Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Hunger on the Croisette

The untamed Cannes film festival remains cinema's best measure of, not success, but talent

Agnès PoirierMonday April 23, 2007 The Guardian

Like most things in France, it was born out of protest. When Benito Mussolini set up the first film festival, Venice's Mostra, in 1932, to promote fascist and Nazi films, the birthplace of cinema rose to the challenge, pledging to create a film festival free from prejudices.
The first was planned to run from September 1 to 20 1939, on the French Riviera, in Cannes. Louis Lumière, le papa du cinéma, agreed to be its president of honour. Elegant posters by a high society painter, Jean-Gabriel Domergue, publicised the event through-out the country. And the stars of the time agreed to grace the event with their presence in a spirit of "openness and world collaboration".

Film distributors often think that they can use film festivals as their own marketing launch pads but no matter how hard they have tried, Cannes has proved so far untameable.
In the past few decades, Cannes has been boycotted by American studios, spurned by directors who thought they would be treated as kings or queens and criticised by film critics for being organised like a 19th-century antique shop, but it has always stood oblivious. And they have all been back, for they all live in the hope of, one day perhaps, touching the holy grail, the Palme d'Or.
Cannes' most coveted award is indeed the Nobel prize of cinema. Forget Oscars, Baftas, Donatellos, Césars, Goyas and all the rest of the film industry's awards, the Palme remains the only measure, not of success, but of talent. Oscars merely secure box-office revenues. The Palme secures a place in history.
Of course one could argue that the seriousness of Cannes is in part a carefully constructed legend. It is often denounced as arrogance and self-importance. No doubt. However, the legend will always be true as long as it is based on passion, sincerity and conviction. Agnès Poirier, a journalist and film critic, is an independent adviser on British films for the Cannes film festival.

The Cannes film festival's first day was also its last. On September 3, the second world war broke out. It was not until 1947 that Cannes was able to reprise its missionary spirit. So next month, it will be celebrating its official 60th anniversary.
Today the old lady of the Croisette is as hungry as ever - hungry for new voices to show us the world as it really is. That hunger is shared by dozens of thousands of cinephiles, professionals, critics and stars who, for 10 days, all speak one language.
For 10 days, Cannes becomes the United Nations headquarters where we can see, uncensored and unabridged, the world's latest tales. This year the 21 films in competition have been selected from a total of 1,615 applications from no fewer than 95 different nationalities. Hunger and anger are perhaps the two feelings most experienced in Cannes.
Expectations run so very high that we all assume, sometimes wrongly though most often rightly, that we're about to taste the very best of the year's cinematic crop. Such expectations, however, induce a very specific malady, an elating and heightened sense of reality.
When a film critic in Cannes is not fed with at least a masterpiece a day, he or she starts fidgeting nervously. When the financiers are not breaking a historical deal every day, they start lamenting loudly the end of the medium. When passersby have not shaken hands with at least one star a day, they claim that the festival is going to the dogs. When directors haven't had more than 100 interview requests, they contemplate ending their careers.
So what sets Cannes so much à part? In its 60 years, Cannes has managed to keep its identity intact and resist rampant commercialism. I'm obviously not talking of the parallel circus going on around diamond-laden and scantily clad stars walking up the famous red carpet each evening. I'm talking about films.

No comments: