Cannes 2017: A Stairway To Cinematic Paradise


The French film director Claude Lelouch once described the Cannes Film Festival as “a staircase, which is easy to climb and difficult to descend”; a statement that’s as relevant to those who are realising their dream of presenting their work to the fevered audiences who gather within the Palais, as it is to the press & industry folk who flock to the Croisette each year in search of something spectacular.

For Arnaud Desplechin, Lelouch’s words are particularly pertinent. Five of his previous films have been selected in the main competition, but still the prestigious Palme d’Or eludes him. This year Desplechin returns out of competition, awarded instead the honour of opening the 70th Cannes Film Festival with his new picture, Ismael’s Ghosts; the story of a filmmaker whose life is sent into a tailspin by the reappearance of a former lover.

Despite Desplechin’s absence though, there are still plenty of familiar faces returning to the Croisette in competition this year, including Andrey Zvyagintsev, who will be looking to bring the Palme to Russia with Loveless, in which a quarrelling couple face the fallout of their son’s recent disappearance. German director Michael Haneke, meanwhile, could be on course to win his third Palme d’Or in a row with his new film, Happy End; a domestic drama starring Isabelle Huppert that takes place against the backdrop of the European refugee crisis in Calais. And then there’s Frances Ha director Noah Baumbach, making his Cannes debut with The Meyerowitz Stories, which follows an estranged family as they gather together in New York for an event celebrating the artistic work of their father.

My eyes, however, will be focused on the three fantastic female auteurs leading the charge in the Official Competition this year: Sofia Coppola’s Civil-War-era chamber piece, The Beguiled, sees the arrival of an injured Union soldier lead to bubbling sexual tensions and dangerous rivalries in an all-female Southern boarding school: Scottish director Lynne Ramsay returns to Cannes after an extended absence with You Were Never Really Here, which charts a war veteran’s attempt to save a young girl from a sex trafficking ring: and Naomi Kawase brings us another idiosyncratic tale of romance with Radiance. All three are veterans of the Festival, but the odds, sadly, seem stacked against them; especially when you consider that in the 70 years since it was first established, only one female director, Jane Campion, has ever scooped to top prize at Cannes.

Campion herself will also be attending the Festival to unveil the second series of Top of the Lake, which along with a special screening of David Lynch’s sequel to Twin Peaks, and the premiere of Kristen Steward’s directorial debut short Come Swim, makes up the programme of events planned to help celebrate the Festival’s 70th Anniversary. Elsewhere, there are special screenings of An Inconvenient Sequel, the follow-up to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, and Vanessa Redgrave’s documentary Sea Sorrow; an examination of the historical context that surrounds the current migrant crisis. Also playing Out of Competition is John Cameron Mitchell, who brings us his new film, How To Talk To Girls At Parties – a musically inclined, romantic sci-fi comedy set in Croyden and starring Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning & Ruth Wilson. While Festival favourite Agnès Varda returns with her latest documentary Visages, villages, in which she and photographer/muralist J.R. form an unlikely friendship whilst travelling around rural France.

Invariably and inevitably, the tastiest treats that await us at this year’s Cannes Film Festival are likely to be found hiding in some of the smaller, sidebar programmes. Playing in Un Certain Regard are new films from the likes of Michel Franco (April’s Daughter), Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Before We Vanish), Taylor Sheridan (Wind River), and Valeska Grisebach (Western). And this year’s Critics’ Week sees Lea Mysius (Ava), Ali Soozandeh (Tehran Taboo), and Marcela Said (Los Perros) battling it out in Competition, while Fabio Grassadonia & Antonio Piazza’s Sicilian Ghost Story, and Dave McCary’s Sundance favourite Brigsby Bear open & close the strand, respectfully.

Perhaps the two most exciting pictures playing in Cannes this year, however, will be found at the Director’s Fortnight in the Old Palais, down the other end of the Croisette. It’s there that Tangerine director Sean Baker will make his first mark on the festival with the premiere of his new film The Florida Project; a story of mischievous adolescent adventure that’s set against the devastating realities of America’s ever-growing “hidden homeless” population. While feature debutant Rungano Nyoni will no doubt be expecting to generate some buzz with her Zambia-set satire, I Am Not A Witch, which follows a young 8-year old girl named Shula, who is banished from her local village and exiled to a witch camp in the middle of the desert having been found guilty of witchcraft.

You know, it was Roger Ebert who said it best as he rifled through the programme for the 1987 festival; “I will not be able to see more than more than a fraction of these films. I will miss some of the good ones. I will waste my time at the bad ones.” Navigating the Cannes Film Festival each year is no picnic that’s for sure, but if this year’s line-up is any indication, it may just be the closest one is ever likely to get to the heady realms of cinematic paradise.

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