Three Times

May 11–22, 2005

Front cover: disclaimer?

I returned from Cannes with my mind full of images, reflections and discussions about the 48 films from the various official and non-official selections (1) I saw. But rather than delving deep into aesthetic or thematic dissections of each of them, an overwhelming task that exceeds the space allotted for this report and my own personal recollections, due to the mere diversity and magnitude of film authorships and proveniences at stake here, I would like to instead indulge in the presentation and discussion of certain seemingly peripheral (sometimes parasitical) aspects of the fest-goer’s experience of Cannes International Film Festival. These experiences undeniably contribute to the way films can be perceived by (some) people who attend Cannes. To qualify, by “people” I mean those who are committed to seeing the films (i.e. film critics, festival selectors and cinephiles) rather than the professionals working at the market or the habitués of the festival’s glamorous aspects, attending just receptions and parties (not to mention Cannes’ most glittering institution, la Montée des Marches).

If you are looking for detailed critical appraisal of the latest Cronenberg, Jarmusch, Van Sant, Von Trier, Wenders, Allen, or of the final chapter of Star Wars (yes, that was in Cannes too), don’t come knocking at this attendee’s door, in fact I might not have even caught the film (2). I’ll leave the due critical analysis of these and other films to the in-depth reviews that will certainly do them justice at the moment of their g/local releases, (3) while I will focus on other aspects that appear to me as significantly relevant to the specific course of Cannes 2005.

Folder I: press kit

When checking in at Cannes’ accreditation desks, each accredited press and market operator is awarded with a much-coveted festival bag, a fancy gadget some people will display in festivals to come or in everyday life, throughout the years, to show they have been to Cannes, or just because of the sheer beauty of some of these purses (4). This is regardless of one’s own accreditation status. In fact, critics and journalists in Cannes are rigidly divided into castes determining their priority of access to screenings: Brahmins are those entitled to white badges, then come the “pastilled” pink (rose pastillé, pink badge with a yellow pastille) badge-carriers and finally the Pariahs with blue and yellow badges who have to wait (more) in separated queues and only have access to gallery seats at press screenings in the Grand Théâtre Lumière and Salle Debussy.

What is really interesting (and telling) about Cannes, though, is the contents of this very bag: a load of paper, in the forms of catalogues, brochures and flying, trash-bin-bound sheets that virtually, if not officially, constitute every critic and journalist’s collectively shared press kit. The package includes some basic press releases, welcoming statements, well-structured logistic and practical guides (one just needs to face the burden of reading them: everything is in there) and of course the various festival catalogues. First comes the Official Catalogue, which by no means is a catalogue of the films in the official selection, but instead a very official collection of statements from festival and local administration authorities, plus the festival regulations, and a lot of thanks to the many sponsors: proverbially, this is ballast most press get rid of as soon as they unzip their bag.

The Official Program takes the place of what any other festival would call its catalogue, as it provides information on films, although it is generally regarded as a highly useless tool. Firstly, since this is a program rather than a catalogue, films are listed not by alphabetical order of title or director’s name, but by order of official presentation, which makes it rather puzzling and painful to use for critics who don’t keep track with the official order of screenings (5). Secondly, and most relevantly, the pieces of information provided on films are rather unsatisfying: essential artistic and technical specifications, (6) distribution, publicist and sales contacts, a brief synopsis, a director bio reduced to his/her nationality and date of birth, a filmography, often partial and including only feature-length films, and, on top of that, the indispensable dialogue extracts. For the purpose of illustrating the usefulness of this feature, let me just quote the lines taken from Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Three Times (7): “You are here”/“Did you come from Xin-yin?”/“Come in”/“I will come in after giving those god money”/“Okay”/“Do you need a hand?”/“No”/“Did you look around?”/“I show you the upstair”. Oh, I almost forgot, there is also a reproduction of each director’s signature, in case you’d want to know more about their personality by analysing their calligraphy, or enact an identity theft to pay the bill of one of the Croisette’s ridiculously expensive restaurants…

Other catalogues you may or may not find in your bag include those of Un Certain Regard, films competing for the Caméra d’Or, Quinzaine des Réalisateurs and the Semaine de la Critique. Apart from these “appropriate” materials, two more unexpected and somewhat unorthodox booklets crawl each year into every journalist’s bag: Le Monde‘s Cannes special, a 12-page supplement of the French newspaper habitual readers find included with their journal a couple of days before the fest, and Cahiers du Cinéma‘s bilingual Atlas du Cinéma (World Cinema Atlas), a hors-série issue published in April tracing the state of play in worldwide filmmaking with figures and analyses from 35 different countries. For those who are not familiar with the French publishing world, it is worth a reminder here that for some years now Cahiers has been under the publishing charge of Le Monde, and that Cahiers‘ current director, Jean-Michel Frodon, was for 13 years chief film critic at Le Monde.

