Cannes has always prided itself in cinematic controversy and this year It didn’t take much time for the anticipated, but controversial screening of Bong Joon Ho’s “Okja” to create a stir. The film started off being booed not for its alliance to producer Netflix but because of a technical glitch which projected the film in the wrong aspect ratio. The film came to a screeching halt and a 7 minute delay followed. Once the film started again, booing happened for the reason we all thought it would: the Netflix logo appeared on the screen.
France and Netflix have been going through a war of words lately, mostly having to do with the streaming company’s refusal to theatrically screen its competition titles, “The Meyerowitz Stories,” in French cinemas.
At the press conference for “Okja” Tilda Swinton defended Netflix:
“Let’s be honest. There are thousands of films that are screened in Cannes film festival that we never see in the cinema,” Swinton says. “The most beautiful and most esoteric films that people never see in the cinema. It’s all an evolutionary process and Netflix have given Bong Joon-ho the chance to make his most liberated vision a reality. And for that I am so grateful.”
She continued, making her stance further clear about the virtues of the streaming network.
“As someone who has sat on many juries it is a task to immediately noble some people who have been invited to the party, but the truth is we didn’t come here for prizes,” Swinton says. “We came here to show this film to the Cannes Film Festival and to people who have gathered here from all over the world. And it is true we get the wonderful opportunity and privilege to screen or film on that screen. That’s part of the thrill of bringing a film to Cannes. I think it’s an enormous and interesting conversation that is beginning, but the truth is if you want to know what I really think? I think as in many matters there is room for everybody.”
The director also had strong words when it came to the artistic freedom Netflix gave him, especially after the horror story that was his experience working with Harvey Weinstein on “Snowpiercer”:
“I loved working with Netflix they gave me great support,” Joon-ho says. “The budget for the film is considerable. Giving such a budget to a director isn’t very common and i had total liberty. It was a wonderful experience. I’m saying that in terms of the shooting and the editing. They never intervened. They respected me from the beginning until the end. Quite frankly they gave me total freedom and liberty. No pressures on me. No restrictions on their part.”
I attended the Cannes press conference that had Will Smith, alongside fellow jury members which included Jessica Chastain, Maren Ade, Agnes Jaoui, and president Pedro Alnodovar, being asked questions about the jury process, but also, more interestingly, Cannes’ recent feud with Netflix.
Almodovar prepared a statement beforehand which he ended up being read to us in the room:
“What I prefer absolutely is, yes to be seen not [just] in 190 countries but always to be seen in a big screen. That is really what I am concerned about. I promise to be very brief. You point [to] the question and the debate of this year. I’m going to read a small statement in Spanish about what you asked before. Digital platforms are a new way of working images which in its way is enriching and positive. But these platforms, these new forms, should not take the place of existing forms such as the fact of going to the movie theater. They should under no circumstances change the habits of viewers.The only solution I think is that the new platforms accept and should obey the existing rules that are already adopted and respected by all the exiting networks. “
“I think this is the only way to make them survive and because I personally do not conceive not only the Palme d’Or but any other prize being given to a film and then not being able to see this film on a large screen.”
Almodovar must have not realized that by saying he doesn’t agree with the Palme D’or being given to a film not seen on a large screen he is basically saying he will refuse to give awards to the two Netflix films in competition at the year’s fest: Bong Joon-Ho’s Okja and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories.
Smith chimed in as well, not too surprising considering he has a Netflix movie, Bright, premiering this year. It is the most expensive Netflix movie ever made with an estimated budget of $90M. And so, as you can imagine, his response to the yay or nay Netflix question was completely different than Almodovar’s:
“I have a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old and a 24-year-old at home,” Smith says. “They go to the movies twice a week and they watch Netflix….I don’t know about other people’s home, but in my home Netflix has had absolutely no effect on what they go to the movie theater to watch. They go to the movie the theater to be humbled in front of certain images and there are other films they prefer to watch at home. It’s not as though they would have gone to the cinema if it was on Netflix. It’s two completely different forms of entertainment they go for. In my house Netflix has been nothing but an absolute benefit because they get to watch films that they never would have seen. Netflix bring a great connectivity to them to the world. There are movies that are not on a screen within 8,000 miles. And now they get to find those artists and they get to look them up online and they make contact. And there is this whole underground world of artists that gets born from that kind of connectivity. In my home it has done nothing but broaden my children’s cinematic global comprehension.”
Adding insult to injury, Smith added this about, shock, the task of watching three movies a day and, even bigger shock, doing it at the early hour of 8:30 am.
