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Does Cannes (still) Matter?

By Eugene Hernandez | Indiewire May 11, 2010 at 4:37AM

Just days after massive waves from the Mediterranean crashed along the Croisette damaging beachside restaurants a volcanic ash cloud from Iceland moved southward over France, hampering travel and delaying folks en route to Cannes. This year, natural disasters on top of a dramatic European economic crisis have challenged the expectations for the upcoming Cannes Film Festival, the most important film event of the year.
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Just days after massive waves from the Mediterranean crashed along the Croisette damaging beachside restaurants a volcanic ash cloud from Iceland moved southward over France, hampering travel and delaying folks en route to Cannes. This year, natural disasters on top of a dramatic European economic crisis have challenged the expectations for the upcoming Cannes Film Festival, the most important film event of the year.

The festival opens tomorrow here in the South of France with the poorly reviewed "Robin Hood" debuting just days before it opens back in The States, and it will already be in French cinemas when it screens tomorrow night. Sidelined with an injury, director Ridley Scott will have to catch coverage of his premiere on TV, marking a rare year in which the director of the opening night movie is not on hand for the gala kick-off.

Check out 12 new Cannes fest films to watch for on page 2 of this article.

Last month, festival organizers set the tone for an unconventional Cannes when they unveiled the fest lineup while saying that the tough economy had lead to fewer films being available for their selection this year. Since then, a number of movies have been added to the lineup. Ken Loach's new film joined the roster just yesterday after programmers were shown a final cut late last week. They immediately decided to include it as a 19th competition title.

"A selection is a dynamic thing that is constantly evolving. We always want to be making improvements on it," offered Cannes Fest head Thierry Fremaux yesterday. Potentially cutting off any more commentary about the late evolving lineup, he added, "And when the festival begins, film is the only thing that matters."

Cinematic cynicism? Moviegoing Malaise?

Going into this year's Cannes Film Festival, details do seem to be falling into place at the very last minute and some have complained that this year's Cannes selection is a bit rough around the edges.

In the wake of the recent lineup announcement, someone recently commented via Twitter that the title of Cam Archer's Director's Fortnight entry is an appropriate label for this year's Cannes Film Festival: "Shit Year."

"This year's Cannes looks short on real oomph," Geoffrey Macnab jeered in the British paper The Independent yesterday, claiming that the festival has lost sight of a spirit that it harnessed years ago, instead safely embracing old school auteur fare. He groused that Cannes is dominated by filmmakers in their 60s and 70s, whose art house films are out of sync with the future of movies, catering to a greying audience. (Well, two years ago, Macnab said that Cannes was dying because it was too much about the marketing -- star-driven Hollywod tentpoles -- and not enough about the art of cinema.)

It's hardly a surprise that folks are down on Cannes this year. The economy has taken a devastating toll on all areas of the film industry, hampering much of the sector that made and marketed prestige pictures. Countless folks are still out of work, many making moves to other industries altogether now that the luxurious era of speciality spending is over. But, have the market's speed bumps cast a greater focus on the films themselves?

Signs of Hope

In some circles, fewer folks seem connected directly to the commercial side of moviemaking, yet as an art form, cinema has been thriving creatively in many parts of the world. And today moviegoers can watch films via more platforms and outlets than ever before.

Thousands of new filmmakers persistently aim for art house acceptance each year, and taken as a whole, this year's Cannes lineup is offering a large number of those emerging directors. The fact that this year's roster feels a bit eclectic is something worth celebrating (or at the very least worthy of a sense of pre-fest optimism).

Among the returning directors in Cannes there are a number of noteworthy filmmakers in this year's roster, ranging from the 21 year old Xavier Dolan ("Heartbeats") to the 101 year old Manoel de Oliveira ("O Estranho Caso de Angelica").

While cool, cloudy skies (and a light rain at times) over the Cote d'Azur today dampened a bit of the enthusiasm for the annual event as many people arrived early today, the storm subsided late in the day. Real sunshine is expected to breakthrough later in the week with warmer temperatures anticipated. Will that help the mood?

Does Cannes (still) Matter?

As we said when we asked the same question last year, chances are, if you believe in the power of cinema (and debate things like the death of film criticism), you will quickly say, "yes."

Even if you’ve never attended the festival here in France, the Cannes brand has likely been associated with a certain type of cinema: films that are celebrated but sometimes hard to find, movies that are heady and often dense, work that is eclectic but can be transformative.

The answer to the question 'Does Cannes (still) Matter' ultimately parallels one's own response to the broader question:

Do movies (still) matter?

It will be no surprise over the next 12 days, our answer is a resounding:

YES!

-- On page 2, twelve new films to watch for in Cannes --

A Hit List: 12 to Watch in Cannes
(in alphabetical order)

"Les Amours Imaginaires" (Heartbeats), directed by Xavier Dolan
WHY: The French-Canadian wunderkind burst onto the international scene just one year ago here in Cannes with the much lauded "I Killed My Mother," which still hasn't been released in the United States. He's back this year with his second feature.

"Another Year," directed by Mike Leigh
WHY: A new film from Mike Leigh is always something to look forward to.

"Boxing Gym," directed by Frederick Wiseman
WHY: A new documentary by non-fiction filmmaking master, Frederick Wiseman. On the heels of his exceptional "La Danse," he now takes a closer look at boxers in Austin, TX.

"Carlos," directed by Olivier Assayas
WHY: A five-hour TV series by Olivier Assayas ("Summer Hours"), early word from those who've seen it is quite positive. It will screen in its entirety mid-fest.

"Copie Conforme" (The Certified Copy), directed by Abbas Kiarostami
WHY: Juliette Binoche stars in the Iranian auteur's latest. Good buzz in the wake of recent Paris screenings of the picture.

"Fair Game," directed by Doug Liman
WHY: The film scored a pre-fest deal and will be headed to U.S. theaters later this year. A look at the infamous Valerie Plame story, this one is anticipated among politicos.

"Film Socialisme," directed by Jean-Luc Godard
WHY: Fifty years after "Breathless," JLG is back with what some people are saying will be his final feature film. Never count him out.

"Inside Job," directed by Charles Ferguson
WHY: This new doc about the economic critics was made quietly by "No End in Sight" director Charles Ferguson. Few knew about it before it was announced as a Cannes festival entry.

"Kaboom," directed by Gregg Araki
WHY: Araki returns with a sci-fi story surrounding college students. Intriguing.

"Loong Boonmee Raleuk Chaat" (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives), directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
WHY: The new film by Thailand's arty auteur. Curious.

"Shit Year," directed by Cam Archer
WHY: There's good buzz for this American indie entry, particularly for Ellen Barkin's starring role. High hopes also surround the striking imagery it promises.

"Tournee," directed by Mathieu Amalric
WHY: A burlesque strip-tease story from the acclaimed French actor (and director) will screen very early in the festival this week. What will it have to offer?

Eugene Hernandez is the Editor-in-Chief & Co-Founder of indieWIRE and can be followed on Twitter: @eug or through his indieWIRE blog.

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