Cannes Roundtable #2
Charlotte Garson: film critic for France Culture, the cultural national public radio
Joumane Chahine: former critic for daily An-Nahar in Lebanon, programmer for the Beirut Film Festival, and Film Comment contributor
Alex Horwath: director of the Austrian Film Museum and critic for the Austrian daily Die Presse
Gavin Smith: editor of Film Comment
AH: I would like to start with the Caméra d’Or for Party Girl. I do not have a full list of the debut films in front of me that were eligible, but I find this an extremely weak Caméra d’Or, considering the history of this award. I came out of this film this morning not finding it anything special, and was surprised that it received both the Certain Regard award and the Caméra d’Or. But at first glance, I couldn’t think of another first film…
JC: The Tribe.
AH: Which I didn’t see. I heard good things about it in the Critics’ Week.
JC: I think the award . . . it’s either crowd-pleaser or it’s daring, and I think this falls under crowd-pleaser.
CG: I haven’t seen Party Girl. I liked [co-director] Samuel Theis’s previous short, Forbach, which is also very autobiographical and about this border region of France, but not to the point of finding it visually or formally that daring.
GS: I thought Party Girl was very weak—it took three directors to make a film this bad. It took me into a world that I haven’t seen depicted in movies, the border area between France and Germany, but it was a complete mess. So next we have the Best Actor award going to Timothy Spall in Mr. Turner.
AH: If I think of this as an award for a career and for a collaboration, it’s the right award. He’s a great actor, and this guy should be honored. Because as he said in his acceptance speech, often the bridesmaid, now the bride—he’s an esteemed actor but he’s never been put full center. I’m just a bit sorry that it’s for one of the weakest Mike Leigh films I’ve seen. And I’m a fan of the director, and the film I like most is Topsy-Turvy, which is why my expectations for this were so high. I was quite underwhelmed by its lack of a defining point of view. It’s not about how Turner became Turner as an artist, but it’s his private life. But there is a lack of clear focus. It’s a film of certain moments, and some are more interesting than others, but for a strange reason I did not see Leigh having a real grip on this character. But I’m for this award.
JC: It’s the right prize for the film. I am more tender towards the film than you are. I always thought that Turner’s life was boring, so I was not expecting a strong—I felt that in a way there was a point of view. The lack of point of view was a point of view. And especially since it’s a painter’s life, and it just seemed like a succession of paintings, so I thought it was very apt. I like it more as I think back on it.
CG: I was wondering as I was hearing the result, what other actor really struck me—
GS: Possibly Steve Carell in Foxcatcher.
CG: Steve Carell, that was my only answer. There weren’t that many contenders, so I guess they went for the career prize.
AH: I think the lead of Leviathan could’ve been a contender.
CG: It could’ve been either of the two lead actors in the Russian film, but it’s not really an actor’s film.
GS: There’s an amazing supporting performance in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep by the guy who plays the unemployed tenant. So let’s move on to Julianne Moore in Maps to the Stars, winning Best Actress.
JC: It’s a very difficult one. It’s almost the opposite of what you just said for the career. I love Julianne Moore, and I think the award is deserved, but I had such a violently negative reaction to the film that I’m torn. I didn’t want it to get anything. But Julianne Moore is great. My disappointment in the film just overshadows my entire reaction to this. To me it was not a Cronenberg film, it was a Bruce Wagner film. I almost felt a betrayal of Cronenberg in this film.
CG: At this point, can we maybe underscore the fact that it’s really a bit n’importe quoi? The way the choices are made, there doesn’t seem to be any vision.
GS: They’re arbitrary—is that what you mean by n’importe quoi?
JC: The choices of the jury?
CG: Yeah, if you look at all the categories, maybe apart from the Palme d’Or, because it’s such a special prize. The rest seem—not random, but it doesn’t carry a vision, and that would apply to the actresses.
JC: Do you think it carried a vision—is there a year where you saw a strong vision carried?
