Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Eric Kohn
May 23, 2011 3:30 AM
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Cannes '11: Five Lessons From This Year's Festival

The Cannes Film Festival came to a close on Sunday. Photo by Eric Kohn.

After 12 long days and even more sleepless nights for hundreds of people, the Cannes Film Festival finally came to an end Sunday. As with each year at this massive spectacle of media chaos and cinematic discovery, many moments and images (not to mention movies!) will continue to reverberate.

Some people have compared Cannes to "Groundhog Day" for its repetitive nature: The red carpets, the crowds, and even many of the filmmakers are bound to look the same after a while. But even as Cannes sticks to its traditionalist roots - "Cannes is Cannes," as artistic director Thierry Frémaux told me in a recent interview - each year manages to leave many distinct impressions, although sometimes you have to squint through the spotlight to see them.

Having reviewed 25 movies and seen a few more than that, I'm still unpacking the experience. Here are a few of my takeaways from this (typically) wild 64th year.

The "scandal" never tells the whole story.

By this point, the whole world knows that Lars von Trier made some unfortunate comments during the press conference for his new movie, "Melancholia" (and they weren't the ones about shooting a porn with Kirsten Dunst). Anyone could have predicted that von Trier would aim to say something memorable when the microphone was put in front of him, but in this case he stumbled across an imaginary line and the movie's reputation may have suffered as a result.

But did it? "Melancholia" has not only been widely praised by critics, but the jury even awarded Dunst an acting prize, and jury president De Niro said that he would have given the film the Palme d'Or if the entire jury felt it deserved the award. The festival waited until after the movie's big premiere in the Palais des Festivals to announce von Trier's vaguely defined "persona non grata" status, so "Melancholia" still got the same glamor treatment as every other movie in competition. While an Argentinean distributor dropped the movie from its slate, U.S. distributor Magnolia Pictures will release the movie in the fall and most likely bring it to more high-profile festivals. Von Trier, it seems, actually benefited from Mel Gibson's appearance at Cannes; frequent comparisons to the shunned actor made the director look downright respectable.

Through and through, this is a director's festival.

This one is hardly new, and yet important to realize as Cannes becomes increasingly consumed by media attention. Journalists from around the world pour into the festival and cameras watch every movement of the stars in attendance, whether or not they're attending on behalf of a movie. Nevertheless, at the core the focus remained on the people who made the movies happen. The world's biggest star, Brad Pitt, came to Cannes with equally famous squeeze Angelina Jolie in tow - and yet, when he took the mic, he spoke on behalf of absent "The Tree of Life" director Terrence Malick.

Elsewhere, filmmakers young and old became the center of attention: Lynne Ramsay made a triumphant return behind the camera with the critically divisive but generally well-received "We Need to Talk About Kevin," her first competition entry. Aki Kaurismaki's "Le Havre" proved the Finnish director's trademark style hasn't waned. Two filmmakers turned the cameras on themselves: Kim Ki-duk's unnervingly confessional "Arirang," which won Un Certain Regard, and Jafar Panahi's extraordinary portrait of life under house arrest, "This is Not a Film," both had people talking. And even though acclaimed auteurs Takashi Miike and Paulo Sorrentino bombed, their own reputations remain strong; these efforts have been deemed, if nothing else, blemishes on otherwise favorable careers.

Then there were the discoveries: Julia Leigh made a memorable impression with her directorial debut, "Sleeping Beauty," as did Austrian casting agent-turned-director Mikael Schleinzer with his fascinating pedophile case study "Michael." French star Maiwann's "Poliss" brought her acclaim as a serious filmmaker who will soon find her way to greater U.S. recognition.

Knee-jerk reactions can never be trusted.

Instant analysis at Cannes usually leads to misleading results, but each year it gets worse. Twitter reactions, now regularly quoted by media outlets, reflect the speed of the environment. Consider "Tree of Life": Reports noted that applause following the movie's premiere lasted only a few minutes, rather than the 10 - 15 minute ovations that meet bigger hits. A few boos heard at the morning press screening were also seen as danger signs. Nevertheless, early reviews have been widely positive and, of course, the movie won the prestigious Palme d'Or. Likewise, "Sleeping Beauty" didn't live up to expectations in its slot as the first competition film to screen at the festival, but it landed U.S. distribution with Sundance Selects and was cited by the jury as being among the few that they seriously considered for a prize.

Viva Critics' Week!

