Cannes 2017 the best of week two

Festival spirits were boosted with an outrageous horror starring Nicole Kidman, a brilliant art world satire, and a brutal contender for Palme dOr

No visit to Cannes is complete without a trip to the market at the back of the Palais. Hidden from view, like a demented old aunt, sits the realm of zombie rabbits and erotical thrillers, a teeming tide pool of B-movie cinema. Except that this year Ive left the visit too late. When I wander down, early evening on the second Wednesday, the circus is already pulling out of town. It leaves behind a mess of abandoned stalls and plastic crates and myriad screens broadcasting a film called No Signal. Its lonesome in the market after the sales staff have gone, like walking past a row of off-season beach shops, the dinghies and balls trapped behind wire mesh. Creepy, too, because on retracing my steps I find that the main exit is closed, which means taking a circuitous route through a maze of underground walkways. Someone should shoot a horror flick set down in the Cannes market at the festivals end.

Cannes grows old. The punters are tired. Its all they can do to keep themselves vertical. The whispers, meanwhile, are that this has been an uneasy edition, revealing a festival in a fascinating state of flux. The independent film sector is in decline, subscription TV is on the rise and the Netflix row suggests that Cannes is still finding the best way of riding both sides of the seesaw. Even its lavish 70th birthday celebrations (guests included Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Charlize Theron and Claudia Cardinale) seemed a valiant attempt to enshrine the festivals past, perhaps as a means of safeguarding its future. Cannes will endure; its too glorious not to. Right now, though, it remains a big analogue beast, toiling to adapt to a digital planet.

The Florida Project: a heart-stopping portrait of child poverty. Photograph: Marc Schmidt

The main competition needed something outrageous to zap it from its slough, and it came courtesy of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which had sections of the audience energetically booing the screen. Yorgos Lanthimoss freeze-dried revenge saga casts Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman as a moneyed married couple who find themselves targeted by a supernatural teenager (Barry Keoghan), while the tale slaloms from deadpan black comedy through Cape Fear-ish thrills towards a finale of such matter-of-fact horror that it can only be watched through splayed fingers. We wouldnt want to live in Lanthimoss anaesthetised, off-centre world. But his films make us feel that we already do.

On balance, I preferred Sacred Deer to The Beguiled, the festivals other Kidman-Farrell collaboration, although this too had its merits. This time around, Farrells the wounded civil war soldier and Kidman the fragrant headmistress of a girls seminary, tucked back from the road, draped in Spanish moss. Credit to director Sofia Coppola for finding a fresh, feminist route through Thomas Cullinans source novel. She slides Farrells devilish charmer under the sheets of his sick bed and then proceeds to (literally) cut him down to size. The schoolgirls are circling, the sexual tension is mounting. The plot plays out as a prolonged attack of the vapours.

Coming into the festival, pundits were merrily tipping Michael Haneke to win an unprecedented third Palme dOr. But I was unconvinced by Happy End, a cool-eyed dissection of a bourgeois French family, which felt too much a reprise of themes hes tackled with more impact before. Better by far was Ruben stlunds The Square, which sets forth as a pointed art world satire before throwing its arms wide to include us all in the joke. Claes Bang gives a tremendous performance as chief curator at Swedens X-Royal Museum, undone by the viral video that was intended to promote his latest exhibit. What a warm, smart, splendidly humane film this is. Its seeming digressions arent really digressions at all, in that they all spin out of stlunds unifying thesis on public space and personal responsibility. Elisabeth Moss and Dominic West ride shotgun as, respectively, a brittle journalist who keeps a pet chimpanzee and a preening conceptual artist whose address is interrupted by a heckler with Tourette syndrome.

Louis Garrel as Jean-Luc Godard in Redoubtable, which strays close to Austin Powers. Photograph: StudioCanal

By about the midway point, the delegates can sympathise with the plight of Wests character. The festival schedule keeps breaking their flow, shouting for their attention, throwing in extra screenings, repeat showings; photocalls, press conferences and seminars. And when we pile up the steps to the cinema it is almost as if the movies come piling past in the opposite direction, running at us and through us; each one impossible to hang on to for long because, look, heres another, hard at its heels.

