring the beautiful French-Algerian actress Leila Bekhti, this Arabic-language film was directed by Radu Mihaileanu, a French-based Romanian Jew whose previous films include the superb “Live and Become.”

Two other films in competition were thematically linked as well as quite moving-“Le Havre,” a French-language drama by Aki Kaurismaki (Winner of the International Critics Prize), and “The Kid With The Bike,” directed by the Dardenne Brothers from Belgium. When a boy in need meets a benevolent adult-in both films-we see altruism in action. Although “Le Havre” is stylistically self-aware and occasionally ironic, “The Kid With the Bike” is straightforward in telling the tale of an 11-year old boy who has been abandoned by his father. A sympathetic hairdresser (Cecile de France, from Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter”) reaches out to the difficult child, while Kaurismaki’s film centers on a Frenchman who shines shoes in the port city, and helps a boy who has been smuggled from Africa.

The longest standing ovation after a film in competition (approximately 15 minutes) was received by “The Artist,” a delightfully nostalgic crowd-pleaser. This black-and-white silent movie, written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, is set during the same period as “Singin’ in the Rain.” French movie star Jean Dujardin is very appealing as George Valentin, the screen idol who refuses to make the transition to talking pictures. In accepting his award for Best Actor, he offered his thanks, and then quipped, “Now I’ll shut up, because silence apparently suits me.”

The Best Director prize to Nicolas Winding Refn for “Drive” raised a few eyebrows because the film is relatively commercial (compared to the slow and poetic motion pictures from Turkey or Japan). But watching “Drive” is not merely an exciting experience based on deftly executed action sequences: Ryan Gosling’s incarnation of a Zen-like driver (stunt vehicles for movies by day, and getaway cars by night) is reminiscent of Alain Delon in Jean-Pierre Melville’s classic “Le Samourai.” Co-starring Carey Mulligan (who received an Oscar nomination for “An Education”), “Drive” elicited a memorable ovation at its black-tie screening.

In terms of stunt men, I should mention the Festival’s thrilling homage to French superstar Jean-Paul Belmondo. Although the 78-year-old actor now walks with a cane and speaks haltingly, he appeared onstage to thunderous applause, preceding a screening of a documentary about his 60-year career. It chronicles his rise from Godard’s “Breathless” to an action star (who did all his own stunts) as well as major stage actor. (In the film, Jean Dujardin-Best Actor winner this year-calls Belmondo “an accessible hero.”)

Festival President Gilles Jacob presented him with an Honorary Palme d’or, while celebrities such as Claudia Cardinale, Claude Lelouch, and Jean Rochefort flanked Belmondo. Given the paparazzi’s noisy angling for photos of stars on the Red Carpet every night, their gesture towards Belmondo was eloquent: the French photographers put down their cameras when he appeared, simply applauding him.

Finally, attending the Cannes Film Festival is not only about seeing movies. Where else but the south of France to enjoy thick white asparagus, like the ones served at the beachfront party following Pedro Almodovar’s “The Skin I Live In”? The dinners after black-tie screenings often provide the occasion to nibble very high-class food while talking with the actors and directors of admired work. This was especially the case for the huge “Agora” tent created behind the Palais: this was the site of the opening and closing night galas, catered by internationally renowned chefs like Alain Ducasse.

2011 Competition Feature Winners:

Palme d’Or (presented in excellent French by Jane Fonda, recalling gratefully how she received an Honorary Palme d’or in 2007):

THE TREE OF LIFE by Terrence MALICK (accepted by producers Dede Gardner and Bill Pohlad)

Grand Prix

BIR ZAMANLAR ANADOLU’DA (Once Upon A Time In Anatolia) by Nuri Bilge CEYLAN

THE KID WITH A BIKE by Jean-Pierre & Luc DARDENNE

Award for the Best Director

Nicolas WINDING REFN for DRIVE

Jury Prize

POLISS by MAIWENN

Best Performance by an Actor

Jean DUJARDIN in THE ARTIST by Michel HAZANAVICIUS

Best Performance by an Actress

Kirsten DUNST in MELANCHOLIA by Lars von TRIER

Award for the Best Screenplay

Joseph CEDAR for FOOTNOTE (whose representative conveyed his dedicating the prize to distributor Don Krim, who died May 20 in New York and supported Cedar’s early work)

-Annette Insdorf

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Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.