“When I first got the call I was really excited,” Smith recalls. “My publicist she called me and she was like, ‘They want you to be on the jury at Cannes’ and I was like, ‘Yes! Perfect.’ She said, ‘It’s about two weeks.’ ‘Oh, hold up. Hold up.’ ‘It’s 10 days, it’s 10 days.’ ‘Alright, alright. That’s cool.’ ‘And you’ll be watching two to three movies a day.’ ‘Um, OK. I can do that.’ I was probably fourteen years old the last time I watched three movies in a day. There movies in a day is a lot. So, I’m looking forward to it. A movie at 8:30 in the morning. We talked about that also. I’m going to be in bed every night and I’m going to be watching my 8:30 screenings wide awake, focused to give my best.”
Here are my top 10 films of the festival, which hit a low in recent years for overall quality.
The Florida Project
After Tangerine, Sean Baker sets up his camera again with an eye towards uncharted America with “The Florida Project.” This time his eye goes towards the makeshift motels that litter the main avenues towards Disneyland, distilling a moist, colorful, and shimmering atmosphere, thanks to Alexis Zabe‘s beautiful photography. Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) is 6 years old and lives in a motel with her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite). On summer break, Mooney and her ragtag group of friends look for adventure as they roam through the outskirts of the motel while the adults around them struggle to make ends meet. Baker shoots his own “400 Blows” with his little band of insolent misfits. The atmosphere, paradoxically decadent and disenchanted, mixes what filmmaker himself calls “pop verité” cinema, to create a hybrid of hope and misery that feels both transcendent and groundbreaking. Like “Tangerine,” it is this sense of freedom, freshness and energy that, in Baker’s mise-en-scene, from the camera to the non-professional actors, the film maps contemporary America. Baker doesn’t succumb to the sirens of miserabilism, even though the final, sad frame might hint at this. Instead, he prefers the fanciful fantasy of the children who, in their flight forward, give themselves moments of happiness by the simple light of a blue sky.
A botched bank robbery starts off the madcap lunacy of The Safdie Brothers’ Good Time. Constantine Nikas (Robert Pattinson) has his brother land in jail and, to try and find bail money, embarks on the most surreal of Odysseys in NYC’s underworld. Think Scorsese’s After Hours on coke. The adrenaline filled night is filled with time-capsule worthy moments filled with madness and the most disturbing of violence. This is a richly textured genre exercise that is filled with indelibly unforgettable images, many of which will be very hard to forget. The Safdies have always been masters at discomfort and Good Time is surely no exception, here they create their most fully realized movie by invoking a cinematic style, but still maintaining the docu-style realism that has always been at the forefront of their work. Robert Pattinson is an enthralling lead, he builds up his character through facial expression and bottled-up anger which lingers inside of him in every scene. He’s in survival mode throughout, but, thanks to the Safdies, so are we.
A child goes missing in Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless, a profound and morose take on contemporary Russia from the director of Leviathan, a film that made waves back in 2014 and which included a scene with its main characters playing a game of shoot the darts on a poster of Vladimir Putin. Putin is barely mentioned in this latest endeavor from Zvyagintsev, but his shadow looms in every frame. “Loveless” is about western civilization turning into a numb, unemotional populace, one in which it is a burden to take care of a child and that your own happiness becomes more important than that of your own baby cub. The political establishment looms large in the film, like a big brother watching over these characters’ every steps, watching lives being destroyed, but not caring one bit about the outcome.
Winning the Palme D’or was The Square, a movie that dares to challenge political correctness in its ferociously unhinged tackle of human psyche. What exactly binds us to communicate and be civil to each other is what its writer director Ruben Ostlund asks. The answer is much more complicated than a simple answer and, it seems, that by the movie’s end he still hasn’t really found the answer to his own question. The brilliant moments in the film should come as no surprise to well-seasoned cinephiles, Ostlund was marked as a talent to watch after Force Majeure, his 2014 festival hit, put him on the mark with critics worldwide. In that film he used a more subtle tone for his own cringe worthy cinema to focus on the collapse of male manhood in Swedish society. Nevertheless, that film shares many similarities to The Square in terms of the tone and unabashedly sardonic wit that Ostlund displays towards his characters and story.
Michael Haneke’s Happy End will be divisive, but it’s also the film that Haneke needed to make at this stage in his career, a sort of reinvention that tackles his obsessive, familiar themes, but feels purposely polarizing and creatively freeing for Haneke. in its lack of a narrative structure. Yes, Happy End even has comedic moments, a rarity for the venerable Austrian filmmaker whose reputation has been that of heavy, morosely-driven dramas. The film stars Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Matthieu Kassovitz and revolves around a dysfunctional family falling apart. Each have their own problems and, yet, the represent what is wrong with the bourgeoisie these days: all pent-up, airless frustration at the most unimportant topics. In fact, this is Haneke’s most meta movie, a self-referential farce about all the themes that he’s tackled so far in his illustrious career. The film is reminiscent of a Luis Bunuel’s provoking cinema of the 1970’s. The film might as well be called The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.
