This morning, Palace, the main venue for the ongoing Cannes Film Festival, looked like a fort in siege. The Palace and it's adjoining areas were swarming with policemen in battle gear. They were taking no chances with Rachid Bouchareb’s Competition entry, Outside the Law screening as the day’s first work.
To begin with, Paris is angry with the way the director has scripted and shot the French Government’s handling of an Algerian uprising a day after World War II ended that led to the massacre of thousands of people. Algeria was a French colony then.
Added to this, an extreme Rightwing website has condemned the Festival of irresponsibility. It wanted truth and justice, and had threatened to protest when Outside the Law was screened.
However, the day appears to be uneventful, at least till the afternoon.
Bouchareb’s movie is very disturbing and provocative, and shows the brutality of the occupying French forces in Algeria and how the armed-to-the-teeth troops mercilessly fired on innocent men, women and children. Scenes of the soldiers breaking open doors and killing women and children in their homes merely reaffirm the colonised point of view: the colonisers were mean and inhuman.
Outside the law may well clinch the Palm d’Or when it is announced on Sunday.
Admittedly, this has not been a great year for cinema at Cannes, particularly when you compare it with last year’s masterful selection. However, of the few that made an impression on me, Mike Leigh’s Another Year seemed like a winner, and certainly one of his best in recent years, and not as bleak as his Naked or All or Nothing or Secret and Lies. Another Year traces loneliness, but narrates the story with less pain. There is a lot of wit and humour, and Leigh does not leave us with a sense of unease.
Xavier Beauvois’ Competition entry, Of Gods and Men, which elaborates the 1996 massacre of French monks in Algeria, is another compelling piece of work that takes us to the former French colony. In a remote monastery, eight monks live and tend to the local population, taking care of just about every need of theirs. Kidnapped one night by Islamic extremists, held captive and finally murdered, the monks are perfect anti-thesis to terror and violence.
Far away from Leigh’s England and the despairing solitude or grimness of Algeria, is Poetry, set in South Korea. It talks about the angst of an old woman whose grandson rapes his school mate. Marvellously told and engagingly shot, Lee Chang-Dong’s Poetry is truly poetic, and may walk away with a prize or two. Yung Junghee, essaying the grandmother with remarkable restraint and dignity, could be in the running for the Best Actress Palm.
Javier Bardem, who was that suave but callous painter in Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona, portrays the pain and pathos of a cancer-stricken man in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Biutiful (Mexico). And what a contrast between the two roles, and Bardem, now in a relationship with Penelope Cruz, may well win the best actor honour.
But, then, who is to read to the mind of the men and women who sit in judgment, Tim Burton and his knights, this time.