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Critical Consensus: What Worked and Didn't at the Cannes Film Festival This Year?

By Peter Howell, Eric Kohn and Jay Stone | Indiewire May 30, 2013 at 9:00AM

"Every year at one festival or another there's something to shake up the troops. But this year at Cannes, the shocks did indeed seem greater."
2
"Grisgris"
"Grisgris"

JS: Interesting. I thought "Grisgris" was a movie that was entirely constructed around the unique abilities of its star: It's a showcase for his amazing talent to dance with a bad leg, but it seemed like more of a stunt than a performance. I loved the choice of Dern, but I
had some sentimental hopes for Michael Douglas, because he was good as Liberace in "Behind the Candelabra," but also because he's been through a rough year and he's not eligible for an Oscar. Not good reasons for an acting award, I guess, but Cannes has given prizes for less-than-artistic reasons in the past. (The Palme d'Or for "Fahrenheit 9/11" leaps to mind. When is the last time you watched that one?)

PH: I was so glad that Spielberg's jury didn't give the male acting award to Michael Douglas, which to me would have been like one of those Oscar wins that is given not for the performance, but out of sympathy or as a toast to a long career. Douglas did a fine job as Liberace, but there was nothing terribly revealing or elevating from it. I thought Matt Damon's conflicted Scott Thorson was the more interesting portrayal. And after the first hour, the champagne fizz of "Behind the Candelabra" started to go flat.  By the end, it really did feel like the TV movie it was.

JS: You're right, but I was hoping for him anyway. It may not have been artistically sound, but it would have made for a good story.

Speaking of "Candelabra": Readers eagerly following Cannes coverage from home are already able to watch at least one competition film, since "Candelabra" available to anyone who has cable (or their friends' HBO Go password). Meanwhile, industry professionals can watch a bunch of other festival titles on streaming services like Festivalscope and Cinando. One can imagine the volume of available titles will increase each year. Given the wider access to these films, what's the real value of attending a festival like Cannes once we reach a stage where you can find most of its selection from your living room?

Cannes L'Atelier

JS: Plus which, there's rarely torrential rainstorms in your living room.

But it's a question that goes to the heart of the movie business as a whole. It's not just film festivals that are in peril; people can stop going to theaters as well. The arguments in favor of Cannes are similar to those in support of cinemas: the big screen, the communal experience.

Sitting at home to watch a film festival movies, and then, say, interviewing the talent by Skype, is such an isolating idea. You have to be in the big theaters of the Palais — the Lumiere or the Debussy — to feel the electricity when the familiar theme plays, and the cheers go up for the festival symbol, the golden palm. And then at the end, there's the passionate cheering or, sometimes, the passionate whistling and booing.

Films matter in Cannes, and part of the reason is that we've traveled there to see them, and the filmmakers have travelled there to show them to us, and we're all nestled by the sea under warm skies (most years, anyway) in a beautiful setting that energizes you with the possibilities of beauty. Journalists get together with friends they don't otherwise see from one year to the next, and filmmakers probably do the same. It's a meeting place as well as a festival.

You might even run into a movie star here or there. There's little glamor sitting in front of you TV.

PH: I think you raise a valid point, Eric.  I sometimes wonder what will happen to film festivals, when the day comes that every release is readily available via Vimeo or some other online service. But I think it's impossible to replace the in-person festival experience. I get so much out of going to the Cannes, Toronto and Sundance fests, not just the films but the interaction with fellow critics, talents, directors and programmers. I agree with Jay that those cheers and boos all make an impact. The Cannes press conferences are pure gold for stories, and for gaining insights into how directors and talent think. My festival experiences inform all of my writing, and I think for the better.

I have one anecdote to share about this.  I once interviewed Geoff Gilmore, the former director of the Sundance Film Festival, back when he still the man in charge. He was musing, not very happily, about a future day when journalists would show up in Park City and spend all their time in their hotel rooms, watching films on TV or online. He seemed gloomy about the future of the in-person festival experience. That conversation was in January, 2000, or more than 13 years ago. Gilmore's glum forecast hasn't come true yet, and I hope it doesn't for many more years to come.


This article is related to: Reviews, Cannes Film Festival, Critical Consensus, Blue is the Warmest Color, Grigris, Behind the Candelabra, Heli, Steven Spielberg, Nicole Kidman, Thierry Fremaux






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