I regard these materials as a somewhat unorthodox or incongruous part of the official festival kit for a number of reasons. At the outset, one has to admit that, for those who can read French, these two publications provide useful information (in the case of the Atlas not limited to the festival contingency) and pleasant and refreshing readings, and in the usual high standard the French devote to film writing, though not exempt of factual mistakes (8). Nonetheless, apart from palpable reasons of opportunity, publicity and mutual relationship (is Le Monde publisher an official sponsor of the Festival? If so, what should we expect from Le Monde‘s and Cahiers‘ stance towards the Festival itself and reports on the films screened there?), one could legitimately ask whether Cannes Film Festival officials subscribe to the contents of these libels or what their opinion is of them. The contention is less apparent for the Atlas, where film critics from all over the world expose their views on their national cinemas; still one might question, for example, why Meenakshi Shedde reports on a number of valuable Indian films, while for two years in a row no Indian film is to be seen in Cannes.

A History of Violence

The point, however, becomes more stringent with Le Monde supplement, where, rather than a general overview of the Festival, you find a selective choice of films and directors endorsed a priori by the editors. One should mention here that French critics residing in Paris usually have the chance to see in advance the films selected for the Quinzaine and Semaine, and advanced press screenings of some films in the official selection are also sometimes scheduled (9). Apart from saluting the comeback of Wim Wenders to the Cannes competition with a not-so-compromising 1977–2005 Cannes diary penned by Wenders lui-même, Le Monde supplement focused this year on David Cronenberg and his A History of Violence, and on two Mexican films, Carlos Reygadas’ Batalla en el Cielo (Battle in Heaven), presented in the official competition, and Sangre (Blood), the debut film by Reygadas’ assistant Amat Escalante, screening in Un Certain Regard. Just as with Le Monde‘s chouchous of last year, Hong Sang-soo and Lucrecia Martel, no official recognition eventually greeted Cronenberg nor the Mexican duo (10), and no one would ever think those articles could influence or forebode jurors’ decisions; it is unlikely that what I label here as “press kit” could be given to members of the jury too!

Still, they influence someone: the press, or at least a certain fringe of it. Fact: the screening of Sangre I attended was the most crowded Un Certain Regard press screening I went to this year. One could claim the explicit sexual content of Sangre surely played a part in making it a good sell with the press. Still, where did the critics get the hint on Sangre‘s supposed scandal potential?

What I want to argue here is, on the one hand, that it is questionable that, in a festival such as Cannes, where all films are supposed to be premieres, each press member should be given materials embedding advanced critical judgments on films; certainly not influencing, but still possibly directing critics and journalists on what to keep an eye on. Finding a free Cannes supplement of Le Monde in your bag is in fact totally different from buying Le Monde or Cahiers du Cinéma at the newsstand in front of the Palais.

This remark leads, on the other hand, to a quick consideration on possible “complementary tools” to one’s own press kit. Once again the premise is that this applies to those who can read French, and of course the crème of international film criticism does. During the Festival, right outside the main entrance of the Palais you would often meet with newsboys (and newsgirls) selling Le Monde and Libération and the loud calls of one of these guys (“Libé! Libé! Demandez Libération”) have become part of Cannes’ ambiance. This makes sense, because the two newspapers provide the largest and most qualitative coverage of the Festival, with pages filled with good pieces of film criticism. The availability of Le Monde and Libération, together with that of Cahiers‘ latest issue, in the newsstands, undeniably has some effect on serious-minded critics and journalists from all over the world, at least on those who are willing to let themselves be guided in their viewing choices. One has to admit that a comparable effect is given to English-readers by reviews on the festival dailies published by Variety and Screen International, but their target seems to be radically different (buyers), and most critics would dismiss them as commercially-oriented. Factual effects of this “piloting” of critics and journalists’ attention are under everybody’s eyes: the two screenings of Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers available to press attendance were both packed, leaving many priority press members holding pink badges out; the French press attaché of the film motivated the commotion conjecturing, “Well, you know, Cahiers gave it the cover and wrote it’s the right film for the Palme d’Or”.

