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Still Voices Run Deep: Thoughtful Performances at Cannes 2016

I, Daniel Blake

Some film performances attract attention for being over the top. The lead performance of the father in Maren Ade’s “Toni Erdmann” comes to mind. It’s a good performance, and you can’t help but notice it. However, sometimes actors are so quietly invested in their characters that the performances are extremely subtle and thus very moving and thoughtful.

Dave Johns in “I, Daniel Blake gives the kind of low key, modulated performances that rarely get noticed in the likes of Hollywoodland. Johns is a stand-up comedian who has appeared on British television, but director Ken Loach’s treatise on the bad treatment of the indigent by public services is his first feature film role. And, I would bet, his first dramatic role.

Johns plays the title character, one Daniel Blake, a 59-year-old carpenter who is unable to work after a heart attack. He is caught between the classic rock and hard place: the medical establishment won’t give him an OK to work until he has recuperated, but in the meantime, social services won’t give him benefits until he’s tried to find work. And that’s putting it mildly.

Loach shows the bureaucratic establishment to be one stop short of a horror movie; there are so many catch 22’s that your head could spin. But the really devastating thing is when you realize that’s just a day at the office; these people don’t realize they are destroying people’s lives – they thing they’re helping.

As Daniel, Johns maintains an absolute calm and dignity about him, even as he tries to reason with people to help him as well as a destitute young mother. He is a guiding hand, but has nowhere to guide people (or himself) to.  Yet he is a rock for others. He is kind. Even when you can sense the anger rising, he is an upright gentlemen. A gem of a performance. May Johns see more dramatic roles in his future.

Paterson,” directed by Jim Jarmusch, showed me an Adam Driver I hadn’t seen before. Or maybe I had seen before, but didn’t care until the character of Paterson came my way. (To be clear, Paterson is the main character of the film, as well as the New Jersey city in which Paterson works. A typical Jarmuschian move.)

Driver’s Paterson is a bus driver (another Jarmusch tease?) who spends his off time writing poetry. He really has a poet’s mind, because not all is written. Paterson sees poetry in much of his mundane existence, so all is well. His is a reserved character, who sees poetry in everything, even the humdrum driving of a bus. But he takes in a wealth of ideas, information and, yes, poetry, from those he encounters on his daily run.

Paterson lives with a stay at home partner (played by Golshifteh Farahani) who lives in her own dream world. She bakes cupcakes and dreams of becoming a country music star (without benefit of musical knowledge). Paterson takes it all in, and deals with her in a loving, kind way. He never sees the need to tell her that her dreams may not come true. It is in this soft, taking it easy approach – that is also pure Jarmusch, by the way - that Adam Driver captures our hearts.

lovingRuth Negga is the exception to my rule that quiet characters don’t get Oscar nominations. In Jeff Nichols’s film “Loving,” Negga and Joel Edgerton elegantly and quietly dance their story. It is a still dance, when you see a couple on the dance floor who are so taken with each other that they simply sway, not moving. The story, now well known, is of the interracial couple whose desire to live quietly set off a court battle and landmark legislation.

As Mildred Loving, much of Negga’s performance is in her face, particularly in her eyes. Every emotion shows up there: love for her husband and family, rage at the injustices, fear as she is pulled from her bed and made to wait, pregnant, in a jail cell for a judge to deign to let her out on bail. Through all the tribulations, there is a beauty in her face and eyes that keep you riveted.

Joel Edgerton does much the same with his character of Richard Loving, but the intensity spreads through his entire body. You get the feeling that this man cannot say everything that he means, everything that he feels, but we see the emotion in the way he moves, perhaps hard at work fixing a car or the outside of their house, or perhaps putting his arm lightly but assuredly around his wife’s shoulders. This is a man who cannot articulate his feelings, but with simple statements and movements, he speaks volumes.

The Death of Louis XIV” is Albert Serra’s one-man showcase that he has gifted to the iconic Jean-Pierre Leaud. Playing the dying monarch, Leaud is on screen for virtually the entire film, and lying down in bed at that. In addition he balances an enormous wig on his head that looks as though it could be the cause of his demise.

louisThe Sun King does have some lines, but they are all delivered with the voice of one who is fading away. And as various doctors try different cures on him – each new concoction stranger than the last – Leaud grunt, groans and slurps his way into history. Low lighting and very close camerawork gives us an up close and personal view into his last days.

But lest one thing this is a dramatic, depressing performance, it is really anything but. Humor comes through constantly – by Leaud as well as the few supporting cast members. These are death throes that you want to enjoy.

The Way They Were: Classics at Cannes

Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

Seeing the word “classics” applied to a film festival program would have you believe you will be seeing a bevy of old films, perhaps restored. But Cannes regards those involved with film through the years to be classics; hence a collection of recent documentaries about cinema luminaries.

cinema travelersThere are cineastes you can listen to for hours, captivated by their opinions and their knowledge. Martin Scorsese comes to mind. A Journey Through French Cinema” is Bertrand Tavernier’s treatise on where we’ve come from cinematically. (And I use the universal “we,” since it really all began with French cinema.)

