The Cannes Film Festival Reports 2012

The following is the second in a series of Cannes Film Festival Reports by Annette Insdorf, who is on location. Professor Insdorf is our correspondent at this year’s Cannes Film Festival during May. Her coverage will also include breaking news announcing the winners at the end of the Festival. Professor Insdorf is Director of Undergraduate Film Studies at Columbia University, and she previously co-anchored from Cannes for decades with Roger Ebert.

Cannes Film Festival Round-Ups

I sometimes feel like royalty watching movies with the black-tie audience during the Cannes Film Festival. Even when a film dips below expectations, settling into one of the orchestra seats among 2,300 spectators in the Grand Palais Lumiere-before what might be the largest movie screen in the world-is a heady ritual. Opening Night on May 23 was indeed a lavish event, beginning with the ceremony hosted by The Artist discovery Berenice Bejo. She couldn’t help but acknowledge how important Cannes has been to her career, given the premiere of Michel Hazanavicius’ black-and-white delight one year ago at this Festival.

The Oscar winner for Best Film of 2011 (which included a nomination for Bejo) was a silent movie, leading her to quip (in French), “People all over the world love a film where the French shut up.” She then repeated a gentle “Shut up” to all who would limit human possibility: “… to those who tell your kids not to dream, be quiet. To those who say, ‘of course the film was going to be a flop,’ shut up. …”

Jury President Nanni Moretti was introduced by a montage of clips. They revealed a remarkably prolific Italian auteur who has written, directed and starred in a cornucopia of movies. He thanked France, “which, unlike other countries, reserves a special place for film in society.” After the Jury took their seats, Moonrise Kingdom had its world premiere and received a standing ovation.

Celebrities and dignitaries mingled at the feast that followed in the “Agora” tent, a huge temporary construction behind the Palais. Among them was Alec Baldwin, in Cannes for the first time, mainly for an intriguing project directed by James Toback: Seduced and Abandoned might sound like a film about a naive young woman, but is in fact a pungent metaphor for movie artists at the mercy of studios and financiers.

When Toback and Baldwin engaged in an onstage conversation after a screening of Last Tango in Paris at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater on April 5, the director pungently quoted Henry Miller in announcing that his upcoming film would be “a gob of spit in the face of conventional filmmaking.” Rather than a mockumentary, Seduced and Abandoned will trace the process of raising money to make a political drama, including interviews with Cannes favorite sons like Roman Polanski and Bernardo Bertolucci.

Afterwards, I enjoyed the Moonrise Kingdom party at the beach of the Carlton Hotel. While the food was hardly at the level of the braised veal served at the Agora-the main offerings were American-style mini-burgers and French macaroon delicacies-the vibes were joyful, especially for director Wes Anderson and cast members Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton and Bob Balaban.

Moonrise Kingdom is a period piece presented in Anderson’s recognizably idiosyncratic style. Reveling in artifice, he tells the story of runaway 12-year-olds-in-love via a camera that meticulously tracks, pans and tilts. At a press conference for American journalists, Kara Hayward-the newcomer who plays the daughter of Bill Murray and Frances McDormand admitted that she has not yet experienced the kind of intense love depicted in the movie. She said the director helped them “get into the 1960s mindset” by giving them CDs of appropriate music.

Jared Gilman, who plays the runaway orphan Sam, explained, “Wes had us write letters to each other via e-mail, like the letters we exchange in the film. Then he said we should write by hand and send the letters by snail mail. It helped us get into the 1960s vibe.” Maybe the epistolary art is not yet a relic of the past.

Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone also uses a heightened, self-conscious style to recount a moving (if occasionally melodramatic) tale. Marion Cotillard-who won the Best Actress Oscar playing Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose)-and Matthias Schoenaerts play bruised people who provide a second chance for each other. Ali is a street fighter, while Stephanie performs a different kind of physical feat: she trains killer whales for spectacular stadium shows, until an accident leaves her a paraplegic. (I smell an Oscar nomination: the Academy favors not only handicapped characters, but beautiful actresses who play deglamorized heroines.)

During an interview in Cannes, Cotillard said that the main challenges of the film were technical rather than emotional for her-basically having to “imagine I had no legs.” On the other hand, she acknowledged the pleasure of working again in her native French after a few films in English. “I don’t have to think about how I say the words!” She compared this to her role as a Polish woman in James Gray’s upcoming drama with Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner: she had to learn not only the language, but how to “have a good Polish accent in English: it’s a lot of work,” she remarked.

Cotillard’s highest profile role is in The Dark Knight Rises, scheduled for summer release. She seems to be following in the footsteps of Juliette Binoche, working with top directors from numerous countries. For example, she stars in Blood Ties, a crime thriller with Clive Owen directed by her longtime companion Guillaume Canet. And she will be in the next film of the Iranian Asghar Farhadi, who won the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar for A Separation a few months ago.

Lawless is set during Prohibition-era 1931, with a focus on three moonshine-peddling brothers (Shia LeBoeuf, Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke) caught between gangsters like Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman) and the corrupt law (incarnated by a nasty Guy Pearce). I found Lawless curiously related to Rust and Bone: Hardy’s grunting character Forrest is like Ali, taciturn but tender. Indeed, John Hillcoat’s third feature could be retitled “Moonshine and Blood”).

The most emotionally wrenching film in Cannes competition thus far is Michael Haneke’s Amour (Love). Legendary French actors Emmanuelle Riva (Hiroshima mon amour) and Jean-Louis Trintignant (A Man and a Woman) play a couple suddenly confronting her decline after a stroke. Whereas conventional movies go for easy sympathy, the simplicity and rigor of Haneke’s direction result in a moving portrait that is not manipulative. Because there is no soundtrack, the viewer is more likely to listen to the sounds of daily life-a faucet running too long, coffee poured helplessly outside the cup, hair brushed too brusquely, moans and kisses.

After four days, one of the high points of the Festival was the 65th anniversary dinner, also in the Agora tent. In addition to delectable dishes like breast of chicken prepared with verbena and fennel, we were treated to the intersection of film and politics. For example, MPAA head Christopher Dodd met the newly appointed French culture minister Aurelie Filippetti (a young woman mistaken by some Festivalgoers for an actress).

The dinner followed the screening of Gilles Jacob’s “A Special Day,” an affectionate portrait of the 60th Cannes Fest reunion of world-class directors. In introducing the film, Festival President Jacob (who received an enthusiastic standing ovation) mentioned that the Festival has rights as well as responsibilities, which include expressing solidarity with filmmakers persecuted in other countries.

On the stage behind him were enough directors to warm a cinephile’s heart, including Olivier Assayas, David Cronenberg, Abbas Kiarostami, Ken Loach, Walter Salles, and Roman Polanski. While it was painfully noticeable that no women were on the stage, this was clearly a celebration of the “politique des auteurs” that has characterized Cannes for more than six decades. One hopes for discoveries of female directors in the various non-Competition sections this year: including shorts, at least 26 women’s films have been selected, suggesting that future displays of talent will look less like a fraternity display.

– Annette Insdorf

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.