In conclusion, regardless of the actual artistic achievement of the films themselves, I want here to point out some possible mechanics that might forge consensus, if not on the intrinsic value of films, at least on what is worth seeing and what creates debate in Cannes among critics, journalists and festival organisers. These mechanics might also give support to the fact that in Cannes 2005 reports you are likely to find much more ink dripped on Escalante’s Sangre than on Crying Fist by Ryoo Seung-wan, although both films won FIPRESCI prizes at the festival. This is nothing to be actually concerned about if it was not for the fact that indications on what to see and who is entitled to determine what is worth seeing in Cannes are already placed in everybody’s bag.

Folder II: le palmarès

Prizes are usually the most contentious issue at every festival. Since Cannes is the biggest festival of them all, prizes awarded here create possibly the biggest amount of debate: short-lived, ephemeral discussion, still noteworthy, and at times furious. Everybody remembers the commotion caused by the verdict sentenced by the jury led by David Cronenberg in 1999, when the Palme d’Or was awarded to the Dardenne brothers’ Rosetta, and no less than three prizes saluted the controversial L’Humanité by Bruno Dumont. Back then, many complained about the penchant for bleak and depressive films that were supposedly too artsy, demanding and even preposterous to meet the taste of the general public. Grounds for dissatisfaction came also from the fact that Pedro Almodóvar was “only” regarded with Best Director nods for the critics’ and public’s favourite All About My Mother, while David Lynch’s The Straight Story was completely omitted from the palmarès.

The year 1999 was an interesting case since Almodóvar himself didn’t conceal his discontent with his “minor” prize, which he tellingly dedicated to the big name directors – David Lynch, Atom Egoyan, Takeshi Kitano, Arturo Ripstein, Jim Jarmusch – competing that year who all went home empty-handed. Almodóvar hadn’t been in any major festival competition since winning nil at Berlin 1990 with Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and arguably he entered Cannes competition to win. His was not an isolated case, though. For the value invested in the most coveted and prestigious award in the international festival circuit, the Palme d’Or, Cannes’ award ceremonies in fact seem to be the chief occasion to reveal somewhat unexpected sides of filmmakers’ character.

I am not intending to evoke the infamous finger Maurice Pialat rose against the whistling crowd welcoming his Palme d’Or to Under the Sun of Satan (1987), the last Palme d’Or given to a French film and a deserved win for a master filmmaker and a grand film. However I instead want to remind of the sometimes rude upset of directors invited to the stage for receiving prizes minor to their expectations. In the last 15 years or so, a partial list might include the likes of Lars von Trier (Prix du Jury in 1991 for Europa), Spike Lee (accepting the same year the Best Supporting Actor award on behalf of Samuel L. Jackson for Jungle Fever), Theo Angelopoulos (Grand Prix du Jury for Ulysses’ Gaze) and, last but not least, Michael Haneke who received this year the Best Director award for Caché (Hidden) and came up with a line about his discontent, “You come to the festival to win”, proving him not to be a great sport.

Speculation about the temperamental character of these directors aside, such episodes indicate how much, at least to some, winning the major awards does matter. Scheduling the completion of a film to get into Cannes competition shapes up then not just as an effective marketing move, but also as an attempt in personal gratification and self-affirmation. Lars von Trier, who has brought to Cannes all his feature films, (11) always making the competition except for once (with Epidemic, 1987), when winning the Palme d’Or for Dancer in the Dark, made no secret he was not content with one and was going for the second. “If Bille August made it, why can’t I?”, he affirmed.

L'Enfant

Lars von Trier was in competition again this year, with Manderlay, and he even made the trip to Cannes, which, as many know, is quite proving for the travel-unfriendly Dane. Von Trier won no awards, however, in fact it was the Dardenne brothers who won their second Palme with L’Enfant (The Child), entering the very elitist circle of two-time Cannes winners, previously consisting of Francis Ford Coppola, Emir Kusturica (this year’s President of the Jury), Shohei Imamura and, yes, Bille August. Double wins sometimes seem an intrinsic infringement on an unwritten rule, one that would encourage bestowing the main award on directors who haven’t been crowned before (and in the case of Bille August, two Palme d’Ors for two consecutive films are regarded by most as an unforgivable aberration). However, such presumptions are put into virtual nonexistence by the habit of Cannes’ (much more than Venice or Berlin) re-inviting in competition previous Palme d’Or winners, and the Dardennes’ second Palme d’Or didn’t elicit the controversy that their first did.

