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Cannes Film Fest 2015: And the Winner Is...

Drumroll please…

lobster posterThe haze of nonstop filmgoing over twelve days in the south of France lifted on Sunday night as the 2015 edition of the Cannes Film Festival came to a close. The closing night film, Ice and the Sky, directed by Luc Jacquet, was preceded by an hour-long awards ceremony in the Theatre Lumiere. For the press corps, that means watching a live feed from the nearby Theatre Debussy. Since the stars are out of earshot, the press can be very vocal if they disagree with the jury’s choices.

The festivities were hosted by French actor Lambert Wilson, who suavely strolled the stage as he set the stage for the competition prizes. (Other sections gave out awards on the two preceding days.) This year’s jury was headed by Joel and Ethan Coen, and they were joined onstage by the rest of the jury: Jake Gyllenhaal, Sienna Miller, Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, singer/songwriter Rokia Traoré, Quebecois filmmaking wunderkind Xavier Dolan, Spanish actress Rossy de Palma, and French actress Sophie Marceau.

The ceremony was fairly straightforward, but can someone tell me why the festival thought it was necessary to have John C. Reilly and the Fly Boys do a rendition of “Just a Gigolo”? It was a strange moment. The audience seemed to be sitting in stunned silence, but there was rousing applause when they finished.

Agnès Varda received the Palme d’honneur. It’s similar to an honorary Oscar (TM), given to titans of cinema who have never received the Palme d’or, and it was previously announced. She was clearly moved and spoke eloquently about the field and remember her late husband, Jacques Demy. A lovely moment. Varda is a brilliant filmmaker and this prize was long overdue.

Herewith the awards, along with commentary or personal observations here and there:

The Camera d’or for best first feature went to Land and Shade by Colombian director César Augusto Acevedo. A new award, not part of the awards this evening, was the L’Oeil d’or for best documentary. Translated as Golden Eye, it mimics the first feature award (Golden Camera) in that the winner was chosen from all the documentaries shown in any section of the festival. The same rule applies for first feature - they can be in any section of the festival. This year’s winner was shown in Critics’ Week. This new prize went to Marcia Tambutti Allende’s Beyond My Grandfather Allende.

Best Screenplay went to Michel Franco who also directed the film Chronic, the story of a home health aid (played by Tim Roth) who lives through his dying patients. Franco said that the film began when his film “After Lucia” won Un Certain Regard in 2012. Roth was on that jury and so began their collaboration. Roth was in the audience to cheer his director on.

Best Actress was shared by Roony Mara for her role as a young sales clerk who falls in love with a married woman in the 1950s in Todd Haynes Carol and by Emmanuelle Bercot in Mon Roi directed by Maïwenn. Interestingly, Bercot also directed the festival’s Opening Night film, Standing Tall. The Best Actor prize went to (I called it) Vincent Lindon for his striking turn as a middle aged man caught in the struggle to find a job and do right by his family during these terrible economic times in Stéphane Brizé's The Measure of a Man. A mesmerizing performance.

Best Director went to Hou Hsiao-Hsien for The Assassin, a beautifully wrought tale of a young woman trained in martial arts in ninth century China. The film reads like a painted scroll; too bad Cannes doesn’t give out awards for art direction. A jury prize was given to The Lobster, a strangely dark and funny with a bite film by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, whose film Dogtooth was a hit on the festival circuit a few years ago.The Grand Prize, which is akin to second place, was given to Son of Saul, a first feature film by Hungarian filmmaker Lázló Nemes, for his claustrophobic concentration camp horror story.

Finally, the Palme d’or went to Jacques Audiard for Dheepan about Sri Lankan refugees in France. This was a bit of a surprise, and it didn’t sit well with everyone: among the press watching one could hear a smattering of boos. Clearly other films were favorites. But Audiard happily took to the stage, bringing his two leads with him, to take the much deserved praise.

Everyone will be talking about these awards for a few more weeks, before attention turns to other festivals. And in a few more months, we’ll start handicapping Cannes 2016! Truly, it never ends.

The Future of Film

Among the main competition and the other official sections of Cannes (Un Certain Regard, Directors Fortnight, Critics Week), there are many outlets for emerging filmmakers. Every year, more and more opportunities open up on the Croisette for these young artists.

Since 2010 the Directors Fortnight (Quinzaine des Réalisateurs) has initiated a cultural program to provide access to all areas of filmmaking and appreciation for students who might not otherwise have the opportunity. Called The Fortnight in La Bocca (a neighborhood on the outskirts of Cannes), filmmaking workshops are held from October through April. Kids work with professionals to make short films which will be presented in the Fortnight’s theater (the Theatre Croisette) during the Cannes film festival. The students also attend screenings, work in critical writing workshops and get to meet filmmakers at the festival. The finished short films are shown before the repeat screening of the Fortnight’s best film winner (this year that winner was Colombian director Ciro Guerra’s “Embrace of the Serpent”).

