Cannes 2015 – The Second Thursday
With the market beginning to close down, the by the second Thursday of Cannes, attention is turning almost exclusively to the festival and its various sidebars.
In a year full of non-native English speakers directing films in English, Rachel Weisz turns up in her second of the festival – after Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster, she’s back in Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth, playing the daughter – and personal assistant – of a world renowned, but retired, composer and conductor, played by Sir Michael Caine. He’s staying at an exclusive spa hotel in Switzerland, recharging his batteries, catching up with an old friend, Harvey Keitel’s film director, and getting to know Paul Dano’s young actor, who’s using the retreat to prepare for his next role. Beautifully shot and with heart-warming and breaking, genuine performances, Sorrentino explores everything from aging, bereavement, ego, parent-child relationships, creativity, ambition and more in a way which shows deep understanding of them all. Having recently reached my forties and become a parent and with aspirations of my own to make films, almost every step of the way, Youth strikes chord after chord, most of which would resonate with most viewers, wherever they find themselves on life’s journey.
Like Youth, the day’s next film, Un Certain Regard entry The Other Side, is made by an Italian director but in English. Roberto Minervini’s slow, social drama is somewhat inaccessible and took some post-screening discussion to decode it. The film begins with a team of men in army fatigues taking part in a military training exercise in the woods, before switching to a group of ill-educated working class southern folk, struggling to make ends meet – and talk through their toothless mouths, as they shoot-up whatever drugs they can get their hands on and pontificate about how it’s time Hillary Clinton became president. Then, out of nowhere, the story – such as it is – suddenly stops and we find ourselves back with the crew we met in the opening scene, who are now revealed to be anti-government, right-wing fundamentalist survivalists, whose bible is the Second Amendment, whose favourite pastime is setting fire to images of Barack Obama and who fear that the UN is going to send in soldiers to suppress gun-toting working class Americans. Lacking in a narrative, the film appears to be showing us that social class isn’t as linked to political leanings as many might think; among the deprived working classes are supporters of both the left and right wing of American politics – although presenting one set as a weathered community struggling to stay together while the others are paranoid, hate-filled war-mongers, the film-maker’s own view seems to be clear; while many are prepared to raise arms to protect their way of life, Minervini appears to prefer The Other Side.
There was a tight turnaround to see what would be my final film of Cannes 2015, this time, an English-language film directed by a Frenchman; Gaspar Noé’s Love was part of the official festival selection but screening out of competition. Anyone familiar with Noé’s ground-breaking Irreversible, in which Monica Bellucci was subjected to a nine minute rape scene, as part of a story that was told Memento-style in reverse, would expect a complicated narrative and a deliberately provocative style, but nothing can prepare you for what he delivers this time; Love is a 3D porn film – nothing less. The plot, such as it is, revolves around an American film student in Paris, whose girlfriend leaves him when he gets their neighbour pregnant after the trio get involved in a threesome – kick-starting a string of graphic sex scenes, whether it’s him with the neighbour, him with his girlfriend, him with both of them, him with a stranger at a party, sex in a club, in an alleyway – all, of course, in 3D. From the opening scene – a static shot of him and his original girlfriend naked on a bed, playing with each other until they climax – Noé delivers the kind of explicit action that you can’t believe you’re watching on the big screen at a respectable film festival and whose participants must be worried about whether their careers can be heading anywhere other than the behind the curtain of a sleazy shop in the red light district. Noé seems to spend so much time concentrating on trying to shock the viewers with sex scenes that he’s just lifted the template from Irreversible and told his story in three sections, backwards, in a way which serves to confuse rather than be in any sense revelatory. The 3D itself is little more than a gimmick, with only two shots where it serves any purpose at all – one features a finger pointing out at the audience – the other, dare I even conjure up the image, involves a full-on ejaculation directly at the viewer. Trying to shock is one thing, but there has to be artistic justification, and if Noé has this, any porn director could claim to be making art films…without their tongue firmly planted in their cheek.
So with another Cannes Film Festival – and Market – coming to an end for this reporter, it’s been a busy few days, full of screenings, meetings, panels and parties, with no time for press conferences or classic films on the beach and too many late nights to get in time to catch the early morning press screenings in the the biggest cinema most people are ever likely to enjoy – the Grand Theatre Lumiere, where evening screenings require bow-ties for men and, if some are to be believed, high heels for women. But with an interesting and thought-provoking – if lower profile than in many previous years – selection of films, I certainly hadn’t been expecting to head home with a 3D porn film still ringing around my head. Ironically, perhaps, a film featuring an ejaculation directly into the audience, was a bit of an anti-climax to my Cannes.