The Cannes Film Festival kicked off on Wednesday and reports of audience boos and technical problems have been cause for some early controversy. The festival’s opening film, Arnaud Desplechin’s Ismaël’s Ghosts, which stars Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourg, met with lukewarm reviews. Variety’s chief film critic, Peter Debruge, described the film as ‘jumbled,’ while Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian went further and labelled it a ‘baffling mess.’ A curmudgeonly start to the festival, then.
Wonderstruck, from Carol (2015) director Todd Haynes, split the critics a little more evenly after its premiere on Thursday. David Ehrlich of Indiewire was ‘mesmerised’ by the film, which tells the story of two children from different decades who each set out on a quest to New York to find an important person and, hopefully, some answers. Peter Bradshaw was again unenthusiastic, however, describing the film as ‘gooey and indulgent.’
A collective sigh of relief might have been heard all along La Croisette after the screening of Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless. Finally, the critics had something to unite in praise for, a film which has been described as ‘devastating, finely layered‘ and ‘pristine‘ in the reviews that have been posted so far. Critics took to Twitter after the screening to remark upon the film’s bleakness, which will be unsurprising for anyone who as seen Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan (2014).
Can't tweet about Andrey Zvyagintsev's Loveless w/o getting deeply personal. Traumatic-hypnotic-devastating. Slowly destroyed me #Cannes2017
— Tomris Laffly (@TomiLaffly) May 17, 2017
— Anne Thompson (@akstanwyck) May 17, 2017
Also debuting on Thursday was the long-awaited third feature from German director Valeska Grisebach, who recently worked with Maren Ade on last year’s Cannes favourite, Toni Erdmann (2016). It has been over ten years since Grisebach’s last feature, Longing (2006), was nominated for the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, and her new film, Western, participates in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes this year. The film, which tells of the increasing antagonism between a group of German construction workers, has not been acquired as swiftly as Loveless, but it is certainly one to look out for in future.
The main talking point from the festival so far has come from Friday’s premiere of Bong Joon-ho’s Okja. To provide some background, the film had already courted controversy before its screening because as a Netflix production, it is unlikely to have a theatrical release, a point which Grand Jury President Pedro Almodóvar took against. At a press conference prior to the start of the festival, Almodóvar said, “I personally don’t perceive the Palme d’Or [should be] given to a film that is then not seen on the big screen,” a point that fellow juror Will Smith disagreed with.
Perhaps unsurprisingly after this, Okja met with boos at the start of its screening, not aimed at the film itself but at the Netflix title card that preceded it on the big screen. Not one edition of Cannes goes by without reports of films being booed, but in this case it seems the objections weren’t to do with the artistic value of the film – the same cannot be said of Nicholas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives (2013), which was famously greeted with boos four years ago – but were aimed at the threat some believe the streaming medium poses to traditional, big-screen cinema.
This would be bad enough, except the catcalls continued for the first several minutes of the screening, as it was projected in the wrong aspect ratio. The festival has officially apologised for the error, but it was not a good start for one of the most eagerly anticipated films competing for the Palme d’Or. Then, in a moment which perhaps sums up the capricious nature of the arthouse film industry these days, the film was given a four-minute standing ovation, and all the Netflix-oriented jeers seemed forgotten.
— Festival de Cannes (@Festival_Cannes) May 19, 2017
Friday was otherwise a packed day at the festival, so its a shame that the Okja controversies dominated the news coming out of it. Kornél Mundruczó, the director of the astonishing White God (2014) debuted his new film about a flying refugee, Jupiter’s Moon, which David Ehrlich described as ‘vapid but visually astonishing.’ Elsewhere, Agnès Varda’s Visages Villages screened out of competition (a ‘self-referential marvel,’ says The Guardian), as well as Mohammed Rasoulof’s A Man of Integrity, a film about corruption in a small village in Iran, and Anita Ghazvinizadeh’s indie drama They, which explores gender identity from the point-of-view of a teenager who goes by the pronoun ‘They.’
This year’s Cannes Film Festival is only three days in and it feels like we’ve had all of the usual drama: screenings greeted with boos and standing ovations, films that split critical opinion but, unsurprisingly, not that many which seem to unite it in praise. There is a long way to go, though. Films from Sergei Loznitsa, Sofia Coppola, Michael Haneke, Claude Lanzmann, Michel Hazanvicius and many, many more mean that we can expect a lot more drama before the festival closes on 28th May.