The Killing of A Sacred Deer
Yorgos Lanthimos is a director that doesn’t mind bewildering and angering audiences. With Dogtooth and The Lobster he made brilliantly dissected and scathing satires of the patriarchal family. He’s at it again with The Killing of A Sacred Deer, which all, but confirms him as a sort of Bunuel for the 21st Century. Colin Farrell plays Steven, a deadpan surgeon still haunted by the failed surgery he did many years ago, while inebriated, which cost the life of the patient. This incident returns in the form of a sinister teenage boy who wants to make sure Steven’s life starts to fall apart in very personal ways. The film is an unabashed nightmare, a stalker thriller that delves into the surreal with an operatic and mesmerizing finale that will have you up in stitches. Farrell and Kidman, playing his wife, command the screen with ingeniously playful performances There are no winners in Lanthimos’ world, so beware.
You Were Never Really Here
I saw Lynne Ramsay’s latest film twice at the fest. A rarity for me, but a case could be made for Ramsay’s film to be dissected as it packs a whole can of worms in its 83 minute running time. Joaquin Phoenix plays a war veteran who now works as a hitman. His attempt to save a young girl from a sex trafficking ring becomes very complicated once he uncovers a political conspiracy lurking beneath it. The editing is the real sell here as Ramsay tries an experimental approach through quickly snipped flashbacks and voiceover. She finds ways to show as little as possible, but say as much as is needed, building up her main character in ways that feel like the story is being told through his subconscious. Heady stuff, but masterfully done and a groundbreaker if there ever was one at Cannes.
120 Beats Per Minute
Sometimes a movie doesn’t need much character development to make an impact. The ensemble cast of Robin Campillo’s AIDS activists in 120 Beats Per Minute all work together to be the same voice. Campillo tries to create a force that resonates more in message than in any of the conventional, dramatic sparks you might find in a Hollywood drama. This is one of the most political movies to come around in quite some time. Campillo stages heated strategy sessions between the activists of ACT UP like a Godard cinematic political essay post-“La Chinoise.” The activism on display here is inspiring enough to have you all riled up to leave aside whatever you’re doing at home and try to make a difference in the world.Campillo’s film has the members of France’s late ‘90s ACT UP movement stage riots, interventions, parade and, even, ambush pharma offices in the greater France area by throwing balloon-filled blood on windows and, even, at pharma people. It’s all about the message they want to send. There isn’t any attempt here by Campillo to tell a story as much as to give us a bird’s eye view of activism at its most passionate and, yes, sometimes militant. If anything, the closest we have to a story is when one of the main characters starts dying of AIDS and Campillo switches the last half hour of the film on this character’s fight to survive. The brilliantly edited finale takes your breath away and pummels you in its raw power.
Doubles, deceptions and desires abound. Think Brian De Palma. That’s the most obvious filmmaker you can sense director Francois Ozon took inspiration from for L’Amant Double, an erotic thriller that sizzles with delectable mischief. Chloé, a stunning Marine Vacth, is a vulnerable woman that falls in love with her psychoanalyst, Paul. It’s not long before they movie in together and are engaged. Twists happen, that should not be revealed, but know that Ozon is very much obsessed here with doppelgangers and twins. It’s like Dead Ringers mixed with Dressed to Kill. Tackling the fetish of voyeurism, Ozon offers up lively kink that feels both campy and surreal. Maybe not the kind of film that you would think deserves a competition slot at Cannes, but one which reminds us of why we fell in love with movies in the first place. With all that being said, L’Amant Double might be the most movie-movie of all the titles seen at this year’s festival. It has the makings of some kind of cult classic.
Oh, the horror! The French were petrified at the thought of writer-director The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius making a movie about legendary director of the French New-Wave, Jean-Luc Godard. The only way this was going to work was if the film didn’t take itself too seriously, good thing then that Redoubtable is a light confection of a film, one in which its subject matter is dealt is the most comedic of ways. It also helps that Hazanavicious decided to only tackle a few years in the life of Godard. During the making of La Chinoise, Godard fell in love with 17-year old actress Anne Wiazemsky, at the same time his politics were vastly changing as he was leaning towards Maoist ideologies, which would severely affect his filmmaking for the next decade or so. Played by Louis Garrel, in an impressively layered performance, Godard is portrayed as an unpleasant narcissist that isolated everybody around him and stopped making the movies that people wanted him to make. Sounds like the Godard we read and knew about and, for that, we are grateful.