As the French film festival reaches its end, Helen Barlow looks at this year’s hits, misses and talking points.
1. Cannes has a new king
The king of the festival is surely Spike Lee. With BlacKkKlansman the outspoken filmmaker hit both nails on the head by delivering a film that couldn’t be more timely in its treatment of African American rights and of human rights in general, Lee stresses. The 61-year-old director explains how he had the blessing of the mother of Charlottesville victim Heather Heyer, to include footage of her daughter being run down by a man during the white nationalist protest in August 2017.
2. Irish were busy behind the scenes
Ireland didn’t have much of presence in the competition this year, but at the business end of the event, the Irish Film Board was busy pushing 27 films.
For example, Lenny Abrahamson’s eagerly anticipated The Little Stranger — starring Domhnall Gleeson and Charlotte Rampling — wasn’t ready for this year’s festival, but it did feature in the Film Board’s catalogue. Other features getting a push included A Girl from Mogadishu, the true story of a girl who was born into a refugee camp and trafficked to Ireland as a teenager; and Float Like A Butterfly, about a Traveller girl who is a boxer.
3. Orson’s eyes are smiling
In The Eyes of Orson Welles Belfast-born documentary director Mark Cousins, below, gives a new take on the cinematic master through his artworks, provided to him exclusively by Welles’ daughter Beatrice. Cousins told me in Cannes how Welles drew compulsively as a kind of way to relax. He also thrived in the theatre and loved Ireland from the first time he visited at age 16. He would come and go throughout his lifetime.
“There’s quite a lot of Ireland in this film, but Welles’ relationship with Ireland is even more than I’ve told,” Cousins explains, referring to his inclusion of Welles’s trip to Ireland and his early work at the Gate Theatre. “The deepest relationship he had with any character was with Shakespeare’s Falstaff and he world premiered his theatrical version of Falstaff in Belfast’s Grand Opera house in 1960. I’ve just become chairman of the Belfast Film Festival and hope to do something about Welles’ relationship with Belfast like we do in the film with Galway and Dublin, because it’s mostly unknown.
“Welles loved Ireland and he loved Irishness. He came from quite an intellectual background where everybody was contained. But he was a wild, stormy man and when he went to Ireland he found people like that. He also went to China and Germany in his teens but it was Ireland that really got inside him.”
4. Acting couples were a thing
Acting couples have been a thing in Cannes. Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem are in Asghar Farhadi’s Everybody Knows, the Iranian director’s first venture into Spanish which met with mixed reviews. Marion Cotillard had a stinker on her hands with Angel (she says she studied the Kardashians, which was probably a mistake) while her husband Guillaume Canet was in one of the festival’s biggest crowdpleasers, synchronised swimming serio-comedy Sink or Swim.
John Travolta and Kelly Preston play a real life couple in Gotti, about gangster John Gotti, and the actors seemed as close in Cannes as they are in the movie.
5. Heels are over-rated
The selfie ban on the red carpet and Terry Gilliam’s minor stroke made early headlines around the globe. Few A-list stars emerged to create the usual Cannes media frenzy, though jury member Kristen Stewart created a stir by daring to go barefoot on the red carpet stars.
Jury head Cate Blanchett also rallied women into action by fronting a protest with 82 women walking the red carpet to highlight the low number of female filmmakers who have been selected for the festival’s competition line-up over its 71 years.
6. We missed Netflix
Netflix was sorely missed, most notably in their last-minute decision not to screen Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma and two Orson Welles projects: The Other Side of the Wind, his long-lost film that was recently completed, and Morgan Neville’s documentary They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead. Last year, with The Meyerowitz Stories and Okja, so here’s hoping the festival organisers and the streaming giant come to some arrangement in 2019.
7. French still impress
There was no lack of interesting French films with French enfant terrible Gaspard Noe (Irreversible, Love) proving controversial with Climax, his dance party movie where someone slips LSD into the communal alcohol.
French heartthrob Gaspard Ulliel lays everything bare, literally and proverbially, in To the Ends of the World, a kind of French riff on Platoon and Apocalypse Now in the years leading up to the Vietnam War as French forces unsuccessfully try to fend off the fierce jungle-oriented locals.
8. Who needs a hotel (or even a receptive audience)?
Lars von Trier parked his campervan out of town after travelling down from Denmark by road as usual. With no press conference on offer for his film, The House That Jack Built starring Matt Damon and Uma Thurman, the controversial director had no chance to defend his blood-drenched story. About 100 people walked out of a film that featured scenes of mutilations of murder victims, and the killing of children
At least Von Trier had support from French director Gasper Noe. “All the sadistic scenes were so funny that people were staring at me because I couldn’t stop laughing,” Noe told Vulture.
9. A new chapter in a Solo career
Alden Ehrenreich ably fills Harrison Ford’s younger shoes in Solo: A Star Wars Story. Variety notes how the 28-year-old American “nails Ford’s cocky gait, his roguish eye-twinkle, his puffed-cheeked finger-pointing, and while the performance may initially come across as a highly skilled bit of mimicry, by the film’s end he’s managed to give the role a satisfying new spin”.
10. Lots of Driver
Adam Driver isn’t in this year’s Star Wars movie though he’s coming in Episode IX next year. In Cannes he has two films on offer: Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman and Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.
Gilliam made headlines just before the festival as he suffered a mild stroke, presumably because of the stress of the court case that was holding up his film’s inclusion in the programme. Hopefully he’s since had time to recover — because Cannes surely isn’t for the faint hearted.