GFF Blog: In The Cannes

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A big birthday always creates unrealistic expectations. Cannes was 70 this year and everyone anticipated an amazing party and a list of Palme D’Or contenders bursting with future masterpieces.

The weather duly obliged with toasty warm sunshine from start to finish and you couldn’t have asked for a more stellar cast - everyone from Rihanna to Clint Eastwood walked the red carpet. One glorious evening to salute the 50 year career of director André Téchiné was spent among the crème-de-la-creme of French cinema including Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Juliette Binoche, Emmanuelle Béart, Bérénice Bejo, Claude Lelouch, Nicole Garcia and many others. 

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(L) From left: Elodie Bouchez, Sandrine Kiberlain, Isabelle Huppert, Catherine Deneuve, André Téchiné, Emmanuelle Béart and Lambert Wilson at the premiere of The Killing Of A Sacred Deer. Photograph: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images (R) Director Michael Haneke and Isabelle Huppert at a photocall for Happy End Photograph: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Image

In many respects it was a very good year. There wasn’t a day without something to excite debate and divide opinion whether it was the merits of Netflix or the future of virtual reality. The one thing that didn’t always quite sparkle were the competition titles. Too often you wondered why some of them were there. Naomi Kawase’s sun-dappled Radiance was slight and sentimental, Jacques Doillon’s labour of love Rodin, starring Vincent Lindon, was made with fastidious amounts of research and authenticity but not enough to keep you awake or interested. François Ozon’s sexy, trashy thriller L’amant Double felt like Mel Brooks had returned to the fray for a Brian De Palma spoof.

Bong Joon-ho’s simple-minded tale of a girl and her giant, genetically enhanced pig Okja was undermined by painful dialogue and cartoonish performances (yes you Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton) that felt like nails being dragged across blackboard.

There were competition titles that deserved all the attention. Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here is a brutal, unforgiving 21st century Taxi Driver made with a stunning command of the filmmaking medium. Cannes Best Actor Joaquin Phoenix is a traumatised FBI agent and ex-Marine spending his days tracking down young girls who have fallen victim to sex traffickers. His latest case becomes as convoluted as the plot of Chinatown. Extremely violent and utterly compelling, You Were Never Really Here also has a wonderful propulsive musical score by Jonny Greenwood. Ramsay won a shared screenplay award and this is a must see film when it is released in the UK.

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Competition titles that impressed included Michael Haneke’s Happy End, a relentlessly bleak assault on middle-class complacency with a cast that includes Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant, Robin Campillo’s Grand Jury Prize-winning Beats Per Minute, a touching tragic gay love story set against the backdrop of ACT UP activism in the Paris of the late 1980s, Yorgos Lanthimos The Killing Of A Scared Deer, a mesmerising mix of Greek tragedy and Cape Fear shocker with Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell, and Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless, another merciless attack on a Russian society devoid of humanity and compassion.

The Palme D’Or went to Ruben Ostlund’s The Square. You may remember his last film Force Majeure was our closing night a couple of years back. If Force Majeure operated with almost surgical precision then The Square is a big swaggering, unfocused state of the nation epic in which Ostend explores everything from the pretentiousness of modern art to the failings of masculinity and the difficulties of living a good life in our modern world. It does sprawl and lumber at times but there are some stunning set piece moments and a fantastic central performance from Claes Bang. The Square has its UK premiere at Film4 Summer Screen at Somerset House on August 16.

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The competition may grab the lion’s share of media coverage but there were lots of favourites in other sections of the festival, time just to mention Faces, Places, a joyous road movie documentary made by Agnes Varda and photographer/muralist JR and Jeune Femme, a feisty tale of a young woman getting her life back on track and making it on her own in Paris. A striking first feature that won the Camera D’Or for Léonor Séraille.

It is discoveries like Jeune Femme or Mohammad Rasoulof’s Iranian drama A Man of Integrity in Un Certain Regard that help Cannes to maintain its position as the finest film festival in the world. The Festival’s biggest hits will have the chance to play around the globe over the next year. The very best will come to the GFT and the Glasgow Film Festival.

Allan Hunter
GFF Co-director

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