Shades and swirls of midnight blue, the official colours of the 63rd Festival De Cannes, blend with the colours and hues of Cote D'Azur's coast and skyline. The blues, under the gaze of the Mediterranean sun or under the glitter of night-time lights, make the festival spaces appear kind of organic. Posters with a snapshot of Juliette Binoche (by Brigitte Lacombe) represent the choice of the festival emblem for 2010, a standing shot of her, right arm curving at an angle over her hair holding a paintbrush… left palm poignantly holding two paint brushes … her sober attire offsets the incandescence of her face.
For 10 days in May (12 to 23) Cannes sings again its annual ode to the seventh art… the power and imagination that drives cinema. Cinematic diversity unfolds as film-making is locked in an embrace and engagement with the toughest and sternest artistic and commercial playground. Tim Burton took position as the President of the Jury of the longs metrages (long feature film section) with an echo of his words “And films have always been like dreams to me, this is a dream come true.”
The glamour odyssey at Cannes has travelled a long way from the famous shots of Kirk Douglas and Brigitte Bardot (in 1953) in their beachwear clicked and captured by the relentless paparazzi. Six hours before the inaugural, soothsayers prophesised that 2010 would be a “thin and dull” festival… and two hours to the inaugural, the Croisette and the sidewalks, leading to the Palais D' Festival and the red carpet, are packed with people. The festival opened with (an out of competition) Ridley Scott's Robin Hood. The slew of stars Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, Salma Hayek, Shekhar Kapur (a member of the Jury), Aishwarya Rai (winking with gay abandon at the crowds and camera) and Eva Longoria arrive in their regalia. Celluloid magic came right down to the street and converged with hysteria (measured responses that Robin Hood was too much of a Hollywood staple came later).Clouds of a recessionary effect on cinema got temporarily obfuscated by the bedazzlement of glamour.
The world's recession, a pertinent theme, linking real and reel life took dominant space in the narrative of films. Inside Job by Charles Ferguson panned out like a documentary 24 frames per second, spooling out linked scenes of interviews and events and hammering out the fact that the fiscal crisis was an avoidable disaster. The audience gave spontaneous claps and whistles to the story of human greed and avarice. Ferguson spoke to the audience with disarming candour about his difficulties and his convictions on the making of such a film. The economist Nouriel Roubini, playing his real role on reel, was sitting one with the audience, his face creased with smiles at the response to the story of the economic recession. Carey Mulligan, with evocative sincerity played Winnie, the daughter of Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone's Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (a tame sequel to the 1987 Wall Street). Mulligan's portraiture of non-negotiable idealism in the face of frontal greed got the audience's huzzah… applause consistent for both the films on the financial meltdown.
It is Juliette Binoche, the official face of the Festival, who pushed the sensory envelope further and brought grace notes to a performance (fashion critics chaffed at her ensemble's gaffe on the red carpet) returning to Cannes in Abbas Kiarostami's Copie Conforme (Certified Copy) set in Southern Tuscany. A film made by an Iranian director in English, French and Italian. Abbas Kiarostami used the podium to elucidate an artist's hardship, that of his colleague Jafar Panahi, who is forbidden to travel out of Iran. A chair at Cannes was kept vacant as a mark of respect and tribute to the Director who was to take his place on the Jury 2010. Juliette Binoche too expressed her artistic solidarity with Jafar Panahi (his film White Balloon won the Camera d'Or at Cannes in 1995). Overwhelmed with emotions and sadness her eyes grew discernibly moist.
Magic and tears of the celluloid came calling at Cannes.
The curators of the Festival De Cannes have crafted the scale and mood to be immense… a budget upwards of Rs.100 Crores, over 300 TV crew, over 1,000 Authors/ Directors and 25,000 film industry professionals in attendance, representing over 115 countries. As the glamour brigade parties and the critics continue with the polemics of whether the award ceremony carries the risk of being too reductive, Cannes conducts business like a river in spate. The Marche du Films (Film Market) showcases over 1,000 movies, primarily for selling. Cinematic interfaces and commerce court each other in mixed rhythms.
To soften the hard edges of the forceful competitive and commercial character, the festival curators texture the festival with categories like “Un Certain Regard”, to respect cinema that did not make it to the competition category. Using the misty lenses of nostalgia, “Cannes Classics” are screened. The 63rd festival screened Mrinal Sen's restored film Khandahar (by Reliance MediaWorks) to packed auditoria. The ailments of the film, its flickers, dirt, hardware glitches and grainy textures were grafted out. The restored Khandahar revealed that while it had the delicacy of a silken cord, it also had the tensile strength of metal. At the screening and later at the India Pavilion, 87-year-old Mrinal Sen, in his trademark kurtapyjama, spoke about how it was not just his film but he too, felt personally restored. At a podium which chose to honour him, he, with magnanimous humility, spoke about the maiden venture of a young colleague from India whose work had made it to the Un Certain Regard category (Vikramaditya Motwane's Udaan), despite the tribulations of raising funds (a section of the international press did ponder aloud why a nation of over one billion that produces over 1,000 films a year has lesser presence on the world cinematic screen).
The Jury chooses
“A pattern was established … of Cannes as a place where jurors were blind to the great films in their midst”, said Andrew Sarris, an American film critic. In any competition there are selections, winners and losers. The Jury's verdict will be received with disdain and agreement alike. The 63rd Festival Jury chose Thai Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (a story of a man spending the last days of his life in a countryside) for the its central honours, the Palme d'Or. Close on its heels the Grand Prix went to a French film, Of God and Men (a true story of terrorism, monks and compassion). The Best Director award went to Mathieu Amalric for his French-English film Tournee (On Tour), where original strip-tease artists played pivotal roles and carried the cinema forward. Cannes poster girl Juliette Binoche won the Best Actress for Copie Conforme (Certified Copy) in her portrayal as the owner of an art gallery…
Yet another list gets attached to the Cannes Diary. A list that will be hotly contested, reviewed, slashed, agreed to, debated upon. While cinema viewing in Cannes's tens of theatres is a community act, the language and grammar of the camera is perceived in an utmost individualistic and private way. Where nothing comes between human perception and the screen. As the curtains come down on the world's largest film festival the cinephiles sing their anthem in Cannes “God Save Cinema”.