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Kar-Wai stamps his authority

The director is a global success, observes Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: May 25, 2006 11:40 IST

On the opening night of the 59th Cannes Film Festival, Shanghai-born Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai laid down his ground rules. “The jury will recognise films that engage, excite and enrich,” he told the audience that had gathered to for the world premiere of Ron Howard’s The Da Vinci Code.

The opening film did not live up to the hype, but there is reason to believe that the jury president will find enough in the 20-film competition to make the choice of the Palme d’Or winner really difficult. Ken Loach’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Pedro Almodovar’s Volver  and Nanni Moretti’s Il Caimano are all being tipped as favourites.

Wong Kar-Wai himself has never won the Palme d’Or, but he knows exactly what a Cannes prize can do to a film and a filmmaker. He is global force today because of the international success of In the Mood for Love, a film whose journey began in the Competition section of the Cannes Film Festival in 2000.

He is therefore no stranger to the Croisette. His very first film, As Tears Go By, made in 1988, was in the Directors Fortnight. Almost a decade later, his gay-themed Happy Together, which he shot in Argentina of all places, fetched him the Best Director prize in Cannes.

Wong Kar Wai is regarded as one of the world’s most innovative filmmakers.

He was back in Cannes in 2004 with 2046, the superbly crafted, multilayered film that still keeps growing on people. No wonder he has become the first Chinese director to ever preside over the Cannes jury.   

Wong Kar Wai is of course regarded as one of the world’s most innovative filmmakers. He possesses a visual style that is marvellously tactile and is blessed with an imagination that is completely his own. His association with the Cannes Film Festival goes back a long way – he was discovered on the Croisette in 1989, when As Tears Go By was screened in the official selection.

Cannes’ decision to hand the jury presidency to Wong Kar Wai, who is currently working on his first English-language film, The Lady from Shanghai, is clearly of a piece with the otherwise glitzy, glamour-laced Cannes Film Festival’s strategy to entrust the hot seat to a director who is known to follow his own rules and instincts.

That, if nothing else, ensures that the selection of the Palme d’Or winners remains well outside the influence of the hype and hoopla that the festival generates.

In the seven years since 2000, Cannes has named distinctive auteurs like Luc Besson (2000), David Lynch (2002), Patrice Chereau (2003), Quentin Tarantino (2004) and Emir Kusturica (2005) as jury chief. The only hint of an exception as it were to that pattern came in the year 2001, when veteran Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann occupied the jury president’s chair. But then, Ullmann, besides featuring in as many as ten Ingmar Bergman masterworks, has several films to her credit as a director. In other words, she clearly belonged to this august company.

When a man like Wong Kar-Wai is driving the jury, Cannes watchers can rest assured that the award winners will do justice to the coveted prize that they are vying for.