CG: Not a strong vision, maybe more of a line or something you can identify as a stronger…
AH: I think what we look for, and what sometimes is given to us observers by the jury, is an idea of cinema. Is there an idea of cinema that this jury wants to express in some way by the awards that they give? I would agree that there’s no such thing at all here, and that the awards, as much as we might find them more or less the right choice, they are—there is a German expression Papierform, I don’t know if there is a similar phrase in English. Like, Timothy Spall, Julianne Moore, it’s very much a spectrum of awards that tries to satisfy all types of cinema—
GS: It’s a spread-the-wealth approach.
AH: Without really hitting, I think, any specific notion of cinema. And I don’t want to interpret Charlotte, but I think that probably I share that feeling.
CG: There are two people missing here: the two actresses of Xavier Dolan’s Mommy. I think that Mommy should’ve had the prize for the two actresses. I really felt strongly when I saw the film.
AH: It’s interesting, because I disliked that film. I was happy that they gave it only the shared jury prize, but I agree with Charlotte that had they chosen the two Canadian actresses instead of Julianne Moore, that would’ve begun to define an idea of cinema. It would not have been mine, I guess, but it would have been a position.
CG:</strong> An idea of acting, as well.
GS: I wonder, though, how a jury could arrive at an idea of cinema when you’ve got Jia Zhang-ke, Jane Campion, and Nicolas Winding Refn. How are they going to come together to produce a singular vision of what cinema is?
AH: Let me give you one example. It’s rare, but the Cronenberg jury of 1999 decided to give Rosetta and L’Humanité five of the main awards, if I remember rightly. That was definitely a message: that’s our idea of cinema.
JC: But after that, Cannes introduced the rule that you cannot give more than one prize per film, so there is a spread-the-wealth ingrained in the new constitution of Cannes. Which is why last year they gave the Palme not only to Kechiche but to the two actresses, because they couldn’t give them the acting prize. I think that unless you have a dictator as the president of the jury, it’s impossible to have a very clean, clear line of prizes. And if there is, then people accuse the jury of having been completely subjugated by the president. Or unless you choose similar people. So I think it’s normal, the spread-the-wealth approach. I think what is missing is maybe a bolder—
AH: Tim Burton’s jury with Alberto Barbera and a few other cinephile people awarding Apichatpong [Weerasethakul]—that was a statement.
GS: Well, wouldn’t it make sense for the president of the jury to appoint all the other jurors, because then you would immediately get a certain idea of cinema kind of descending…
JC: But it’s an echo chamber, then you don’t have an argument—
GS: Not necessarily.
AH: You don’t pick your friends, maybe, but if you were allowed to do that, I would—clearly, it would be less pseudo-democratic, but since it’s pseudo-democratic anyway… Let’s just say I would prefer that. It would be a statement: The festival invites a person as the president—
GS: And then they curate the jury.
AH: And maybe they need to follow rules, it needs to be directors, it needs to be people from various métiers, but it can be according to what the president believes would be an interesting group that could mix things up. But I think the market point of view of the festival would not want that at all, of course, because it could lead to various radical or unconventional or non-market-aligned choices.
JC: I mean, I’m happy with the way things are, not because of the pseudo-democracy aspect, but I think it throws people by chance together, and I think that’s important.
AH: I agree in a way, but on the other hand…
JC: And sometimes it fucks up. Sorry, this will be edited out! [Laughter]
AH: It doesn’t throw people together, because one of the rules is it needs to be four actresses, and things like that.
JC: That’s the red-carpet rule.
AH: Why is half of the jury always actors?
JC: But it’s not this year, is it? Are there four actresses?
AH: Well, the Korean actress, Jeon Do-yeon. Willem Dafoe…
GS: The Iranian actress, Leila Hatami…
AH: In the Seventies and Eighties it was common that a critic was part of the jury. That’s no longer the case.
GS: I think the last time was Peter Von Bagh, I think, a few years ago. And there’s not been anyone since then.
CG: But there should definitely be someone that helps them make it more editorialized. I mean to have the line, the vision we were talking about. Not like a dogmatic vision that would be that would be a statement about cinema in general, but at least to link the choices and make us feel the coherence of the various choices.