Why? Is it because L’Enfant is better than Rosetta? Well, that is questionable. I instead would argue that there are two relevant factors at play that are different from 1999. Firstly, the Dardennes are no more the little-known duo of Bresson-inspired, documentary-trained independent filmmakers from Belgium that they were when they first appeared in competition in 1999. In 2005, undeniably thanks to Cannes exposure, (12) they are now among the most respected and admired auteurs in international filmmaking, so much so that auteur-basher Todd McCarthy, in his yearly invective in Variety‘s Cannes daily, included them, together with the likes of Chantal Akerman and Béla Tárr, in his inventory of directors exerting a nefarious influence on contemporary arthouse filmmaking. The sheer issue of familiarity and acquaintance with filmmakers and their styles, even their formulae, and possibly the debatable influence of acquired prestige (by the same prizes that might have been once contested) were certainly at play this time.

Secondly, the 2005 palmarès was not generally regarded as unbalanced or partisan as the one of 1999 (13). Just for the record, Palme d’Or aside, the Grand Prix was awarded to Broken Flowers by Jim Jarmusch, Best Actress to Hanna Laslo for Amos Gitai’s Free Zone, the Best Actor nod went to Tommy Lee Jones for his directorial debut The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, which also received a Best Screenplay Award, and, as mentioned above, Best Director went to Michael Haneke, while the Prix du Jury recognised Shanghai Dreams by Wang Xiaoshuai. Big names were once again left out, i.e. Cronenberg, Van Sant, von Trier, Hou, yet the verdict was generally reputed as more than acceptable. What might have made the verdict not overly contentious is its internal coherence and the transparency of its guidelines: this year, all Cannes’ prize-winners, and above all the Dardennes, in fact, formally and thematically revealed an inclination towards the posing of ethical questions.

This ethical questioning through filmmaking can by no means be reduced to mere moralist stances. Among the prize-winners it leads instead to skillful and thought-provoking developments of storyline (as is the case with The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada) or, in the most remarkable occurrences (arguably L’Enfant) to an articulation of camerawork and sequence construction that deeply embeds the questions and reflections not merely on “what to show”, but palpably on “how to show”. The jury’s preference for “ethical” filmmaking, thus, undeniably stood out against those films where the concerns of pure film language play a greater part, i.e. Van Sant’s Last Days or Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, or those where ethical stances appeared contradictory if not dubious, i.e. Carlos Reygadas’ Batalla en el Cielo.

In a surprising turn, Alexander Payne’s jury was lead by similar sentiments in its award for Un Certain Regard. The main prize went to Romanian Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mister Lazarescu, arguably one of the best films of any section of Cannes 2005 and one that could have been a strong Palme d’Or contender were it in competition. Secondary nods went to Alain Cavalier’s film diary Le Filmeur, and S. Pierre Yameogo’s plea for African women’s liberation and overcoming of obscurantist tradition in Delwende (to me, this film came across as a pale replaying of Ousmane Sembène’s masterful Mooladé, winner of Un Certain Regard last year). The one-night odyssey of an agonising old man who is sent from one hospital to another, The Death of Mister Lazarescu acts as an apt and symmetrical counterpart to the Dardennes’ film, since, as with the Belgian film, it is able to ensnare the viewer into the vividness of everyday interaction and plunge him/her into the heart of the drama, without forcing duration (the long takes) or indulging in easy emotional added-value (no musical score). The wins of Puiu and the Dardennes thus together perfectly convey in my memory of Cannes 2005 a festival capable of drawing attention to films where hearts (subject matter) and minds (film style) come together successfully.

Folder III: time/space/cinema

Although my aim in this piece was not to deal with an appraisal of specific films, I would like to devote a few (para-textual and parasitical) lines to my two favourite films in competition: Amos Gitai’s Free Zone and Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Three Times. Gitai and Hou have lot in common in terms of their “festival life”: a systematic, frequent inclusion in Cannes and Venice competitions, but not a comparable track of wins.

