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A Spoonful Of Sugar

The Cannes Film Festival’s annual cocktail of art and glamour looks decidedly art-heavy this year and could use an injection of razzle dazzle, Mike Goodridge writes.

Ah, Cannes. The festival of festivals kicks off next week and I know I am not alone in thinking that the official competition selection appears, shall we say, austere and lacking in insta-sensations like 2009 must-sees from von Trier, Haneke, Tarantino and Gaspar Noe.
But perhaps what it’s really lacking is a bit of Hollywood oomph. Newspaper editors hungry for front cover pictures or exclusive interviews must be scratching their heads with dismay at the prospects or rather dearth of them. True, the festival opens in grand style with Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett, the stars of Robin Hood, but they have both been on the promotion trail around the world for weeks talking up the movie which opens across the world the same day as the Cannes screening or in the days immediately after. Robin Hood will be old news by the time it opens Cannes.
There are no brazen red carpet setpieces like the women of Sex & The City 2, no Stallone and company in The Expendables, alas no Brad Pitt – a Cannes perennial who was expected to be there this year with Tree Of Life and Angelina Jolie.
Yes, I know I am sounding shallow. Cannes is a showcase for the cinema d’auteur, for the medium as art, but in the past few years the festival’s organizers have developed a knack for mixing a tasty cocktail of glamour and art that has made the May event an essential stopover for the world’s media and TV crews.
The festival has made numerous necessary compromises to attract the world’s eyes to the Cote d’Azur for ten days in May. Think The Da Vinci Code, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, Ocean’s Thirteen, X-Men: The Last Stand, The Matrix Reloaded or Star Wars II and III.
By premiering these blockbusters, the festival is assured an abundance of media who consequently pay more attention to the art films in official selection than they normally would. In other words, the films might score coverage, acclaim and sales at a time when the arthouse arena is increasingly marginalised.
But in the glamour-light programme of 2010, editors might find Cannes just a bit too rarefied for its celeb-hungry readers. This year’s crop by the likes of Kiarostami, Weerasethakul and Lee Chang-dong don’t exactly scream of audience crossover at a time when studio tentpoles are eating up most of the world’s print and online inches.
Ridley Scott, whose latest $100m+ epic Robin Hood, told me in a recent interview that he liked Cannes because it combined art with the commerce of the market. “To say it’s all about pure art is nonsense,” he opined in his refreshingly salty way. “We make movies and we try to sell them. If you don’t sell your movie, there’s no point in making it.”
He recalls that his debut film The Duellists, which impressively scored a Competition slot in 1977, “was all about art.” “When they cut seven prints and it opened in seven theatres in the US, I thought that was a normal opening. Since then I have learned a lot about the business.”
But most of the films in official selection will be lucky to see the inside of even seven theatres in the US or elsewhere, if they get sold at all. Many of these auteur titles are indeed what Scott derides as “pure art”. They may get a warm review or two from the aging – and let’s face it dwindling – critical corps camped out in the Salle Debussy but today’s youth is largely disconnected from auteur culture and think Scorsese and Tarantino are the grandfathers of cinema.
Long may Cannes reign, but in 2011 it might have to shake up the art/glamour cocktail a bit more vigorously.

Readers' comments (6)

  • Like your thoughts Mike, I find Cannes Official Selection this year, quite boring. I think M. Fremaux has certain favourite companies he patronises and too Hell with the rest of the movie industry. If only Gilles Jacob was still completly in charge at the helm.

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  • Half the fun is the anticipation for what crazy thing might happen along the Croisette or guessing what actor is in what hotel. I have contributed as I once had a party where we set a girl on fire (she was in a fire suit) and, of course, after she stripped down to her neon bikini.. Nobody knew or cared what movie we were promoting but that's what makes Cannes.. We love Cannes for the heady combinaiton for it all. Sorry, I am not going as I'd find something for you to write about.

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  • Is it any wonder that young people are perhaps disconnected with arthouse cinema when time and time again people who should know better bang on about the commercial aspects of film making. Dont' worry - You'll miss it when it's gone.

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  • Frances you want to say Wild Bunch and Studio Canal for example?

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  • Mike, you are right when you say that most of the Cannes films will be lucky to be sold let alone see the inside of a US cinema.
    I'm a Cdn distributor and can't even get one of my foreign art films into a Cdn cinema.
    Last year I attended Cannes. this year I haven't bothered. Of course the main reason for this situation is that in Can and US most multiplexes frequently slot the Hollywood blockbusters on 3 0r 4 screens in the SAME
    multiplex. No doubt this is what will happen with Robin Hood etc. no theatrical release means poor dvd and tv sales.

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  • To Anonymous of May 7. if you comment, use your name if you are sincere, don't hide under Anon, nor don't try and put words or names into my mind. It is not the fault of the producers, directors or distributors who are to blame for the poor OS Cannes 2010. If their films are chosen, they will accept. Sometimes I wonder why when they can practically be certain said films will be ripped to shreds but the critics. Examples in 2009 Enter the Void and Je n' retourne pas. it is the Artistic Direction Selection at fault. As for Studio Canal, they may not make the greatest films, but they plough a lot of needed money into the industry.

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