R A D I C A L Departures From Norm

Hot-button political themes, provocative storylines and highly anticipated new films from the world’s most exciting auteurs – the 70th Cannes Film Festival expectedly has them all. The future is here by Saibal Chatterjee

Nicole Kidman in The Beguiled directed by Sofia Coppola

The medium and the business of cinema are in the throes of rapid and inexorable transition. Even the Cannes Film Festival can no longer remain untouched. It has thus far steadfastly worshiped at the altar of conventional big screen movie-watching practices, but this year it is embracing the future of the industry. The 70thCannes Film Festival, which opens with Arnaud Desplechin’s Ismael’s Ghost starring Mathieu Amalric, Marion Cottilard, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Louis Garrel, marks a small but significant break from the past.  

The festival has, for the first time, granted Competition slots to two films from streaming giant Netflix, programmed episodes of two television series (Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake: China Girl and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks), and decided to allow virtual reality (VR) a look-in via Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Flesh and Sand. The times are changing.

Arnaud Desplechin's Ismael's Ghost

While the Hollywood majors (Fox, Sony, Universal, Warner) are conspicuous by their absence in the official selection, A24, the independent entertainment company behind films like Moonlight, Room and The Lobster, will showcase as many as four titles at the world’s glitziest film festival this year – Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer and the Safdie brothers’ Good Time in Competition, John Cameron Mitchell’s How to Talk to Girls at Parties out of competition, and Jean-Stephane Sauvaire’s A Prayer Before Dawn in Midnight Screenings.

No less significantly, the festival’s general delegate Thierry Fremaux appears to have cast his net wider with the intention of roping in a newer bunch of cinematic envelope-pushers. While eleven of the directors across the sections are firsttimers, among the filmmakers in Competition this year are several young craftsmen and storytellers who, following their breakouts in Cannes in the recent past, have gone on to steadily consolidate their reputations. Their presence in the official selection bodes well for the future as much of independent cinema as of the festival.

Kristen Stewart's Directorial Debut Come Swim

Cannes usually includes multiple previous Palme d’Or winners in its Competition line-up. Last year, Cristian Mungiu (Graduation), Ken Loach (I, Daniel Blake) and the Dardenne Brothers (The Unknown Girl) were in the mix. The 70th edition, however, has only one – Michael Haneke. All eyes in Cannes will be on how the dice rolls for the 75-year-old Austrian auteur’s latest film Happy End. Will he become the first flmmaker ever to win the Palme d’Or thrice?

Haneke’s film, whose mood is believed to be quite contrary to what the title suggests, will compete against 18 other entries. The 2017 Competition section is especially interesting because more than half of the contenders are filmmakers in their 40s or less.

Loveless Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev

Six of the directors vying for the Palme d’Or are in their 50s, including Russia’s 53-year-old Andrey Zvyagintsev (who is returning to the Croisette with Loveless, about an estranged couple and their missing son, after winning the Best Screenplay award for Leviathan in 2014). Haneke has only one septuagenarian for company in this hugely promising field – 73-year-old Frenchman Jacques Doillon. Haneke’s Happy End is a drama set in Calais against the backdrop of the European refugee crisis. Rodin, Doillon’s 28th film, is, on the other hand, a period tale that focuses on the legendary 19th century artist’s relationship with Camille Claudel, a young woman desperate to be his assistant.

Period Tale

What is eminently evident from the list of auteurs in Competition is that Cannes is intent on cementing the festival’s links with the future leaders of international independent cinema. With the exception of genre director Bong Joon-ho’s Englishlanguage Korean-American co-production Okja, which tells the story of a girl who fights to save a massive animal from the clutches of a powerful multinational company, none of the films in Competition is cast in the popular mould.

Okja is presented by Netflix. The cast includes Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal and Korean child actress Ahn Seo-hyun. Netflix has another acquisition in Competition – Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories, starring Adam Sandler, Emma Thompson, Ben Stiller and Dustin Hoffman in a story about an estranged family that congregates at an event in New York to celebrate the artistic career of the father.

Midnight Screening: Prayer Before Dawn directed by Jean-Stephane Sauvaire

Japan’s Naomi Kawase, 47, one of three women directors in Competition this year, is already a Cannes veteran, while the other two – Sofia Coppola, 45, and Lynne Ramsay, 47 – have also been in the thick of the Cannes action in the past and have earned their share of accolades. Five women filmmakers are featured in Un Certain Regard. The 88-yearold French New Wave icon Agnes Varda, venerated octogenarian actress Vanessa Redgrave with her directorial debut and Kristen Stewart with the short film Come Swim figure in other sections of the official selection.