BPM is an urgent account of late-80s Aids activism; Rodin an inert monument to the celebrated French sculptor. Noah Baumbachs The Meyerowitz Stories tells a lovely, scratchy New York family story that still rather belies its small-screen Netflix pedigree, while Robert Pattinson jetted in to promote his role as a bankrobber in the Safdie brothers buzzing, boisterous Good Time. I was also impressed by Fatih Akins In the Fade, even though the plot is a little stock and overheated. Diane Kruger plays the bereaved wife and mother, chasing neo-Nazis all the way from the courthouse to the beaches of Greece.

Back in 1968, this festival was effectively shut down by director Jean-Luc Godard, determined to show solidarity with the French protesters. Now that nugget of Cannes history has been unearthed, after a fashion, in Michel Hazanaviciuss Redoubtable, which stars Louis Garrel as the cantankerous new waver and British actor Stacy Martin as his hapless teenage bride. Hazanaviciuss tale is perfectly diverting and played with panache. But it strays close to Austin Powers in the way it reframes 60s radicalism as a series of pop art gestures. Outside the Palais, on ritzy Rue dAntibes, is a high-end boutique that calls itself Mai 68. This, I suspect, is the filmic equivalent.

Does the Cannes lineup need shaking up? Security has been tightened; there was a one-minute silence for the bomb victims in Manchester. And yet this new closed-door policy seems to have been extended to the main competition as well, shutting out some of the more obviously raucous contenders. Further up the Croisette, for instance, the rival directors fortnight sidebar finds space for The Florida Project a heart-stopping portrait of child poverty, evocatively played out around Orlandos flophouse motels. No doubt thats the ideal launchpad for Sean Bakers terrific little film. But some fresh blood in competition would not go amiss.

US director Abel Ferrara turns his camera on the paparazzi. Photograph: Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images

Under my balcony, an American man is hoarsely venting his fury. Hes railing about this; hes railing about that. The rant goes on for a full five minutes before I realise that the figure below is actually Abel Ferrara, the disreputable king of the New York indie scene, one of the last men standing as the event winds down. Hes remonstrating with another man, who might be his assistant or just some unlucky passer-by. This is fucking bullshit! Ferrara yells. I was having a ball and then this fucking happens! If he doesnt pipe down, security will come get him. Hes raging, noisily, against the dying of the light.

Tips for the Palme dOr? Who the hell can say for sure? The judges huddle behind closed doors. The Square, Sacred Deer or Andrey Zvyagintsevs Loveless, which I wrote about last week, would all make worthy winners. Alternatively, the prize could go to A Gentle Creature, the most bold and brutal film in competition; a jagged, roiling prison town nightmare. Over a punishing two-and-a-half hour spell, director Sergei Loznitsa charts the odyssey of impassive Alyonka (Vasikina Makovtseva), who wants to deliver a care package to her husband in jail. Along the way, she finds herself thwarted by bureaucracy, menaced by the police and manhandled by the drunks inside the towns hellish brothel. The picture is savage, intense, with a top note of surrealism; Kafkas greatest hits, as sung by Tom Waits. With exquisite cruelty, the organisers drop A Gentle Creature right near the end of the festival, as a little treat for the exhausted punters. All around the cinema, Im aware of the viewers passing out in their seats and then snoring like buzzsaws. This film is too much to bear; its knocking them out one by one.

About two hours in, Alyonka takes cover in the waiting room of the local station, where the benches are lined with dozing vagrants. There, our heroine is approached by one of her fellow plaintiffs, a crazed Miss Havisham type, who warns that whatever she does, she must not close her eyes. The woman says: Dont fall asleep here or youll get carried off.

This, it strikes me, is a fine cautionary message for the dog days of Cannes, when the true believers risk nodding off at the wheel and the event is left facing an uncertain tomorrow. Wake up, stay alert, this festivals not quite finished yet. If we fall asleep here, then well get carried off.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/may/27/cannes-2017-nicole-kidman-colin-farrell-sofia-coppola-dominic-west-elisabeth-moss

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