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Cannes Film Festival

It’s always a big comedown to go back to a life not spent watching 2-3 movies a day, running from one interview to the next. And so it is with Life After Cannes. But there is the knowledge that many of the films seen will start to make their way out into the world and take their place within cinemas around the world.
Here are my favourite films from this year’s festival, which I hope to be watching again very soon…

And for more on them, I present their trailers:
Paterson

The Handmaiden
Captain Fantastic

Just before I left New York for this year’s Cannes Film Festival, I had Valerie, the Amy Winehouse track by Mark Ronson stuck in my head. It stayed there throughout my time on the French Riviera thanks to seeing a film that became one of my best at the fest.
The Amy Winehouse documentary, simply titled Amy, earned heaps of praise when it debuted early on in the fest. There’s a quote in it that also stayed with me, uttered by the inimitable Tony Bennett: “Life teaches you how to live it, if you live long enough.” Words that could probably only be said by someone like him who has been there and done that when it comes to the music industry, and life itself. Mr Bennett is one of the people filmmaker Asif Kapadia interviews in his documentary, giving us a thorough look at how the singer tried to live hers before she died of alcohol poisoning at the age of 27.
Just as he did in the excellent Bafta-winning Senna, Kapadia uses these interviews, from her best friends, music producers and her ex-husband (“my Blake incarcerated”), over home video and early gig footage so that the emphasis falls on the words and stories being told about who Amy Winehouse was, beyond the hit singles and headlines. How she – at the very heart of it all – just wanted to be loved. It’s a heartbreaking story, and Kapadia has done an excellent job of showing just how her voice was both her gift and her curse. Oh, but what a voice. Hearing her voice in intimate jazz club settings raises goosebumps.
Paparazzi footage is turned on its head to show just how much the photogs and tabloids intruded in on her life, as her art became her struggle. Even though it was a documentary and not in competition, Amy was made with such style and heart and vision that it deserves to stand alongside any of the other works, fiction or not, offered this year.

Paulo Sorrentino’s second English-language left another quote floating around in my mind, long after I watched it. The film divided the audience I watched it with – it’s quite disappointing to bound out of a theatre, ready to share with great gusto what you loved about the film, only to discover your friends didn’t feel the same way. But others did share my passion for the film, so I found a few kindred spirits to marvel at Sorrentino’s idiosyncrasies.
The thing is, I can’t even really explain all the reasons why I loved the film. Michael Caine is the star of Youth, and he is joined by Harvey Keitel and they play two friends, in the dusk of their lives, on their annual holiday in a Swiss resort, where they have conversations about life, love and everything else. But as it goes with Sorrentino, the film is not just as straight forward as this. “Emotions are over-rated,” Caine’s Fred Ballinger tells Keitel’s Mick Boyle. But it’s through an array of elements – sound, sights, music, details that seem to be out-of-place and then revealed not to be – that the film shows how very not true his words turn out to be. Watching Youth brought me through an assortment of emotions – and I came out the other side feeling the best kind of emotion, deeply and utterly invigorated with life.

Like many other festival-goers, I also thoroughly enjoyed The Lobster and Carol. Even though the latter felt like watching a Vivian Maier photograph take a slow, long brooding time to develop. Director Todd Haynes used the late nanny-turned-photographer’s pics as inspiration for the period piece, set in the ‘50s, about a love story between two women, the older played by Cate Blanchett and the younger by Rooney Mara, who won the Best Actress prize at the end of the fest (shared with Emmanuelle Bercot). Their hair, their outfits, their restrained performances – impeccable.
Add Mad Max: Fury Road and Inside Out to the list, and my Cannes 2015 is done. Unfortunately, I left early and without seeing the Palme d’Or winning film. Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan scored the top prize, after his previous film, Rust & Bone competed in 2012, and A Prophet picked up the Grand Prix in 2009.

You may be as happy as I was to discover that I didn’t oversleep on Thursday and so made it to the Hotel du Cap in Antibes, about 30 minutes outside of Cannes, to interview Charlize and the Mad Max: Fury Road co. Instead of sleeping too much, I actually didn’t under-slept and got about maybe 20 minutes of full sleep if I was lucky. Ah, jet lag.