Subject of Ovation For Oscar Sloane MayberryThe festival’s Cinéfondation, written about here in past years, is still going strong with various means of filmmaker support. The Residence of the Cinéfondation is a Parisian retreat where, twice a year a half dozen filmmakers are invited to live for four and a half months in order to work on scripts for first or second feature films. While they work in Paris, the residents of the spring section are taken to Cannes for the duration of the festival to get as much networking and film watching in as possible.

But there are also programs that take place specifically in Cannes. The Cinéfondation has its own competition of student films. The jury for the the Cinéfondation also juries the short film competition, and what an impressive group: This year the jury included French actress Cécile de France, Lebanese filmmaker Joana Hadjithomas, Polish actor Daniel Olbrychski and French director/screenwriter Rebecca Zlotowski (who has won a small slew of awards for her first two feature films, “Belle Épine” and “Grand Central”). Their jury president was non other than master Mauritanian director and producer Abderrahmane Sissako (“Bamako” and last year’s Academy Award foreign film nominee “Timbuktu”).

This year the winner was American filmmaker Pippa Bianco for her film “Share,” which was made at the AFI Directing Workshop for Women in Los Angeles. After these awards were given out, we strolled down the Croisette to the Martinez Hotel where an elegant  black tie dinner was held for all of the Cinéfondation participants. There Pippa told me how honored she was to receive her prize from Mr. Sissako. All in all, a perfect moment.

At the dinner I also met two participants in the Cinéfondation’s Atelier. The Atelier project brings 15 directors to Cannes along with their producers and arranges high level meetings with possible financiers so their projects may get needed support. Kirsten Tan from Singapore is looking for financing for his film “Popeye,” and Görgy Kristóf of Hungary was in Cannes with his feature project, “Out.” Success for them is just around the corner.

In the Cannes market, outside of the official sections, filmmakers really mean business, and that includes students. The Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia presented a market screening  of “Ovation for Oscar,” a short film commissioned by the school on the occasion of a huge Oscar de la Renta exhibit at the college’s museum. Directed by alum Ryan Curtis and produced by MFA candidate Tyler Reid, the film follows fashion and marketing student Sloane Mayberry as she works with the team organizing the exhibit.

Producer Tyler Reid subject of Ovation For Oscar Sloane Mayberry director Ryan Curtis and director of photography Zach GraberAfter the screening, we spoke briefly - about the school, about filmmaking and about fashion. Sloane was dressed impeccably (she would be able to get on the red carpet, wearing a beautiful pair of heels!) and she talked about the excitement of working with de la Renta when she interned at the company. Ryan and Tyler discussed the supportive atmosphere of SCAD (as it is known) - Ryan was asked back to make the film after graduating, and the film was financed by the college (the entire crew seemed to be current or former students).

Other SCAD alumni made appearances on the Croisette: Wyatt Garfield, who graduated in 2007, was DP on the Critics’ Week selection “Mediterranea,” which was directed by Jonas Carpignano (who himself an alumnus of the Cinéfondation Residence). The short film “Too Cool for School,” written, directed and produced by a trie of SCAD alum also appeared in Critics’ Week. Yet another short film, “Southsouthwest” written, produced and directed by Madison Hamburg, made an appearance in the market’s Short Film Corner.

The Savannah College of Art and Design pulls no punches: Students get educated there, but the school seems to continue supporting them as they strive to make their way in their chosen fields. It’s good to know someone has your back.

Cannes Film Fest 2015: Fashion Police

The biggest kerfuffle in Cannes has been the dress code and the shocking revelation that many women (of a certain age, to some observers) were turned away from the red carpet because they were not wearing high heeled shoes.

As many know, the evening screenings of the films in competition at Cannes are formal affairs. Tickets state dress code as tenue de soiree, that is, evening dress and smoking, as in a tuxedo. And everyone who has a ticket (or invitation, as they are delicately called here) has to walk the red carpet and climb the steps up to the Lumière Theater. The carpet is monitored by security who appear to be the original fashion police: if you are not dressed up to code, they will turn you away, invitation or non.

Tarmani tiehis correspondent has been witness to such tragedies: in one of my first years at Cannes, I saw a man, impeccably dressed in a chocolate Armani suit which fit him like a glove. Everything matched, from his tie to his shoes. But because the shoes were brown and the tie was not a bow tie, he was expelled from the line in short order. It should be noted that I witnessed this close up: I was standing right behind him in wide black “palazzo” pants, shiny only because they were old, and was wearing flats - yes flats - they had holes in the back (they were hand-me-downs), but big rhinestones on the front. I was quickly shown the way to the red carpet. Go figure.

I have always held that women could play it a bit faster and looser in the evening wear department. Men had to have that bow tie, while women could get away with cocktail length dresses, nice pants and, yes, flats. I have seen some quite inelegant outfits parade down the carpet. But let’s face it, many of the people walking these carpets are working stiffs - journalists, film programmers and the like. Many of them are dressed up because the evening screening is the only one they can attend, so they do the bare minimum.