JC: I would defend Cannes. I have been behind the scenes at festivals a lot, and I know how—I don’t want to say how hard it is, everything is hard. But there are so many considerations—availabilities of calendar, countries to please, there is diplomacy—that I think at the end of the day they do quite a good job. And I don’t think the system is broken.
GS: So, how about Andrei Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin, Best Screenplay for Leviathan? First of all, we should comment on Jane Campion’s inability to pronounce the names of not only prize winners but fellow jury members, her mangling of Zvyagintsev’s name being the most egregious. I can’t pronounce the name either, but I would’ve at least written it down phonetically on a bit of paper.
AH: It’s a sign of incivility, I would say, that she didn’t even prepare enough to—
JC: Perhaps emotion. Let’s be kind.
GS: She’s the jury president. She had probably 24 hours to get that stuff straight.
AH: And they must have discussed this guy. This guy’s name must’ve come up 15 times in the jury discussions, right?
GS: She even mispronounced some of the English-language names.
AH: At the beginning, when she introduced her co-jurors, half of them I did not get. She couldn’t even say Carole Bouquet.
GS: But anyway, Leviathan, Best Screenplay.
JC: I’m a huge fan of the film, and I’m very happy it won, and I knew it wasn’t going to get one of the big awards. I think the screenplay is a very apt one because when I watched it, it reminded me of 19th-century Russian novels that deal with weighty themes, and I think in recent decades there’s been a turning away from tackling big themes—God, life, death, this kind of thing. It’s sneered at. And I think Leviathan did it, and I’m probably quoting someone, because I read a review where it said that there is God, there is the Bible—it’s like reading a Dostoevsky novel. I thought it was a very powerful film.
CG: I think we all agree on the film. We really thought it was a strong competition film. As for the screenplay award, yes, but whenever I hear it gets one award, I’m thinking then about the light, the way it’s photographed. It’s really beautiful as well.
GS: Yeah, it’s interesting they don’t actually give a prize for cinematography.
JC: The wealth is spread enough.
AH: They used to have a technical award. Maybe it’s not obligatory, maybe they can decide to give a technical award or not give it.
JC: What is the exact meaning of Grand Prix versus Prix du Jury? I used to think the Grand Prix was the coup de coeur prize.
AH: No, the Palme d’Or is the first prize and the Grand Prix du Jury is the second prize. The Prix du Jury, it comes even earlier—in the presentation sequence it comes before the Director, so in a way it’s the fourth prize. So Director would be third, and Prix du Jury is just another film that the jury wants to award for its general quality.
JC: I’ve always associated the Grand Prix with divisive films, ones that were adored by some members of the jury, while the Palme was the more consensual. But maybe this is completely mistaken.
AH: I remember Kinatay by Brillante Mendoza winning the Grand Prix. It often goes to newer or less-agreed-upon filmmakers. So in that sense the Godard/Dolan joint award is a bit untypical this year, I think, for the Prix du Jury. I agree that the Russian film—which for me was one of the five most interesting and best films in the competition—is too rich a film in general, and too mature a film, to simply be… I’m happy it won something, but it’s faint praise. For me it deserved the director award because it has a very majestic notion of mise en scène, it has great work with the actors, I think; Zvyagintsev has a visual eye, he is a great writer. I am not very knowledgeable about his work and I did not much like his previous film Elena, but there has been an extremely rich tradition of Soviet and Russian filmmaking after the 1930s, in the Fifties and Sixties, a tradition of incredible craftsmanship that used to be recognized by critics, in the West. I find it very strange and sad that today’s film culture has lost any knowledge or notion or idea about these traditions. So in that sense, my feeling was that finally there is a new Russian film that can allow people to rediscover that tradition. It may be called old-fashioned or conservative by some, but still it has this maturity and strength.
CG: But it is not also because of the themes, you know… I felt it was a religious movie at heart.
GS: It was also very anti–organized religion.
AH: But Zvyagintsev’s statement supports Charlotte’s point.
