Cannes 2015 Roundup

Cannes 2015 Round-up

This year we celebrated the 68th edition of the most glamorous, heralded, and sometimes brutal film festival we call Festival de Cannes. Every year  filmmakers new and old submit their work in hope of recognition and praise from a crowd who, let’s say, aren’t afraid to let filmmakers know if they didn’t like their film. It can be a harsh environment for some films, but it’s still the most respected, meaning there are a lot of highly anticipated films entering. This year I’m here to give you a round-up of what went down well and what didn’t: plus, who won what in the awards ceremony.

This year we had Joel and Ethan Coen (film directors), Jake Gyllenhaal (actor), Sienna Miller (actress), Guillermo Del Toro (film director), Rossy De Palma (singer/model/actress), Sophie Marceau (actress/director), Rokia Traore (singer), and Xavier Dolan (director/actor) heading the jury. Their say will ultimately decide whether films are successful or not, but to start with I’m going to give you a round-up of what the critics thought were the winners and losers of the 2015 Festival de Cannes.

First, we’re going to kick off with the films that went down best with critics.

Top Pick: Son of Saul

Son of Saul was one of the first films to premiere last week, meaning that it was under a lot of pressure to kick off proceedings on the right note, and it certainly hit a chord with the audience. I mean, reading the synopsis of the plot is enough to set a tone: taking place in 1944 Auschwitz, a Jewish prisoner, Saul, is one of few prisoners who has been given the grim job of disposing bodies left from the gas chamber. One day Saul believes one of the bodies he finds is his son’s. It unnerves him and compels him from within to give his son a proper burial so he tries to seek out a rabbi to lay his son to rest in peace. However, it throws Saul into numerous intense situations and he must use cunning wit and survival skills to gain the rabbi’s services, which may end up costing him his own life in the process.

It sounds like a compelling story on paper; however, it doesn’t always mean it is executed well, but in this case, director Laszlo Nemes has crafted something that captures the realities of Auschwitz perfectly in the critics’ eyes.

“Son of Saul is an ambitious movie for a first-time filmmaker, but it pays off. The film has a visceral, experiential quality that captures the mundane horror of day-to-day duties early on and the Goya-esque hell as chaos erupts later on,” said Oliver Lyttelton of The Playlist.

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian said that “it begins with a gas chamber scene; another film might have opted to end with this kind of scenario, or to finish just before showing it.”

Many critics stated that it stuck with close up shots of Saul’s anguished face, blurred the surrounding horrors of dead bodies, screams and officers, to give the effect that we only see what Saul sees, so to form an understanding that even though he’s courageous, he still cannot look at the horrors.

It’s also a trick that separates it from other, more ‘familiar’,  holocaust films where usually they would show the horrors and would move you emotionally that way, but the filmmakers have decided to use those aspects as background noise, allowing you to fill in the blanks, but in using the close up of Saul what we get is an up-close character study as our focus is solely on Saul’s story instead of the prison itself.

The technique won critics over and has set the tone not only for the festival but for future prisoner of war dramas, and as Jason Gorber from TwitchFilm said, Son of Saul “Easily stands with the giants that have tackled the subject matter.”

Top Pick: Carol

Another period piece, concentrating on another important subject: Homosexuality

Based on the novel, The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, the film, by gay director Todd Haynes, stars Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, and Sarah Poulson in a 1950’s tale of a young, plucky department store clerk, Therese, who seems just like any other shop girl. She’s full of life and content with her job, she’s even quite the catch with her male colleagues. However, this changes when she meets an older married women, Carol, who she suspects may have feelings for her, and to Therese’s shock, she may too.

Katherine McLaughlin of The List said “Haynes has crafted a breathtaking study of lesbian romance and towering female strength in the face of grueling adversity.”

That was the general praise dished out to Carol: that it promoted female triumph in the face of this ‘taboo’ behavior as it doesn’t dwell in melodramatics and show two women’s lives being torn apart, it instead celebrates deep love felt by two innocent people and told it in an upbeat and heartfelt way.

Haynes received rave reviews for perfecting a “masterfully subdued pace” according to Eric Kohn of Indiewire, and that Hayes – through clever, subtle storytelling of scenes playing out through half open doors, and frosted windows – has crafted a film that is an “achingly beautiful, tightly wound package of woe that slowly comes undone over the course of its running time to reveal something very special indeed.”

It is expected to win many prizes in all competitions and it’s about time we just accepted this as a great coming of age love story, not of taboo tragedy, and as Cate Blanchett – who plays Carol said “In 2015 the point should be: who cares?”

