The Cannes Film Festival’s 2014 edition is over, but the memories of the movies that premiered there continue to resonate. For U.S. buyers, Cannes’ program is never an easy place for acquisitions, and this year was no exception.
As usual, the challenge for distributors at Cannes reflects the risk-averse industry. American distributors wary of foreign language titles and other seemingly difficult fare are faced with a program mainly devised of just that. Even companies with track records releasing subtitled films are cautious these days. But a lot of movies played so well at Cannes that it would be a crime against cinema to deprive them of further acclaim. As always, buyers need thicker skin to do justice to the wide variety of great movies out there.
To be fair, several movies had already secured theatrical release plans ahead of the festival, including awards season contenders "Foxcatcher" and "Mr. Turner" (both picked up by Sony Pictures Classics, which arrived at the festival with a whopping 10 titles in the bag). IFC Films scored the romantic dramas “The Blue Room” and “Bird People,” and the company also acquired Olivier Assayas’ "Clouds of Sils Maria" and the Dardenne brothers’ "Two Days, One Night" prior to Cannes. Newcomer Saban Films picked up Tommy Lee Jones’ "The Homesman." But many, many more titles remain without distribution.
So what’s worth the investment this time around? Buyers still eager to stay relevant should take note of the following first-rate titles, which deserve many more audiences than just those lucky enough to cross the Croisette this year.
French director Céline Sciamma's first two features, "Water Lilies" and "Tomboy," followed young women through challenging periods of social confusion and identity crises. Her latest and best work, "Girlhood" (which opened Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight section), follows that same pattern by taking it one step further. While Sciamma's previous movies found characters overcoming their burdens through perseverance, "Girlhood" gives them the chance to really act out. The tense, involving result confirms Sciamma's mastery over the coming-of-age drama, a genre too often reduced to its simplest ingredients.
Sciamma's latest stage of development arrives alongside a major discovery. Heading up an all-black cast, Karidja Touré plays subdued teen Marieme, a low key girl who lives in a lower class Paris neighborhood with her warring parents and younger sister. The opportunity arrives for her to come out of her shell when a trio of local teens coax her into their gang, luring her with the promise of cute boys. Before long, Marieme has joined forces with the motley crew as they cruise shopping malls and threaten rival gangs on a freewheeling rein of terror, while Sciamma lets her actors do the dirty work. Touré's transformation from a subdued, frustrated child of neglect to a young woman in control of her life provides the movie with a robust backbone as she grows increasingly rebellious and assertive. Read the full review here.
"Goodbye to Language"
In one of the few narratively coherent scenes in Jean-Luc Godard's baffling 70-minute essay film "Goodbye to Language 3D," a couple look at their dog lazing on the sofa and attempt to understand his disposition. Is he bored? Or dreaming of a better life? Either way, the conversation implies that he's done with the human-dominated world around him—and it's safe to say, based on the stance that comes across in Godard's latest work, that the 83-year-old filmmaker can relate.
Aside from the novelty of watching the French New Wave legend play with 3-D technology (a feat he last displayed in a short segment produced for last year's omnibus project "3X3D"), "Goodbye to Language" offers anyone keen on the director's increasingly esoteric projects a dense assemblage of signifiers, some more coherent than others. Overall, the concise, often impermeable experience does justice to the title by indicting a society on the verge of self-destruction with its own tools. It's his most outwardly aggressive statement against contemporary civilization since the barbaric climax of "Weekend." While far from a monumental achievement in a career littered with much stronger examples, for Godard junkies "Goodbye to Language" is rich with Godard's temperament—and thus, an enjoyable provocation, even if it doesn't all add up. But what Godard movie truly does? If there’s any filmmaker who can draw crowds even for an entirely experimental work, it’s this guy. Read the full review here.
With a rare intelligence, David Robert Mitchell's first feature "The Myth of the American Sleepover" captured a group of teenagers over the course of a long summer weekend. At times, the 2011 release evoked nostalgia for the limited goals of a young mind. For his sophomore effort, "It Follows," Mitchell returns to that subject from a perspective that at first may seem like a radical change of direction, since it finds him working within the constrains of the horror genre. But rather than changing his approach to accommodate expectations, Mitchell manages to bend them into an instrument for his own ideas.
While "Myth of the American Sleepover" took the whiny young archetypes of a John Hughes movie in an expressionistic direction, "It Follows" turns to eighties teen slashers of the "Halloween" and "Nightmare on Elm Street" variety while elevating them to a more abstract plane, rendering the looming threat of adulthood in ominous terms. Read the full review here.
"Love at First Fight"
The first feature from French director Thomas Cailley uses a familiar scenario: Two disillusioned young people meet and fall in love. But such clichéd territory is rarely this emotionally resonant, well-acted and skillfully paced. Cailley’s story revolves around the summertime plight of Arnaud, who lazily works in his family business while contemplating enrollment in the army. In the midst of these experiences, he encounters tough neighborhood girl Madeleine (Adele Haenel), who has similar aspirations and has been ostracized by most people her age. At first, she’s resistant to Arnaud’s advances, but gradually the duo find solace in each other’s sense of disconnect from the social demands around them. Gently funny and uniformly bittersweet, “Love at First Fight” captures a charming spirit too often lost in the cynical edge of most contemporary romantic comedies. The movie deservedly won all three prizes at Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight section, as well as the FIPRESCI prize, the first film in history to do so.
There is no spoken dialogue in "The Tribe," Ukranian director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy's ambitious first feature, but it's noisy in other ways. Exclusively set in and around a boarding school for deaf students, Slaboshpytskiy's story never bothers with subtitles, forcing anyone unversed in the gesticulations to pay close attention to each passing gesture. That might sound like a daunting task, but Slaboshpytskiy manages to craft an engaging experience through the heated movements and whispered exchanges of his characters. As a concept, "The Tribe" has more in common with silent cinema, but its specific rhythms are unprecedented. Read the full review here.
That’s right: The winner of this year’s Palme D’Or has yet to snag U.S. distribution. Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan specializes in slow-burn narratives set against poetically desolate landscapes, but his movies always have a clear direction. From the melancholic romance of "Climates" to the elements of a police procedural in "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia," Ceylan consistently manages to combine genre ingredients into a much subtler amalgam of imagery and subtext that transcends any semblance of formula. At three hours 16 minutes, "Winter Sleep," renders this approach in extensively detailed terms, even as it expands his range.
A mesmerizing, superbly acted portrait of a wealthy, self-involved landowner and the various figures impacted by his reign, the movie marks the director's talkiest achievement. Always a novelistic filmmaker in structure, Ceylan has made his most literary work. While it doesn't always earn its heft, "Winter Sleep" is both subdued and rich in details, its plot growing slowly over a series of extensive conversations. It's a robust, challenging experience he's been building toward with his previous features, as well as an adventurous step above them. Read the full review here.