24th May 2010

Another Cannes. Like last year the numbers are down, which is pleasant. But the films are nowhere near as good. Last year we watched masterpiece after masterpiece. This year even Ken Loach turns in a terrible dud with Route Irish, a film about mercenaries in Iraq with a convoluted and implausible plot and the unsurprising message that mercenaries are both brutalizing and brutalized. A rare high point is Xavier Beauvois’s Of men and Gods which is set in a Cistercian priory in Algeria in the mid-nineties as the full scale civil war between fundamentalists and the government becomes ever more savage. The fundamentalists warn the monks that they must leave, their neighboring villagers beg them to stay. The action is slow and deliberate as the monks debate what they should do, but the pace pays off in a final deliberation which is deeply moving.
Unlike last year I do have some minimal work to do. The London Consortium is starting a Master’s in Curating in partnership with the London Film School and we are launching the degree at Cannes. However, by and large I spend all my time watching films. At night I read myself to sleep with histories of the British Empire preparing for the conferences that will end the AHRC project. My dreams are full of blood and dead men.
Last year I got Filipa Cesar down to encourage her to join the world of film. This year she is down on her own steam with a great project and rushing from meeting to meeting. In principle I’m delighted, the downside is I find myself spending the three days of her visit as a reliable assistant, finding contact numbers and printing scripts. No good deed goes unpunished.
One of the pleasures of Cannes is that if you get fed up with the offerings of contemporary cinema, there is always plenty of the greatest films of the past on show. This year the centerpiece is Visconti’s The Leopard. I’m not Visconti’s greatest fan. The word operatic is well applied to him and a screening of Senso at Lyons earlier this year left me impressed but cold. The Leopard is different. The astonishing beauty of Delon and Cardinale; the startling performance of Lancaster as the Prince; the power of Lampedusa’s story, all this adds up to one of the greatest of films as a historical era and a man’s life wane in concert. Miraculously Delon and Cardinale ,50 years older and the last survivors of the cast and crew, are there to introduce the film, Delon still shockingly beautiful at 80, Cardinale as full of giggles as a young girl. Time passes both on screen and on stage.
The last film I see before I leave is Apitchapong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee who can recall his previous lives. The opening shots are of a water buffalo slipping its halter to wander into a forest from which its owner then retrieves it. The beauty of the images are immediately overwhelming as one enters into a world where the distinction between animal and human, living and dead begin to lose their significance. Uncle Boonmee has come to the country to die and amongst those who gather to witness his passing are his dead wife and a son who has become a spectacularly hairy monkey. No description of the film can sound anything but ludicrous ( particularly an unbelievably touching scene when a catfish and a princess make love) , but watching it is not a ludicrous but uplifting process. Its images star with me over the nect two days, long enough for me to be overjoyed to learn that it is has won the Palme d’Or. To my knowledge the most avant-garde film ever to have won Cannes but a great choice in a poor year. Perhaps not surprising as all that if you remember that President of the jury Tim Burton made Big Fish.


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