In late May, an age-old buzz was heard from Côte d'Azur. It was the buzz of the 67th Cannes Festival, which suddenly appeared haggard and forgot its own recent extravagant past. The jury, presided over by the boring New Zealander, Jane Campion succeeded in giving out prizes correctly to a fault, predictable ad nauseam. And even the views of film critics coincided with the views of the judges, which is actually not quite normal. Once the film by Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Winter Sleep took first place in the critics’ rating, it stayed in that position until the very end, winning the illustrious Palme d’Or prize. Everyone immediately and unreservedly decided that Timothy Spall, who played William Turner in Michael Leigh’s Mr. Turner deserved the Best Actor award. This never happens! Boring.
However, the decision corresponded with the very spirit of the current cinema forum. As always, there were plenty of good films, but none of them evoked either indignation or fierce journalistic turmoil after being shown when media representatives gather into groups and get into heated debates about the films shown. Their discussions often end at the nearest restaurant with a glass of wine – this is the way they generally reach appeasement. But this time, everything was serious and trips for a glass of red wine were already of an amicable nature.
The Ukrainian Pavilion
At the same time, it is not just a finger being held on the pulse: people here live in unison with this pulse. The new documentary film Maidan by Serhiy Loznytsia was shown at the height of the festival. Loznytsia, a former Kyivan, was filming a new film, Babi Yar in the Ukrainian capital, but with the start of the Maidan, understood that this fictional film could wait. History was more important right now. This resulted in a truly epic three-part tragedy. The national anthem resounds before each part – performed by a choir – made up of the people. Part One – everyday preparations for the turn in history. Volunteers prepare food, the future masters of Ukraine’s fate wander around the Maidan, as do onlookers. Someone is dancing somewhere. Elsewhere, the national anthem is sung to the accompaniment of a guitar. Cauldrons of soup are simmering, girls give out sandwiches. The last part – the remembrance service held in honour of those who died. Between the two – action, where people rush around in the fiery blazes, the suffering eyes of the wounded pleadingly look at rescuers, a layer of smoke clouds the sky. And, as befits a real tragedy, spreading grief, is regenerated into catharsis and hope, that the death of the heroes will cultivate new shoots of a free spirit. The film was generally recorded on a static camera, which seems to imprint revived frescoes. They reflect the being of the entire nation at a turning point for the country. This state is comprised of people and only them: the film does not show any politicians, they are not even needed here, because in the view of the director, the Maidan is a huge elemental force, which at a certain point, moved forward against lies, theft and for its own dignity in an organised manner
The entire Promenade de la Croisette loudly applauded Loznytsia, who climbed the famous red stairs to the accompaniment of a song from the Maidan: “Vitya, ciao! Vitya, ciao! Vitya, ciao, ciao, ciao!”
On the previous day, the Ukrainian pavilion presented foreign film buffs with several short films on the Maidan. Local TV channels aired several news items, in which viewers left the hall in tears, and on camera admitted that although they had heard a lot about the Maidan, they had not expected such upheaval. This was exactly the same reaction as that of the audience watching The Tribe by Ukrainian director Myroslav Slaboshpytsky. A drama about deaf children and their “internal realm”, the film stars deaf actors who only speak in sign language. It is no wonder that the audience cried: the film which, by the way, does not have any subtitles or dubbing, won three prizes (including the Grand Prix) at the Critic’s Week – one of the parallel competitions in Cannes.
It is probably only the social-political theme that can explain the selection of the film by Michel Hazanavicius, The Search, for the competition: It deals with the second Chechen campaign, the search of a young boy for his family, which died in the tumult of an unjustified war. In this film, Russian Federal Armies are not simply painted in shades of black, but a huge evil caricature. It is a shame that Hazanavicius, who filmed the magical film, The Artist, for which he won the main Oscar two years ago and seemed to have made his mark on the global film horizon as the creator of attractive cinema, broke onto alien, unfamiliar territory, like a bull in a china shop.
By the way, at the press preview of The Search, there was an incident, which confirmed that the attitude towards Russia and Russians is steadily changing: from goodwill to previous cold rejection. As a rule, journalists at such shows, clearly determine their assessment of a film. In contrast to ceremonial premieres, where the public, dressed in tuxedos, makes lengthy standing ovations for any film (this is standard here), media representatives were not ashamed to whistle and “boo” their dissatisfaction, both during, and after the conclusion of the film. Whistling was heard in the audience as soon as the film’s final credits appeared on the screen. No one knows who whistled, but for some reason, those present thought that it was Russian journalists, who were offended by Hazanavicius and his ill-disposed attitude towards their country. The words: “Shut up, Russians!” were shouted in the auditorium.
Hazanavicius was not the only one to step into unchartered territory to the inevitable detriment to his own artistic image: the sombre intellectual-surrealist David Cronenberg switched to sharp social satire. And he also went seriously wrong. Filled with mega-stars (including Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska and Robert Pattinson), his competition film, Maps to the Stars, paints a picture of the downside of Hollywood, not to mention American bohemia, as well as (why mess with trifles) all society in the USA today. First and foremost, it reflected the stereotype of the subject. The director did not have enough regular provocations for the satire to achieve its purpose. On the other hand, the screen also showed the absolutely stunning Julianna Moore, who embodied possibly the best of her screen images (the jury, which generally does not award prizes to Americans, singled the actress out for the Best Actress prize). In her 50+ years, Moore is so audaciously bold as an actress, and her readiness to appear in more than questionable episodes, from the aesthetic point of view, perturbs and enslaves to the extent that everything involuntarily nullifies any attempts to make fun of the “dream factory”. Is there any spot for satire in a place where such bold women live and work? As for lies, deceit, insincerity and hypocrisy, we can allow ourselves to doubt in the supremacy of Hollywood on this path.
