Farewell from the Cannes diary
The Irish Times winds down its coverage after another wild 10 days of Cannes gloss and gaze. It would be remiss of us not to speculate about tomorrow’s prizes. At time of writing, one promising competition title has yet to screen. There have been positive whispers about Alice Rohrwacher’s La Chimera, and the festival would be happy to honour that respected Italian director. This proviso noted, what looks likely to win the Palme d’Or? Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest created the most buzz on premiere, but plenty of films have done that here and walked home with nothing. Snapping at Glazer’s heels are Aki Kaurismäki, with Fallen Leaves, and Todd Haynes, with May December. Both directors are regular Cannes competitors. Neither has yet won. But the jury may see Fallen Leaves as too “small” and May December as a little “oblique”. If that is the case, Marco Bellocchio’s Kidnapped – a big, blousy historical drama – is there to slide in behind. Then there is Wim Wenders’s best-reviewed fiction film in decades. The German veteran’s Perfect Days is, however, more likely to walk away with best actor, for Koji Yakusho. All of which vagueness confirms that it looks like an open race. Mind you, it’s almost always an open race. We can say that Sandra Hüller is assured best actress for her domineering turn in Anatomy of a Fall. Right? Well, she has been here before. The German actor was the lead in the famously snubbed Toni Erdmann, in 2016. So she will not be getting hopes up. Anyway, we’re still betting on The Zone of Interest taking the Palme.
Netflix bags May December
If you know anything about recent Cannes convulsions you know that, because of squabbles over French regulations about the window between theatrical and streaming releases, Netflix is barred from entering films in the competition. There is, however, nothing stopping that company buying a competition flick that does not yet have distribution. Netflix has, indeed, picked up North American rights for May December, Todd Haynes’s tricksy drama starring Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore, reportedly for about $11 million, or about €10.25 million. Earlier this year, on a bit of a spending spree, Sky picked up Haynes’s film as well as Michael Mann’s Ferrari for UK and Ireland distribution. As serious awards contenders, those films should also land in cinemas as well as playing on the satellite channel.
Cannes audiences are better behaved than most cinema crowds, but even they have their ignorant lapses. Over the past three years, since the arrival of online booking for press tickets, attendees have become more glued than ever to their mobile phones. If you do not get Killers of the Flower Moon or The Zone of Interest on your first go, you grab the handset and refresh madly in the hope of finding a returned ticket. This professional video game now spreads across the auditorium when the lights go down. Everywhere little rectangular lights illuminate the darkness. Oh, for the days when we just waved a badge and swanned our way in.
There were all kinds of memorable moments in competition films. Lovely dinner in The Pot-au-Feu (reviewed below). Festering corpses in Black Flies. Henry VIII’s pumping arse in Firebrand. But the moment that really seems to have stuck in the heads is an exercise in reverse regurgitation during Jessica Hausner’s weird satire Club Zero. A characters vomits up her meal and then, well, returns it from whence it came. Club Zero does have a warning at the start about scenes relating to eating disorders. This only encouraged Variety to urge film-makers to include “more trigger warnings”. Really? “Not only should an advisory be shown at the beginning, but marketing departments should brainstorm ways to include it on posters, trailers and other campaigns,” the article continued. Isn’t that what the advice from certification offices is for?
Cannes review: The Pot-au-Feu
The great French-Vietnamese film-maker Trần Anh Hùng, who created a storm with The Scent of Green Papaya and Cyclo in the mid-1990s, hits mature form here with an almost too-gorgeous epicurean romance set in a rural French idyll during the belle époque. Benoît Magimel is warm and charismatic as Dodin, a master chef – and disciple of Auguste Escoffier – who, apparently wealthy enough to avoid formal work, spends his days chopping, sautéing, marinating and, ultimately, eating. Eugénie (Juliette Binoche, obviously), his cochef and occasional romantic partner, joins him, as we start, in constructing one enormous vol-au-vent “for sharing” (as menus then didn’t say).
That opening scene proceeds as the film means to go on. Hùng’s camera arcs around a kitchen where nobody swears, nobody yawns and everyone seems happily dedicated to each intricate process. One hardly needs to say that a large amount of research and preparation has gone into the lengthy cooking sequences. The meat glistens as it is removed from ovens the size of bank vaults. Enormous fish have their skins removed with just the right sort of knife. The characters – this is 19th-century France, after all – exhibit no moral qualms about keeping veal calves in pens or doing what geese have done to them to generate foie gras, but we have seen protagonists do much worse in films we unequivocally adore.
Large parts of the film do little else but successfully dampen the gourmand mouth. The unlovely phrase “food porn” does seem appropriate here. It’s not as if the story is being forwarded as we watch the construction of baked Alaska, but the effect is so overpowering one can only applaud (while pondering dinner). Much of this review could be replaced by that gif of Homer Simpson snapping his head back and making that greedy gurgle.
The two leads handle the thin plot nicely. Early on, Binoche clutches her side and slips to the floor. “C’est rien!” Yeah, because that’s never a bad sign in movies. As we move forward the two middle-aged lovers face up to their mutual affection and contemplate its untimely erasure. Moving through exteriors that recall Pierre-Auguste Renoir (and his film-maker son, for that matter), they do fine work in selling a film that is otherwise interested only in what goes down the gullet. Makes Babette’s Feast seem like Ready Steady Cook.
Cannes review: The Sweet East
Sure, much of Cannes is fusty and dusty and a bit up itself. But here and there one experiences informal, joyous premieres that confirm the medium still matters to the coming generation. Sean Price Williams, hitherto best known as cinematographer for such directors as Alex Ross Perry and the Safdie brothers, arrived in a voluminous red tracksuit for the Directors Fortnight premiere of his clattering, erratic, picaresque directorial debut. The cast hooted at the credits. Everyone – including most of the audience, I sensed – had a great time at a film that seemed to announce the end of the United States (or the beginning of a new one).
Breakout star Talia Ryder, previously seen as the protagonist’s pal in Never Rarely Sometimes Always, plays a schoolgirl from the American south who gets separated from her pals on a trip to Washington, DC. She first ends up with a party of hipster dropouts. Then she happens upon Simon Rex – so wonderful here, as he was in Red Rocket two years ago – as a disconcertingly helpful white supremacist. Next two amiable but irritating independent film-makers cast her in a confusing historical satire. And so on through the sort of pinballing mayhem that 1960s cinema experimentalists once embraced.
Alex Ross Perry produces, and the opening credits – woozy music over vintage lettering – confirm that Williams, working from a script by the admired film critic Nick Pinkerton, is not straying too far from his friend’s fuzzy, alienating aesthetic. The film is, however, more broadly funny than Perry’s work. Ryder (a real find) is imaginatively aghast as stand-in for a nation unable to absorb the variety of its own madness. The sound design crashes with drugged confusion. We go nowhere at such speed that there is no time to worry about the randomness of the route.
What film festivals are for.