Overlapping Dark Themes at the Cannes Film Festival

Following a limping opening with the controversial biopic “Grace of Monaco,” that was panned by the critics, condemned by the royal family of Monaco, and avoided by its American distributor Harvey Weinstein who was glaringly absent from the red carpet, the 67th Cannes Film Festival picked up steam and offered a delicious feast of international movies that kept film fans and critics drooling for 10 days. The movies in the competition selection were so compelling that punters struggled to pick one clear winner.

Although the films were varied in their style and subjects, their themes were sometimes strikingly similar. Ken Loach’s “Jimmy’s Hall,” which depicts the Catholic church’s pernicious hostility towards liberal thinkers in 1930s Ireland that led to the extrajudicial deportation of activist James Gralton to New York, echoes elements from Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu,” a grim portrayal of life under strict Islamic law imposed by fanatic Islamist group, Boko Haram, who ruled Mali for over a year in 2012 before they were pushed out by French forces, and currently are holding a group of Nigerian young girls hostages.

Meanwhile, three movies dealt with aging artists, who refuse to accept the passing of time and defy its impact on their health and career. Mike leigh’s “Mr. Turner,” offers an unflattering portrayal of celebrated 19th century British artist J.M.W. Turner (brilliantly played by the festival’s Best Actor Award winner  Timothy Spall), who denies his children, sexually abuses his maid, badly treats others and recklessly rejects his doctors’ advice to take care of his health, While Cronenberg’s satire on Hollywood, “Maps to the Stars,”  and Olivier Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria,”  both focused on middle-aged female actresses (played rivetingly by the festival’s Best Actress Award winner Julianne Moore and Juliette Binoche respectively) mentally crumbling under their desperate attempts to assert their relevance and regain deserving roles that are being awarded to younger peers.

“Maps to the Stars,” expands beyond the subject of aging actors and exposes the moral decadence in Hollywood, where people are ruined by their own arrogance and vanity and where one’s tragedy is another’s celebration. This subject resonated in Bennett Miller’s real-life wrestling drama “Foxcatcher,” in which a vain, self-possessed tycoon, John Du Pont (Steve Carell) inflicts pain and destruction on himself and olympic wrestlers Dave and Mark Schultz, who come from a humble background.

By and Large, films in this year’s prestigious film festival across the different competitions dealt with dark subjects, grim themes and tragic events. Un Certain Regard competition was no different, with offering like the Hungarian winning film “White Dog,” a dystopian Canine thriller that delves into contemporary ethnic cleansing, and one of the most pre-festival hyped movies and later one of the festival’s grandest disappointments, Ryan Gosling’s Lost River, a bizarre violent tale of a fractured family trying to survive in violent Detroit.

A particularly dark film from the out of competition official selections was post-apocalyptic thriller “The Rover” from Australian David Michod, in which life is cheap and humanity is stripped off its values as loners Robert Pattinson and Guy Pearce wreak havoc and leave a mountain of dead bodies on their road trip to seek revenge from a gang of thieves,

In spite of their grim themes, the majority of the movies in the main competition selection have found buyers, in addition to winners in other competition. “White God” was snapped up instantly by international buyers when it was announced as the winner of Un Certain Regard Friday evening. Having said that, other films, including the ones in the market, attracted little attention, and many left the festival empty-handed.