Although it seems like a stream of consciousness exercise, the film is very finely structured, covering many moments in the evolution of the medium. The sense in watching it, however, is of having a conversation with Tavernier over drinks in a café near the Cinémathèque Française. And if you think you know everything about French film, be advised: you don’t.

In The Cinema Travelers” Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya take a loving look at the Indian film lovers who move projectors around the country to share the experience of moving going with all, even those in far-flung locations.

They explore and investigate: getting a look at audience members, who are grateful for their time in the dark with their favorite movies. And they look at those who make it possible; particularly touching is the man who keeps old projectors going with spit and promise.

Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds is a loving home movie by Alexis Bloom and Fisher Stevens. This mother and daughter act (and they actually do an act together) let a lot hang out. They argue, they bitch and moan, but they really love each other.

Bloom and Stevens let us in on the highs and lows. And Reynolds and Fisher are particularly open to the camera. Perhaps it’s their nature, but still these are lovely moments. We see the ordinary moments, but we also see what makes them so special to us.

gentleman risGentleman Rissient” is directed by Benoît Jacquot, Guy Seligmann and Pascal Mérigeau. I have written about Pierre Rissient before, and this is not the first film about this film renaissance man. But here, the three filmmakers let Pierre have his say pretty much all the way.

Rissient has worked in so many aspects of film: Distribution, public relations and also those important parts of film that may not have a name. He has advised Clint Eastwood and Jerry Schatzberg, among others. (Regarding Schatzberg, Rissient will admit that his first three films were great, but the rest went downhill!)

Thierry Fremaux, head of the Cannes festival, refers to Pierre as “Mr. Everywhere.” And it’s true. He shows up everywhere, and rumor has it that Rissient is the only human being on earth who can walk up the red carpet in sneakers and a T shirt. Because that’s what he wears!

Filmmaker Esther Hoffenberg introduces a new generation to Bernadette Lafont, the unique French actress in her documentary free womanBernadette Lafont: And God Created the Free Woman.” This striking and talented actress had a career that spanned the New Wave and lasted to her final years.

Raised in a very free way by her mother, Lafont led the same kind of life as an adult. She had children, which caused some work problems (back in the day before birth control when she was supposed to choose film over family): François Truffaut  told her that she had chosen to have a life, so he couldn’t work with her.

It’s a lovely story, told by Hoffenberg but through the eyes, words and memories of Lafont’s granddaughters. The seamless interweaving of her career, love, and life shines a light on how many of us still could lead meaningful lives. Did she see her life the way her granddaughters did? Probably not, but it is the different views that make her life so intriguing.

Speaking Of...: Talks at Cannes 2016

Moira Griffin (second from left), Katriel Schory (far right) at CNC round table

Talks and panels have become a large part of the Cannes Film Festival. Diversity was a big topic this year. Herewith a recap of a few.

Hidden inside the Majestic Hotel, Kering Suite Talks aimed at many issues facing women in the field.
Chloe Sevigny, who made her film debut at age 19 in “Kids,” is in Cannes with her directorial debut, “Kitty,” a short film from a Paul Bowles story about a young girl who turns into a cat. The film was shown as part of the closing program of Critics Week.

Chloe Sevingy
She hired all female producers on her film,  because women are good at multitasking: “I love sleeping with men, hanging out with men, but I like working with women,” she said. Insecurity may have held her back from directing sooner. As she worked with more and more big name, talented directors, she became more and more intimidated.
She was influenced by women directors, including Mary Harron (“American Psycho”) and Kimberly Peirce (“Boys Don’t Cry”). She noted the way they work but also noted the challenges they faced as women.

According to Sevigny, women’s film and women characters in film are under marketed. As and example she mentioned that tbe new “Star Wars” movie has figurines for many white characters, but none for the black Jedi, or for Scarlett Johansson in her latest Marvel movie.

 Amy Emmerich, Chief Content Officer of Refinery 29, dedicated to supporting work by women filmmakers, talked of solutions to these challenges, and of the need to build a base for women. Television seems to be ahead of movies in this area. Many times told stories are “too female.” “You never hear Martin Scorsese being told his films are too male,” she said.

Both alluded to characterizations of women filmmakers. Men are looked at as mad artists; women are just crazy bitches. Sevigny’s takeaway is that women must demand better material. There was talk of pay disparity. Emmerich said girls must be raised to speak out and praised Jennifer Lawrence for calling out the system and doing it loudly.

France’s Centre National du Cinema et de l’image animée, or CNC, held a roundtable on diversity in their tent on the beach. Industry professionals gathered to hear from other professionals about the challenges and successes of inclusiveness in the field.

Much of the talk dealt with behind – and after – the camera. Moira Griffin, Senior diversity manager from the Sundance Institute, said there are almost no European sales agents of color. Asked what success in diversity looked like to her, she replied, “When I don’t have a job anymore!” In terms of broadening artists working in the newest technologies, she said that Sundance is currently training women and people of color in Virtual Reality.

Moroccan filmmaker Philippe Faucon, director of “Fatima,” moved from troubles with his first film “Samia” to better times with “Fatima” where he had cast what were considered bankable stars.

