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Cannes: Trends, Themes And Anthems Of The 2015 Festival

Cannes: Trends, Themes And Anthems Of The 2015 Festival

And so, that’s it for another year. The Cannes Film Festival has rolled up its allegedly non-flats-allowing red carpet (more on that below), and returned from its fortnight’s flirtation with the biggest stars in the international filmmaking firmament to being merely one of the most glamorous, sophisticated, and costly places on earth anyway. Yesterday we ran down our top 10 titles of the festival, but there is other stuff that goes on in Cannes that also makes an impression, whether it’s the coincidence of a motif that reappears across several unconnected titles, an actor you just can’t escape, or a song that you can’t get out of your head (a phenomenon for which we now have scientific explanation, thanks to Pixar‘s “Inside Out“).

So just before we turn the lights out on our Cannes coverage for 2015, here are a few of the trends, themes, and tunes that characterized the 2015 festival. While we know you’ve all been slavishly following our coverage (including 45-odd reviews, a few features, and much news), you can go back and catch up on anything you missed here, and share any thoughts you have on the 68th incarnation of the Cannes Film Festival below.

Unexpected Winners
The game of trying to
predict the Palme winner, and all of the other awards too, is a foolish
one that often contributes to a reductive, hot-take analysis of
supposedly arthouse films, and that more often shows up the biases of
the predictors than reflects at all on the quality of the films. So
obviously, it’s a game we all throw ourselves into with gusto. But this
year, even more than most, the selections were a surprise. Every year has
its curveballs, but it’s rarely the Palme winner. But in choosing Jacques Audiard‘s “Dheepan,” the
Coens and co really threw us all for a loop: while the other films
that had been widely touted as winners (“The Lobster,” “Carol,” “The
,” “Son of Saul“) all picked up something, the film that walked
off with the big prize had rarely been talked up as a contender, even for a minor honor. “This isn’t a jury of film critics, this is a jury
of artists” said Joel Coen, somewhat defensively after the awards
ceremony, but kinda the point is that “Dheepan,” which is by no means a
bad film (our review is here), is exactly the sort of straight-on, hard-hitting drama we might have expected a “jury of artists” not to go for.

The other major headscratchers were Michel Franco‘s screenplay award for “Chronic” (review here),  which, if it was talked about at all, was as a dark horse possibility for a
Tim Roth Best Actor win, with many feeling like the film’s major
last-minute fumble (a screenplay issue, ironically) took it out of the
running for anything else. Finally, giving the Best Actress
award to Rooney Mara for the critically adored “Carol” was widely
lauded, but having her share that award with Emmanuelle Bercot for the
critically ignored “Mon Roi” (review here)
is downright perplexing. This is partly because of the difference in
reception between the two films, but also partly down to the fact that
if you’re going to split the award and give one part to Mara, why on
earth would the other recipient not be Cate Blanchett  these two
performances lean against each other like tented playing cards and would
have been very natural joint winners. As it is, this award in
particular points to a possible split on the jury (despite claims of how
harmonious they all were), and the rumor was that Xavier Dolan in
particular was pulling for Bercot, which sounds very possible, giving
the high-tension, emotional nature of her performance in a romantic

Overall, the biggest losers are
probably “The Assassin,” which netted Hou Hsiao-Hsien the Best Director
award, but as a slow-burn hard-sell (we adored it, but it’s a challenge
for the impatient viewer) could definitely have used the push that a
Palme win would have given it. “Carol,” widely thought a frontrunner,
coming away with only half a Best Actress prize has probably the biggest
gap between expectation and result, though we can’t help but feel that
with two such extraordinary performances from Hollywood stars at its
heart, “Carol” might have always been angled more toward the Oscars, a
race in which a Cannes win means very little. And finally, although we
love “Carol” and think Mara is outstanding, we have to spare a thought
for Marion Cotillard. Her Lady Macbeth in Justin Kurzel‘s “Macbeth” is
genuinely extraordinary; she had some form here having been passed over
last year for another amazing turn in “Two Days One Night“; and being a
French superstar in a year when the jury seemed well disposed toward
Frenchness (Actor, Actress, and Palme awards all went to French
productions, meaning 3 of the 5 French films in competition won
something), she might have hoped to pick up one of the only trophies to
have eluded her this year: Cannes Best Actress. Tant pis! There’s always next year, Marion.

Bad Endings (And Often Multiple Ones)
The final reel(s) of many of this years’ Cannes pics suggested that some of the world’s finest auteurs finally got around to watching “Return Of The King,” so over-extended (or in some cases, just botched) were the wrap-ups of many of the festival’s films. Opener “Standing Tall” got this started, fixing its tearaway teenage lead’s problems with a quick session with a skin lotion that improved his self-esteem. From there, films including “Tale Of Tales,” “An,” “Les Cowboys,” and “Sea Of Trees” all piled ending upon ending, cutting to another scene just as you thought (and often hoped) that the credits were coming. Many took issue with the wrap-up to Palme d’Or winner “Dheepan,” a third act that sees the film shift into “Taxi Driver”-style violence, though its sunny coda was more egregious to us, and to the awful Australia-set third act of Jia Zhangke’s “Mountains May Depart.” Worst of all was Michel Franco’s “Chronic,” which tarnished a mostly strong film with a from-nowhere twist ending that was universally hated by even the film’s defenders. There were a few strong conclusions at the festival: “The Lobster”’s ambiguous Rorschach test, “Green Room”’s perfectly apt conclusion, “The Treasure“‘s killer uptick ending, the genius of “Inside Out”’s credit sequence. But films that wrapped up satisfyingly were definitely in the minority this year.

Foreign-Language Directors Working In English
One trend that was certainly obvious even before the festival began was that of acclaimed foreign-language filmmakers working in English for the first time. It’s common to see a Cannes-beloved international helmer return to the festival once they go a bit Hollywood (or at least a bit Fox Searchlight), but this year must have been the first time that there was such a pile-on. Yorgos Lanthimos, Joachim Trier, Michel Franco, Fernando León de Aranao, and Matteo Garrone all made their first movies in English, enlisting major stars in the process, while Paolo Sorrentino had a second crack after “This Must Be The Place,” and Thomas Bidegain, Jacques Audiard, Gaspar Noé, Jia Zhangke, and Nanni Moretti all made films at least partially spoken in English, if only for a few scenes. The results were… mixed. Lanthimos and Garrone didn’t skip much of a beat, and after a slightly rocky opening, Trier showed he had as much facility for writing scripts and directing actors in English as he did in Norwegian. But others had a rockier path: Zhangke’s mostly English-language third section of “Mountains May Depart” was racked with awful line readings, while even more so than with “This Must Be The Place,” Sorrentino gave his actors lines that appear to have been run back and forth through Google Translate until they turned out to be virtually unsayable, even by fine actors like Michael Caine and Rachel Weisz. For the most part, moving to a more U.S-appealing language was successful for filmmakers, but if you’re not entirely confident, it might be best to hold off until you are  the same obviously goes for English-language directors wanting to work in another language, as infrequently as that occurs.
Arthouse Erections
From its explicit poster, the logline, the 3D, and the fact that it was being made by Gaspar Noé, we were expecting erect male members to, uh, spring up in “Love.” What wasn’t as expected is that erections would be something of a recurring feature of the festival, and introduced by some rather more respectable filmmakers too. First up was Miguel Gomes’ brilliant epic “Arabian Nights,” the first tale of which is literally called “The Men With Hard-Ons,” and, as it might sound, sees a wizard gifting permanent erections to cost-cutting European bureaucrats, to disarming comic value. Then, in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Cemetery Of Splendour,” there’s a moment of levity where a sleeping soldier’s trousers become tented. We really hoped for a third clothed one, bar the ever-present nude dicks in “Love,” to really complete the trend and bring on a thinkpiece. What does it say about cinema that our top auteurs are so focused on boners? Are they metaphors for American intervention abroad? For what the bankers did to the economy? For memories of loved ones long gone? Or are they just a collection of hard-ons? It might just take a better mind than ours to work it out…