Back on this year’s carpet, some men were also getting refused because of their shoes. One producer had silver sparkly loafers (very of the moment). But he was almost refused entry until a well-known distributor vouched for him. Another angle to this is that if you are with a film, it is difficult for security to turn you away - Christine Vachon, of Killer Films and producer of Todd Haynes’ film Carol in the competition, posted a photo of the big, black, bulky boots she wore to the film’s red carpet premiere last week.

blanchetThe festival brass said this was not really a big problem (and Festival director Thierry Fremaux finally said definitely that heels are not required for the red carpet). But even the cast of Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario - Emily Bunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro - had to comment. Blunt decried that women should just wear flats (although she showed up on the carpet in heels), while the menfolk threatened to wear heels themselves on the red carpet (never happened). This was the faux pas that would not go away.

In fact, I like getting dressed up for the movies. For a long time, opening night of the New York Film Festival was black tie and it seemed to bestow a certain respect on the films and the filmmakers: you and your film are valuable, are worthy. But we can’t be fanatics about it. May years ago in New York, the film commission from one the Carolinas threw a black tie party for the New York Film Festival at the Russian Tea Room. Very fancy. I helped at the door since the people from down South didn’t know who most (ok, all) of the guests where. A guy showed up in black jeans, black turtleneck, black leather jacket, says hi to me and walks in. The film commission rep was about to run after him and throw in out (no tuxedo). I had to point out to him that the transgressor was filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. I think he’s cool enough!

Times change, and so do styles. If, in fact, you (as in a festival’s administration) decide that the highest elegant standards must be upheld, then do two things: Distribute a VERY detailed fact sheet for festival attendees - with visual aids - telling them what they can and cannot wear on the carpet (caveat: flats MUST be permitted). And on the carpet itself, don’t have security be the style arbiter - have actual stylists at all the entries to give a thumbs up or thumbs down!

Okay, that’s a bit tongue in cheek (especially the stylist part). But it seemed that the protocol office didn’t know whether or not there was a “no flats” policy. Here at the 68th Cannes Film Festival, one would hope that the entire staff was on the same page. After all, they’ve had 68 years to practice.

Boys' Club

 The Measure of a Man

It was just at the half way mark of this year’s Cannes that I saw what to me is the performance of the festival. Vincent Lindon in Stephane Brize’s The Measure of a Man gives one of the most compelling performances I’ve seen in a long time. Timothy Spall gave a wonderful, larger than life portrait of JMW Turner last year (and won the best actor award here), but Lindon portrays a true everyman in a remarkably controlled performance.

In Cannes’ “year of the woman” some of the most affecting acting is coming from men. In addition to Lindon, Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel are marvelous as long time friends and artists (the former a composer; the latter a film director) who mull over their own impending end of days in Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth.

lobster-posterColin Farrell gives a well-tempered performance as a man in a society a bit in the future (but might as well be today) who must marry or be turned into an animal (yes, you read that correctly) in Yorgos Lanthimos’ dark, dark comedy The Lobster. Hungarian actor Geza Röhrig leaves an indelible impression as a concentration camp prisioner in Son of Saul, by first time Hungarian director Lázló Nemes.

Over in Un Certain Regard, Matthias Schoenaerts plays a French Army veteran with post-traumatic stress syndrome after a tour in Afghanistan in Alice Winocur’s Maryland (Disorder). His character must deal with his personal demons while guarding the family of a shady businessman. In another film dealing with the war in Afghanistan, Jérémie Renier is superb as a squad captain struggles to find some of his soldiers who have literally disappeared from the face of the earth in Critics Week selection The Wakhan Front by Clément Cogitore, making his feature film debut.

Not all of these actors are eligible for the Best Actor award – only those in competition films have a shot. As good as they are, neither Schoenaerts nor Renier will see the award; their films are in other sections. But my top choice is M. Lindon. He has a long and wide filmography and though his name might not be recognizable, chances are you’ve seen him in a number of films, if you go for the French ones.

Other big names are certainly represented in the competition: Vincent Cassel gives a wild turn as a sex-starved king in Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales, his compendium of medieval fairy tales. Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanable wander Gus van Sant’s The Sea of Trees trying to find a way out (from the forest, or from life?), while Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro play colleagues but also antagonists to Emily Blunt’s FBI agent in Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario.

walkhanGerard Depardieu plays opposite Isabelle Huppert as exes trying to reconnect with their dead son in Death Valley in Guillaume Nicloux’s Valley of Love. And, though the film hasn’t played yet in the festival, everyone is looking forward to seeing Michael Fassbender’s interpretation of the lead role in the Scottish play, as Justin Kurzel brings Macbeth to the screen again.

More performances to come, and there will be female performances to address as well. As each film unspools (actually, only one short film in Directors’ Fortnight was on 35mm and actually unspooled), the favorites and the odds change.

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