CG: It’s very ambiguous. I didn’t read the statement, but I think that even though it is ambiguous, that’s what makes it a really good film, it’s not making one point. I do think that the presence of the transcendental and this whole religious aspect is something that we are not familiar with anymore or don’t necessarily want to be…
AH: But we can fetishize it as long as we talk about Dreyer or Bresson.
JC: Exactly. Or read Dostoevsky.
AH: We do not want this somehow in our contemporary culture. It is a film against the institution of the church, in so many ways. But it does look for something beyond the material life.
CG: It’s funny because I went to the press conference and all the questions were about his freedom to create in today’s Russia, and obviously he couldn’t answer these questions directly. But on the other hand, you could read the film as not at all against power in today’s Russia. But there is a political horizon in the fact that if you are religious, you know that there is a law that transcends the current official law. Therefore, it becomes political to bring back religion.
AH: But you don’t need to be religious for that Walter Benjaminian messianic point of view, which is half-religious I guess, but could also say the Putin image on the wall will be dust in a few years and…
GS: There were a number of sequences involving legal processes where you’re given a kind of pseudo-law, where rule of law is enacted through the reading of verdicts that’s blatantly bankrupt, and the alignment between the mayor and the priest…
AH: …shows the corruptness of the official church system. Think of the moment when the mayor asks the lawyer: “So what do you want? You have me in your pocket now, what do you want?” And he thinks the lawyer would want him to give back the house. When the lawyer says, “No, 3.5 million, that’s what we should be owed,” then the mayor says: “Ah, easy! That can be done.”
CG: The guy bought the church for his own redemption. He instrumentalized the very idea of redemption. But God is still…
AH: But in the mayor’s sense, as a totally functional politicized God, where any notion of real transcendence is long gone. Whereas the film has this idea that… That’s what the other priest is for, who tells the story of Job. The Leviathan of the title doesn’t just refer to that. It’s this coalition of state and the church.
JC: But it is also what allows man to transcend the state of nature where life is nasty, brutish, and short. I am sure there is a Hobbes reference.
AH: Yes, in his statement he talks about that.
JC: Which is why the film is great, because it’s not just a simple condemnation of Putin’s Russia. And the film was funded like Sokurov’s Faust—well, no, maybe not by Putin himself—but it was funded by the government, by the national institutions.
GS: On to the Prix du Jury ex aequo of Mommy and Jean-Luc Godard’s Adieu au langage: I have to say it’s a wishy-washy cop out to make two very different films share this. But I’m glad there’s an acknowledgment of Adieu au langage. It towered over everything else in the festival for me.
JC: I’m a fan of Mommy. I have not seen Adieu au langage and I didn’t go today, I went to see Whiplash, because you told me that since I cannot see 3-D, I will miss most of it. I am a fan of Mommy. I’m starting to think that I am a fan of excess and ambition and huge egos, whether it’s in tackling huge themes like religion and the corruption of humanity, or in Dolan. I think he’s still very young, he can be irritating and his films flawed, but I think there is an energy, there is a creativity, there is an enthusiasm that I haven’t felt in a long time. And that is infectious on the screen; it’s a firework. He is very inventive. There is a lot of ego and a lot of narcissism too, but I think sometimes you have the faults of your qualities. You cannot be at 25 with five films under your belt, four of them in Cannes, several prizes and all that, if you do not have a modicum of narcissism and ego. I think Mommy is by far his most solid film.
CG: I agree.
JC: And to be honest, much as I like him, when I first saw the title in competition, Mommy, I thought: “Okay, is he going to play back his first film, is he going to forever shoot I Killed My Mother?” But it’s a completely different film. Shared prizes—I think there’s something great about counterweights and I think there’s also something easy. So I’m always a little torn.
AH: I think in this case, it is not the easy way out. Whoever it was on the jury who tried to make the statement, I think it’s meant to be a statement. I find it an utterly banal and utterly saddening statement, but I think it is a statement. I think an existing idea is expressed by this shared award because there is a certain tendency in French film culture now that assumes there is a new, new, new, new wave at the moment, raising its head in the last two or three years. Several of the films that Cahiers du cinéma singled out in 2013 were shown in various sections here last year. I find all of them incredibly weak and uninteresting.
