Judgment at Cannes

Submitting to film festivals for the first time in my life, I've come to see that there's no rhyme or reason to why something is chosen over anything else. I know that sounds like the testimony of a jaded loser, but I don't mean to say that because my films didn't get accepted as often as I'd like I've decided to rail against the system. No, that's absurd, I'm not even 22, I have quite a bit left to learn; my point is that Drive is still being shown at film festivals in the southern United States despite having had a massive theatrical run, winning best director at Cannes and having a publicity-drawing lawsuit leveled against it. What could you possibly stand to gain by including it over say...Tomboy, the brilliant new Céline Sciamma film or something local and low-budget? Something that could truly stand the publicity. I'm not saying that Drive doesn't deserve every accolade it's been given, but it's entered the culture's diction. Ryan Gosling is a household name and anyone who was going to see it, has. Earlier this year I was invited to the Las Vegas Film Festival where eight or ten feature films were screened out of some three or four hundred being awarded. Here's the bitch, everything screened was given an additional prize and no one was able to see, in any form, the hundreds of other films being awarded. And most maddening is that more time was given over to panels with the people who were the inspiration for the characters from Goodfellas than any of the films my peers had submitted. So on the closing night ceremony we sat and listened to each other speak blindly about films we would never see. After watching grossly undeserving movies like the one paid for by The Ski Channel or Behind Your Eyes, which is the worst film I've seen this year, I was a little miffed that I would never understand why my film was given the prize. I'm hugely grateful for the award, the attention and the opportunity, to be sure. My self-esteem still hasn't sunk since I got the email saying I'd won. But why bring us out there if we couldn't share our work and learn from each other? What message does that send if we only see six movies that they deemed worthy of the top prize?

I bring this up because I've seen every single film from the main competition at the 2010 Cannes film festival and can say without question that they were all on an even keel. No one had a bigger budget or mise-en-scene too far removed from anyone else. From Kiarostami to Kitano, everyone's film was a sober, clinical look at family and/or deep (often metaphorical) relationships. And I agree entirely with their decision to award Uncle Boonmee, for despite it's pace and style being similar to its opponents, it was the most sublimely unique and unforced of all of them. This past year's competition makes much less sense. To a certain point I get it. We Need To Talk About Kevin, Melancholia, The Tree of Life, The Skin I Live In, Drive and The Artist all take ideas or conventions the public is familiar with and runs with them in daringly audacious directions with boisterous, explosive style. And then there's Kid With A Bike, which does neither of those things. It's a film by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne about a kid with separation issues learning to overcome his behavioral problems and be a good son to a mother figure who only wants the best for him. The style is identical to the other films by the Dardennes, which is to say beautiful in its understatement. I liked it a lot; Not as much as Lorna's Silence, but it's a beautiful little movie. What I'm having a little trouble understanding is why Cannes put it next to Drive or Melancholia. How in christ could anybody possibly compare them with meaningful results? They have less than nothing in common. I've enjoyed most of the films I've seen so far (exception: Sleeping Beauty) but I find the notion that The Tree of Life gets the Palme d'Or and Kid With A Bike gets second prize a little nonsensical. The Dardennes are royalty on the Croisette and so inviting them back makes sense. Pitting them against movies about the creation of and destruction of the earth, respectively, doesn't. And other than favouritism, I can't see any reason it demonstrably deserved the Grand Prix over Drive, Skin or Kevin. Aki Kaurismäki's Le Havre is an evolution of the style of its directors' other works, which means it has absolutely nothing you could use to reasonably compare it to Lars Von Trier's apocalyptic Melancholia. I haven't even seen half of the films in competition, but with each new work I take in, the slate makes less and less sense all the time. How do you compare the featherweight papal comedy We Have A Pope (which I have seen), whose style is much more in keeping with last year's slate than the apparent majority of this year's with Takashi Miike's 3D samurai epic Hara-Kiri (which I have not)? How do you compare Tree of Life to We Have A Pope? The style and aesthetics seem to come from alternate universes and their goals are entirely distinct. I've been racking my brains trying to come up with something that ties together the films from the main competition that I've seen. Everyone's human? Good luck keeping that attitude during Sleeping Beauty. Drive does what it can to humanize its villains, but that isn't because Nic Refn was going way out of his way to get you to sympathize with them, but because Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks are fantastic actors. Melancholia doesn't exactly encourage you to think that about the characters played by Stellan Skarsgård and Charlotte Rampling.

So, I guess my question is what exactly the jury saw as the connective tissue between these disparate films? Is it fair to extend an invitation to the Dardennes, whose film is in every respect a country cottage among mansions and skyscrapers, and then give them second prize for evidently getting more right than films with much crazier subjects and unchained stylistic ambition? I enjoyed Kid With A Bike, I just don't think it sends the right message to reward it when you invited a 3D samurai movie by the director of Zebraman. And furthermore what message does it send to (superficially) ban Lars Von Trier, perhaps the festival's most inventive and doggedly challenging honor student the year he releases his best film and does exactly what he does everytime he sits in front of a microphone? I don't think anyone would argue with Tree getting top prize because I doubt any of the other films are as bold, daring or sweeping in their scope and execution. The problem is that zanier choices then seem like novelties. What chance did The Skin I Live In stand next to the two sober winners even if, to me, between it and Kid with a Bike it's the more entertaining and well-designed film and as a cinephile with a lifelong love of horror, I liked the many reference points in Skin over those in Tree. Skin gambles bigger than Kid and so perhaps doesn't win everytime but Kid With A Bike takes almost no risks. So why then does it warrant the Grand Prize? I still need to see 12 more films to get the full picture, but from where I'm standing, something's off.

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