The Naomi Kawase film in Competition is Hiraki (Radiance), about a woman who writes voiceovers for the visually challenged and develops a tender bond with a photographer who is slowly losing his eyesight. Very Kawase-like!

Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa's A Gentle Creature

Coppola is here with the Southern Gothic tale The Beguiled, set during the Civil War. It revolves around wounded Union soldier (played by Colin Farrell) who is given shelter in a girls’ school. Also in the cast are Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning and Kirsten Dunst. Scottish director Lynne Ramsay returns to the Croisette high table with You Were Never Really Here, starring Joaquin Phoenix as a war veteran whose attempt to save a young girl from a sex trafficking ring goes horribly amiss.

With the likes of Hungary’s Kornel Mundruczo, Greece’s Yorgos Lanthimos, Sweden’s Ruben Ostlund, US director Baumbach and the German-Turkish filmmaker Fatih Akin in the fray, the selection clearly signals the emergence of a new breed of Cannes favourites. These filmmakers are all forty-somethings who have already demonstrated the potential to determine the direction of the global cinematic imagination.

Napalm Directed by Claude Lanzmann

Mundruczo, 42, won the Prix Un Certain Regard for White God in 2014.He has moved up a step to the Competition with Jupiter’s Moon, a provocative story of a young immigrant shot while trying to illegally cross the border. The traumatized and wounded man discovers that he can levitate at will. A doctor smuggles him out of a refugee camp with plans to exploit the secret.

Lanthimos, 43, a Prix Un Certain Regard winner for 2009’s Dogtooth, made waves in Cannes in 2015 with the Competition entry The Lobster and returned home with the Jury Prize. He is in the running this year with The Killing of a Sacred Deer, a film described as a psychological drama. Its cast features Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman and Alicia Silverstone.

Ruben Ostlund, 43, made his presence felt in no uncertain terms in 2014, winning the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize for the film Force Majeure. His 2017 entry is The Square, a drama about a manager in a museum who sets out to create a buzz for a new installation he is placed in charge of.

Bong Joon-ho's English language Korean-American co-production Okja

Fatih Akin, 43, another Cannes regular, is in contention with the thriller In the Fade, a vengeance tale set in the Turkish- German community with Diane Kruger in a pivotal role.

The only Asian director other than Kawase in Competition is Korea’s prolific Hong Sangsoo, whose The Day After is in the race. Sangsoo has another film in the official selection this year – Clair’s Camera, his second partnership with Isabelle Huppert after the 2012 Cannes Competition entry, In Another Country. The film plays in Special Screenings. The director’s productivity borders on the phenomenal – he also had a premiere in Berlin (On the Beach at Night Alone, which competed for the Golden Bear).

Jupiter's Moon

Moroccan-born French director Robin Campillo, 54, scripted the 2008 Palme d’Or winner The Class (directed by Laurent Cantet, whose new film L’Atelier is in Un Certain Regard this year). His film, 120 Beats per Minute, has made it to the Competition line-up. Set in the 1990s, it is a drama in which governments, activists and pharma giants fight over the right to proper AIDS medication.

Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck, Michel Hazanivicius’s Redoubtable (about director Jean-Luc Godard), Sergei Loznitsa’s A gentle Creature and Francois Ozon’s L’amant Double were shoo-ins. All four are in Competition. Also making the cut in Benny and Josh Safdie’s Good Time, starring Robert Pattinson.

Swiss filmmaker Barbet Schroeder's The Venerable W.the last film in his "trilogy of evil&a

The festival’s Special Screenings section has an array of powerful documentaries, including 91-year-old Claude Lanzmann’s Napalm, set in North Korea, and Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk’s An Inconvenient Sequel, Truth to Power, which is a followup to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.

Two films with a subcontinental connect in the official selection are documentaries that are part of Special Screenings. One is Swiss filmmaker Barbet Schroeder’s The Venerable W, the last film in his "trilogy of evil”. It is an encounter with a Burmese Buddhist monk whose hate speeches fan racism, Islamophobia and sectarian violence in complete contravention of the spirit of the religion he espouses.

Srilankan Tamil Director Jude Ratnam's Promised Land is part of the special screenings

The other film is Sri Lankan Tamil director Jude Ratnam’s Promised Land. In his first feature-length film, he returns to his country after fleeing on a train to escape the ethnic massacre. The civil war that tore Sri Lanka apart has ended, but has the cycle of fear and violence stopped? Promised Land is a personal and timely exploration of wounds inflicted by history – and of the deep scars left behind.

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