Adieu au langage
AH: And they mentioned Dolan, crazily, at 24 or 25, as the not French, but Quebecois paterfamilias—the French-speaking young filmmaker who is, in a way, the leader of this new wave…
GS: That I don’t get at all.
AH: That was the discourse last year. I don’t know if he wants that. But he’s put there. Maybe Charlotte can say this is not true, but I felt it very strongly last year. And this year by saying Dolan and Godard, they are saying that there is a continuous rejuvenation of a certain French cinema that we all associate with the nouvelle vague. And it comes back again and again. And it’s an eternal spirit of the French film culture. And that to me is one of the big lies of contemporary global film culture, that there is any interesting movement in French cinema at the moment. There isn’t.
JC: But I really wouldn’t classify him as a French filmmaker.
GS: The French have sort of claimed him though.
JC: Well, yes, but they claim Abbas Kiarostami too. But I know Quebec culture very well and I grew up in France. And I do think he is loved by France, but his cinema is so very Quebecois. It requires French subtitles, actually.
AH: I was just saying he’s being used for a certain role in that.
CG: What I really like about the film, and I do think it’s his best film, is his dialogue. There’s a lot of hysteria in the moments between the two women, and the woman and her son. It’s very well written. I’ve seen quite a few Quebecois movies, and I wasn’t as drawn to the language as with this one. And the way he writes dialogue, it’s really not just an exotic taste for a different French. He has a lot of energy and he works the language itself. Maybe it’s heresy to say it, but the Dolan film and the Godard film do share an attention to form, in very different ways. And I’m not talking about the bad aspect of Dolan—which is the music-video formal aspect—but more the language itself, the dialogue. That’s what really struck me in Mommy.
GS: And I guess another correspondence, if we follow your take on the idea of the continuity between the Nouvelle Vague and the current new French cinema, is that neither of these people is French. Godard is Swiss, and Dolan is Quebecois.
CG: And Godard is not at all in the New Wave, he’s not prolonging the New Wave.
AH: But for most people, he still represents that moment in film history.
CG: I’m not sure the French critical film culture you’re talking about really truly associates those younger French guys who are really just redoing the New Wave. They just reinvented hot water, as we say in French—there’s just not that much reinvention. I think it’s two different things. Dolan is much more a younger generation, more trashy pop culture integrated into whatever good there is. At first I was distinguishing within his films… I was parting the good and the bad, and now I think that you can’t. It’s really postmodern, I guess.
AH: For a strange reason, I remember seeing his first film, I Killed My Mother, and quite liking it. And to me it’s still the most authentic of his films.
CG: But it’s similar to this one.
JC: It felt more autobiographical.
AH: But I Killed My Mother didn’t feel like a film that poses as various things. This is a posey guy, and he makes posey films, which is okay by me. In his first film, the different sides of this posiness seemed to work together. And then, like other filmmakers when they become known or celebrated for something, they start integrating what they believe are the reasons for having become celebrated into their next film and the film after that. My favorite example is always David Lynch after Blue Velvet. He started to believe the hype, or ideas of Lynchian cinema that were proposed, and from Wild at Heart on, he became, with exceptions, much less interesting to me, because there was suddenly a kind of self-awareness there that took in the critical discourse.
I haven’t followed the Dolan discourse to any degree that I should say this, but I just became aware that I found his first film the most interesting.
GS: In English, we would say that that’s a case of believing your own press.
CG: But it’s a dialogue with film culture.
AH: Definitely, yeah.
JC: It’s funny, the women are kinder to him at this table.
AH: Not only at this table. And one reason is that the film features two great ladies in their mid-forties—the two women next to the young boy—and rich and aggressive and manifold women roles in that age group are relatively rare, and Dolan should be credited for that. That’s why it would have been a nice choice to share the female acting award between those two Canadian actresses instead of awarding someone who I also find great—Julianne Moore. It would have been more of cinema to pick the two Canadian women for that award.
