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CINEMA Reel disappointments

DENNIS BROE is unimpressed by a Cannes Film Festival marred by top-down management and the quality of films on offer

“THE best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with a passionate intensity.” Thus Irish writer WB Yeats’s 1919 summary of his era in his poem The Second Coming.

It may be somewhat against the grain to start a round-up of the top film festival globally with such Yeatsian pessimism but unfortunately it is a somewhat accurate response.

This year’s Covid-confinement version of the festival featured maximum healthcare regulations for the Cannes elite and minimum restrictions for everyone else.

To enter the Palais where the competition screenings are held, complete with its red-carpet splendour, you are required to have either a QR barcode proving two-shot vaccination or a 48-hour Covid test.

It is mandatory in France to wear a mask indoors but for the opening ceremony, attended by the French Riviera and global 1 per cent, publications Variety and Screen reported that as soon as the lights went out many of the elite removed their masks and were not asked by ushers to put them back on.

Meanwhile, for the majority of screenings, stocked with lower-level press and students — many of whom were moved out of Cannes and are a 45-minute bus ride away — there were no health precautions.

Because of Covid, there has been very little product or presence here from the Brics countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, which together account for 40 per cent of the world’s population. This is a major shunting aside in what is supposed to be a global festival.

This year the entire Cannes bureaucracy, having moved online, caused much initial chaos.

What used to be the press room still exists but there are no computers, since the usual sponsor Hewlett Packard dropped out.

The room mostly remains empty. What a perfect symbol of what has happened to the press over the last decade, as hedge funds buy up newsrooms, deplete staff and sell off part of the real estate, gutting major newspapers.

That misplaced passionate intensity evoked by Yeats was nowhere more evident than in festival opener Annette, to which Le Monde, doing its part to big up French cinema, gave its highest rating of four stars.

Its talented director Leos Carax’s films are, depending on your taste, highly provocative (The Lovers on the Bridge) or pretentious (Holy Motors).

His latest stars Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard as a disparate couple who combine US low art and entertainment — he is a stand-up insult comic whose stage routine is predictably unfunny — with Continental high art, as she is an opera singer.

Mostly sung-through, with soundtrack and concepts from the group Sparks, it’s an operatic exercise in which Carax grafts a criticism of the vacuousness of US entertainment in the form of the Driver character’s brutality in his treatment of the underused Cotillard.

But the film overexaggerates the brutality, defining it too often as coarseness rather than as violence, while conversely not showing enough of it in the way Martin Scorsese does in the far better New York, New York.

Carax’s knowing genre-play and thematic overloading provides no critique of the way western European high art cinema and Hollywood are now moving towards becoming a seamless whole, ignoring the real problems of the world. Annette is full of sound and fury but signifies little.

It was left to a fourth-level competition film The Gravedigger’s Wife to provide some much-needed grit. It’s about a Somali villager who has only a shovel to earn his daily bread which he does by pursuing hearses and offering to bury the dead.

His wife has kidney failure and will die if he does not come up with US $5,000, a sum no-one he knows possesses.

Their desperation is touching and just as all seems lost because a doctor will not perform the operation to save her without the money, a contemporary miracle occurs.

The film, seemingly about individual heroic acts and acts of kindness, actually calls attention to the need for a global healthcare system rather than relying on the kindness of strangers, and it stops short at merely validating the miraculous individual act.

The real world also intrudes in a passage from the documentary essay Mariner of the Mountains, about a Brazilian journalist Karim Ainouz who journeys to Algeria in search of his father’s village.

He quotes Franz Fanon’s passage from his essay on violence that argues that when the colonised realises that he or she is equal to the coloniser, that is the beginning of the end of that relationship.

We then see Algerian youth chanting: “Murderous regime!” as they come to their own realisation about a government that is selling them out.

Here, the passionate intensity is directed and purposeful and the conviction of the youth of this generation is palpably sincere.

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