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9 June, 2011  ▪  Katerina Barabash

Stars Falling

The latest Cannes Film Festival has once again proved that even the most independent figures cannot avoid politicking

Every year at Cannes there is feverish activity before the festival for fear of failing to see or do something. What if this turns out to be the most important thing? Unfortunately, this is always the case: as soon as you write about Sean Penn not coming, you read about his big press conference. How did he manage to slip past you? And you promise yourself: from now on you will watch the incoming stars as close as possible. While I was making this solemn promise to myself, Arnold Schwarzenegger came for half a day. And I, again, missed it. Eva Herzigová walked along the red carpet in such a mesmerizing attire that cinema was immediately sent to the background.

But then, not really – it was just a flash of emotion. The Cannes Festival in the only one in the world at which you do not want anything except the cinema: not even strolls, banquets or restaurants. You will never watch so many great films anywhere else.

This year classics came in drives: Lars von Trier, TerrenceMalick, AkiKaurismäki, Pedro Almodóvar, Paolo Sorrentino, Kim Ki-duk…

To imagine that Malick would leave without the Palme d'Or for The Tree of Life was as absurd as suspecting the head of the jury Robert De Niro of a proclivity to make extravagant decisions. But he is not this way – he is in fact calm and shuns scandals. Malick and the trophy were marching toward each other and only a sudden apocalypse could divert their paths.

However, the director’s desire to say everything he has come to understand in his life and cram his ideas of the Universe’s mysteries and the “tree of life” —  of which we are not even twigs, but merely the smallest of leaves — into one film resulted in a quite complicated plot. Not everyone will be able to wrap his head around it, but those whose will are sure to be ecstatic. You just have to trust the director knows how to show the connection between the Big Bang, dinosaurs’ strange behavior and reflections of a successful businessman in the 2000s. If you manage this, you are bound to relish the film.

Attending good festivals at which good people present good films on an annual basis, you hope that the best one is honestly selected by the fairest of juries. For art is the most important aspect of the cinema to us.

To be fair, I have to say that this year’s festival came closer to the ideal than many in the previous years – this time it was precisely art that was judged if “judge” is the right word to apply to culture.

Of course, with time any festival, even such a grand, prestigious and apparently independent one as the Cannes Festival, begins to increasingly bow and scrape before new realities. All right, the entire world is doing it now as it finds itself pulled into the global game of politics. However, it used to stay largely within the boundaries of its territory, crossing the border of art only in exceptional cases. This necessity usually arose in totalitarian countries where politics was understood as total government control over all aspects of human activities.

That is the reason why the main scandal of the 2011 Cannes Festival baffled everyone, even those who have never had any warm feelings for the man who caused it, Lars von Trier. This sullen Danish director is a kind of person who, while young, wanted to be in the limelight at any cost, and thus he obtained the grand-sounding “von” to add to his name, accomplishing it in a childishly vain fashion. Since then he has won every conceivable prize a film director can have but still stubbornly persists in his belief that without scandalous pranks he will not be loved as much.

This was perhaps the reason why at the press conference after his new film, Melancholia, he began speak such nonsense that the journalists were not even taken aback – they blushed with shame. He said that he understands Hitler, that Israel is a prick in his eye, that he can be considered a Nazi, etc.

Then he came to his senses and started to apologize. The disgruntled directors of the festival accepted his apologies and after taking a brief pause as long as night announced him persona non grata. They could not have come up with anything worse. The position of loyalty the French adopted turned out to be an obsequious position of the entire world community and a shameful concession to the insatiable beast of political correctness which, incidentally, did not demand anything this time around.

There is no denying that you have to watch your tongue. If you let something wrong slip, you need to be meek enough to accept responsibility. But we are not talking about Trier and his neurotic pranks but about how this greatest, most prestigious, most loved, most courageous and most independent festival could kowtow to politicking. For political correctness is nothing else than a life motto borrowed from Belikov in Chekhov’s Man in a Case: “Lest something bad happen.” Now if the bulwark of quality world cinema is following this reasoning, artists perceive themselves as increasingly less free. This would be a shame.


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