GS: Foxcatcher gets best directing, or Prix de la Mise en Scène, as they for some reason insist on calling it in France.
CG: It doesn’t sound like the right one to me. I was impressed by Steve Carell’s performance. I do think Bennett Miller is good. But to the point of giving him a mise en scène prize, maybe because mise en scène in French film culture is…
AH: Such a loaded term?
CG: Yeah. It seems a little too big for Foxcatcher. And also the film seemed a little too long. It’s promising and it’s very well-crafted, and the performances are great and all that, but it’s not very…
JC: I think I share Charlotte’s view on it. I was surrounded by people who seemed very for Foxcatcher, so I complain about a kind of dilution that seemed to go on and on and it lost me. And to others, this very feeling of dilution and losing you was on the contrary, the wonderful mastery of restraint, of never letting things explode on screen, and of the slow, slow buildup. I think that he was good at avoiding bombast.
AH: It’s one of the good films here. I think best director is a bit weird. Even though the film he made before, Moneyball, was also very good. It’s good directing but it’s not a great visionary director’s work. That’s why it’s probably not a very fitting award. I am in agreement that Foxcatcher should have won something, maybe the screenwriting or actor’s award, or the Grand Prix du Jury even. I did find in the last few days that especially among American critics, it’s an incredibly divisive film. There are some who have a real distance to this quasi-objective approach. It shows Miller in control of the elements, which is what I liked very much. But to a certain group this is a failure. It’s a somewhat academic approach. It has been compared to Soderbergh-Fincherian approaches. So I’m sort of torn, I don’t know. Because who am I to tell my American friends that for me this is a very rich and mature portrait of class and social relations.
GS: Alex, you’ve never had any trouble correcting your American friends about American movies.
AH: Not about things that, when it’s about what is truthful in relation to American life.
GS: I’d just like to comment on Bennett Miller’s acceptance speech, where he concluded by saying “it’s quite affirming.”
AH: He didn’t seem very passionate.
CG: He seemed tired.
GS: You’re kind.
AH: Let me just add that it is definitely a film that gets the motions, the movements, the relations of bodies, the relations of bodies in space incredibly right, in my mind. I mean, picking that sport is quite different than picking baseball or football in America. It may have its limits, but it’s easy to underrate a film of that quasi-classical movement by saying it’s not a very visionary directorial style.
CG: I would have switched the award with Zvyagintsev. And Zvyagintsev would have gotten the best director.
AH: Probably. That would have been a smart idea.
JC: I agree with you to a certain extent, but I don’t know if I would have switched. I didn’t find the screenplay… I think it’s more what he did with the screenplay than the screenplay itself that was good and full of stature. The screenplay by itself was not what struck me. It’s what he did with it. So while I would have loved Zvyagintsev to get the directing prize, I’m not sure at the end of the day I would have given Foxcatcher the screenwriting prize. We’re all agreeing that it’s not a bad film and not a bad director—it’s just that there was a lack of passion.
GS: How about the Grand Prix, which is Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders. Jane Campion’s press conference at the start of the festival suggested that female filmmakers were going to get special consideration because she complained pointedly about the underrepresentation of women in the lineup. And my great fear was that it was going to go to Naomi Kawase’s mediocre Still the Water. I’m much happier that a major prize went to The Wonders.
AH: What you’re saying already brackets this prize with an outside criterion.
GS: I think outside criteria are always brought into these things.
AH: For me, this is the second best film in competition. So for it to receive the second-best prize is the only perfect choice the jury made. They didn’t pick the right first one. I didn’t see the one they picked but The Wonders is a great film. So what you’re saying may be true, but this line of argument runs the danger of saying ah, of course, the Italian woman’s film needed to get something, because Jane Campion made it clear a woman would have to get something. Luckily, we had a great film by a woman director in this competition.
GS: I also think this is one of the best films in competition. I thought it was very singular and I never knew for a minute where it was going to go. I think she’s got a very original voice. It deserved a major prize but I’m just making an observation about the dynamics of the jury process.
