Cannes 2008

It seems auspicious to start this blog on the night when the Cannes Film Festival is the focus of BBC2’s Late Review. This is the annual jaunt to Cannes and this year follows the usual pattern – with only one film reviewer amongst the quartet. In fact, Mark Kermode is just about the only visible film critic of any standing on UK television. My argument on this blog will be that UK media generally don’t take film seriously as an art form and Late Review lives up to this billing.

There are 22 films in competition, but the programme’s running order is utterly predictable. Four American films are discussed first, beginning with a totally unnecessary discussion of the new Indiana Jones (i.e. because it is being reviewed everywhere else) followed by Soderbergh’s Che, Kaufman’s Synecdoche and the new Clint Eastwood. The token ‘foreign’ segment comes in the middle with an Israeli animation, a Walter Salles film and the latest Dardennes Brothers venture. The programme then rounds off with the three highest profile British films. I would have risked folding money that they wouldn’t discuss any East Asian films or any others from Latin America outside of the named directors’ films (i.e. those already known). There are 500+ plus films released theatrically in the UK each year, but there won’t be space for many of those seen at Cannes — certainly not in the next few weeks. There is a connection between what a supposedly ‘high culture’ BBC arts programme will discuss and what gets released. Why not ask (for once a year) a round table of knowledgable reviewers, some at least with wider tastes, to join Kermode just for once? (I quite like the good Doctor, but it would probably do him good to be on with someone who knows as much, if not more than he does.) Someone like Jonathan Romney plus an academic like Ginnette Vincendeau anda controversial figure like Tony Rayns would make up an interesting panel. I suspect they might select a slightly different set of films to discuss.

11 responses to “Cannes 2008

  1. The announcement of the winners of Cannes 2008 was something of a case of the ‘revenge of European art cinema’. Apart from the acting prize going to Benicio del Toro, every other major prize went to a European art film (including Steve McQueen from the UK and Nuri Bilge Ceylan from Turkey). I think this makes my point about how out of touch BBC2 is with what constitutes film culture at Cannes. Of course, commercially the weekend at the box office was dominated by Indiana Jones. I’m quite excited at the prospect of seeing all this year’s winners, but disappointed by the lack of interest in Africa and the failure of East Asia and South America to make more of a splash.

  2. The representation of the Cannes festival reflects our ‘two-faced’ film culture maybe – not sure whether we are facing out to North America or Europe (not just a problem for film culture!) Being in Germany recently, it’s interesting to compare how filmgoers (from anecdotal evidence) do embrace filmmakers such as Petzold or Schmidt with a certain sense of national pride and a recognition of film’s importance as part of their cultural identity. Do we tend to avoid discussing a popular culture form in these terms?

    BBC4’s coverage of the World Cinema Awards was exactly the kind of discussion I think you say was missing from the Late Review – broadcasting the panel’s deliberations as part of the coverage. Comprising Christopher Eccleston, Archie Panjabi and Nick Broomfield, it was stimulating and engaged with film as art. Perhaps a danger of BBC4 is how it potentially enables these programmes to become slightly ghettoised.

    By the way, where are you placing Soderbergh in all of this – I would say he has some credentials to be admitted to the European arthouse circuit, not least in the way he embraces European film form and directors for inspiration?

  3. This year there was little sleep lost over who would grab prizes at Cannes. I saw some excellent films from British filmmakers, and a whole string of very weak efforts from established Europeans, including from those directors mentioned above. Very little to get excited about. Meanwhile, Japan was represented by the virtually unexportable Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Hong Kong by a 13 year-old Wong Kar-Wai film. To me it’s little wonder that Newsnight Review clutched at the easier straws. It was a poor Cannes competition, and NNR did manage to find the interesting stuff. This includes Waltz with Bashir (the Israeli animation – actually an animated documentary), which stood head and shoulders above the other competition films that I saw.

    In any case, Cannes is actually an almost chronically overheated trade fair, with high-profile stuff attached. It’s not really that serious at all.

    Good idea re. Tony Rayns.

