cannes -- the cannes film festival is not about discovering new talent. It's not about discovering new directors or new cinemas. When Cannes rolls out the welcome mat for something new, they like it to come road-tested.
Had Lars von Trier not been one of the founders of the Dogme collective, and had von Trier not previously been honoured for The Element Of Crime, Europa and Breaking The Waves, one suspects that Cannes wouldn't have been nearly as friendly to the new school's work.
This year we've heard that the programmers looked at 800 films in order to choose the 45 included in the Official Competition. So much hard work, and all to come up with the usual suspects: Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Rivette, Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Nanni Moretti and the Coen brothers. They could have booted up the Cannes-o-matic 2000 software and arrived at these guys -- plus Francis Coppola, David Lynch and Manoel de Oliveira.
Much is being made of the big Asian presence at Cannes this year and last. But Cannes has to be the only major international festival at which, in the year 2000, a major Asian presence would still qualify as news. The new Iranian cinema? Been there. Kiyoshi Kurosawa makes it into the Official Selection? Toronto gave him a retrospective two years ago.
Cannes makes a big deal of having two directorial debut films in the Competition. If Sundance announced that it had two first films in the competition, festival director Geoff Gilmore would be burned in effigy in every film school in America.
If you're a North American critic who attends one major international "off-shore" film festival, Cannes is likely the one. It attracts masses of international press and, under Gilles Jacob, has influenced the formation of critical opinion and the creation of a canonical set of directors. When a film advertises that it's "an official selection of the Cannes Film Festival," the statement is meaningful in ways that do not apply to being an official selection at Toronto or Sundance.
This is why people get upset and argue about the prizes here more than at other festivals.
Cannes's influence extends far beyond the month of May. Five of the last seven winners in the best-foreign-language-film category at the Academy Awards -- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, All About My Mother, Life Is Beautiful, Kolya and Burnt By The Sun -- came out of Cannes. (The other two, Karakter and Antonia's Line, came via the Toronto festival.) Or check out what films were shown at the New York Film Festival when Richard Roud was the artistic director, or the program for the Montreal festival, which seems to import Cannes wholesale.
If you look at the cinema through the eyes of the Cannes programmers, you get the impression that the Coen brothers and David Lynch are the most important American filmmakers of the last decade and that there are no important directors under the age of 40. Indeed, given the presence of so many septuagenarian directors at this year's festival, perhaps the best thing to do would be to get up a dead pool -- with bonus points if your director actually dies during a screening of his last film.
You'd also be led to believe that Manoel de Oliveira, whose every appearance in the Selection breaks his own record as oldest director with a film in Competition, is the last of the giants, on a par with Bergman and Fellini and other directors who began in the first golden age of European art films. In fact, during Oliveira's six-decade career, most of his films met with limited commercial success and a lot of critical indifference.
Cannes's clout derives in part from its position on the calendar, which sets it up to dominate the discourse for the year in a way that Sundance, which runs in January, can't and Berlin, in February, doesn't. There's been talk that the powers that be wanted to move it to the fall, but I don't see that ever happening. Move Cannes to the end of summer and suddenly it's no longer setting the agenda -- it's just another film festival jostling for attention with Venice and Toronto.
To complain about the agenda of the Cannes festival is to imply that all film festivals should be out there hunting for the next big thing, the hottest young director, the most daring assault on the traditional standards of the cinema.
If you look for that at Cannes, you've come to the wrong place, even if they did invite Moulin Rouge as the opening-night film this year. For this reason Cannes, for all the disdain in which it holds them, desperately needs the Director's Fortnight and the Critics' Week, the two slates separate from the Official Competition. If series filled with slow-moving art films can be considered disreputable, then these are Cannes's disreputable cousins -- they give audiences a break at an event that would otherwise be strangled by the mandarin refinement of its own sensibility.