Wearing a knockout of an LBD, Charlize Theron was, as always a pleasure to interview. But I did notice that she wasn’t as friendly or as easy to make casual conversation before the interview as she has been in the previous occasions that I have spoken to her. The press promotion for this film has been full-throttle and Cannes is just another stop on the tour to make sure the buzz keeps it going all the way into the box office books.

The film has received such glowing reviews, it’s sure to go exactly where director George Miller hopes. He is a fantastic visionary, and the effects he has created onscreen are a visual treat that will leave you gasping and mouthing the word, ‘wow’ more than a few times. Much has been made of Charlize’s character Furiosa, being the actual star of the film. It may say Max in the title, but it may as well have been Furiosa. As Tom Hardy, who plays Max told me, it does say “Fury Road,” so that’s a clue right there.

I’ve barely managed to get anything more than a 3-mile run in, but I have managed to make a few screenings so far. One of the first things I found out the very first time I covered Cannes was that there is so much going on at this film festival, and so many quick deadlines, that it’s quite difficult to actually watch the films themselves. 19 are in competition this year for the prestigious Palme d’Or. I saw Tale of Tales, with Salma Hayek and Vincent Cassel, which is a weaving of three WTF fairytale stories that are both whimsical and worrying at the same time, while The Lobster gave me a fantastic start to Day 3, with its musings on love as an institution where, if you fail, you are to spend the rest of your life as an animal.

Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos has Colin Farrell’s character select a lobster, hence the film’s title. I don’t know what I would choose, but I think if I am ever a complete and utter failure at this thing called Love to the extent I give up completely, I should like to be a dog that belongs to a celebrity – then I don’t think I’ll ever have to want for anything. Especially not love.

 

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I dubbed this year’s Cannes Film Festival, “My Week with Marcello” because I usually cover Cannes until the end of the 12 days, when the Palme d’Or is handed out and the last film is shown at the Grande Theatre Lumiere, but this year, due to to a cosmic forces beyond my control, I had to leave halfway through. So I only had a week spent in the south of France, with Italian film star Marcello Mastroianni’s sunshaded-portrait providing the backdrop for this year’s fest.

Of the films I did see, my three favourites were: The Salvation, a co-production between Denmark and South Africa, in which Mads Mikkelsen plays a vengeful cowboy and a farm just outside Johannesburg plays the Wild West in which he exacts his revenge upon Jeffrey Dean Morgan; Turist, a Swedish film that follows a family on holiday in the alps when the father runs away during a would-be avalanche, and Foxcatcherfrom the director of Capote, Bennett Miller, comes three fantastic performances from Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo in this based-on-a-true-story film.

In honour of the film Mastroianni made with Federico Fellini, 8 1/2, which is where the still shot for the poster comes from, and as tribute to my 8th Cannes Film Festival, here are my personal top 8 highlights from this year:

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1. The Gloria sing-a-long in the car led by Marion Cotillard in the movie Two Days, One Night, directed by Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne – a light moment in a moving film about the economic crisis, in which the filmmakers, through the Oscar-winning actress, show the very real human side to being laid off.

2. Seeing Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen (known for Casino Royale and the TV series Hannibal) as a vengeful cowboy in The Salvation, a co-production between South Africa and Denmark, and interviewing him about shooting the film on a farm just outside Joburg.

3. At the How To Train Your Dragon 2 party, Djimon Hounsou and I going up to the DJ at the same time to request he up the tempo a little. Neither Djimon nor I were successful in our attempts, but it did give me something to talk to the actor about just before our interview the next day about the second installment of the lovable animated film.

4. Seeing South African-based animation company Triggerfish returning to Cannes, after first meeting the team during my first festival – and theirs – in 2007. Now, they’re represented by the powerhouse talent agency, WME, and have two successful films, Khumba and Zambezia, under their belt, both of which just opened in France and China respectively, and in the top ten of those countries’ box offices too.

5. Dashing into Belliard Bakery on Rue Chabaud for my morning pain au chocolate on the way into the day’s first screening. And then running along the Croisette on a rainy Monday morning with The Times’ Kate Muir, a film journalist and critic whom I discovered shares a love of pavement-pounding too. I may not have worked off the calories from a week of eating pastries but it was a beautiful stress-reliever.

6. Geeking out – just a little – over the all-star cast of The Expendables 3 riding around in tanks ahead of a press conference to promote the film. Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Ford, Banderas – listening to their stories was a Sunday morning well-spent.