  4. Good points all, I think – a lot of different arguments though. There are three issues at stake for me in the comments. My starting point was the BBC’s policy towards coverage of ‘specialised cinema’. I didn’t see the BBC4 programme Rona mentioned, but I’ve not been impressed by previous programmes devoted to its ‘World Cinema Awards’. I’ve no problem with Archie Panjabi and Christopher Eccleston discussing films. I like them both as actors and they’ve had interesting careers — likewise Broomfield. But isn’t it possible to find actors/directors from other cultures? This has happened in the past and I do think BBC4 is trying. One of the problems with a non-terrestrial channel is that it doesn’t have any form of consistent scheduling, so although there are gems to be found, you do really have to look for them. The withdrawal from screening foreign language films on terrestrial television has been cited as a major factor in limiting distribution possibilities in the UK (because the TV rights helped make an overall deal viable). Perhaps we need a separate entry to properly explore this? The whole question of where film culture sits in relation to UK cultural policy is a wider debate and that’s the second argument found in these comments.

    I hold my hands up re Soderbergh. I think I invested too heavily in him when he ‘returned’ with Out of Sight and Erin Brockovich. I then possibly over-reacted after Ocean’s 11.

    Tom’s points about Cannes are really about the festival itself (though I accept that I should have mentioned the Israeli animation). Since Tom was there, he can report on how ‘flat’ it was. On the other hand, it’s often difficult to assess the import of a festival when you are actually in it. I’ve no real desire to go to Cannes, it sounds horrendous. But I think it is important for specialised cinema in that any kind of profile is a help to sales. Artificial Eye bought several of the winners for UK release, so Tom will be deciding what to do with them no doubt. The Cannes question for me is more about how films are selected for screening and then how those screenings get reported or not. What is the UK media’s agenda for reporting the festival? The extended question becomes “Why are no films screened from South Asia and Africa?” Btw Tom, there was a major Korean film out of competition, plus four new Chinese language films across the two major competitions — did you see any of these?

  5. “there was a major Korean film out of competition, plus four new Chinese language films across the two major competitions — did you see any of these?”

    I saw the Bong Joon Ho segment of Tokyo! Otherwise no.

  6. I was thinking of the Kim Jee-woon film The Good, The Bad and The Weird, a spaghetti western set in Manchuria in the 1930s. The director made A Tale of Two Sisters and A Bittersweet Life and it stars Song Kang-ho. It was an ‘out of competition screening.

  7. Yes. I didn’t see it.

  8. “Tom’s points about Cannes are really about the festival itself”

    And therefore the coverage of the festival, which I also saw.

    “it’s often difficult to assess the import of a festival when you are actually in it.”


  9. “any kind of profile is a help to sales.”

    In the UK? True for most Palm d’or winners, otherwise not really. Many of these have not been released in the UK, or have disappeared if they have:

    “The Cannes question for me is more about how films are selected for screening”

    Regional consultants put forward suggestions. The names of these people are listed in the festival materials, and I can dig them out if you wnat. Their suggestions are then presided over by Christian Jeune

    Keiran Corless’s book has a good overview of this process, as well as details of the impact of Cannes publicity to individual films’ business…

    “What is the UK media’s agenda for reporting the festival?”

    This is surely dictated by what UK distributors pick up, and therefore by what audiences have gone to see in the past. It’s a conservative process.

  10. Perhaps it was glib of me to say that it’s difficult to assess the import of something when you are in the middle of it. What I mean’t is that it’s easier to be a dispassionate observer when you are safely outside of it — which isn’t the same thing.

    I think that Cannes is important for possible sales in the UK, but I was thinking of other territories as well. As far as I can see, some relatively high profile films are bought on the strength of appearing at Berlin, Cannes or Venice for UK and European distribution. I agree that even the winners don’t always get picked up.

    Thanks for the references to how Cannes works. It’s a racket, isn’t it? But sometimes some good comes out of it (e.g. when Yeelen appeared at Cannes in 1987). You are probably right about the general UK media agenda, but it’s worth arguing for something a little more progressive, a little less nationalistic and Anglocentric, isn’t it?

  11. “it’s worth arguing for something a little more progressive, a little less nationalistic and Anglocentric, isn’t it?”

    Absolutely, but my point ultimately is that relationships between broadcast content and cinema audiences are at least symbiotic.

    “it sounds horrendous”

    There you go!

    Neil Young may have a better view of what’s going on at European him festivals:

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