CG: I really liked it. And I liked the fact that it felt very organic, be it in the fact she doesn’t cut very often but also in the way she shows this family as almost incestuous, but it never goes that far. It’s very hard to make you feel things are organic unless you do the usual and overuse the handheld camera, and it’s become a cliché. She really invents something else. I felt I was sometimes watching De Seta. Rohrwacher incorporates an ethnographic aspect, when the ladies sing. And at the same time it incorporates the fact that, yes, all that culture is already being recycled and resold to TV.
AH: And at the same time it’s set in the place where Etruscan culture came from. So you have as a shadow in the film this ancient Italian culture and you have present-day media culture, with this cheesy TV show. And you have the real life of the people in between.
CG: It’s all very well held together. And it could have been a critique of reality TV like Matteo Garrone’s Reality, but it’s not that at all. It’s beautiful that through the TV show Rohrwacher actually reaches the De Seta moment, when the ladies sing, for example.
GS: I was also glad that TV wasn’t depicted as a completely debased, vulgar, corrupt enterprise.
AH: The Fellinian sides of love of popular culture, of truly popular culture, that’s still included in that portrait of that TV show.
JC: I came out of that film and the only thing I’ve been wanting to do since is see her first film. I loved the film. There was a uniqueness in this voice. I think she’s poised to become a great filmmaker. I can’t wait to watch her next one.
GS: I think it’s a huge advance on Corpo Celeste, which suggested the potential that Rohrwacher had, and this film realizes that potential.
AH: But I have a question to Charlotte, as the French colleague at this table. This film received the worst ratings in the French press, by a significant margin. I’m not making you accountable for the French press, but…
JC: You are accountable, Charlotte, you represent French criticism at this table!
AH: I’m looking for an explanation. Le Film Français has I think 24 French critics and media represented in their chart. And it’s all one or no stars for The Wonder. And it’s really by far the least liked of all competition films in Le Film Français. Do you have any explanation why there is such a consensus, when there is no consensus on most other films?
CG: I don’t know if it’s a specifically French thing, but I’m wondering if the very fact that it feels organic is choking for some people. It feels like it never ends, like it never stops.
AH: That it is formless, you mean.
CG: Not necessarily formless. Well, formless just like the family. You think they’re going to part, they’re going to split, and they don’t. They keep sticking to each other.
JC: And it’s so unhealthy, the atmosphere.
CG: I think it provokes some very adverse reactions. So I’m not that surprised that it would polarize.
GS: This is another example of a film that features a character who is never clearly explained, the other woman, Coco.
JC: It’s the sister.
GS: Do you know that, or do you just assume that?
JC: They mentioned it at some point. It’s his sister. That’s why she speaks German.
CG: I didn’t hear it. I was wondering if she was.
AH: Many things are only hinted at. There is a hint of a political and maybe even terrorist background to these people, political activism.
JC: They talk about the Baader at some point.
AH: So maybe they came there to hide from where they came from, in Switzerland or in Germany. It’s also interesting, I saw it as something that should be criticized, that father character’s German is not pure German. To anyone from a German-language country, it’s immediately clear that this guy speaks German with an accent. And the actor is a Belgian dancer. That’s very interesting because he moves with good body control. So he’s a dancer from Belgium who speaks German okay, and she’s not the type of director who would hope that nobody notices, she means something by casting someone who is also not from Germany. So there is this irritating and quite wonderful unlocalized-ness of the characters.
JC: They speak French too and the French doesn’t sound like France French.
CG: They speak terrible French to each other.
AH: So they met in Paris maybe. And there is a Germanic and Italian background.
GS: Well, the film’s somewhat autobiographical, right?
AH: The leading actress is a Romanian girl. So it’s a weird and beautiful mix of certain European lines and genealogies that becomes something new, like a new utopian Europe.
CG: I think that’s what’s irritating. There’s a lot of work off-screen and also on what you don’t see in the screenplay because you start in media res.
JC: I have often been carried along by the people I watch a film with and joined their point of view, and then months later changed it. We’ve been criticizing the jury, but we are also the critics ourselves.
GS: Le jury, c’est moi.