True to say, in his debut in a major festival competition, Hou won the 1989 Venice Golden Lion with City of Sadness, one of those memorable wins that have made Venice, and not Cannes, the “gate to the West” for Asian masters (14). Moreover, in his first participation in Cannes, he received a Prix du Jury for The Puppetmaster (1993). Finally, his Millennium Mambo (2001) was a co-winner (15) of a Technical Prize for sound design to Tu Duu-chih, when fellow Taiwanese director Edward Yang was a member of the Jury (16). But the occasions in which Hou has left festivals empty-handed have been more frequent: Cannes 1995 (Good Men, Good Women), Cannes 1996 (Goodbye South Goodbye), Cannes 1998 (Flowers of Shanghai), Venice 2004 (Café Lumière) and, once again, Cannes 2005.

Free Zone

Gitai’s awards in Cannes and Venice instead amount to nil. Since 1999 his prolific work has been figuring each year in either of the two competitions: Kadosh at Cannes 1999, Kippur at Cannes 2000, Eden at Venice 2001, Kedma at Cannes 2002, Alila at Venice 2003 and Promised Land at Venice 2004 (17). This time Free Zone ended up collecting a prize, but not for Gitai himself. The Best Actress prize went to the superb Hanna Laslo. I don’t want to claim here that all of the aforementioned Hou or Gitai films are masterpieces, however these directors are two of the most groundbreaking auteurs at work in contemporary cinema, and their recognition (or lack thereof) from festivals such as Cannes doesn’t seem to me to be on par with the contribution they make to the art of cinema.

Lack of due recognition aside, Gitai and Hou also share some formal and thematic concerns, once again deployed superbly in their latest outings. Space and time are the primary concerns here, as they’re blatantly featured in the films’ titles: space in Gitai’s (Free Zone) and time in Hou’s (Three Times). By no means does this mean that temporal issues are absent in Gitai’s film and spatial issues in Hou’s, because evidently they are. Moreover, both films display a compelling and full-bodied inquiry into the potentiality of filmmaking: film language is in fact used here to deal not only with matters of time and space but also with history, nation and cinema itself.

Gitai’s Free Zone opens on one of the most striking sequences I saw in Cannes: an almost ten minute close-up of Natalie Portman crying to the sounds of the song Had Gadia, an iterative chant performed by Hava Alberstein, where the cycle of evil and oppression is matter-of-factly evoked. Virtuoso camerawork aside, this sequence provides an engrossing emotional punch that some will lament as lacking in the following reels. Gitai’s film communicates personal, political and historical trauma, but the occasion for easy identification is left behind at the beginning of the film, in order for the more substantial issues he wants to emerge later to reverberate.

The American Rebecca (Portman), who cannot claim to be Jewish since her father was, but her mother was not, and who has just left her Israeli-Spanish boyfriend while in Jerusalem (she discovered he had been involved in war atrocities against Palestinians), and Hanna (Laslo), an Israeli woman who has replaced her injured husband as a private cab driver for tourists, embark on their journey towards the free zone in-between Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, where Hanna has to take care of unfinished business with her husband’s partner in affairs, the “American”. All the while, Gitai layers images in a dazzling and thought-provoking manner. Instead of elucidating Rebecca’s past with simple flashbacks he superimposes images (reportedly up to eight layers of image were put together in one frame) showing at the same time her face in the car, images of her conversations with her fiancé and his mother sitting in the same vehicle, and the landscape the car is passing. The effect might be headache-inducing to some, and this course of action might be regarded by others as a way of downplaying, if not concealing, the preaching or unconvincing nature of Portman’s trauma, but still this arrangement appears as an incredibly powerful cinematic configuration. Fragments of Rebecca’s past are relived in the same space where they took place, while she is once again inhabiting that space, but surrounded by new spaces, traversed by the car, spaces that project towards the final destination of the trip. Thus, dialectics of past, present and future interact through space, through inside-outside oppositions (inside-outside the car/inside-outside Rebecca) and the sensitive surface/interface able to entrap and liberate the multiple dualisms of the here and now is film itself.

