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Why Cannes always ticks

Here, many novices have set off on the road to becoming greats, writes Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: May 30, 2006 18:44 IST

On pulling off a huge upset by winning the Palme d’Or at the 59th Cannes Film Festival on Sunday night for The Wind that Shakes the Barley, British director Ken Loach waxed eloquent about the significance of the award and the high-profile event that culminates with it.

“Cannes is the most wonderful cinema celebration in the world,” he said. “It is the heart of cinema.” Indeed, for ten days or so every year, Cannes does become the movie capital of the world, a place where cinematic masters display their wares just as much as wannabes strut their stuff.

Cannes is where many of today’s novices first set off on the road to becoming tomorrow’s greats, as Mexico’s Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu did some years ago with the critically acclaimed Amores Perros.

It is not without reason that Inarritu says that “Cannes is heavy with meaning for me”. There hundreds of filmmakers around the globe who would unhesitatingly echo similar sentiments.

This year, as always, the jury sprang a surprise. Pedro Almodovar’s Volver lost out, so did Inarritu’s Babel. But cinema won. It always does in Cannes, one way or another.

The reason is pretty simple: the Cannes Film Festival is a celebration of cinema all right, but it also never fails to pay obeisance to the power of glitz and glamour. Filmmakers of all hues and dispositions are free to plunge into the pool. It is big enough.

Cannes lets everybody - from the most respected arthouse auteurs to the most defiled sleaze peddlers - feel important.

Masters at their best, exciting new discoveries, photo calls, much-heralded red carpet screenings, high profile parties, innovative promotional events and much, much more - Cannes has something for everybody. 

Yet, despite all the hype and hoopla, the controversies and disappointments, it is cinema pure and simple that usually holds sway in Cannes. This year was no different.

All through the festival, as always, talk centred on who would take home the coveted Palme d’Or. Of the 20 feature films in the main Competition section of the 59th Cannes Film Festival, at least one-fourth came from established masters of the medium.

Spanish maverick Pedro Almodovar’s Volver (Coming Back), Italian actor-filmmaker Nanni Moretti’s Il Caimano, Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki’s Lights in the Dusk, and British veteran Ken Loach’s wartime period drama, The Wind that Shakes the Barley were up against the works of lesser-known but exciting new talents from around the world. Naturally, lovers of good cinema had a field day.   

Where else but in Cannes would you discover the brilliant 2:37, written and directed by Murali K Thalluri, an Australian filmmaker of Indian origin? A late addition to the Un Certain Regard this year, Thalluri’s debut feature garnered rave reviews although it did not make it to the awards list.

Led by the redoubtable Almodovar, the Hispanic brigade dominated the Cannes show this year. Inarritu wasn’t the only Mexican filmmaker who made waves in Cannes this year. There was Guillermo del Toro, too, with the finely etched Pan’s Labyrinth, set in Spain at the tail end of Franco’s civil war. This “dark fairy tale” is about a little girl who retreats into her own fantasy world even as her environs turn increasingly intimidating.    

Other films that attracted strong critical notices were Lou Ye’s controversial Chinese film Summer Palace, a love story set against the backdrop of years before and after the Tiananmen Square massacre, and Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Climates, a languid exploration of a relationship that is falling apart. Thin in terms of substance, Climates scores high marks in terms of treatment of a deeply human story.

Neither of the two won an award, but the two films that did – Bruno Dumont’s Flandres (Grand Prize) and debutante Andrea Arnold’s Red Road (Jury Prize) – dared to defy audience expectations. It wasn’t surprising at all that they found favour with a jury headed by Wong Kar Wai, one of the world’s most inimitable filmmakers.

The composition of the jury – it had five actors, Samuel L Jackson, Tim Roth, Monica Bellucci, Helena Bonham Carter and Zhang Ziyi – was also clearly reflected in the fact that the best actor and actress prizes went to ensembles rather than individuals. The Cannes jury rarely mirrors general opinion, but this year’s panel, too, made no effort to reverse the trend.