The panel also included Jasmin McSweeney, Director of Marketing for the New Zealand Film Commission and Katriel Schory, Executive Director of the Israeli Film Fund. Schory talked about the fund’s “I am you are” initiative, supporting short films made by Israeli and Palestinian kids.

CNC’s President of its Images of Diversity Commission, Alexandre Michelin, moderated and threw out his own challenge that in France, he felt, screenwriting was an issue. There are plenty of people with stories, but they may need help in writing those stories. This speaks to opening training to a more diverse group of people.

During the Q&A, the elephant on the Croisette was addressed: the lack of diversity in the Cannes competition, as well as in other big festivals. Most panelists agreed that a diversity of programmers was critical. Griffin wondered how many women and/or people of color were on the Cannes selection committee. No one in the room knew the answer. Schory spoke of the first film with a Palestinian director and producer in Un Certain Regard; he said his fund is trying to train Palestinians behind the camera, since that is where the power is.

Lucia GrennaDocumentaries now receive more and more attention in Cannes. This is the second year that a best documentary award is given out, presented by SACAM. It’s not part of the official competition awards (very few have been shown in competition and only one, Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” has won the Palme d’or), but still there is movement towards recognizing the importance of documentary films.

In light of this attention, a panel was held, titled Global Awareness for Social Justice. A group gathered to share information on the current situation.

Gianfranco Rossi, whose film “Fire at Sea” premiered at this year’s Berlinale and won the top prize, said his work was more about true and false, not fiction or non-fiction. He gets to know people very well in his films. He works alone, and doesn’t shoot everything but chooses moments that work for him. The three most important personal requirements for him to make films are: Structure, subtraction, and transportation

Lucia Grenna, Program manager of Connect4Climate, spoke of the importance of social media, “not that we (organizations, institutions) can reach everyone, but that everyone can reach us.” To me, that is the holy grail, to let those searching online find the answers that speak the truth.

Also taking a close look at documentaries was a panel at the American Pavilion, part of their Industry in Focus program.  Thom Powers, who seems to own non fiction programming in North America, moderated a talk with two queens of documentary filmmaking in the U.S., producer Diane Weyerman of Participant Media, and Cara Mertes, head of the Just Film section of the Ford Foundation. They are not just interested in real stories, but in ones that push a progressive social agenda. And that would certainly include diversity: these women are at the front lines of the battle for documentary recognition.

Party Time: Socializing at Cannes

Women in Film Luncheon

There’s a time for work and a time for play, but in the heat of the Croisette, the two are often combined.  People say that’s where the deal are made but it’s not always true. Deals are made hotel suites that have been turned into offices, although there still may be the big agreement that’s written on a cocktail napkin at the Majestic Bar around midnight by the industry titans.

IMG 2707For we mere mortals, though, there are contacts to be made at any number of receptions and cocktail parties.  Chatting over a glass of wine and soggy hors d’oeurves is a time-honored way of learning and networking.
Each year the Ontario party, which includes the Toronto International Film Festival, draws a couple of hundred people in the late afternoon, before evening screenings start.  Among those attending was Wendy Lidell, an industry veteram in Cannes for the first time in years as she recently joined Kino Lorber as senior VP of acquisitions. The Ontario party gave her a chance to connect with many people; some may be the beginning of acquisition deals.

Also at the Ontario event was Nadine Cloete. Nadine was in Cannes for the first time as part of the South African delegation. She has completed her first feature length documentary titled “Action Kommandant,” and was hoping to meet festival programmers and sales agents at the festival. This party was a great start. She brought with her a link to her film trailer: . She was set to start networking immediately!

The Dutch reception, taking place in the Netherlands pavilion, hosts Eye Film Museum in Amsterdam as well as the Rotterdam Film Festival. There, Genna Terranova, Director of the Tribeca Film Festival and Sheryl Mousley, Senior Curator, Moving Image at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, had a moment to swap war stories.

diane pernetA Shaded View on Fashion Film reception on a rooftop at the Palais had great views as well as fabulously dressed guests. Diane Pernet, who founded the ASVOFF, as it is known, and who screens the films in collaboration with the Centre Pompidou in Paris, is an American expat who now makes her home in France. The films in this annual series are focused on fashion; most are commercials for clothing, accessories and perfume brands. This was the first time Diane brought news of her festival to the Croisette (the eighth edition of the series had been held in December), so many brands were involved in this stylish cocktail hour.

In addition to institutional parties, there are traditional lunches, unencumbered by association with companies or brands. More personal and very off the cuff. I was happy to attend such a lunch, as I do every year, with a wonderful group of women working in various fields in the film business. Attending this year were, among others, Chaz Ebert, widow of film critic Roger, who is now the publisher of and  Sandra Shulberg, president of Indie Collect film preservation. Also stopping by were various film festival programmers and producers, Nicole Guillemet, Linda Blackaby and Joyce Pierpoline  among them. Many items were discussed, particularly Sandra Schulberg’s efforts to restore the early works of Christine Vachon, Todd Haynes and others.

Although it may seem like  superficial socializing, attendance at most of the social events of Cannes raise awareness to important issues beyond the dollar signs.

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