Centripetal/centrifugal tension and projection are at work in a more traditional and word-centred manner in the rest of the film. Still, Gitai’s work provides remarkable textual complexity. The metaphor of the plight of the Middle East is articulated through the mere presentation of “another” space, the free zone of the title, where people from conflicting countries join together in the car business flowering in the customs-free area. By this I mean that the practicality of everyday commerce is, in this space, opposed to the biases of politics, and another triangulation of humanity is presented, through three female characters, an American, an Israeli and a Palestinian. They come together by singing a song with joyfulness as they travel in the same car where Rebecca was crying at the beginning; a moment of relief and hope briefly disrupted by a radio announcement and finally destroyed by the reaching of the border between Jordan and Israel: there, human geography resurfaces, bringing the characters and audience back to the momentarily forgotten division. Gitai is reluctant to offer, and sceptical about, easy solutions. Even in film.

As for Hou Hsiao-hsien, in Three Times he seems to play on safer ground and rely on a conservative approach, yet the result is mesmerising and at times touching. Three episodes are set in three different epochs: 1966 (A Time for Love), 1911 (A Time for Freedom), and 2005 (A Time for Youth). The place is of course Taiwan, in three different locations: Kaohsiung, Dadaocheng, and Taipei, respectively. A common thread: memory, the memory of a love story played out in all segments by the same two actors, Shu Qi and Chang Chen. As Hou points out, (18) his main concern is with “how people’s behaviour is circumscribed by the times and places they live in.” In relation to the original Chinese title (“the best of our times”), he also adds that “What makes times ‘best’ is that they’re lost and gone: we’ll never have them again.”

Three Times

In terms of the time/location choices and the filmic style adopted for each segment, Three Times come into being as a summary of Hou’s approach(es) to cinema and a sort of re-visitation of his own filmography. If the first installment reminds one of the autobiographical films of the first half of his career, the second is set in a luxuriously decorated brothel as in Flowers of Shanghai, while the third is shot with the same fluctuating, questioning filmic gaze adopted to address the present day in Millennium Mambo. But the three approaches could also be read as just a plain reproduction of the modes and moods of (Taiwanese?) cinema itself, at the different points in time: youth romances played to the tunes of American songs in the ’60s, silent cinema in the teens, and gritty urban scenarios with motorcycle-riding, sexually-ambivalent protagonists at the edge of the third millennium. Are politics and the history of Taiwan really not at play in this film as Hou claims? (19) That depends on how you approach the film. If, for instance, you put emphasis on the habitual polyphony of languages (Shu Qi’s character in the first segment speaks Taiwanese, while Chang Chen speaks only Mandarin: he is, as Hou is, a Mainlander whose family came to Taiwan after the defeat of Kuomingtan), the use of a silent movie-like soundtrack for the second episode might lead to your questioning whether or not this might be read as a signifier of the silencing, muting of Taiwan’s identity or freedom during the Japanese Occupation (as the segment is titled A Time for Freedom). The songs (Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Rain and Tears) movingly playing throughout the first segment, instead, do say much about the influence of American culture on Taiwan in the ’60s (as in Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day [1991]).

However, one could leave aside entirely these ponderous complications and abandon him/herself to the sheer enjoyment of Hou’s magic. Space and time, in fact, do not apply only to history and Taiwan, but also to Hou’s mesmerising ways of framing and capturing duration and depth. The true enchantment of Three Times, as in Hou’s best work, resides in the shot by shot mastery of composition, camerawork and detail, enhanced by Hou’s regular cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-bin. This is how and why you might even find yourself willing to shed a tear in front of the pure beauty and tenderness of two simple hands joining together (one of the most intense shots ever filmed by Hou).

Classifier: screening guide

On second thoughts, while keeping with the idea of not delving into deeper analysis, I have decided to include my own screening guide to Cannes 2005. As opposed to those available to critics and festival-goers in Cannes (which, as I mentioned above, are conceived a priori) these listings are based on my actual watching of the films. Of course, these are personal categorisations, yet they might provide some suggestions or direction to viewings at upcoming festivals. Films are listed in the four categories by alphabetical order of original title and the abbreviations in parenthesis stand for the respective section (OC=Official Competition, OoC=Out of Competition, UCR=Un Certain Regard, QDR= Quinzaine des Réalisateurs, SDC=Semaine de la Critique).

