The news from Cannes’ opening weekend was reassuringly familiar. Woody Allen opened the festival for the first time since 2011’s hit “Midnight in Paris,” with a far more tepidly received entry. Ken Loach was forgiven for reneging on his promise of two years ago to stop making films after “I, Daniel Blake,” a tear-jerking critique of Britain’s welfare system, had critics here in ecstasies.
That film, along with the nearly three-hour-long German comedy “Toni Erdmann” (word on the street is that it’s genuinely hilarious), is the current frontrunner for the Palme d’Or, the festival’s coveted trophy, given this year by a jury presided over by the George Miller, the Australian director whose “Mad Max: Fury Road” made one of the biggest splashes at last year’s festival. Miller reportedly put distance between himself and his original “Mad Max” Mel Gibson, choosing to ditch him for the most recent installment of the post-apocalyptic franchise, after the actor’s ugly public behavior, including his drunken anti-Semitic ranting. The jury is out — pardon the expression — on whether Miller is Jewish. If he is, he certainly doesn’t talk about it or address it in his films (unless you want to consider “Babe 2: Pig In The City” a retelling of the Book of Exodus).
Arnaud Desplechin, the celebrated French director who sits on this year’s jury, is (quite definitely) not Jewish, but often explores Jewish themes in films. Some might recall that last year’s jury, headed by the Coen Brothers and featuring Jake Gyllenhaal had a decidedly Jewish spin, which was most evident in the Jury’s decision to award Hungary’s “Son of Saul” the Grand Prix, the festival’s silver medal. László Nemes, that film’s Oscar-winning director, is the sole confirmed Jew on this year’s jury, which also features Donald Sutherland and Kirsten Dunst. (I’ve been hopelessly infatuated with Dunst ever since 1994’s “Interview with the Vampire,” and hopes were kindled in my adolescent breast that she was Jewish when she starred in the 1999 television adaptation of The Devil’s Arithmetic, playing an assimilated Jewish girl who time travels back to Holocaust during a Seder. A decade later, she was quick to denounce her Melancholia director Lars von Trier for his imbecilic and borderline anti-Semitic comments praising Hitler at Cannes. Dunst walked off with that year’s best actress prize, while von Trier was labeled persona non grata by the festival and hasn’t been back since.)
Woody Allen’s “Café Society” premiered amidst renewed allegations of sexual abuse after Ronen Farrow, Allen and Mia Farrow’s son, wrote a scathing indictment for The Hollywood Reporter about what he termed “the culture of acquiescence” surrounding his father’s alleged crimes. Another period piece with a glittery cast (Jesse Eisenberg, Steve Carell, Blake Lively, Kristen Stewart and Parker Posey), it’s a story of love and romance in 1930s Hollywood produced by Amazon and slated for a summer release. I missed it, but the critical consensus seems to be that it is a sweet yet forgettable love letter to Tinseltown. Aside from Allen, the only other Jewish directors on the main slate this year are Sean Penn, whose romantic drama about aid workers in “Liberia, The Last Face,” is the actor’s first film behind the camera since 2007’s Into the Wild and the French auteur Olivier Assayas, back after 2014’s “The Clouds of Sils Maria” with the inauspiciously-titled “Personal Shopper.”
The entries by Penn and Assayas are among the 21 films competing for the Palme d’Or. Allen, presenting his 11th film (out of a total 46) at Cannes, has never taken part in the competition, saying that the idea of pitting movies against each other like athletes or sports teams went “against my common sense.” “For any group to come together and judge the work of other people is something I would never do. To make a judgment that this is the best, with the implication that in some platonic way it is the objective best, is something I don’t believe in. So I don’t want to participate in it,” he explained at the film’s press conference.
Allen’s stance prompted some theorizing from the eight-member jury when they presented themselves. Nemes seemed genuinely surprised as a first-time director about being given this honor. The 39-year-old Hungarian said that he was excited by the “randomness” in how film festivals worked. “Films are different and hopefully this competition has a lot of very different films and it shows the liveliness and energy of world filmmaking. And then, from jury to jury I guess the result will always be different.” Nemes also seemed to be expressing gratitude to the festival for letting his film compete last year, after it had originally been programmed for the festival’s second section Un Certain Regard. “I think putting my film in competition was also a sort of statement saying cinema should be open to new ways: that pioneering and looking for new ways in cinema should never stop in cinema.”
Dunst, expressing admiration for Nemes’ film, offered the best defense for the festival’s competition, which indeed valorizes certain films over others and hence spurs interest in films that would otherwise languish in obscurity. “Without film festivals,“ the 33-year-old actress said, “we wouldn’t see movies like ‘Son of Saul.’”
A.J. Goldmann is a freelance journalist based in Berlin.
The 69th Cannes Film Festival has what it takes to be a vintage edition, with Woody Allen leading a pack of celebrated filmmakers presenting their movies to the French Riviera crowds.
The May 11-22 cinema extravaganza opens on Wednesday with Allen’s “Cafe Society,” featuring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart in a story of a young man who arrives in Hollywood during the 1930s hoping to work in the film industry.
