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Contemplating Cannes

Film contributor Rory O'Connor went to Cannes film festival. Here's what he has to say about it.

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Photo by Rory O’Connor

At one point, around the third day of this year’s Cannes film festival, I caught a quick bite between screenings of Winters Sleep – Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s draining 196-minute study of an Anatolian hotelier’s family life – and the somewhat less austere How to Train Your Dragon 2. In the small park area outside the Salle Lumiere, I noticed a walk of fame of sorts running beneath my feet, a row of hand prints in the pavement. Nearest me were those of the late, great Dennis Hopper, just underneath Spike Lee.

Hopper had come here as an out-and-out maverick in 1969, with Jack Nicholson and Easy Rider in tow, blazing the trail of New American Cinema, the studios quivering at the end of his gun. Cannes, it seems, is drenched in this sort of history. Jean-Luc Godard famously took to the stage in 1968, as the credits rolled on Peter Lennon’s Rocky Road to Dublin, to pronounce the festival’s closure in solidarity with the students in Paris. Michael Moore was a surprise winner with Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2004 as France and America locked horns over the invasion of Iraq, and just last year Blue is the Warmest Colour swooped to a win, three days before Vincent Autin and Bruno Boileau became the first same-sex couple to legally marry in France.

Back in 2014 we found a competition with money on the box, or rather our relationship with it. Nicole Kidman’s Grace of Monaco was flawed in a number of ways, but perhaps most worryingly of all was its utterly sincere defence of Monaco’s tax haven status.  Tim Roth’s Prince Ranier exclaiming “Business for business sake” on opening night sent a shudder through the Salle Debussy crowd.

Foxcatcher, Bennet Miller’s bleak and brilliant third film, took a cold hard look at the effects old money and entitlement can have. It concerns the true crime story of John Du Pont – the heir to Foxcatcher farm – and the Olympic wrestling team he bought. It’s a dark horse for big prizes and Steve Carell might just be a nose (so to speak) in front.

David Cronenberg returned to the Croisette having been here just two years ago with the much-maligned (although I quite liked it) Cosmopolis. His new film is the first he’s ever shot in the Hills (or the US, for that matter) and he uses the occasion to hold up a great big mirror. Maps to the Stars features Julianne Moore as a foul-mouthed pseudo-spiritual LA yoga type on the cusp of ‘a certain age’; and Mia Wasikowska as a wide eyed burn victim who just arrived on the scene. Things, as you might expect, get very depraved.

Marion Cotillard does her best to dress down in the Dardenne brothers’ Two Days, One Night; a marvellous humanist effort about a woman who is given a weekend to canvas her colleagues and ask them to forgo their bonuses so that she can keep her job. Ken Loach looked at money’s influence from a different perspective altogether with what might be his last narrative feature, the quaintly socialist Jimmy’s Hall. Godard also returned, although not in person, with his video art 3D presentation Adieu Au Langage. It probably said something about money too, although we’re really not sure.

Timbuktu and Winters Sleep (for which Nuri Bilge Ceylan eventually won the Palme D’Or) were early meaty offerings. Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders brought transcendental beauty to a rural Tuscan farm while with Mr. Turner, Mike Leigh gave Timothy Spall the role of a lifetime as he expertly delivered J.M.W. Turner to the big screen. His finely detailed period piece grunted its way to rave reviews.

Rounding up the contenders was a 25 year old prodigy from Quebec. Xavier Dolan already has five films under his belt and his latest looks poised for greatness. Mommy focuses on the relationship between an ADHD boy, his mom and their mild-mannered neighbour. It’s brash, beautiful and quite obnoxious throughout but without question it stood out from the pack. Whatever you might think of the wunderkind, Mommy certainly makes those other contenders look awfully dusty. One bravado innovation, about an hour or so in, was like a cinematic boot through the saloon doors. The moment, which we won’t give away, was met with a rousing ovation all its own.

In Un Certain Regard we found a real-life club hostess playing herself in Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis’ Party Girl; Ryan Gosling stank up the building with his overly indulgent Lynch-leaning Lost River; a surefire Palme Dog winner arrived in Kornel Mundruczo’s canine uprising ode White God and Ned Benson dressed a dreadful romance in a highbrow jacket for The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.

Out of competition we found Robert Pattinson doing his damnedest in David Michod’s unfortunately half-baked dystopian The Rover, and a surprise festival hit in the defiantly nationalist USSR hockey documentary Red Army. Further favourites to be unearthed in the festival’s sidebars were J.K. Simmons muscular performance in the exhilarating Sundance winner Whiplash; up and coming indie horror fare in David Robert Mitchell’s sexual politics allegory It Follows;  and Catch me Daddy, the debut feature from music video director Daniel Wolff (that guy who cast Jake Gyllenhaal as a coke-sniffing serial killer).

Parties were attended and rosé was drunk; pages were typed and deals were done; Kylie played a yacht and Arnie and his mates rolled down the Croisette in a tank. The competition was strong if not outstanding; the weather was all over the shop and the crowds were celebratory till the last.


  • Palme d’Or – Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
  • Grand Prix – The Wonders (Alice Rohrwacher
  • Best Director – Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher
  • Best Screenplay – Andrey Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin for Leviathan
  • Best Actress – Julianne Moore for Maps to the Stars
  • Best Actor – Timothy Spall for Mr. Turner
  • Jury Prize – Mommy (Xavier Dolan) and Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard)