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Ben Knight: Canned – the Cannes blog

Ben went to the Cannes film festival this year, exposing himself to dangerous levels of middle class ennui.

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Photo by Chris Yunker (ChrisYunker; Flickr CC)

The Cannes Film Festival tests how much you love cinema in all kinds of murderous ways. You think you like going to the movies, but do you like being wedged in a queue for an hour in the sun waiting to get into a two-and-a-half-hour dissection of contemporary Russian society by way of expressionist allegory, in which the main story is a woman trying to deliver a food parcel to a Siberian prison? I mean, you have to really enjoy it. As an extra cruelty, the Cannes Film Festival is by the sea, so your other choices involve the beach and an infinite kaleidoscope of ice cream and cocktails. 

This French seaside town is a minefield of psychological dangers for newcomers. Such as, for instance, encroaching misanthropy, as the rest of the sun-burned queue is made up of “film people” – people who have all come here to talk to each other about the “projects” they are “developing”. For unlike in Berlin, only accredited people get into films. There are no such things as tickets, only “invitations”, which you have to apply for at an underground computer terminal like in an unreasonably exclusive train station where only people with projects get to go on the trains. Normal people – so people who just want to watch films and/or stand near celebrities – are reduced to putting on tuxedos and evening gowns and standing outside the “Palais” holding little pen-scrawled begging signs.

Like all seaside resorts, Cannes itself is always slightly more melancholy than you think it’s going to be – the overheated “Croisette” is thick with overpriced white dough and sugar and bickering holidaymakers. Between them are the locals, who punctuate the promenade in seated clusters – the affluent elderly enjoying the thought that all these foolish cineastes have to leave soon, but they will still be there, left alone to slowly tan their greased hides by the sea beneath the palm trees.

Back in the centre of the city, the Grand Palais doesn’t feel palatial up close – it resembles a 1970s conference centre with a sprawling threadbare red carpet. The festival ident that appears on the screen to usher in every movie (some floating steps with famous film names written on them ascending from the ocean to the sky and topped off with a tacky little “ting” noise that goes with the number 70) looks hastily CGI-ed in a this-will-do way.

Then there are the films. This year, world’s leading cinematic auteurs apparently devoted themselves to teasing apart the naked desolation of the lives of rich people, which is exactly what the audiences probably didn’t want to think about. Fling a brick at a screening and you were bound to hit a bourgeois person in some state of despair. This year’s competition for the Palme was an orgy of ennui that included Michael Haneke’s Happy End (about a rich family where everyone either hates everyone else, or themselves, and is incapable of love), Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless (about a married couple who hate each other and their own child), Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer (about an affluent married couple who have to kill one of their children), Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories (like Happy End but with Adam Sandler), or Claire Denis’ Let The Sunshine In (about a woman anxiously trying to find love).

This is the absurdity of Cannes, because no one is in the mood for this kind of misery – We are there to swan around, fill our burned bellies with free booze and tiny pastries, be paranoid and competitive, and try to fuck someone else attending the myriad receptions hosted by various film boards or production companies. It’s like being inside a Bret Easton Ellis novel, but with not as much murder and more almond croissants. When we do blunder into a screening, we clap with delight, little minded to consider the bleak, petty, vapid existences that the cinema’s great artists are making of our lives. It doesn’t matter though, because those great artists are also sitting in the audience with us, all dressed up too.