Cannes 2015 – The First Saturday

It was straight down to business this year. No messing about by the beach. Within two hours of getting off the plane at Nice Airport, I was sitting in the rooftop Salle de Soixantieme cinema, first built to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival.

Colin Farrell and Rachel Weiss in The Lobster

With Cannes now marking its 68th edition, one of the most international films in competition is The Lobster, from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, funded from Greece, the UK, France, Ireland and the Netherlands, shot in Ireland and with a cast including Ireland’s Colin Farrell, English stars Rachel Weiss, Olivia Colman and Ben Whishaw, Scotland’s Ashley Jensen, Michael Smiley from Northern Ireland, America’s John C Reilly, Lea Seydoux from France and Greek actress Angeliki Papoulia, who starred in the director’s previous Cannes hit Dogtooth. Anyone who saw Dogtooth would instantly recognise the director’s dark and surreal sense of humour here, as he presents us with another skewed reality. The Lobster is set in a world where people have to be in couples, so single people are sent to a hotel where they’re given forty five days to find a match – or they’re turned into the animal of their choice, the crustacean of the title being the preference of Colin Farrell’s understandably miserable protagonist. Without giving too much away for a film which is certain to receive a theatrical release in the UK, it’s divided into two sections, with a prelude and a coda – the prelude seems pointless, the first section is set in the hotel, the second section shows us what happens to people who try to beat the system and the coda will have everyone in the cinema wincing in anticipation behind their hands. The first section is a piece of absurdist brilliance, with performances perfectly matched to the delightful peculiarity of the material. The second section is initially a welcome revelation of the other side of the coin, which answers some questions posed by the first section, but soon becomes necessarily bleak and ultimately begins to lose momentum as it trundles towards the two-hour mark.

Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix in Irrational Man

Aside from the cinemas and screening rooms, another of the main haunts of those attending the festival and market is the Village International, comprising separate marquees – or “pavilions” – for many of the countries trying to promote themselves to foreign producers and distributors. Consequently, the UK Film Centre is a frequent hangout and time-filler for industry insiders from Britain, so it’s no surprise to bump into people you know between screenings. On this occasion it was a brief catch-up with Stewart Le Marechal, a producer with Ealing Studios-based Met Films.

Next came a chance to see the latest Woody Allen film, Irrational Man, in which Joaquin Phoenix plays a philosophy professor whose troubled charm attracts Emma Stone’s university student and whose increasingly dark and morally-corrupt but logical flights of fancy eventually leave her conflicted. Like The Lobster before it, Irrational Man begins as a wordy but thoughtful comedy but becomes an altogether darker beast as it approaches a denouement, which is sadly signposted rather too well. Screening out of competition here, it’s neither among the strongest nor weakest of Allen’s oeuvre, but a satisfying enough addition to it.

Then it was off to my first reception of Cannes 2015, laid on by HP at the Majestic hotel, directly opposite the Palais. The idea was meant to be for HP staff to be showing off their new toys, but in the event, there was champagne on tap and a handful of mini croque-monsieur and bruschetta nibbles and a variety of HP toys, all password protected, serving as little more than paperweights.

A typically brooding Matthias Schoenaerts in Maryland

From here, it was back to the festival proper, with a screening of one of the French films in the Un Certain Regard strand, Alice Wincour’s Maryland – or as it’s apparently being called in English, Disorder, although why it has to be renamed, I don’t know, as Maryland simply refers to the name of the house where the action happens. The action revolves around the ubiquitous Matthias Schoenaerts as a French soldier, suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after a tour of duty in Afghanistan, working as a security guard to earn some extra cash while he’s recovering. He’s assigned to look after the wife and son of a shady businessman, with friends in high places, while he’s on a brief trip out of the country. Schoenaerts is as intense and compelling as ever, and there are some unexpectedly thrilling action sequences, but while it’s unusual for a film in the Festival’s more arty sidebar to have any kind of discernable narrative, there are rather too many areas of narrative nonsense and contrived clunkiness to make Maryland work. Or perhaps that’s why it’s also known as Disorder.