The 69th Cannes Film Festival: A Fine Vintage!

(Video of the Cannes Film Festival opening clip shown before every film)

Dear Friends,

Sure, there was the tasteless “rape” joke directed at Woody Allen, Julia Roberts ascending the Red Carpet barefoot, and the boos that greeted Sean Penn’s Last Face… But beyond a few incidents like this, the Cannes Film Festival took place with little scandal—and fewer attendees than previous years.  The good news is—quantity or sensation does not affect quality.  As the head of the hoteliers in Cannes noted:

Le Festival c’est comme le BordeauxIl y a des crus meilleurs que d’autres mais ça ne veut pas dire que le Saint-Émilion n’est pas bon. (The Festival is like Bordeaux wine. There are better vintages but that does not mean that the Saint-Emilion is not good.)

I agree wholeheartedly.  For the third year in a row, I had the privilege of leading a Smithsonian program exploring the world of cinema to the Festival. In its 69th year, the Festival put forth a beautiful array of artful films.  Here are my notes on films that made an impact on me:


A typical work day at the Cannes Film Festival

I, Daniel Blake by Ken Loach: The well-deserved winner of the Palme d’Or!  A well-crafted film about an older carpenter in Newcastle who finds himself in a Catch 22 of the British social services system. The script is brilliant—funny, poetic, poignant.  The acting is superb, and the story very well told.  To top it off, the film’s message is very relevant to us all.

Loving by Jeff Nichols: The true story about a bi-racial couple named Loving in the late 1950s and early 1960s who fought for their right to be married and live in their home state of Virginia.  This is a quiet and subtle film, with under-stated acting that is so real and true it breaks your heart.


A Smithsonian reception at the American Pavilion during the Cannes Film Festival

La Pazza Gioia (or Like Crazy) by Paolo Virzi: A charming Italian film about the friendship between two mentally-disturbed women who meet in and escape from a Tuscan villa converted into an institution. The main star, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi (Carla Bruni’s sister!), is brilliant as a loquacious manic person who longs to connect and live life to the fullest.

The Handmaiden by Park Chan-wook: Described as a “lesbian period piece,” this 2.5 hour film completely enraptured me. Unlike most films of this length, I did not see the hours pass. While the story line is intriguing, every frame is stunning—a masterpiece of décor, lighting, costume and landscape—not to mention the beauty of the actors. I truly found myself wishing I understood Korean and Japanese so the subtitles would not distract my eyes from the visual feast.


Smithsonian group meets with Sylvia Desrochers to learn about the film industry

Clash by Mohamed Diab: This film allows you to experience the Arab Spring from within the metal walls of a prison van, moving through the streets of Cairo. As the police try to control the demonstrations, more players are thrown into the van—Moslem Brotherhood, pro-army supporters, and secular Egyptians. The result is intensely human and tragic.

My appreciation for horror films led me to see Nicolas Winding Refn’s Neon Demon—one hour and 50 minutes I wish I had back!  As Variety’s Owen Gleiberman states “It starts off as a relatively scannable, user-friendly thriller, but it turns out to be a movie made by a macabre surrealist gross-out prankster.”  Enough said.

Others in our group raved about the following films: Toni Erdmann, Paterson, Elle, Captain Fantastic, Risk, Hell or High Water, Ma’ Rosa, and Perfect Strangers. Among the losers for our group were Slack Bay, Personal Shopper, The Wailing, and Pericles the Black.

Harking back to the quote from the Cannes’ hotelier, I would say this year’s Cannes vintage was full-bodied, a tad spicy, with a robust and meaningful finish. Next year’s will be the 70th Festival, so we have high expectations.  À la prochaine!

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