JC: Couldn’t you see a lot of them walking out of the film, meeting at La Potinière du Palais, and suddenly… there is a contagiousness sometimes that happens. I know we think that our thoughts are impermeable, but they are permeable.
AH: I’m sure the contagiousness exists, but it’s always groups of people sharing a view. But you have the right-wing paper, you have the local Nice paper, you have the Cahiers…
JC: How did the Communist paper like it?
AH: None liked it. That’s my point. Almost all films both have a yellow palme by someone, at least one, and a sad face, meaning the worst review. Almost all films run the gamut. This film has only negative.
JC: In that same box by Le Film Français, the Dardennes had eight palmes.
GS: That leaves the Palme d’Or, which went to Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep.
CG: I saw it this morning. I really loved it. I didn’t know it would get anything, because it’s a very…
CG: I thought it would be in the Zvyagintsev mode, of heavy metaphysical…
GS: Well, the two films aren’t a million miles away from each other.
CG: That’s right. Especially in the long conversation between the brother and the sister.
GS: Which goes on forever.
CG: And it’s just amazing, no one else does that.
GS: I’m sort of glad no one else does that. It was a little trying.
CG: For me it wasn’t.
GS: Well, I thought the film began amazingly, and for the first 40 minutes I was really gripped by it. But it seemed to dissipate during the main section of the film, and then it came out again on the other end and once again it was engrossing. We can talk about Ceylan in general as someone who has been advancing and now he’s finally reached the very top.
AH: But started in the mid-Nineties. He’s with us for almost 20 years now.
JC: But he was stuck, he never had the next level confirmation.
GS: Right. It was his turn, in the sense that he’s been in Cannes with a number of other films. And I personally thought his last film, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, is still his best. Didn’t that win a prize?
JC: It did.
AH: I think he won prizes in Cannes twice before.
CG: I just find that he moved though from a cinema that’s dominated by his photographic eye, visual eye, to something more talky.
GS: Well, it is curious, it begins and ends with a very strong kind of visual treatment of what’s going on. But it’s like he embedded a filmed play slap in the middle of the film.
AH: I haven’t seen the film, but reading about it, everyone compares it to Chekov.
CG: The main character is writing—well, he starts writing, it’s like a Proust idea—a history of Turkish theater.
GS: He talks about doing it at the start of the film. He only gets around to actually beginning to write it at the very end of the film. But this is definitely one of the better films in competition. So, these aren’t bad awards, for the most part.
AH: Practically all the good films, except the best of all, which didn’t win anything…
GS: Which one was that?
Clouds of Sils Maria
AH: Olivier Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria. All the other ones received something.
GS: I mean, I thought the Dardennes film was a major feature.
AH: It’s not one of their great films.
GS: Maybe it’s not one of their great films. It didn’t need to win a prize. Anything else anyone else wants to say about the whole thing?
JC: Well, as usual, a few days ago if you had asked me how I was finding this Cannes, I would have told you that there’s not that much. And now, with this tiny bit of distance that we have—because it’s been over for 12 hours—I’m looking at the list of prizes and I’m thinking this was a very strong Cannes.
AH: I think it was a strong Cannes with several very good films, but this is very subjective. I remember the year where Amour and Holy Motors and Paradise: Love were all there in the same festival. For me, it’s like three films on the highest level. And in 1996, with Secrets & Lies, Breaking the Waves, Les Voleurs, Crash. So it has a lot of good films, but that’s what I meant. I saw two films, Pascale Ferran’s Bird People and Clouds of Sils Maria, which took me as a person sitting in a cinema, took me on a trip and gave me a really mature idea of cinema. I completely gave myself to those two films.
JC: Yeah, but it’s not bad if there were already two.
AH: But I remember in most years there were more than two.
JC: You’re being greedy!
CG: I would say the same thing for National Gallery, if we can just add one film that’s not in the competition. I don’t know when Fred Wiseman could get into the competition. I guess never. Michael Moore has been deemed competition worthy. Fred Wiseman hasn’t. That’s one other sad aspect of Cannes history.