This was also confirmed by Bennet Miller, moreover brilliantly and more interestingly than Cronenberg, who presented his film Foxcatcher in the main competition, which won him the Best Director’s Palm. It is not understood whether the English title of the film should be translated at all, because this is the name of a sports team. While Cronenberg paints his satirical canvas with vivid colours that brim over with all the rhinestones in the world, Miller executes his work with drawn-in lips and a slightly discontented facial expression. This is the expression constantly worn by the main hero, the eccentric millionaire Du Pont (a heavily made-up Steve Carell, one of the most famous and most sought-after comedians in the USA, who unexpectedly appeared in a tragic role). The film tells the true story of the above-mentioned moneybags, who decided to sponsor the wrestling team and ultimately shot the trainer after the team’s defeat in the Olympic Games. Du Pont is a real person, who had mental health issues as a result of difficult relations with his mother (played in the film by Vanessa Redgrave) and killed the team’s coach, David Schulz for supposedly being part of an international conspiracy to kill him. Du Pont died in prison in 2010.
Until the latest Dardenne brother’s film, Two Days, One Night was shown, the Cannes Film Festival seemed, fairly decent, if not boring, European-style, with gallant displays of refined happiness on the part of the savvy cinema audience. They experienced delight in Michael Leigh's Mr. Turner: from both Timothy Spall, who played the lead role, and from the outstanding camera, which was able to capture the typical Turner landscapes without the use of any computer tricks, serving as the backdrop for the action. It is here that everyone bowed to Mauritanian Abderrahman Sissako, who filmed a slow, but extremely expressive revolutionary drama on the life of victorious Islamic fundamentalists. Here is where people benevolently rubbed the nape of their necks, watching Tommy Lee Jones, who also directed the film, play the role of an ageing cowboy, wandering the prairies in the company of a group of women, in the strange film, The Homesman. People here were frankly disgusted after the terrible psychological drama The Captive, by the once bright Canadian-Armenian, Atom Egoyan. It was only when I saw Two Days, One Night, that I understood that the festival had actually begun. Without any doubt, the Dardenne brothers had once more made the best film of the Cannes competition. What can you say?!
35 year old character, Sandra (the magical and engaging Marion Cotillard), has been laid off work. At which, this was done on the basis of voting by workers at the company where she works – 16 people facing a dilemma: either they decide to lay off their colleague and each receives a bonus of EUR 1,000, or she remains, but no one receives this additional payment. After some persuasion, the boss agrees to conduct a second round of voting, and Sandra spends the weekend visiting all the participants in the upcoming decision on her fate and trying to explain to them how much needs this job, what with two children to care for and a husband, who is not particularly successful. In response, they explain how much they need the EUR 1,000.
This round of her co-workers becomes Sandra’s Golgotha, which she climbs on tortuous paths. Along the way, she formulates the text of a judgment on all modern society, and forces the audience to do the same. However, at the end of the journey, the Dardenne brothers suddenly make a declaration of love: to this society that has taken a wrong turn, and for each individual person that is a part of it. The simplicity and clarity of the concept, the absolute ability to transform a dialogue made up of five phrases, which don’t appear to mean anything, a multi-layered picture, and a character wearing a pink T-shirt – into hope for humanism that is not yet dead. Who, other than the Dardenne brothers can do this? But giving the brothers a third Palme d’Or would certainly be a very atypical decision. So the jury took the traditional route. And with this in mind, it chose Ceylan and his Winter Sleep – a more than three-hour-long fragment of the life of a Turkish equivalent of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. This director has already won two Grand Prixes in Cannes – the second most important prize, and awarding him with what is actually the main prize was such a logical step, that no explanations were needed. It is as if Ceylan grew his own Palm, having fertilised it in advance with its two less prestigious, but nonetheless significant awards.
This year’s Cannes Festival was short on intrigue: possibly the only one surrounded the Russian film in the competition: Andrei Zvyagintsev finally finished Leviathan, the story of a small entrepreneur, Nikolai, who lives in the polar regions, and tries to withstand all the misfortune that has struck him with dignity. The international press generated an avalanche of enthusiastic reviews, which unanimously promised Zvyagintsev a “gold”. Observers split into two groups. One was persuaded that the Russian director would take the Palme d’Or: saying that in the current political situation, this would be the most significant decision. In the film, the Russian Federation is presented as a country where everything that lives, dies, where lies, hypocrisy, humiliation and crime rule. Others were convinced that even if Zvyagintsev does win for a third time, Russia has little to look forward to as far as Europe is concerned. The golden mean won: the film was awarded the prize for Best Screenplay. Leviathan – is a biblical creature, symbolic of evil elements and the devil himself, present in the Book of Job. However, the film seems more relevant to Thomas Hobbes’ views, who, in the mid-17th century, wrote a book of the same name about a state and its destructive force on an individual person.
At this festival, it became clear that the escalation of political conflict on the planet and the attempts of certain extremely large countries to return to the forgotten cold war state, have determined the area of interest of world cinema for the near future. Then everyone will probably understand: people, who as before, are ready to reproach art and politics for relations that are too close, most likely have no relation to either the former, or the latter.
The Ukrainian Week asks American think-tankers and diplomats three questions: 1. Is Ukraine seen as part of Russia’s sphere of influence in the US? 2. Why a part of the American establishment believes that Ukraine should be attributed to Russia’s orbit? 3. What can Ukraine do to counter this approach?