For those who didn’t make it to the Cannes Film Festival this year, Cannes came to Paris for a weekend. Not much sun or heat, but most of the films in competition as well as a taste of ‘Un Certain Regard’, the alternate selection from little-known and less classic film makers. Strong women, amateur detectives, confessions, vulnerability and a lot of iPhone are what I recollect from the 15 hours of films I binged on. Here are a few films from the selection, which will hopefully be making their way to UK screens sometime soon.
La Fille Inconnue (The Unknown Girl) is writer-director Luc & Jean-Pierre Dardenne’s 10th feature film, after making about 60 documentaries together. The Belgian brothers, also prolific producers (they have five films in competition this year including I, Daniel Blake) would apparently like us to forget their first few films, as they really hit their stride with Rosetta, winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1999 and then again in 2005 for The Child.
Dr Jenny Davin (Adèle Haenel) runs a walk-in community practice in the grimness of Seraing, half an hour from Liege. The soundtrack is passing traffic, and the view is a constant grey sky. While berating her intern about doctors not become emotionally involved with patients, she chooses not to answer an after-hours ring on the surgery door. Informed the next day that a young woman has died and with the CCTV camera at her door proving that the dead woman was the person who rang, Jenny’s quest to establish the girl’s identity is initially motivated by guilt. As she uncovers more of the town’s underbelly she shows an admirable relentless determination and fearlessness, as well as the life of an overworked doctor. One which is at times morally ambiguous, taking on the desperation of the patients as they confess their secrets with imposed confidentiality.
The Dardenne’s signature look is one without artifice. They are the Belgian version of Ken Loach, with less laughter and no background music. Strong stories, the grind of daily life and glimpses of compassion. Inspired by news items, they confront social realities, and constantly produce intriguing and morally complex films.
Another film featuring a strong female protagonist was Aquarius from Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho. His first feature film was O Som ao Redor (Neighbouring Sounds) released in 2013, receiving numerous awards.
Facing the Brazilian beach of Recife, Clara (Sonia Braga) is the last remaining inhabitant of her apartment block, Aquarius. Seen as old by some and vintage by others, a developer has his eye on it and is waiting for Clara to move on. Spanning 30 years, the film depicts Clara’s life, home and her amazing hair. The underlying story is about the relationship we have with our family, the sometimes easier relationship we have with our extended family, and the people around us who we like to think of as family. Clara has embraced life, health and the struggles she has encountered along the way. The Brazilians attending the screening were as fired up as Clara by the end, storming to the front of the cinema with placards in support of suspended Brazilian president Dilma Roussef.
American Honey from British director Andrea Arnold, who for the third time has won the Jury Prize. It is the story of a teenager named Star (Sasha Lane) and her attempt to get out of her poverty-driven, dumpster-diving existence in which she has been forced. Choosing to join a mini-van of teenagers selling magazine subscriptions, she travels across the US for a summer, keeping an observant eye on everything and everyone. Arnold manages to constantly surprise in this almost three-hour road movie, as we experience the seediness and adventure through Star’s weary yet hopeful eyes.
Olivier Assayas’ film Personal Shopper shared the award for direction. Maureen (Kristen Stuart) is a miserable young woman in Paris, waiting for a sign from her dead brother. Half the film is a close up of her iPhone texts and the other half is her whingeing and being unpleasant to most people she encounters. Sometimes there is a level of unhappiness that shouldn’t be shared with the world. It’s boring enough having a friend text while you’re with them, but this was worse – having to read the dull conversation as Maureen typed. And that was only half the problem.
Iranian writer, director and producer Asghar Farhadi won two awards for his film Forushande, (The Salesman). You may remember Forushande who received a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for his 2011 film A Separation. At Cannes, his film won two awards: Best screenplay and best actor for Shahab Hosseini. Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidousti) have to urgently leave their Teheran apartment when the building starts collapsing. Their new apartment brings with it unexpected trouble, due to a dubious and mysterious ex-tenant. Emad becomes a compelling detective in order to get to the bottom of a horrible event that has disturbed their previously ordered and happy life. Juxtaposed with this are the scenes from the production of Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’, the play Emad and Rana are currently performing with their semi-professional company. Layered stories, complex characters, and an intriguing mystery keep this film interesting.
And the winner of the Palme d’Or, the major prize at Cannes was I, Daniel Blake. Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) is the creation of writer-director Ken Loach and co-writer Paul Laverty and a film that is impossible to ignore.
Following a heart attack, carpenter Daniel Blake is forced to take time off. In order to exist during this unpaid time off he signs on for sickness benefits, and enters the world of the Jobcentre, so illogical, inhumane and robot-like, that despite his authentic good cheer and willingness, he cannot accept what he is being asked to do – search for a job that he has been told not to do – and get through the red-tape. A man unwillingly involved in an unnecessarily complex system, so grinding and desperate that apparently people opt out – accepting homelessness and foodbanks – in order to save themselves.
Katie (Hayley Squires) is defended and subsequently befriended by Daniel in the job centre. Accompanied by her two children, she has moved to Newcastle from London to try and keep her life together and provide space for her children. Stand-up comic Dave Johns is outstanding. The addition of his low-key, dry humour to this grim story makes the character of Daniel Blake so likeable and therefore more poignant.
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