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Back to the beach

During the month of May there is no escaping the multi-media assault of Cannes, so it’s a good thing this year’s event boasted a worthy and enjoyable Competition line-up and offered some controversy for the film press pack

It is a testimony to the strength of Cannes that it feels like the whole month of May is dominated by the festival, to the extent other film events struggle to breathe in its presence as the world’s press descends on a little town in the south of France.

In years gone by, it was galling when footloose colleagues would bray loudly about heading down to the sunshine for a week of movies, parties, late-night antics and hours of arthouse attrition. Two weeks later they would return with slight tans, bleary eyes and an enthusiasm for rosé wine.

These days the advent of social networking, Twitter and blogging means there is just no escape from Cannes. Film journalists vie to be the first to post their Twitter review of that day’s early morning Competition screening and rush to post snatched photos of whichever minor (or major) celebrity happens to be walking by. Bloggers fill acres of space with analytical thoughts on virtually every film on screen, and even the tabloids and fashion magazines wax lyrical about red-carpet dresses and every fashion faux pas.

Then off course you never know what will happen at a Cannes press conference. Everything was ticking along nicely until Lars von Trier dropped his Nazi bomb. For a while Lars-gate dominated every conversation — viral and real — and every bit of movie-themed print.

There’s little denying Cannes 2011 will go down as something of a red-letter year

In the Screen office, his antics even managed to halt briefly the repetition of stories by certain staff members about meeting Kanye West at the flashy party to launch the new production, finance and international sales company Red Granite, where Kanye was joined on stage by Jamie Foxx for the rendition of a ditty called Gold Digger.

But, Lars and Kanye aside, there is little denying Cannes 2011 will go down as something of a red letter year. Over the years there are times you are hard-pressed to recall more than a handful of films that made much of an impact, but this year the likes of We Need To Talk About Kevin, Footnote, Michael, The Tree Of Life, Melancholia, The Skin I Live In, Drive and even This Must Be The Place all proved more than worthy, with much to enjoy and featuring some memorable moments.

And for the first time in years, after the early morning press screenings of Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist and Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre, there was the sight of press wandering out of the Lumiere theatre with big smiles on their faces. A feelgood film at Cannes? And one that makes you grin? Almost unthinkable.

There have been occasions in previous years when the Cannes badge of honour came from sitting all the way through the real clunkers. I should know. I was there for Johnny Depp’s barely seen directorial debut The Brave; squirmed at the top of the balcony through Richard Kelly’s derided Southland Tales (which oddly I rather like now), and endured Vincent Gallo’s now-notorious The Brown Bunny.

The Artist, with its funny and beautifully shot tale of Hollywood’s transition from silent cinema to the talkies, was a delight for many in Cannes, with the charismatic Jean Dujardin justly winning the festival’s best actor gong. Mind you, I’m a little biased — when I was in distribution/exhibition I bought the UK rights to OSS 117: Cairo, Nest Of Spies, directed by Hazanavicius and featuring Dujardin alongside his The Artist co-star Bérénice Bejo.

And just to get my curmudgeonly moment out of the way: I do hate how every year I go to Cannes it seems they have renamed the beach restaurants. Just when I think I’ve worked out where I’m going for a genial evening of merriment, they change the darned names. It almost makes you yearn for the days when the Petit Majestic was empty late at night and when the gardens of the Grand Hotel were a green haven.

Mind you, that’s progress for you I suppose…

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