Outstanding

Caché by Michael Haneke (OC), Dalkomhan Insaeng (A Bittersweet Life) by Kim Jee-woon (OoC), L’Enfant by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne (OC), Falscher Bekenner (Low Profile) by Christoph Hochhäusler (UCR), Free Zone by Amos Gitaï (OC), A History Of Violence by David Cronenberg (OC), Last Days by Gus Van Sant (OC), Manderlay by Lars von Trier (OC), Moartea Domnului Lazarescu (The Death of Mr Lazarescu) by Cristi Puiu (UCR), Nekam Achat Mishtey Eynay (Avenge But One of My Two Eyes) by Avi Mograbi (OoC), Sulanga Enu Pinisa (The Forsaken Land) by Vimukthi Jayasundara (UCR), Three Times by Hou Hsiao-hsien (OC).

Interesting

Alice by Marco Martins (QDR), Les Artistes du Théâtre Brûlé by Rithy Pahn (OoC), Election by Johnnie To (OC), Le Filmeur by Alain Cavalier (UCR), Guersney by Nanouk Leopold (QDR), Les Invisibles by Thierry Jousse (SDC), Keane by Lodge Kerrigan (QDR), Keuttae Keusaramdeul (The President’s Last Bang) by Im Sang-soo (QDR), Mang Zhong (Grain in Ear) by Zhang Lu (SDC), Me and You and Everyone We Know by Miranda July (SDC), Qing Hong (Shanghai Dreams) by Wang Xiaoshuai (OC), Room by Kyle Henry (QDR), Schläfer (Sleeper) by Benjamin Heisenberg (UCR), Seven Invisible Men by Sharunas Bartas (QDR), The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada by Tommy Lee Jones (OC), Unmei Janai Hito (A Stranger of Mine) by Uchida Kenji (SDC), Where the Truth Lies by Atom Egoyam (OC).

Disappointing

(20) Batalla en el Cielo by Carlos Reygadas (OC), Be With Me by Eric Khoo (QDR), Geminis by Albertina Carri (QDR), Hwal (The Bow) by Kim Ki-duk (UCR), Johanna by Kornél Mundruczó (UCR), Kamyu Nante Shiranai (Who’s Camus Anyway?) by Yanagimachi Mitsuo (QDR), Keukjangjeon (Conte de cinéma) (21) by Hong Sang-soo (OC), Lemming by Dominik Moll (OC), Nordeste by Juan Solanas (UCR), Sangre by Amat Escalante (UCR), Umoregi (The Buried Forest) by Oguri Kohei (QDR).

Negligible

Bashing by Kobayashi Masahiro (OC), Delwende by S. Pierre Yameogo (UCR), Kilomètre Zéro by Hiner Saleem (OC), Marock by Laila Marrakchi (UCR), Peindre ou faire l’amour by Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu (OC), Yek Shab (One Night) by Niki Karimi (UCR), Sin City by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez (OC), Le Temps qui reste by François Ozon (UCR), Wolf Creek by Greg McLean (QDR).

