Cannes 2017: a mid-festival report

From the Netflix controversy to the story of a Toronto producer’s dream project, here’s what’s been lighting up the Croisette


Toronto producer’s dream comes true

Two years ago, Toronto producer Mike MacMillan met French producer Eric Dupont on the terrace of the Grand Hotel in Cannes and said “Let’s make a movie and bring it here in 2017.”

Improbable as it is, that’s what happened when Paris-born Vladimir de Fontenay’s debut feature, Mobile Homes, premiered as part of the Director’s Fortnight program. MacMillan watched as the director and stars of the film took part in a Q&A from an appreciative audience Sunday afternoon.

De Fontenay’s crisply observed, well-paced naturalism follows a young mother, her son and dangerously disarming boyfriend as they hustle their way from motel to motel on the northern New York State border before moving into a mobile home community.

“It really is a dream come true,” MacMillan told me as he looked forward to experiencing the film’s premiere. He’d come to Cannes five or six times pushing various projects until this one hit pay dirt.

Apart from the film’s invigorating two stars (Brits Imogen Poots and Callum Turner, who worked together in the horror hit Green Room), the cast is all-Canadian (headed by Vancouver-based Callum Keith Rennie) and includes gifted amateur, eight-year-old Frank Oulton, “nabbed from a farm an hour outside Halifax” according to MacMillan. The supporting talent is “otherwise entirely from the Toronto area.”

Mongrel Media (who are selling the film internationally) announced they acquired Canadian rights shortly before Sunday’s screening. Torontonians will almost certainly have their first chance to see it at TIFF in September.

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When Okja, starring Tilda Swinton, screened, it received boos when the Netflix logo appeared.

Netflix: the elephant in the room

There was a furor around Netflix having two films in competition this year without guaranteeing the films would be shown in French theatres. At the opening press conference, jury president Pedro Almodóvar said that digital platforms should not take the place of movie theatres. He also said that he personally does not believe that the Palme d’Or should be given to a film that will not be shown on the big screen.

Jury member Will Smith jumped to Netflix’s defense (he’s starring in the upcoming cop flick Bright, in which Netflix has invested $90 million) pointing out that his three children have seen films they would never have seen via Netflix, yet still go out to movie theatres twice a week.

Other jury members were willing to give credit to Netflix for investing in the creative process by funding and promoting independent movies.

When Okja (one of the Netflix films in competition) was screened for the first time, there was considerable booing at the sight of the Netflix logo. Things soon cooled down and the controversy was left to fester. Festival organizers declared that next year no film will be selected for competition that does not have a French theatrical release.

Increased security

Longer lines and more time spent standing in them is the new world the Festival is living in. On the plus side, it’s the Riviera and the skies have been mostly clear and blue. I liken the experience to waiting to see the Blue Jays in the ALCS last fall at the Rogers Centre, ramped up by a factor of three.

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Todd Haynes’s magical Wonderstruck is one of several fine Cannes films about kids.

4. The kids are alright

Todd Haynes’s Wonderstruck (in competition) uses Ed Lachman’s keen cinematic eye along with some special effects wizardry to tell the novelistic tale of two teenage runaways, separated in time by 50 years, with the same ambition – to find an absent parent. The depiction of the 1927 and 1977 time frames is magical, like a character in itself.

In Bong Joon-ho’s over-the-top ecologically based modern fable, Okja, a 14-year-old Korean girl loves her hippopotamus-sized GMO-engineered pig so much she uses all her smarts to rescue it from a deadly fate once it’s kidnapped and shipped to America. With Tilda Swinton playing evil and not-so-evil twins in charge of corporate shenanigans, Okja is a film for all but the most world-weary.

But not all kids

Three other competition films feature families imperiled by their offspring. In the most accomplished and resonant, Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless (currently the critics’ favourite), a couple undergoing a bitter divorce are so self-absorbed they fail to immediately notice that their son’s gone missing. Zvyagintsev’s acutely observant depiction of the couple broadens to an indictment of the Russian political state itself – all without missing a beat.

In Yorgos Lanthimos’s unsettling, gripping homage to Greek tragedy, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, a 16-year-old boy whose father died on the operating table takes revenge on a cardiac surgeon, with dire consequences.

Michael Haneke’s Happy End is a cynical indictment of the bourgeoisie done in the director’s inimitable style, well-paced and compelling. The 12-year-old niece of the head of a vast family business is the chief instrument of Haneke’s compelling case.

Hong Sang-soo’s perfect gem

Love affairs don’t always end the way you think. In The Day After, Korean director Hong Sang-soo’s perfectly crafted little gem, a book publisher/critic has been having an affair with his former employee. His wife finds out but mistakenly confronts the new assistant, the radiant Min-hee Kim (Hong’s muse) whose charming performance deserves the best actress prize. I’d love to see the Jury Prize go to this film, which is seemingly lighter than air.

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Jeanne Balibar’s performance as the iconic French singer Barbara should gain her wider recognition.

Binoche’s and Balibar’s incandescence

With her intimate, knowing, nuanced characterization of a divorced painter looking for love, Juliette Binoche dominates Claire Denis’s Bright Sunshine In (which opened the Directors’ Fortnight), creating one of her most memorable roles in a long and distinguished career. The director’s first comedy, a carnal one at that, is hugely successful and very French. Denis, known for her rigorous examination of serious subjects, immerses herself in Binoche’s quest with gusto. It’s like being fed strawberries and champagne.

From the first time we hear her sing – tuneful emotional outpourings accompanied by her own piano chords broken like waves – Jeanne Balibar captures the essence of French iconic singer Barbara with a deep musical intensity and mines the riches of her persona throughout the film that bears her name. Barbara, the most beloved female singer in France since Piaf, is largely unknown outside the Francophone sphere.

If Balibar’s uncanny impression doesn’t bring her wider recognition, it’s hard to imagine what will. Director Mathieu Amalric’s portrait is so accurate that he can shift between footage of the real performer and that of his own star (and ex-wife) with no visible loss of credibility.

Twenty feet from stardom

I was standing in line for the Amos Gitai doc, West Of The Jordan River when a tense Elle Fanning brushed past my shoulder with her minder in tow. The next night at one of the Festival’s 70th anniversary events, an homage to André Téchiné, I was dazzled by the wattage of three lights of the director’s 50-year career: Isabelle Huppert, Binoche and his “favourite” Catherine Deneuve. The anniversary events are mounting up, culminating in the showing of TV episodes on the big screen: by former Palme d’Or winners, Jane Campion (the second season of Top Of The Lake) and David Lynch (episodes one and two of Twin Peaks: The Return).

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