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 Foxcatcher, from 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:
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.
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.
I’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.
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.
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.
Cannes has a reputation for being prestigious, glamorous, high-end, in many regards. It’s as if the beautiful old picturesque town requires it. There are gowns, there are airs and graces, and there are yachts whose worth I don’t even want to know. As far as the films go, you’ll find the work of auteurs from all over the world being shown here, and names that have been built over years of acclaim, that lend themselves to others seeking credibility.
But Cannes also has a fun, sometimes gaudy side to it too.
One moment you can go from Tommy Lee Jones’ period drama The Homesman, to a press conference with the all-star, and I really do mean all-star, cast of The Expendables 3. And along the way, you’ll have to dodge tanks rolling along the Croisette as a publicity stunt for the film. Actually, it’s more important to keep an eye on the fans who’re trying to get close to Stallone and co than it is to worry about the tanks. Crazed fans see no problem in mowing down anything – and any one – in the way of a photo snap.
Such was the frenzy on Sunday morning, as Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Kelsey Grammer and Antonio Banderas stopped traffic in their tanks, while taking their own pics of the crowd’s excitement at seeing the spectacle.
Moments later, the cast regaled journalists with stories about how they used to compete against each other in the old days of the ’80s, when, as Stallone put it, he’d keep score with Schwarzenegger of who killed more people in their respective movies. The star power inside the Carlton was magnetic, and I felt myself getting a little swept up in it all too. Listening to the stories, watching a bit of the banter between them, and wondering about superstar heroines.
It’s a pity we couldn’t put an all-star kick-ass cast of women together like that. Maybe with Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider, Sigourney Weaver, Jodie Foster, Halle Berry and Charlie’s Angels? Or just an all-star female cast coming together for some incredible story – Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton, Angela Bassett, Helen Mirren, Hilary Swank, that kind of thing. If the gimmick can work for the guys…?
Streep and Swank are both in Tommy Lee Jones’ movie The Homesman, his fourth directorial offering and second film in the Cannes selection. It’s based on a novel, set in the American West circa the 1800s. I liked Swank’s hardy character, but found the change of tone within the film unsatisfying. As with many films here, dissenting voices are par for the course, but there have been lots of positive reviews for it, with Jones being applauded for looking at the time period in his ‘uncustomary angle’, as The Hollywood Reporter puts it.
Cannes, it’s all about auteurs and action heroes.
There’s a rhythm to this festival all its own. It’s not like Sundance, where I try to see as many films as I possibly can back to back, nor is it like Toronto where it’s more about squeezing in as many press opportunities and interviews as one festival will allow. Cannes is about mixing in as much of both as possible, without neglecting one over the other: see the films, do the interviews, and try enjoy the sunshine and blue sea while you’re at at, because, hey, we’re in Cannes! That last part is perhaps the most difficult of all. Ha!
Day 2’s early morning screening of Mr Turner, the latest film from Mike Leigh, whose Happy Go Lucky made me fall utterly in friendship love with Sally Hawkin, began my second day at Cannes. The 2-and-a-half hour portrait of the British artist JMW Turner received glowing reviews from critics here, with much praise for lead actor Timothy Spall’s nuanced grunting in the role. I found it a little long and wasn’t as enamoured with it, but I appreciate the sentiments that are being shared about it.
The other juggling act that goes on at Cannes, at least for me, and I know for many of my colleagues from other countries around the world too, is trying to stay on top of the global, big-name news while also knowing what’s happening with local actors and filmmakers who are here too. South Africa, as has been tradition for the past ten or so years, has a tent at the International Pavillion, hosted by the National Film and Video Foundation. While the only film in competition this year is a co-production between Denmark and SA, called The Salvation, starring Mads Mikkelsen, there are a whole bunch of local filmmakers here trying to further their own projects, and taking part in the market portion of the fest too.