While Directors' Fortnight was considered to have had a weaker year, the festival's other parallel section celebrated its 50th anniversary with one of its best programs in years. The section winner, "Take Shelter," made waves with overseas critics in much the same fashion that it did at Sundance a few months earlier. The Australian serial killer portrait "Snowtown" shocked audiences, instigating as many walkouts as it did defenders, but found its way to a U.S. distribution deal with Sundance Selects and landed positive reviews. Critics' Week opener "Declaration of War" wowed the crowds with its moving and beautifully stylized portrait of a young couple coping with their infant's terminal illness. And Eva Ionesco's semi-autobiographical "My Little Princess" showed the French actress could direct as well, casting impressive newcomer Anamaria Vartolomei in the challenging role of a character Ionesco based on herself. Finally, Jonathan Caouette's "Walk Away Renee" received a mostly positive reception, validating the director's return to personal filmmaking with his first project of this nature since "Tarnation."

The festival doesn't lose steam until it reaches the finish line.

It's a running joke at Cannes that if you find yourself watching a movie that fails to impress, you might as well use the opportunity to catch up on some sleep. Cannes may or may not be the best festival on the planet, but it's certainly the most exhausting, which probably explains why a large portion of the industry heads out of town by its midpoint. This year, however, the program had plenty to offer from start to finish. On Wednesday, "Melancholia" premiered, and the ensuing drama kept Cannes in the global media crosshairs well into its second half. As far as the quality of the movies went, two late-festival premieres left major dents: Nicolas Winding Refn's breathless action pastiche "Drive," which won a directing prize, and Nuri Bilge Ceylan's thoughtful procedural "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia," one of two features to win the Grand Prix. Sorrentino's "This Must Be the Place" bombed, but people may have considered the title, taken from a David Byrne song, as an apt way of describing Cannes. Programming the festival is an art form unto itself, and this year it maintained the public's interest until the last camera bulb popped.

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6 Comments

  • jaime Soltary | May 24, 2011 5:59 AMReply

    the reality is that,as Eric points out in his blog, Lars movies are not antisemitic. He got careless at the now infamous press conference. Mell on the other hand has many documented incidents of antisemitic-anti-black-antigay statements.

  • herbert katz | May 24, 2011 4:51 AMReply

    Sweetheart: Your comment is completely incoherent. Gibson is has made repeated racist and antisemitic statements many of them recorded. Lars statements at the now famous press conference were unfortunate; however he has not the history of bigotry. that Mel exhibited throughout his carreer

  • Scott | May 23, 2011 11:20 AMReply

    Lars looks like an idiot for bringing Gibson into his mess.

  • Dylan Skolnick | May 23, 2011 6:47 AMReply

    Wow! Someone protests a bit too much...

  • Sweetheart | May 23, 2011 5:21 AMReply

    THERE IS NO PROVE AT ALL THAT THIS REALLY HAPENED AND NO PROIVE AT ALL THA TMEL GIBSON EVER SAID ANYTHING ANTISEMITC! YETY PEOPLE AND JOUJRNLAISTS AND PEOPLE LIKE OYU KEEP ON AND ON AT KEEPING THAT MYTH ON THAT MEL GIBSONIS AN ANTISEMITE.
    WHY Is THAT?
    wHY DO YOU BELEIVE IN THIS? CANT YOU SEE ITS HIGLY SUSPICIOUS?
    AND THAT JAMES MEE HAS FIELD A LAWSUITE AGAISNT TH STATE OF CA SINCE LATE 2010 FOR BEING AN ANTISEMITIC STATE! AH!

    honnestly how can oyu stil supor thtis and why is nobody even trying to suport mel gibson by reveiling all this crap?
    are oyu now directed and controled by radar online and TMZ? GEEZ! cant you think on yoru won and do some real research!

    you wrote on von trier "the scandal never tells the whoe story" what about Mle gibsons scandal huh?
    and oh von trier he is such a good guy so of course its alrigth that he is a nazi..
    had mel gibson said the same it wil have given oyu an orgasm of selffulfilling prophecy, and inner statisfaction of being confirmed in yoru won prejudices and asumptions, at last! and you will have shoot him dead on the spot!

    Aknowledge your hypocrisy and the fact that you discriminate Mel gibson based on a lie and a myth and that oyu dont even know why nor ask yourslef why.

    And on another note brad pit is most certainly not the world biggest star dude!

    The tee of life wasnt aplauded for 5 minute dude, it was BOOED BY THE ENTIRE THEATER!!

