Cannes less magical this summer, and what a pity! | world cinema | Hindustan Times
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Cannes less magical this summer, and what a pity!

Over-the-top security and a poor selection of films ensured that Cannes Film Festival this year was just no fun.

world cinema Updated: May 31, 2017 15:02 IST
Gautaman Bhaskaran
A scene from the film Wonderstruck, screened at the Cannes Film Festival.
A scene from the film Wonderstruck, screened at the Cannes Film Festival.

The Cannes Film Festival has spelt magic for years and years. But somewhere, this year’s 70th edition – which ought to have been all the more glorious – sank a little in the blue waters of the shimmering Mediterranean Sea. The French Riviera – known for its fun, its playboy rich culture, its bindass casino hunting and royal romances – lacked the lustrous sheen that this writer has seen summer after summer for 27 years. But the 28th appeared different and disappointing.

To begin with, security became such an overwhelming concern that it began to suffocate all those thousands of professionals, including the nearly 5,000 journalists. They had to plod through several layers of frisks and checks, and long queues outside auditoriums not only made the joy of Cannes less joyous, but also delayed, for the first ever time in this critic’s memory, screenings. Sometimes by 15 minutes, sometimes more.

There was one occasion when a bag forgotten by a journalist in the foyer of the Debussy Theatre just before the start of the French movie, Redoubtable, postponed the show by 45 minutes. A film about Jean-Luc Godard, it was jocularly assumed by critics and others that the great writer and director must have planned the bag scare. For, in 1968, Godard, along with others like Truffaut, had marched into a Cannes auditorium and forced the festival to close down – in sympathy with the striking workers and students.

After wading through this kind of punishing security, one found the selections awfully disappointing this year. This critic does not remember a time when the movies were so boring. We really did not have a Toni Erdmann or a White Ribbon or a Breaking the Waves or a 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days or a I, Daniel Blake.

Instead, we had a whole lot of eminently forgettable films like The Killing of a Sacred Deer (a bizarre story about black magic), Wonderstruck (where two people go looking for each other), Happy End (a horrible take about a rich European family from someone as great as Michael Haneke) and The Day After (a juvenile attempt at essaying an extra-marital affair). The opening movie, Ismael’s Ghosts, was a super disaster about a film director’s life spinning out of control when his former lover appears as a ghost! Could Cannes not have found anything remotely worthier than this?

Cannes this year had a very unimpressive list of films including the Happy End.

Of course, Cannes would and could explain the unimpressive lineup to a bad crop produced this season, but one feels that the festival is getting a little too obsessive about home-grown cinema. The result: too many French movies and most of them below the mark. Sometimes, during the screenings this critic would wonder why Cannes could not pick a Dangal or a Take Off. Pray, why?

Adding to the security paranoia and the disappointing selections was the Netflix war that the festival was sucked into. While the festival chief, Thierry Fremaux, was firm in his view that films are best watched in theatres, the American streaming giant, Netflix, had a contradictory view. Two Netflix movies were in competition, and the French cinemas insisted that post-Cannes, they must be shown in theatres before being streamed. Fremaux agreed and declared that come 2018, there would be no Netflix films in competition unless it agrees to the cinemas-first rule.

The jury president and Spanish master, Pedro Almodovar, talked about this in his first press conference on the opening day of the Festival. He agreed with Fremaux, but another juror and Hollywood star, Will Smith, differed with Almodovar, and two seemed to get into an almost ugly spat. This was the first ever time that one remembers the jury conference being used for this kind of ungainly confrontation. What is happening to Cannes?

All these made Cannes less adorable this year. Some of the Festival’s magic seemed to have evaporated.

And Cannes must make a valiant, valiant effort in the summer of 2018 to rekindle its lost glory. The security issue is never going to go away. But a far more intelligent choice of cinema can help Cannes regain its lost mesmeric effect.

(Gautaman Bhaskaran has watched the Cannes Film Festival for 28 years.)

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