Undoubtedly, the upcoming Cannes film festival has become a majorly irresistible attraction for producers, directors and actors the world over. India is not exempt from this dream to see one’s cinematic work being featured at the festival -- running from May 11 to 22 on the fascinating French Riviera. One knows that several Indian directors had sent in their movies to Cannes for possible inclusion, but none made the cut.
In keeping with the festival’s tradition, one does not talk about the rejects.
In fact, the Cannes selectors saw 1869 features this time to pick 49 in the five sections of the festival -- Competition, A Certain Regard, Out of Competition, Special Screenings and Midnight Screenings.
In 2015, Cannes got 1850 movies to watch, and the year before 1500. With the digital era, the number of films that the festival receives keeps increasing.
“The democratic principle on which Cannes is based that everyone has the right to send a movie and it will be screened. Out of these 1,869 films, not all were brilliant but they were all screened,” the festival chief, Thierry Fremaux, told the media during the Paris press conference on April 14 -- when the selections were unveiled.
This should put to rest the doubts harboured by some Indian producers and helmers that Cannes does not even bother to watch their movies.
Fremaux averred that “there are 20 films in Competition, 17 in A Certain Regard, five in Out of Competition, two in Midnight screenings and five Special Screenings. In total, 28 countries will be represent the 49 movies… which shows how much we care about the universality of cinema. Even though the festival takes place in France, it is not a French festival. It is an international festival”.
This should further assure Indians that Cannes cares for India as well.
In 2015, there were two Indian films, Chauthi Koot and Masaan, which played in A Certain Regard. In 2014, India had Titli, and in 2012, Miss Lovely.
Understandably, the festival tries to screen the work of a master or a director who has been showing his movie time and again there. One believes that a festival is duty bound to screen a master’s creation as much as it is to act as a platform of discovery. Let audiences decide whether a master has made a masterpiece or if a newcomer has potential talent.
In keeping with this line of thinking, the 2016 Competition is filled with returnees.Belgian directorial duo Pierre and Luc Dardenne will premiere in Competition for a fifth time with The Unknown Girl, starring Adele Haenel as a doctor wracked with guilt over the death of a girl she turned away from her clinic. If the Brothers win the Palm d’Or this time, it will be their third clinch -- after Rosetta in 2002 and The Child in 2009.
Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar will be back on the Croisette (Cannes’ sea front) for his sixth outing with Julieta -- the story of a woman’s experiences in different stages of her life. The Palme d’Or has eluded Almodovar until now, although he won awards for his Oscar-winning Volver (best screenplay) and All About My Mother (best director).
Another old-timer, Ken Loach from Britain, will be back at Cannes for the 12th time in Competition with his gritty Northern England-set drama, I, Daniel Blake.
Also from the UK, Andrea Arnold will premiere her road film, American Honey -- about a teenage girl who finds herself in the midst of a partying group that has no qualms about breaking the law. Arnold has had a long history with the festival. Her 2006 Red Road and 2009 Fish Tank both won the Jury Prize.
Arnold is one of three women directors, along with Germany’s Maren Ade and France’s Nicole Garcia, in Competition (up from two in 2015).
Other returnees include Canadian director Xavier Dolan (with his It’s Only The End Of The World) and American director Jeff Nichols (Loving, based on the true story of interracial couple Richard and Mildred Loving who were jailed in Virginia in 1958 for breaking state laws by getting married).
In a recent interview with Screen, Fremaux defended his returnee list. “We don’t always have the same names. Okay, the Dardennes and Ken Loach come back again and again, but this year Alain Guiraudie is there for the first-time, while Nicole Garcia and even Xavier Dolan aren’t habitués. It’s only the second time Xavier’s been in Competition and we’ve also got newcomers like Brazil’s Mendonca, Puiu from Romanian and Germany’s Maren Ade.”
And here comes the punch paragraph from him: “At the same time, Cannes is Cannes. People don’t expect the Louvre Museum to take down its Old Masters in a bid to reinvent its collection. That would be like saying ‘Hey let’s get rid of the Mona Lisa’. It wouldn’t be the Louvre. At Cannes, we specialise in the big auteurs. Once upon a time it was Fellini, Antonioni and Bergman, then Tarkovsky and Co in the 1970s. Today, it’s those auteurs we invite back time and time again.
“In a World Cup rugby match, they put the best players on the pitch. At Cannes, we select the best movies. Cannes is the world championship of cinema. Usain Bolt is one the greatest runners of our time but there are millions of people who like to run. If I go to watch the Olympics, however, I want to see Usain Bolt, not Mr Whoever who goes running every Sunday morning with his dog. The 1,869 submitted films were all made with a profound love for cinema but I have to make choices and I’m not going to take a B series movie in a bid to renew the selection”.
That is Fremaux for you, the bitingly bold chief who knows how to defend his selections.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran has covered the Cannes Film Festival for 26 years.)