Across all categories and strands, Catherine Bray picks eleven must-sees from Cannes 2015.
Salma Hayek in Tale of Tales
I feel kind of guilty writing this piece, for two reasons. The first is that although I saw 31 films at Cannes, it is nevertheless impossible to see everything, so I am certain to be missing some brilliant films in this list. In particular, I regret not catching Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Assassin, which won the Competition’s directing prize, and Arnaud Desplechin’s My Golden Years, which won the SACD Prize out of Director’s Fortnight and is reputedly excellent.
The second reason I’m feeling bad is the dominance of English language films in the following eleven picks. It was an English language heavy year, and it happens to be the case that the films which wowed me the most were mainly English language. Sometimes that’s just the luck of the draw.
1. Carol, dir. Todd Haynes
Director Todd Haynes and screenwriter Phyllis Nagy managed to put together a Competition entry that, for once, united critics (if not the Coen brothers’ Jury, who split the Competition award for best actress between Carol’s Rooney Mara and Mon Roi’s Emmanuelle Bercot). In virtually every review, the superlatives flowed like the champagne undoubtedly uncorked that night by producers as five star verdict after five star verdict rolled in. It is a ravishing film, every frame beautifully composed, and yet it never suffers from the lack of air that can oppress precision period work – the world of 1950s New York feels entirely lived in, and the melancholy thrill of the romance between Cate Blanchett’s eponymous older woman and Mara’s shop assistant feels as fresh as any depiction of falling in love on the silver screen.
2. Arabian Nights parts 1, 2 and 3, dir. Miguel Gomes
Miguel Gomes entranced cinema-goers in 2012 with Tabu, a dreamlike piece of lyricism that was part romance, part pastiche. He’s on even more ambitious form here, with a six hour plus tapestry woven in imitation of the form of the Arabian Nights, and delivered as a triptych, but taking the effects of the financial crisis on Portugal as its loose theme. The result is a remarkable achievement in cinema, by turns gripping, illuminating, tiring, sublime and funny.
3. Krisha, dir. Trey Edward Shults
Sometimes, size really doesn’t matter. Krisha was filmed in just 9 days on a single location with a cast made up of performers drawn almost entirely from the director’s own family, for around $100,000. That’s about as small as small potatoes get in narrative cinema, and yet the resultant story, in which an estranged 60-something woman attempts to reconnect with her family at Thanksgiving, is more emotionally impactful than many a more anticipated or expensive effort. It perhaps threatens to undermine the old Anna Karenina maxim (“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”) in that, although this family’s specific issues may not be identical to your own, they’ll surely strike universal notes for many, illustrating the similarities, and not the differences, in pain inflicted by loved ones.
4. Son of Saul, dir. László Nemes
This is an extraordinary film by any yardstick, but it’s all the more impressive in its status as a directorial debut. Hungarian director László Nemes hasn’t set himself an easy task, either – many first-timers have stumbled tackling subjects far less complex and horrifying than the Nazi concentration camps of World War II. His decision to keep the film’s perspective directly locked in to that of protagonist Saul Ausländer is a smart one, resisting the instinctive urge in films on this tragic subject to attempt to convey horror through scale, and instead conveying with precision one man’s nightmare among millions. This is a hugely deserving Grand Prix winner – higher honours would have been equally welcome.
5. The Lobster, dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
A film whose second act key change seems to have baffled some critics, The Lobster is a film broadcasting on a very particular wavelength. If the brutal absurdity of director Yorgos Lanthimos’s break-out Dogtooth mixed with the sensibility of various dark British comedies satirizing the extremes of social stereotype (The League of Gentleman sprang to mind at certain moments) sounds like your jam, make sure you bag a ticket for this one.
6. Macbeth, dir. Justin Kurzel
A film that seems to have connected better with UK critics than US, I certainly wasn’t prepared for the daring visual poetry of this highly cinematic treatment of one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest plays. Burying much of the dialogue under bold, disorienting sound design and naturalistic delivery, this ain’t your GCSE English teacher’s Macbeth. Justin Kurzel has forged a formal experiment that heeds Lady Macbeth’s own advice to her vacillating husband: be bloody, bold and resolute.
7. The Shameless, dir. Oh Seung-uk
A slick and seductive Korean neo-noir from Oh Seung-uk, The Shameless takes the point of view that where atmosphere is concerned, it’s best to go big or go home. Almost every scene is riven with tension, sexual or otherwise, as a seedy cop and seedier bar hostess team up to comb various nightspots in search of enough MacGuffin to MacGuffin the MacGuffins. This is a film about the looking, the longing, and the shifting quicksand of any given character’s motivation at any one time. Plot? Forget it, Jake, it’s neo-noir.
8. Green Room, dir. Jeremy Saulnier
Spot the odd one out: Green Room is the film on this list about which you can’t make too many high falutin’ art-house claims, but you can say it’s among the most viscerally exciting viewing experiences of the lot. It’s not dumb, either. A simple, smartly executed exercise in genre thrills packed with likable kids that we’re sorry to see die bloody, the premise is a basic home invasion riff relocated to enemy territory, as a punk band holed up backstage at a dodgy venue attempt to survive a concerted effort to slaughter them all, supervised by Patrick Stewart having fun playing the ideological opposite of his X-Men gig: a grim-faced white supremacist.
9. Our Little Sister, dir. Hirokazu Koreeda
As previously blogged, I wasn’t sure about this film as it unfolded. To put it bluntly, basically nothing happens. But it’s been a big grower for me since, with its simple reliance on the quotidian pleasures of domestic rhythms, commonplace interactions and the passing of the seasons blossoming into a minor but sweetly heartfelt work celebrating the little things in life.
10. Mad Max: Fury Road, dir. George Miller
In Mad Max: Fury Road, life is a tale told by a maniac, full of sound and fury, signifying everything. As previously blogged, it’s fabulously experimental for a tentpole release, in terms of its image system and structure, and also in its equal opps gender vibes (though it’s depressing that this facet counts as an experiment). I won’t say too much more about Mad Max, since it’s already on general release, but it seemed equally perverse to deny it a spot altogether for that reason.
11. Tale of Tales, dir. Matteo Garrone
It’s got Salma Hayek eating a sea serpent’s heart. It’s got Toby Jones rearing a giant flea. It’s got Vincent Cassel accidentally shagging a 100 year old trickster crone. What’s not to love?