7. Dancing with South African filmmakers and producers at the National Film and Video Foundation’s annual SA networking party to the track Pluto by DJ Clock featuring Beatenburg. It brought a wave of homesickness over this New York-based journo.

8. Reuniting with friends from all over the world, made over the years of attending Cannes: Poly from Greece, Andrea from Italy, Stevie from China. Yes, Cannes is about the stars and the celebs, but we share a love of cinema and stories, and they make the work easier to handle – because although it is fun, writing stories, filing news pieces, putting together features and staying awake through early morning and late night screenings can be a little weary for even the most enthusiastic among us.

Triggerfish Animation's Stuart Forrest and Jean-Michel Koenig at the SA party.

Triggerfish Animation’s Stuart Forrest and Jean-Michel Koenig at the SA party.

The last half, in honour of Fellini’s movie, I’ll give to my having to leave halfway through. It felt like leaving a movie before it ended; I didn’t get to see Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut, Lost River, which apparently earned both boos and applause, and I didn’t get to see Mommy, by 25-year old Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan, which earned cries of “Palme d’Or!” by many. I won’t complain though, because at least I got to go.

Half a Cannes is better than none.

Signature_CONF-PRESSEI’ve heard it being said a few times over the past few days, and I’ve felt it myself – this Cannes doesn’t feel as busy as previous years. Also, there doesn’t seem to be the same kind of buzz being generated as in years gone by. But each festival has its own character, and there are still moments of wonder and engagement that are giving this year’s one its own unique feel.

This morning’s screening of  drew high praise from critics here for Steve Carell and Channing Tatum, as well as Mark Ruffalo to a lesser extent, as his part isn’t as big or as revelatory. I hardly recognized Steve, not just because of the prosthetic added to his nose but because his speech and manner was very creepy. Loveable Gru he was not! It’s amazing to see him embody the fear and dark side of wealth and insecurity in this role. In the film, which is based on a true story, Steve plays John DuPont, a wealthy man who bankrolls the US Olympic wrestling team. Channing’s Mark Schultz is part of that team, together with his more charming and affable brother played Mark.

The dynamic that plays out between them over the course of the slow-burning film is superb, and yes, there are already whispers of Oscar nominations. I’m just impressed Carell has that in him. We got glimpses of his not-so charming side in but this take that hint and manifests it completely. At the press conference for the film, Steve said he didn’t find doing a drama that much different to a comedy: “I don’t think characters in film know that they’re in a comedy or a drama; they’re just characters in a film. I don’t approach a drama any differently to a comedy. That’s how it was for this film. It was just a story and a character within that story.” In this story, Channing too, is so great to watch – he is far more than most would give him credit for, and this film will help show that. Maybe even as far as a Best Supporting Actor nod? It might be too early for all that. I’m just trying to enjoy the films for what they are now.

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David Cronenberg’s Map to the Stars had its premiere here Monday night, and the stars came out for it. Robert Pattinson is back in Cannes to support the film, after last year’s Cosmopolis, also by Cronenberg. I feel incredibly old when I start to say that I remember meeting him in Cannes before the first Twilight movie came out. He was on the cusp of his stardom and now he seems to be steering his ship in another direction, down indie waters. He also has another film here called The Rover, directed by Animal Kingdom‘s David Michod. Map, starring Julianne Moore (as you’ve honestly never seen her before), John Cusack and Mia Wasikowska, had me a little puzzled as to what it was all about and what I was meant to be left feeling when it ended, so it’s not one of my highlights this year.

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A film I did feel a whole lot more rewarded for watching was the Swedish movie, Force Majeure (Tourist) by filmmaker Ruben Östlund, showing in the Un Certain Regard portion of the festival. A family on vacation in the alps misses being hit by an avalanche, but the impact of that experience and the emotion it draws out of the parents, and those around them, becomes its own emotional avalanche. It’s a somewhat quirky, insightful study into human reaction to fright and disaster. It is darkly humorous at times, the ski scenes swept me up and I connected with the story in many ways. 

In between the fox-catching and slalom-sliding, I managed to see the documentary South African filmmaker Khalo Matabane made about the country’s first democratic president. Called Nelson Mandela: The Myth and Me, the film is a personal, sobering look into the many ways Madiba has been canonized and it attempts to draw out the real person from the icon that’s been created through certain stories and repeated legends. It’s a brave piece of work, and that kind of filmmaking should be encouraged.