John C. Reilly & Benicio Del Toro
Every festival has a mascot of sorts, an actor or actress who, through coincidence, has a number of films cropping up at the festival, and end up as a constant on red carpets and afterparties throughout. Usually, it’s James Franco (unless you’re at Tribeca, in which case it’s Chris Messina. And James Franco). But with the Franc-meister only racking up one credit at Cannes 2015 (as a brief voice in “The Little Prince”), someone else needed to step up, and in the end it was veteran character actors John C. Reilly and Benicio Del Toro wrestling for dominance, each with three films. Reilly first appeared as the King to Salma Hayek’s Queen in Matteo Garrone’s “Tale Of Tales”  *SPOILER* (the least of his roles: he’s a little miscast, and gets killed off after five minutes anyway) *SPOILER ENDS*, before shining as the Lisping Man in “The Lobster,” and giving the best performance in the uneven, French-language, war-on-terror drama “Les Cowboys” (he speaks English, natch). Del Toro, meanwhile, gives an atypically charming performance in middling Bosnian-war dramedy “A Perfect Day,”  before giving his best performance since, probably, “Che,” as a Mexican prosecutor-turned-hitman in Denis Villeneuve’s “Sicario,” and joining Franco as a voice in “The Little Prince.” Reilly wore the same end-of-the-pier porkpie hat throughout the festival, while Del Toro offered to wear heels on the red carpet. The presence of both were welcome, though if we had to give the honors to one, it’s probably Reilly: partly because Del Toro only had two live-action roles, and partly because Reilly sang at the closing ceremony. What more could you want from a mascot than that?

With ISIS and Boko Haram on the rise, fundamentalism and tyranny are all over the headlines, and that was something reflected in the festival this year, with a number of films investigating the nature of belief systems, leadership, and fanaticism. Perhaps the least interesting, not coincidentally, was the one that did it head on, Thomas Bidegain’s “Les Cowboys,” the story of a father and son searching for their daughter, who ran away with her Islamic boyfriend: it was a curiously muddled and rather shallow take on the subject. More interesting was the way that Justin Kurzel’s “Macbeth” really leans on the dictatorial nature of its title character, with Michael Fassbender’s Macbeth leading an army of child soldiers and burning a family alive publicly. Instant action classic “Mad Max: Fury Road” proved surprisingly rigorous in its examination of fanatic villain Immortan Joe and his War Boys, who he tells that if they give their lives for the cause, they’ll end up in a chrome Valhalla. Best of all, “The Lobster” creates a world of absurd rules and regulations, with extreme punishments for those who break them, only for our hero to escape and discover a contrary belief system that might be even more ruthless. The films and messages are diverse enough that it might not have been immediately obvious, but there’s clearly something in the water at the moment…

Year of “La Femme”
Unofficially officially dubbing Cannes 2015 as the “Year of the Woman” rather backfired in several major ways, aside from the obvious one of how depressing and condescending it is to have the 68th Cannes Film Festival apparently be the first in which 50% of the world’s population were to be celebrated. A few good things did happen: no one disagrees with the great Agnes Varda being honored (though again the idea that Varda might have been bumped up the queue solely because of her anatomy is distressing; this woman is a pioneer and a highly individual auteur, hardly a token female). A program of events and talks called “Women in Motion” was put into place. And a clear effort was made to showcase the work of some female directors: Maiwenn‘s “Mon Roi” and Valerie Donzelli‘s “Marguerite et Julien” both played In Competition; Naomi Kawase‘s “An” opened Un Certain Regard, where Ida Panehandeh won a prize for “Nahir“; Emmanuelle Bercot‘s “Standing Tall” was the festival opener.

But the festival faltered at the first hurdle, inconveniently forgetting, in the press release regarding the opening film, that Bercot was in fact not the first female director to be accorded the honor  Diane Kurys‘ “A Man in Love” kicked off the festival back in 1987. And there was also the strong impression, if you look at the female-directed films selected, that the festival favored female directors who could up the glamor quotient of the Red Carpet. Whatever the relative merits of their films, Maiwenn, Donzelli, Bercot and Natalie Portman (whose debut feature was buried in a single, Out of Competition slot, but who graced the opening ceremony) are all not just directors, but some combination of model and/or actress and director. It seems Cannes will focus on female directors in a pinch  but primarily on the good-looking ones with a separate source of star power.

And in case we’re sounding paranoid about that, there was “shoegate,” a firestorm that erupted when it was revealed that some women in flat shoes had been turned away from the Red Carpet. The idea that the festival can have, in 2015, mandated high heels for women on the Red Carpet seems initially laughable, but the story didn’t go away, and more reports of flats-related shut-outs meant festival director Thierry Fremaux had to address the controversy publicly. His insistence that no such rule exists, and that one renegade security factotum had been responsible, actually rings pretty true to us, having experienced the inconsistencies amongst security guards on an almost daily basis (some are super nice; some are flat-out mean; it’s a lottery as to whether you will ever be allowed take your water bottle into a press screening). But the damage was rather done by then, and Cannes’ Year of the Woman had its central ironic narrative.

READ MORE: The Top 10 Films Of The 2015 Cannes Film Festival.

