Monday, May 23, 2011

2011 Cannes Film Festival - Awards

Every year, the Cannes Film Festival opens my eyes.

While I do my best to keep up with the wide world of cinema, it’s a frontier that’s continuously expanding. For me, Cannes’ official selection serves as a barometer to point out the artists and films I ought to be paying attention to. It’s easy enough to keep track of the 5-10 American films that will receive a ton of marketing money from major studios in their turn as eventual (though painfully obvious) Oscar bait.

Were it not for Cannes, it’s possible I might still not have found my way into the work of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Pedro Almodovar, Michael Haneke, Wong Kar-Wai, Abbas Kiarostami, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Olivier Assayas, Cristian Mungiu, or Lars von Trier. That’s a long list of some of contemporary cinema’s most influential artists, and they don’t receive exposure on most mainstream media channels. Even with some websites and publications expressly devoted to film, there’s a tendency toward Anglo-centrism and films funded by major American studios. Sure, sometimes they’ll go highbrow and talk about period pieces featuring characters speaking with British accents (even if they’re supposed to be ancient Romans or something), but I don’t really think that counts.

For my money, the films that need to be sought out are often the ones that matter in the grand scheme of things. As recently as last year, my pick for the best film of 2010, Certified Copy, was one that I was initially exposed to through Cannes.

Unfortunately, I (for whom the Festival circuit is, in some regard, my business) have never had the opportunity to go to Cannes in person. However, a colleague of mine made the trip only days after we attended an 8-day U.S. Festival, and I’m hoping to bring you some of his thoughts on what he saw in the near future.

So, in what seemed to be a particularly strong year for the films In Competition, here are the films/artists rewarded by Robert De Niro’s jury at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.


· Palme d'Or
(Easily one of if not THE most anticipated film(s) of the Festival. I truly believe that if any filmmaker remains who’s capable of making a single film that attempts to encompass things like life, love, death, innocence, spirituality, and mankind’s place in the universe, it’s Terrence Malick. While I don’t yet know if his film is successful to that end, the fact that he’s got a chance at all is not to be underestimated. It opens in New York and Los Angeles this week, and I hope to have a review up within the next 10 days.)

· Grand Prix Ex-aequo (tie)
(My experience with Ceylan is somewhat limited. Climates is gorgeous from a visual standpoint, but is sadly inert dramatically. However, Once Upon A Time In Anatolia picked up some strong late buzz at the Festival.)

(Ah, the Dardennes’ streak continues! Having twice won the Palme d’Or, a third would have been unprecedented. By all indications, The Kid With A Bike generated strong support as an archetypical Dardenne film that departs from their usual aesthetic in a few key areas. Along with The Tree of Life, this is the film I’m most looking forward to out of Cannes.)

· Award for Best Director
(I've heard mixed things about Drive, and to see it win this award was a bit of a surprise. I'd thought that either Malick or Almodovar were the real contenders for this one.)

· Award for Best Screenplay
(This one didn't pop up on the radar screen either way as far as buzz goes, but on the list it goes.)

· Award for Best Actress
(For some reason, Dunst is often disparaged as actress, which I don’t really understand. I’m pleased for this win on that level. Maybe now her detractors will take the opportunity to reexamine her work. I’m also grateful that the jury didn’t allow von Trier’s rocky press conference to dissuade them from keeping Melancholia in consideration.)

· Award for Best Actor
(By all intents and purposes, The Artist is probably the 2011 Festival’s most beloved film. It’ll be interesting to see if/how a silent film breaks into the popular consciousness, but, if I know Harvey Weinstein, it’ll do just fine.)

· Jury Prize
(I’ve heard mixed things about this one. Apparently, there were some catcalls in the press room when the film won. It's a reminder that the winners are determined by a group of people largely set apart from the rest of the viewing audience. At 35, Maiwenn’s the youngest director with a film in competition. If anything, it’ll definitely be worth a look.)


· Palme d'Or - Short Film

· Jury Prize - Short Film


An aside: traditionally, I only get to see the award ceremony after the fact. This genius got to thinking: "It's 2011. There has to be some way to stream this thing, even for a square like me." Thanks to a couple of Tweeters to whom I shall remain forever indebted, I found my way to a site streaming the show live. One problem. When watching the show the next day on Cannes' official site, the linguistics are adjusted per the language you selected upon entering. Hence, when they're speaking in English, there's no translation, but when it switches, the translator comes in to keep things smooth. This stream had no such preconception. It was French to the bone. So, imagine my fun as I tried to sift through Kirsten Dunst's speech (in English) as it was being overdubbed with a French translation. I really need to learn French. 10 words isn't nearly enough.

A second aside: Mélanie Laurent was a beautiful host for the opening and closing ceremonies, and she kept things running smoothly. Seems that graceful efficiency is the name of the game. The Academy should take notice. If you'd like to see it, the entire closing ceremony can now be streamed from their site (with the proper translation!).

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