Cannes 2011 Film Festival: Day 1

Séamas's picture

Séamas McSwiney is our guest film correspondent and is currently reporting for us directly from Cannes. He has decades of experience in film journalism, with work published in some top international publications.   


For two weeks in May, Cannes is the home of razzamataz and red-carpeted fantasies. It is also a global crossroads where culture, politics, art and business intersect. In Cannes, the global entertainment industry pays homage to cultural diversity because, during this French Riviera honeymoon, it is good business to do so. As jury president, Robert De Niro says, the Competition jury undertakes to choose “films that are represented in the world of film at its highest level, and these types of festivals help connect the international film community and have a lasting cultural impact”. This year, his fellow jury members include Jude Law and Uma Thurman from the UK and the US as well as Mahamat Saleh Haroun and Johnnie To, from Chad and China.

Cannes is also trans-generational; as well as paying homage to the maestros of the moving image it is looking for the talents of the future. Many first films are screened in the most prestigious sections. And, there is a special competing section called Cinéfondation, which is devoted to student films. This year there are 16 short and medium-length works each year from film schools all over the world and prizes will be awarded to the best three at an official Festival ceremony.

"French Images"

Despite Cannes’ global reach, there will of course be no shortage of French images. One of them was Wednesday’s opening film, which could easily be mistaken for a Paris tourism promotion, so lovingly were the legendary locations filmed from the perspective of a nostalgic American tourist who time-travels in search of the perfect Paris era. Of course it also includes Woody Allen’s pithy wit and wisdom about the fickle nature of love and romance. It has the added anecdotal interest of including, the president’s wife Carla Bruni Sarkozy playing a tour guide.

This frivolous piece of fluffy casting contrasts with a separate new departure for French cinema; there is another Sarkozy-connected movie in the out of competition official selection, one where he is the central character. It is La Conquete (The Conquest), and it is a no-holds barred dissection of President Sarkozy’s ambition and chaotic love life; a ridiculous caricature according to some, or a cringingly insightful parody, say others. It recounts his relentless quest for power and doesn’t balk at poking around in the messy break-up of his marriage to Cecilia during the 2007. As he was winning the presidency, he was losing his wife. For example, it reveals a bitter telephone argument between him and his wife just before his crucial TV duel-debate with Segolene Royale, in which, cool-headed before millions, he behaved with uncharacteristic restraint and gallantry in his calculated demolition of his opponent.

Now, with the 2012 election campaign looming, two things are certain: President Sarkozy will not be walking up the red carpet for next Wednesday’s screening alongside the celebrities he normally loves to frequent; and the story of the screening will be front-page news the following day and for many days and months after.

"The empty chair on the jury"

Political, in a radically different way, is the third episode is the ongoing saga of Jafar Panahi. He is the inadvertent leading man in Cannes’ tribute to the raised fist of the Arab (and Persian) political street revolt. Forbidden to leave Iran while awaiting trial for trumped-up charges alongside his colleagues his absence is a most powerful statement than his physical presence. Unlike many like-minded but anonymously imprisoned freedom-seekers, he has a voice and widespread international support, through festivals and professional film organisations. Last year his was the empty chair on the jury, followed by a similar homage and retrospective in Berlin in February. This year, his presence was announced thus:

'Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof will be in Cannes with two films that have just arrived at the Festival in recent days. The films were made under semi-clandestine conditions, as the two Iranian filmmakers are currently under legal proceedings in Iran and have appealed their sentence of six years in prison and a 20-year ban on filmmaking.'

“The reality of being alive and the dream of keeping Iranian filmmaking intact have motivated us to overcome the restrictions we are up against,” Jafar Panahi wrote to the Festival on May 5th.

In Film Nist (This is not a Film) directed by Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb (Iran, 2011, 75') is a Special Screening in the Official Selection, and will be screened on Friday 20 May. This film recounts how, for months, Jafar Panahi has been waiting for the verdict of his court appeal. Through the depiction of a day in his life, Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb (a documentary filmmaker and former assistant director), present an overview of the current situation of Iranian filmmaking.”

From relentless political reality-shows to insidious censorship, we live in contrasting worlds. Vive Cannes for underlining these extremes.

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