Endnotes

  1. Just a reminder: the official selections in Cannes are In Competition, Out of Competition (including Midnight Screenings and Séances Spéciales), Un Certain Regard (a parallel section that has become competitive since 1998), plus the usually-neglected (by both critics and audiences) Short Films Competition, Cinéfondation (competition for short- and medium-length films by film schools students), and Cannes Classics (for restored prints and documentaries on film heritage), while the independently organised selections include the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs (Directors’ Fortnight, promoted by the Société des Réalisateurs de Films) and the Semaine de la Critique (organised by the French Syndicate of Film Critics), plus the very “obscure/d” ACID (Agence du Cinéma Indépendant pour sa Diffusion), which only French media happen to mention; very few people seem to know about its existence and where its screenings actually take place (I myself do not know). Just for the need of completion, the official selection this year also featured Tous les Cinémas du Monde (one festival venue devoting one full day of screenings to a different emerging cinema everyday: Morocco, South Africa, Mexico, Austria, Peru, Sri Lanka and the Philippines were chosen this year), L’Atelier du Festival (a newly launched co-production market for promising projects from up and coming filmmaking talents), the Children’s Screening (presenting an extract of Michel Ocelot’s upcoming Kirikou et les bêtes sauvages), the Cinema and Acting Masterclasses (with lessons respectively taught by Ousmane Sembène and Catherine Deneuve), Music in Cannes and the Europe Day conference. Finally, to complete the round up of Cannes’ plenteous menu, one could top this with the myriad of screenings at Cannes’ Market.
  2. Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers and Wim Wenders’s Don’t Come Knocking, along with the universally bashed Quando Sei Nato Non Puoi Più Nasconderti (Once You Are Born You Can No Longer Hide) by Marco Tullio Giordana, are the only competing titles I missed. I have not watched Woody Allen’s Match Point nor Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith.
  3. By writing “g/local”, I intend to mean that these are films that are virtually acquired for distribution in every major market, and thus will be seen globally, but that their actual time of release will vary, according to the needs of their local distributors and the contingent situation of local markets in question.
  4. I happened to notice an unknown woman carrying the bag given at Cannes two years ago right in front of Bologna station a few days after Cannes.
  5. I am not playing at being ironic here, but just registering a criticism widely diffused among professionals.
  6. Many noticed that official closing film Martha Fiennes’ Chromophobia had listed under screenplay credits a revealing “Prénom_Nom” (Name_Surname).
  7. I have consciously chosen the most anodyne excerpt, from a film where dialogue is certainly not the most important aspect, still this is a telling feature about the generally recognised inutility of this feature.
  8. When you consider that these publications are (un)officially included in everybody’s Cannes kit, it is quite embarrassing to discover in Le Monde supplement at least two mistakes concerning official prizes awarded in previous editions. Carlos Reygadas’ Japón is said to have won the Caméra d’Or in 2002, when in fact it was awarded a special mention while the main winner was the rightfully forgotten Borde de mer by Julie Lopes-Curval. Also, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady is said to have won a Prix Spécial du Jury last year, whereas it actually received a Prix du Jury.
  9. Gus Van Sant’s Last Days and Dominik Moll’s Lemming were being released in France during the festival, thus many reviews were already out. Also, a friend in the Semaine de la Critique committee told me about the reception of Hong Sang-soo’s Conte de cinéma at an advanced screening in Paris.
  10. Amat Escalante actually won the FIPRESCI prize for Un Certain Regard, but that is not an official prize.
  11. Sole exceptions are the two series of The Kingdom (1994 and 1998), which screened in Venice. But, although released in theatres in some countries, those were originally TV projects.
  12. Rosetta aside, La Promesse (The Promise) was at the Quinzaine in 1996 and Le Fils (The Son) was in competition in 2002, winning Best Actor for Olivier Gourmet.
  13. In that case even supporters of the film acknowledge the three prizes to Bruno Dumont’s L’Humanité, including Grand Prix, Best Actor and Best Actress, as over the top.
  14. The list is long: Hou aside, one might mention the Golden Lions awarded to Akira Kurosawa (Rashomon, 1951), Satyajit Ray (Aparajito, 1957), Zhang Yimou (The Story of Qiu Ju, 1992, Not One Less, 1999), Tsai Ming-liang (Vive l’Amour!, 1994), Takeshi Kitano (Hana-bi, 1997) or the three Silver Lions won by Kenji Mizoguchi. In the last decade or so the inventory has consistently lengthened, and even Cannes protégé Wong Kar-wai won his first nod at a European festival in Venice: an Osella to him and Christopher Doyle in recognition of the visual conception of Ashes of Time (1994). The role of Venice Film Festival as discoverer and promoter of major Asian film talent resounds to Italians of a symbolic meaning, since Venice was home to merchant and voyager Marco Polo, whose trip to China is related in the classic Il Milione (1309), and the city is site to the most prestigious faculty of East Asian Studies in Italy.
  15. With Tsai Ming-liang’s What Time Is It There?
  16. At the prize ceremony, the award appeared to be received with a certain scorn. No one from the crew of Tsai’s film was present and neither was Tu, therefore actress Shu Qi was embarrassedly sent on stage to receive the award on his behalf.
  17. By a mere coincidence, the very first admittance of Gitaï to a major festival competition happened at the same time as that of Hou, as he was in the 1989 Venice competition with Berlin/Jerusalem. He won nothing on that occasion too.
  18. The statements quoted here are taken from the press book of the film.
  19. Throughout the press book Hou states “The original idea had nothing to do with politics.”
  20. The disappointment referred to here is determined either from the expectations raised by revered auteurs or by an early promise that the film does not fully keep.
  21. In Cannes Hong said that his film does not have an English title, and that the French one should be regarded as the international title.

About The Author

Paolo Bertolin is an Italian film critic and journalist. He has contributed to a wide range of Italian publications, including film magazine Cineforum and newspaper Il Manifesto. His writings in English include articles for The Korea Times, The Jakarta Post and on www.koreanfilm.org.