International art cinema is in crisis according to several sources. With less money to risk on distribution deals, US distributors will make conservative choices and the number of international pick-ups will fall. The major studios have already started looking at their commitments and last year Warner Brothers closed their specialty divisions.
I’m not sure whether in the long run this is what will happen, but it’s interesting that Cannes this year is fielding the biggest line-up of A List arthouse auteurs for some time. I’m more excited about what might be coming our way than I have been for several years. In particular I’m looking out for the following films in the official competition:
Looking for Eric – Ken Loach
Fish Tank – Andrea Arnold
Map of the Sounds of Tokyo – Isabel Poixet
Une prophète – Jacques Audiard
Thirst – Park Chan-Wook
I’m not going to suggest that one of these five will win or that the films of the other major directors such as Jane Campion, Pedro Almodóvar, Ang Lee etc. won’t be just as enjoyable. I can say that I’m not going to rush to see the work of Michael Haneke, Lars von Trier or Quentin Tarantino, although I’m sure that this trio will command most of the press attention. It’s just a matter of taste, so I’ll be interested to see what a stir they make, even if I don’t particularly want to watch them.
My choice of five is easy to explain. I’ll always support Ken and his latest film, again written by Paul Laverty and this time with football ‘action philosopher’ legend, Eric Cantona, despite its Man U connections sounds just like vintage Loach. Red Road, Andrea Arnold’s first feature was a real event in UK Cinema and I’ve been looking out for the follow-up. I can’t find out much about the film except that it doesn’t seem to be the adaptation of a novel that I was expecting. It does, however, sound like a film about working class women in South London and the disruption caused by the arrival of Europe’s young actor of the moment, Michael Fassbender. Isabel Poixet’s Tokyo-set thriller sounds intriguing since she quotes various Japanese novelists as inspirations in the press pack and I’m a sucker for aspects of Japanese literary fiction.
If I’m honest, the film that really has me salivating is the Jacques Audiard polar, Une prophète. Based on an idea by Abdel Raouf Dafri, it is about a young Arab who joins a Corsican criminal gang in prison and then starts his own rival organisation. Audiard’s previous four films were all excellent and it is ironic that in the year when we are celebrating 50 years since the New Wave, Audiard is one of the leading French auteurs. His father was one of the great screen writers of la tradition de qualité in France in the 1950s – the the tradition so despised by Truffaut et al. It’s also interesting that the French crime film seems to be back again.
Finally, Thirst re-unites Park Chan-wook and Song Kang-ho, two of the central figures in Korean Cinema, in a film which brings together that genre combination de jour, the vampire romance, with a plot line that involves a virus in the blood and a trip to Africa. The film is a Korean/US co-production and this should ensure that it gets a proper release in Europe and North America. It’s already a big hit in South Korea.
I just hope that these films fulfil their promise and get a decent release worldwide. I’m interested in both popular and arthouse films from around the world and if Cannes 2009 can raise the profile of great filmmakers with significant films it will indeed be a ‘can do’ festival.