Critic’s Guide: Cannes Film Festival

Celebrating its 70th anniversary, a preview of some of the highlights of this year’s festival which opens today

BY Bert Rebhandl in Critic's Guides | 17 MAY 17

Sofia Coppola, The Beguiled, 2017, film still. Courtesy: © Festival de Cannes 2017

Sofia Coppola, The Beguiled (2017)

In contrast to the nameless strangers he used to play in his younger days, in his autumn years Clint Eastwood increasingly styled himself as a smouldering lead actor of sorts. When he and Meryl Streep wept in the rain in The Bridges of Madison County (1995) it seemed he had reached his zenith. But his transformation started with a very odd movie in 1971, The Beguiled: a US Civil War-era Fifty Shades of White-cum-Western, directed by competent action man Don Siegel, which seems to channel the teenage dreams of photographer and director David Hamilton. A wounded soldier finds refuge in a girl’s school inhabited solely by females. The soldier is from the North, the school is in the South – could anyone dream up a more unlikely union than between a man and the woman who has to saw off his leg? Whatever prompted director Sofia Coppola to try, of all the twisted tales of female empowerment through seduction, a remake of The Beguiled (with Colin ‘The Lobster’ Farrell), is up for speculation, but her filmography includes a blatant hint: Is this The Virgin Suicides in different guise?  Coppola’s theme of lost innocence may even prompt us to look anew at the career of that man Clint.

Ruben Östlund, The Square, 2017, film still. Courtesy: © Festival de Cannes 2017

Ruben Östlund, The Square (2017)

Ruben Östlund became Cannes-ready when he sent a CGI avalanche down a mountain and all the way up to a terrace full of tanning tourists. It was a spectacular (and frightening) effect, connecting arthouse cinema with the visual tactics of a blockbuster in the somewhat unlikely 2014 hit Force Majeure. Östlund’s new project The Square is loosely based on Wilful Disregard, a 2013 book by Swedish journalist Lena Andersson. It tells of a female journalist who falls for a renowned artist, and goes through the motions of a woman who can’t bring herself to admit she is, in effect, a groupie. Wilful Disregard is widely considered to be a roman à clef about filmmaker Roy Andersson, but conspicuouly Lena Andersson picked a different field for her story: her character, Hugo Rask, is rich material for any ‘Great Man’ theory in modern art. For his version of the story Östlund, who likes to look at society as an experiment, made a poignant shift: The Square is not about an artist per se, but a power broker in the art world – a Scandinavian Chris Dercon, if you like.

Valeska Grisebach, Western, 2017, film still. Courtesy: © Festival de Cannes 2017

Valeska Grisebach, Western (2017)

At a time when the Berlin School of cinema was already in full – yet slow – swing, not quite yet thought of as a label, Valeska Grisebach made two films about young people on the peripheries of reunified Germany. Be My Star (2001) and Longing (2006) displayed a sensibility almost unparalleled within Germany’s frequently a-bit-too-brainy ‘Autorenkino’. Then Grisebach disappeared for almost ten years, only to resurface this spring with Western. The title is ironic, since the story of a group of German construction men working at a building site in Bulgaria is actually an Eastern, which reminds us that all Westerns in the former GDR were in fact Easterns, since Bulgaria had the best prairies and badlands this side of the Harz mountain range. It would be quite untypical for Grisebach to force the ironies of her playful title, but Western (produced by Komplizenfilm, the company founded by, among others, Maren Ade, director of Toni Erdmann) will doubtless have some interesting takes on the genre given the observational acumen Grisebach is deservedly reputed for.

Kornél Mundruczó, Jupiter’s Moon, 2017, film still. Courtesy: © Festival de Cannes 2017

Kornél Mundruczó, Jupiter’s Moon (2017)

Of all the European countries appalled by the refugee crisis coming out of Syria in 2015, Hungary has probably taken the most extreme official stance. A whole society has been locked down by its nationalist government which many people now consider essentially proto fascist. Take into account a long history of hostility towards the Roma and Sinti minorities – a major focus for Hungarian cinema over the years – and we have a pretty good idea about what Kornél Mundruczó may be up to with Jupiter’s Moon, a story about a young immigrant who receives a gunshot wound and subsequently gains a super power: he can now levitate at will. Mundruczó is notorious for his blasphemous ideas about social matters – he once portrayed Joan of Arc as a kind of sacred prostitute (Johanna, 2005), and in White God (2014) he made a fighting dog named Hagen the stand-in for all Hungarian woes (of which there are many). His ideas about migrants and the camps will certainly resonate at a festival that cannot turn its back on the year’s main topic: the future of Europe as a civilization of humanity and universalism.

Yilmaz Güney, Yol, 1982. film still. Courtesy: Festival de Cannes 2017

Yilmaz Güney, Yol (1982)

Cannes film festival has long been a brand in itself, and it is cultivating its reputation by presenting increasingly more films in its ‘Cannes Classics’ section – restored versions of movies which made their mark at la Croisette. One of the picks for Cannes’s 70th birthday is probably the most important film from Turkey ever: Yol (1982) by Yilmaz Güney gives the strongest and bleakest depiction of oppression in a society still feeling the effects of last year’s coup (the film tells of the military coup of 1980). It will be painful to watch the destruction wrought on a Kurdish village again, and parallels to today’s backlash on democracy in Turkey will be all too manifest. But it will also be crucial to check whether the technical possibilities of today will do justice to a film which had the destitution it came from ingrained into its very materiality: the fragility Güney spoke of may actually be too elusive for 4 or 8K.

The 70th Festival de Cannes runs from 17 May to 28 May 2017.

Main image: Kornél Mundruczó, Jupiter’s Moon, 2017, film still. Courtesy: © Festival de Cannes 2017

Bert Rebhandl is a journalist, writer and translator who lives in Berlin. He co-founded and co-edits Cargo magazine.