Each year those of us lucky enough to attend this fabulous circus come away with a) a miserable cold, b) somehow less French than we had on arrival and c) a few earwormy tracks that forever after will remind us of the Croisette in May. Obviously, the Red Carpet has its own music, but that belongs to the Other Cannes–the one we don’t get to experience–of gowns and flashbulbs, and to be honest the snatches of “Happy” and Beyonce we overheard beetling from one screening to the next didn’t strike us as particularly interesting. But this year there seemed to be a higher than usual number of films that featured surprising, offbeat or otherwise memorable soundtrack cues. And so we’ve spared you any of the horrible, on-the-nose picks from the playlist that preceded the midnight screening of Gaspar Noe‘s “Love” (no one deserves “Sex Bomb” although it sure does sum up the overriding reaction to the film), in favor of sharing 10 other tunes from 2015 festival films to hopefully give you a flavor of our time there, and to play us out.

Cemetery of Splendor
A surprising entry, but definitely one of the most delightful–this track by an artist with the awesomely early-nineties moniker DJ Soulscape, rings out at a late point in Apichatpong Weerasethakul‘s largely music-free film and provides a gently comical accompaniment to a scene of mass exercise.

Green Room
By slight contrast, we have a cover of Dead Kennedys‘ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” as played by the embattled punk band in maybe the festival’s most universally lauded genre pick, Jeremy Saulnier‘s widely adored “Green Room.”

Arabian Nights
We’re now getting used to expecting the unexpected from Portuguese filmmaker, an his soundtrack cuts in his 6-hour “Arabian Nights” opus are uniformly inspired, however we should shout out the use of neglected masterpiece “Say You Say Me” in the middle third, as a particularly sublime pick.

“I Am A Soldier
Laurent Lariviere‘s debut feature set in the shady demi monde of dog smuggling didn’t cause too much of a stir on the Croisette, though it’s certainly solid (review here). But it does have one lovely moment which introduced us to this Johnny Hallyday version of this French song, a lyric from which gives the film its otherwise incongruous title (“Je Suis Un Soldat”).

The Lobster
Boasting not one but several great uses of pop music,Yorgos Lanthimos‘s two standout moments in “The Lobster” come courtesy of the film’s stars singing cover version/karaoke of two lugubriously romantic tracks on screen. Olivia Colman and Garry Montaine, as the hotel manager and her husband have a brilliant deadpan dance routine as they duet on “Something’s Got A Hold of My Heart” for the entertainment of their guests, and Colin Farrell gives the world’s most forlorn, one-sided rendition of a snatch of Nick Cave/Kylie Minogue duet “Where the Wild Roses Grow.” Sadly, we don’t have the actual versions from the film yet, but here are the more famous versions of the songs to remind you.

Of course Asif Kapadia’s documentary about Amy Winehouse features many, many of her tracks, all used to often chilling, saddening effect. The one that gave us the biggest hairs-on-neck moment though, was one we’d never heard and now can’t find anywhere–a recording of  very young, pre-fame Amy singing “Moon River” with a youth orchestra. Absent that, the use of “Love is a Losing Game” shreds you to pieces while you watch, but “Back to Black” is kind of a thrill, because we get footage of her recording the actual vocals used on the track.

The Treasure”
Having been lulled into the amusing but very Romanian-new Wave-y rhythms of Corneliu Porumboiu‘s Un Certain Regard prizewinner, the ending came as a complete (happy) surprise, capped off with Porumboiu’s choice to smash to the credits with this totally incongruous, totally on the money Laibach cover of the terminally irritating “Life is Life.”

Gaspar Noe‘s film may have missed with critics, but its soundtrack (and indeed the posters that decorate seemingly every inch of its characters’ wallspace) is representative of his broad-based cinephilia. Several John Carpenter motifs show up, alongside various classical pieces, but most fun for those who caught the reference is the sweet and romantic theme to “Cannibal Holocaust” playing in a Parisian bar.

Cementing her position, after the transcendent us of “Diamonds” in Celine Sciamma‘s “Girlhood” as the go-to pop star of choice for films about the non-white experience in Europe, Rihanna‘s “We Found Love” figures heavily, and poignantly in Jonas Carpignano‘s excellent, low-key account of an illegal immigrant from Burkina Faso trying to make a life for himself in Italy.

Those were the tracks we most came to love in the hopeless place that was Cannes 2015. A bientot, and thanks for reading.

–Jessica Kiang, Oli Lyttelton

Check out the rest of our coverage from the 2015 Cannes Film Festival by clicking here.

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