    AND THE MVIE THE BEAVER MADE BY JODIE FOSTER, WITH MEL GIBSON AS LEAD, RECEIVED A STANDING OVATION OF 10 MIN IN THE AFTERNOON SCREENING AND A STANDING OVATION OF 20 MINUTRES IN THE EVENING SCREENING WITH MEL GIBSON AND JODIE FOSTER.,

    Get your facts straight.

    and Melancholia didnt premeered on tuesaday the Beaver premneiered on wendesdayon the festival and Melancholia was first showed on thursday, same day as von trier declared not being a jew and being a nazi and repeated it 4 times folowed by i like hirtler a lot and understand him, and i like nazi.

    You didnt even mentioned the movie The Beaver.
    Any reasons why?

    DISCRIMINATION BASED ON YORU PREJUDICES AND ASSUMPTIONS.

  • Sweetheart | May 23, 2011 5:19 AMReply

    hello
    how could trier compare himself to Mel gibson? and how could trier looks more respectable than mel gibson huh??

    you are such an hypocrite!
    WHAT PROVE DO YOU HAVE THAT MEL GIBSON EVER SAID ANYTHING ANTISEMITIC IN HIS LIFE?
    NONE
    ALL YOU HAVE IS what some secodn hand report form a rag mag as TMZ form a police officer wiht a dubious past and interest in lying about Mel Gibson!
    You have no prove what so ever, no recortding that it realy hapend.
    and what Mle gibson was accusd to have said was "jews are the cause of all wars" and drunk.
    You dotn even know if it hapend and mle gibson said he never said that.
    Why do you want to beleive TMZ who back then was about to close down, had never made a scoop, and needed one expressly to save his business, and opla all by miracle this hapend, and who was the first to be told that Mle Gibson was arested for a DUI??
    HARVEY LEVI FORM TMZ WHO WAS BAKC THEN TOTLAY UNKNOW IN A BADLY REPIUTATRED RAG ONLINE MAG WHO HAD NEVER MADE A SCVCOOP AND WAS KNWON FOR MAING FAKE STORIES!!
    AND THATS THE TRUTH!
    AND HOW COME THIS HARBVETY CAME IN CONTACT WITHTHAT OFFICER AND HOW COME THAT OFFICER KNEW HIS NUMBER BEFORE ANYONE KNEW THAT MEL GIBSON HAD BEEN STOPED FOR DUI HUH?
    the investigation of the case mnade afterward showrd that harvey was talking with the police officer days BEFORE the arrest took place! doesnt ti make it a bit too suspicious?
    and aftger the arest for 3 days harvey and that officer tlak on the phone, cellphone at the station, his provate celphone and his homephone, all call made form harveys cellphone!

    and then came that fake police report on TMZ website.
    that guy could write anytihng in it and pretned it was true and had been ddleeted.
    the fact remain that jews are the cause of all wars is far less offending than saying i like hitler and that mel was drunk when arrested. and that Mle gibson nmever aknowledged saying that, and that we have absolutly no prove that it ever occured, and that the peoplle reporting it had a personal in terest in makling mel gibson look bad.
    First that officr was in conflict since a long time wiht his superior at the station, and wanted revenge, and knew they were frined wiht Mle gibson, and 2, that officer called the women at the station for sugar tits, ewveryday, and he wrote it in his report as coming from Mle gibson, which all women and men at the station have denied and which the video taken when mel gibson arrived at the station prove to be worng!
    You can see a Mel Gibson lowkey saying helo to a female police officer while passing her by.
    that a polkice officer will write in a DUI report a lie about what the arested perosn say and put hín his mouht words that the arresting persin himself said to that woman officer and usualy claled the,´m. What does it tel oyu about the credibility of that officer and of that DUI report?
    Legaly its caduque and cant be used.
    and in fact tghe guy is out to be fired. its a felony top do that.
    Add to it the fact that this officer hjad several time been accused of sexual harrassement by his felw female officer for caling thme sugar tits, and oyu have the reaosn why this james mee arrested Mel gibson and wrote in his repeort that he insutled the ews and that he said sugar tits to a female officer form the staiton.
    he did that to embarass his superior and the sherif and as patyhback on the women workign there who had filed a compain on him for sexual harrasse,mntent
    you can get those fiels and they clearly state that he called them sugar tits, and the datge is prior to mle gibson arrest for DUI!!

    Then we have the harvey levi angle whpo never like Mle gibson , notg for TPOTC no, but for gays reason, he never like that Mle said that he wont be gay himslef and that he ment that the anus was for taking s only.
    and harvey needed a cash flow and fast.
    Arresting Mle Gibson for drunk driving sounded like a cvery good idea.
    adding a twist to it by making a fake report with fakle antisemtic stuff, not too antisemitc but just mentioning the jews in a bad light, and a touch of mysoginy, jsut to sound realy like captain Martin Riggs andmake their scoop more beleivable!! and opla
    and thats what they did!