Top Pick: The Lobster

The ultra surrealist visionary Greek filmmaker, Yorgos Lanthimos, has brought his English debut film to Cannes. If you’re not familiar with his past work, I will clue you in: his debut feature found him creating a film centered on a family who’ve imprisoned their children inside the confines of their home and garden to protect them from the outside world. It doesn’t sound too weird until you see they have practically created their own language, calling the sun a wooden four legged chair, and they been told cats are the most dangerous creature to man and they can only leave when their first dogtooth falls out.

It sounds barmy, but it makes a firm point on over-nurturing your children and how the mind can be driven to believe even the most bizarre things when you’re shrouded by loneliness and isolation.

So what has Lanthimos offered up now?

Well, he has given us something even more off the wall than before, The Lobster, starring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Barden, Olivia Colema, Lea Seydoux and John C. Reilly.

The film follows the unassuming and quiet David, who has recently divorced his wife and while that may not be a bad thing, it is in The Lobster, where in a near future world you must have a partner otherwise you will be killed and turned into an animal of your choosing. So David, soon after his divorce, is hunted down by employees of ‘The Hotel’ and is taken to a washed out, drab but upmarket resort on the edge of town where he is given 45 days to find a partner or ZAP (I don’t know what noise it makes) you are turned into the creature of your choosing and not surprisingly David chooses to become a lobster if push comes to shove: and why not?

David feels pressured to find love and in this place which is tailored to help you find it, it instead makes him feel even more lonely, trapped and sad. The film begins to poke holes in the superficiality of modern dating sites and modern beliefs on relationships. The Lobster’s world has become one that does not care about the wait for actual love but the efficiency of a relationship to reproduce. It is the clever themes and plot that have really riled up the critics who’ve gone on to say the film is “the best of Cannes” according to A.V. Club.

Others have echoed the same, saying for all its weirdness it may not be that much of a far-fetched future. Guy Lodge from Variety found The Lobster “a brilliant allegory for the increasingly superficial systems of contemporary courtship, including the like-for-like algorithms of online dating sites and the hot-or-not snap judgments of Tinder. If the unreasonable pressure on single people — particularly those of a certain age — to find companionship has already driven humanity to such soulless means, perhaps the scenario outlined in “The Lobster” isn’t so outlandish after all.”

Its real hallmark is how hard it is to define. You could form many interpretations which are only going to help the film live on and be remembered, or as Lee Marshall from Screen International promptly put, “It may be based on universal human anxieties about love, relationships, compatibility and loneliness, but Filippou’s script takes on a defiant, prickly life of its own, refusing to play as an easy allegory.”

For all it has to say on modern dating beliefs and all its quirkiness, the general consensus is that that Lanthimos has crafted something packed with deadpan humor and a world so rich with subtleties and its own ticks that many critics felt “the script painstakingly builds a world that stretches far beyond the frame of what we’re seeing on screen,” said Oliver Lyttelton of The Playlist.

It seems love has taken many forms at this year’s Cannes: love for your son, ‘taboo’ love, true love and now, well, there isn’t any love in this next one except love from the critics.

Top Pick: Sicario

Mexican for hitman, Sicario is probably one of Cannes’ most anticipated films – heck, one of this year’s cinematic events. The anticipation’s been building for some time for this no-holds-barred thriller directed by, Denis Villeneuve starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro and Jon Bernthal.

The film picks up in the lawless border area stretching between the U.S. and Mexico where a tough, straight-talking FBI agent, Kate Macy, is enlisted by an elite government task force to help in the escalating war against drugs. Led by an enigmatic consultant with a questionable past, the team sets out on a tension-filled journey, forcing Kate to question everything that she believes in order to survive.

As the film’s credits rolled at the screening on Monday it was met with choruses of applause by the crowd; critics rushed to their laptops spewing praise left, right and center.

Sicario is “a blisteringly suspenseful, ever surprising cartel thriller” according to Scott Foundas of Variety.

Jason Gorber from TwitchFilm couldn’t contain what he thought of the film and it’s director, saying Sicario is a “film that at times feels like an adventure, while at others it affects one like a stab in the stomach, Sicario’s dagger plunges deeply. Bravo, Monsieur Villeneuve, bravo.”

Many agreed it took cues from other great white-knuckle thriller directors of the past, none more so than the king the neo-noir thriller, Michael Mann. It’s more than just your run-of-the-mill drug toting action flick: it has something to say on current U.S/Mexican drug frictions, which elevates its story to not only induce clammy palms, but gets the audience thinking.

“Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan has no intention of ignoring the political realities at play. Even if only half of what transpires in the film is true, it’s an indictment against every strategy the U.S. and Mexico have put forth this century,” stated Gregory Ellwood of HitFix.

Jessica Kiang for The Playlist praised the film for approaching the subject in a different way from most drug war commentaries: “It’s a courageous and interesting decision to make the focus of this cartel drama not the taking down of any particular guy or even the human cost of the drug war, but the competing ideologies as to how to best fight the War On Drugs.”

It’s hardly a surprise how well Sicario has handled the script’s political views considering Villeneuve has handled tricky political subjects like the Middle East conflict and the Montreal massacre before in his films Incendies and Polytechnique.

Top Pick: The Assassin

Moving away from drug thrillers, we’ve got something a little less political, but just as thrilling. Hsiao-Hsien-Hou, a much respected Chinese auteur filmmaker responsible for the highly praised, eloquent, innovative gem The Flight of the Red Balloon and the ambitious love story spanning three generations, Three Times, has brought his unique vision to a very popular international genre with The Assassin.

The Assassin takes place during the heydays of the Tang Dynasty where Chinese military, politics and culture are developing at a rapid rate. This is where we meet our female protagonist, Nei, who’s a recipient of the advances in military training; she’s an apprentice under the military tyrant, Ji An, who has transformed her into an ‘invincible’ killing machine. When her training finishes she is sent home to her family, where she can live out a rewarding life of separating her personal life with fighting unless, of course, her personal life begins to merge with her day job. Nei is ordered by Ji An to assassinate her lover, Liu, who’s a political rival to Ji An. Nei must now decide whether to kill the person she loves or risk breaking the code of assassins.

What unfolds has been described as a carefully, calm and measured unfolding of action that is not afraid to allow the colorful and tranquil visuals suck you in. Hou has stamped his mark on this genre with his own aesthetic, which is a tricky thing to do considering many people would expect a martial arts film to be fast paced with buckets of romping action, but to take a slower and more plausible approach gives it a greater depth and human quality that lifts it above the average martial arts films.

Justin Chang from Variety said “As one would expect, Hou implicitly grasps the expressive power of stillness and reserve . . . he never loses sight of the fact that the bodies he moves so fluidly and intuitively through space are human, and remain so even in death.”

Craig Skinner from Film Divider declared the film “one of the most quietly gripping films I have ever seen … The Assassin is the kind of contemplative cinema that might keep its audience awake at night, trying to untangle its many strands and consider its deeper meanings. This film positively vibrates with hidden depths.”

If you think that’s high praise, A.V. Club went even further, stating The Assassin was “the most beautiful film at Cannes (this year).”

Our bowing at the feet of this year’s successes is finally over; it’s now time to look at Cannes’ top flops from the week.

Cannes Flop: Irrational Man

One of the most acclaimed writer/director’s at Cannes this year, Woody Allen, has sadly been overshadowed by all these brilliant new filmmakers because unfortunately his latest offering (a murder mystery packaged as a romantic comedy) has not hit any kid of chord with the critics and whilst not booed outright, you can’t hide the sense of disappointment lurking around.

Before I get into what the critics thought, Irrational Man is at first sight a romantic comedy about a depressed/alcoholic school teacher, Abe, who moves schools to Rhode Island College to continue boozing and being pointless, but does find a point to his meaningless life after meeting a sweet, charming student called Jill.

However, the film plays out a little differently, it is masked as this type of romantic drama until Abe realizes love isn’t what he needs, he needs to commit the murder of a judge in order for a women (who he overhears in a café) to keep custody of her kids when her husband who wants a divorce. A light bulb lights up in Abe’s head, realizing this could be the chance to finally help someone and make a point to his life.

It could’ve been an interesting analysis on irrational behavior and explore the grey area of finding an actual point to existence or going by what Allen said at Cannes last week – that might be a waste of time, “We live in a random universe and you’re living a meaningless life” perhaps though, Irrational Man is leading pointless life too.

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian said the film was “Lazily written,” and is “a story that never quite hangs together . . . which is neither quite scary nor serious enough to be suspenseful, nor witty or ironic enough to count as a comedy.”

Nicholas Barber of the BBC wrote “Allen fails to add the twists and complications . . . rather than explore his premise, as he would have done 20 or 30 years ago, he throws it away in his rush to get to the end credits.”