“When we will be old we will tell our children you know I was living at a time when Woody Allen’s films were coming out, and I think he’s one of the greatest auteurs,” festival director Thierry Fremaux told Reuters.
Although he has never been in competition, Allen is a Cannes favorite. This year will be the third time he has opened the festival, and several other familiar faces will be presenting their films in the main competition.
“This year the competition is mostly Cannes favorites, Cannes darlings,” Variety critic Jay Weissberg told Reuters.
“Fremaux is someone who likes to reward his friends, he’s somebody who likes to have the people he knows come back year after year after year.”
The Dardenne brothers, who present “The Unknown Girl,” have won the festival’s highest distinction, the Palme d’Or, twice.
Ken Loach, in Cannes with “I, Daniel Blake” has won it once, while Bruno Dumont; Jim Jarmusch, who is showing two films including a documentary on Iggy Pop; Park Chan-wook; and Pedro Almodovar have all previously scooped other honors.
Jarmusch’s films are two of five distributed by Amazon as the video streaming giant makes its first appearance in Cannes.
While the competition films bring much of the prestige, some of the red carpet glitz will surround some of the out of competition screenings, such as Steven Spielberg’s “The BFG,” based on the novel by Roald Dahl.
Oscar-winner Julia Roberts makes her Cannes debut in Jodie Foster’s out-of competition film “Money Monster,” alongside George Clooney.
“Twilight” star Stewart has been labeled queen of the festival by organizers as she features in “Cafe Society” as well as Olivier Assayas’s “Personal Shopper,” which is vying for the Palme d’Or crown.
Despite the glamour, security will be intense as France is still facing a high risk of attack.
Private security officers will control the Palais des Festivals entry points while “hundreds” of police officers will be deployed as France is still under a state of emergency after last year’s Paris attacks killed 130 people.—Reuters
Woody Allen’s “Cafe Society,” his 46th feature as a director, has been chosen to open the 69th annual Cannes Film Festival.
According to Variety, the May 11 premier at the Palais des Festivals’ Grand Théâtre Lumière will make Allen the first and only director with three opening-night films at the prestigious French festival. His previous premiers include “Hollywood Ending” (2002) and “Midnight in Paris” (2011). “Cafe Society” is also the first Amazon produced film to make Cannes, signaling that streaming services are in league with established production houses.
The official Cannes description of the Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart starrer tells the story of a “young man who arrives in Hollywood during the 1930s hoping to work in the film industry, falls in love, and finds himself swept up in the vibrant café society that defined the spirit of the age.” The cast includes Steve Carell, Parker Posey, Blake Lively, Corey Stoll, Jeannie Berlin and Ken Stott and will premier on Amazon later this year.
Natalie Portman played a ballerina in the grip of psychological trauma in “Black Swan,” but the Israeli actress said she had lots of support while directing her first film, about the childhood of Israeli intellectual Amos Oz, shown in Cannes.
Portman both directs and stars in “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” based on Oz’s autobiographical novel of the same name focusing on his relationship with his motherFania, who committed suicide when Oz was 12.
Oz’s mother, played by Portman, was a Polish Jewish refugee from a moneyed family who felt lost in the poverty and violence in Jerusalem during the period surrounding the formation of the Israeli state in 1948.
After 10 cinema-soaked days, the International Jury, headed by Jane Campion, dished out the prizes of the 67th Cannes Film Festival.
There were no multiple winners in a year when there were clearly not enough awards to go around. In fact, some have taken issue with the jury’s decision to award the Jury Prize to both Xavier Dolan’s “Mommy” and Jean-Luc Godard’s 3D “Adieu au Langage.” Splitting the prize between the youngest and oldest directors in competition (Dolan is 25; Godard is 83), the jury was rectifying a long-standing oversight (Godard has never won a prize before at Cannes) and endorsing the work of a passionate and original new director. You would think that Dolan would be deeply honored to keep company with Godard, but apparently his tears onstage accepting the award masked his fury at not getting the Palme d’Or (the film that gets the Palme can’t score a win in an other category).
Russian filmmaker Alexei Serebriakov’s “Leviathan,” one of the final films to screen in competition, was something of a surprise winner for the screenplay award. A modern retelling of the Book of Job, it is a grim tale of government corruption and religious hypocrisy that is all the timelier in light of recent events in the expanding republic of Putinistan.
It came as little surprise when Timothy Spall was announced as Best Actor for his astonishing work in Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner.” That Spall beat out Steve Carell –the other critical favorite — made sense in light of the directing award, which went to Bennett Miller, who became the first Jewish director to win the prize since Julian Schnabel in 2007 for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” His “Foxcatcher,” which was one of the stronger competition entries this year, is already being mentioned as a contender for next year’s Oscars. Julianne Moore, the Best Actress-winner for her Norma Desmond turn in David Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars,” was the only winner aside from Godard — who didn’t even bother showing up for his screening or press conference last week — not on hand to accept.
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