Festival of Broken Dreams: Cannes 2014

We report from the 67th Cannes film festival

When Cannes director Thierry Frémaux announced the official selection for the 67th edition of the world’s leading film festival back in April, it looked, on paper at least, to be a vintage unseen for many a year. That was wishful thinking, so it proved.

The festival opens with Olivier Dahan’s Grace of Monaco, which was reportedly a car crash as cinema. The first film I see is Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner, which went on to score the best actor award for the richly deserving Timothy Spall. It’s easily Leigh’s most beautiful and formally rigid film – kudos to the great photography by the underrated Dick Pope. Once you acclimatise to the grunted dialogue spat by Spall’s Turner it becomes effortlessly great – one of the finest representations of painting on screen and of an artist lost within his relationships. Make sure to catch it when it’s released in October.

Other films from my first day include two in the Un Certain Regard programme: Party Girl, which won the Camera d’Or for best first film, and Keren Yedaya’s Loin De Mon Pere (The Lovely Girl). The former tells the story of Angelique, a 60-year-old bar hostess who attempts to settle down with a besotted client. Curiously, all the actors in the film are the real people involved in the story, and one of its three directors (Samuel Theis) belongs to the family we concentrate on. It starts with a sharp focus but after the first hour heads to predictable non-endings. Loin De Mon Pere harrowingly details the effects on a father and daughter of their two decade-long incestuous relationship, which has now transcended to sickening levels of self-hatred, jealousy and hopelessness. It’s Yedaya’s third feature and is another example of a young Israeli filmmaker not looking away from a crumbling society that swallows up its young.

Films continue to come thick and fast. There is the poor: Atom Egoyan’s stinker Captives. Another in a long line of Egoyan misfires, it’s a child abduction thriller with police officers that make Mack Sennett’s Keystone Cops look like Jane Tennison. The small mercy is its leading man, Ryan Reynolds, who, after The Voices (not yet released in the UK), seems set for a Matthew McConaughey-style rebirth.

After the bad we approach the average. There’s Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall, which sees the Cannes stalwart giving us another didactic history lesson with all the black hat/white hat moralising of a bad western. Then there’s Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, where we’re astounded by a trio of great performances (Steve Carrell, Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum) but not much else – in the words of Little White Lies’ David Jenkins, “Bennett Miller couldn’t direct traffic on Orkney.”

There is plenty of good, though. Tommy Lee Jones’ western The Homesman is an effortless masterclass in less is more acting, as Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones’ characters escort three mentally damaged women across the American plains. Speaking of effortless, the Dardenne brothers’ latest, Two Days, One Night, is another example of how these filmmakers find it impossible to take a misstep. Marion Cotillard (who must be asking what she needs to do to win a Cannes best actress prize) stars in a film that asks lots of moral questions about modern displacement of labour and gives her fellow factory workers an economical Sophie’s Choice. Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders (which won the Grand Prix) is concerned, like her debut feature Corpo Celeste, with a teenage girl and her environment – in this case a small farm where she live with her bee farmer father. It’s a film that’s at once mysterious, quiet and powerful. Saint Laurent is the second film in a couple of months about the legendary fashion designer: this finely acted version is directed by Bertrand Bonello and seems like a dream in comparison to Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent, thanks to its disregard for biopic cliches.

Which leaves us with Naomi Kawase’s Still The Water, Daniel Wolfe’s Catch Me Daddy and Jean-Luc Godard’s Adieu au Langage to make up the numbers of the merely ‘great’ category! Whether you like late Godard or not, Adieu au Langage is a must see, if only for his use of 3D and his dog, Roxy. Wolfe’s Catch Me Daddy, easily the best British film of the festival, is a modern western set on the Yorkshire moors and scored like a drone-inflected descent to hell. Still The Water is another gem from the underrated Kawase, a filmmaker’s filmmaker; her mediation of teenage angst alongside death and life is something to behold. Opening and closing during a storm on Amami Oshima, a subtropical island off the south of mainland Japan, the film follows a teenage boy who finds a dead body in the surf and his attempts to find peace within the storm, like hormones within him. Kawase has an near anthropological eye for the portrayals of traditional rituals (from dancing, to the throat-slitting of goats) and sex, culminating in a profoundly moving, near shamanistic happening around the bed where the mother of his girlfriend lies dying. In her approach to questions of life and death, Kawase once again proves herself a big game hunter in a world of rabbit poachers.

Now three masterpieces. The Palme d’Or winning Winter Sleep, from Cannes favourite Nuri Bilge Ceylan, channels Chekov in the Turkish mountains by saying everything about all the major influences of existence in three hours 19 minutes, and keeps you wanting more and more. Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan is a scream from the depths of Mother Russia and a quintessential piece of state of the nation filmmaking that also manages to retell the biblical tale of Job (and does an even better job of it than the Coens did with A Serious Man). Lastly, the most strange and enigmatic film of the festival, Jauja, which played in the Un Certain Regard sidebar. This latest statement from the sultan of slow cinema, Lisandro Alonso, is a step beyond his usual work. Starring Viggo Mortensen (speaking in Danish and Spanish) as a 19th-century Danish soldier in Argentina searching for his missing daughter, this has more dialogue than usual from Alonso, but more mystery too. Presenting the film in what appears to be an Instagram frame, Alonso channels the spirit of Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath Of God as we slowly follow Mortensen as he loses his weapon, his horse and, slowly, his mind and consciousness. Too formally rigorous to become a cult favourite, nevertheless this strange, enigmatic gem is a film that expands expectations and will have the uninitiated seeking out Alonso’s back catalogue.

Lots more were missed, but indecision is no place for a festival cineaste – let’s hope to catch those others elsewhere.

Cannes took place 14-25 May

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