Finally, David Ehrtich from Little White Lies said that he felt it was like “watching a simulation rather than a story.”

It’s a shame for hardened Allen fans, but I’m sure he will be back with another feature soon, plucking it from his red ribbon wrapped tin of cookie cutter comedy/dramas.

Cannes Flop: The Sea of Trees

Honestly, I never thought I would be writing this about a film that seemed to garner such talents as Matthew McConaughey, Naomi Watts, Ken Watanabe, and director Gus Van Vant, to tackle a very delicate but heavy subject: suicide. The Sea of Trees has been one of the most poorly received films this year, even receiving the infamous boos from the audience.

The film centers around a depressed suicidal American, Arthur, who travels to the foot of Mount Fuji to commit suicide. As the act is about to take place, he meets a lost Japanese man, Takumi, and feeling the guilt of potentially leaving the man behind, Arthur looks for a way out for him.

It’s a plot that must be tackled with deftness and subtlety, not melodramatic, flimsy, or heavy handed tack and unfortunately The Sea of Trees is guilty of all those.

“Touts a variety of lazy stereotypes” declares Adam Woodward from Little While Lies.

“Shallow” declared many; “Middlebrow” blasted others, “dishonest tear jerker,” billowed another.

Despite all the bad press, Naomi Watts came out and defended the script saying that when she first read it that “at the center of it was this beautiful love story that was painful and tragic, but seemed to represent something that was really human and really universal to me.”

Nevertheless, critics, again, tended to disagree. Justin Chang from Variety said “One way to pass the time during The Sea of Trees – preferably during one of Matthew McConaughey’s interminable misty-eyed monologues – is to try and figure out exactly how many bad movies the actor, screenwriter Chris Sparling and director Gus Van Sant have managed to squeeze into their tale of a man’s lonely quest to take his own life,” while Variety’s other critic in Cannes said the film was “one for nobody.”

Looks like the ‘McConaissance’ has been put on hold for now, but don’t worry, he isn’t too bothered, “Anyone has any right to either boo or ovate” he diplomatically stated during the press conference after The Sea of Trees’ screening.

Cannes Flop: Marguerite & Julien

According to its own synopsis it’s a ‘story of desire, love and death beyond all morality’ – sounds like a winner!

The film is set in 1603 – but it might not be, as helicopters make an appearance for some bizarre, unexplained reason – where an aristocratic brother, Julien, and sister, Marguerite, realize their love for each other runs deeper than that of siblings. A strange romance erupts, but their family aren’t too happy and they’re duly separated but it won’t stop them from being together, so they run away and try to begin a fairytale romance despite being hunted by their family and the law.

The film is given a fairytale-like quality and tries to almost make it like feel like fantasy as the story of their incestuous love is recounted by a young lady, Esther Garrel, who tells of their adventure to a packed room of infants in an orphanage and sits in front of the children, telling the story like a bedtime tale.

Perhaps director, Valerie Donzelli, was hoping to re-capture the fantastic quality of Sleeping Beauty and hope you’d form a bond with these characters through their cute snuffle-y little romance; however, it isn’t much good if the characters or the plot, or the whole thing, is as Variety’s Jay Weissberg put it, “cheesy” and with “clichés so overstated, that nothing can be taken seriously.”

“This incestuous love story is as exciting as an episode of Springwatch” declares Robbie Collin of The Telegraph.

Lee Marshall from Screen Daily says that the film is too caught up in their actual romance that “Donzelli neglects little details like character development.”

Perhaps the lack of a character arc didn’t help the actors in their portrayal, or as Donald Clarke from The Irish Times phrased it, “their performances are remarkable only for the way they suck energy from the screen like unprepossessing black holes.”

Or, if you like your cynicisms even sharper, Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian will hand you his diamond stone, “There are turkeys and there are turkeys. This is a turkey de luxe, with stuffing, bread sauce, and a paper hat.”

It’s strange to see not only this but another French film Mon Roi get picked for selection if they weren’t up to scratch, considering Cannes is France’s ‘home ground’ where their best films should be showcased.

Right, our carving of turkeys is over and so are the views of the critics out there; it’s now on to the awards given out by this year’s star-studded panel.

Feature Films:

  • Palme d’Or (best film at Cannes): Dheepan

Short Film

That’s all this year from Cannes, but it won’t be the last we hear of these films. Be sure to let me know below which films stopped your curser so you could add them to your IMDB watch list, if you’re as sad as me.

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