Festivals           JOAN DUPONT

CANNES 2015:

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Pierre Lescure's first year as president of the Cannes Festival—with Thierry Frémaux now the sole master of the selection, since Gilles Jacob retired—brought a surprising fortnight of funereal films. Competitions sponsored by luxury companies like Chopard, Oréal, and other new backers showered audiences with harrowing dramas of war-torn countries, social injustice, domestic violence, natural catastrophes, and even a descent into the pitch-black world of a concentration camp.

"Exhausting" is howLe Monde described watching the competition."Funereal" was the headline of the popular Journal du Dimanche.And the awards were just as bizarre. It was that kind of year.

Frémaux, keen to put his stamp on the competition, was omnipresent. He is a man who has the gait and stance of a boxer, a decided contrast to Jacob, who always managed to stand elegantly above the fray. Frémaux's first move, however, cast a shadow over the selection: he turned down two of France's finest auteurs, Philippe Garrel and Arnaud Desplechin, and perhaps two of the best films they've ever made.

Garrel's luminous black-and-white L'Ombre des Femmes and Desplechin's enthralling Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse up the Directors' Fortnight, the free-wheeling section of the festival further down the Croisette run by Edouard Waintrop. Instead of elevating Frémaux's Palais, then, the pair of films showed up the official selection as lacking in zest and brio.

Even the American lineup, always popular, seemed sparse and lackluster this year, aside from Mad Max: Fury Road, shown out of competition.

And as if in response to the perennial criticism that the festival shows too few women directors, women were everywhere, but not always at their best. The opening film, Emmanuelle Bercot's Standing Tall, was a kind of redemption drama that drew a tepid response. Shown out of competition, it charts the chaotic course of a juvenile delinquent, with newcomer Rod Paradot as the boy, and Catherine Deneuve as a stern but compassionate—yawn—judge in a juvenile court.

And there was another woman's film, this one in competition: Valérie Donzelli's Marguerite & Julien, a story of brother-sister incest from a script that had been written for François Truffaut but which, in his wisdom, he did not make into a movie. The action sprawls across various time zones. Its two most enjoyable characters are Sami Frey as a priestly advisor to the family and Geraldine Chaplin as a wicked mother-in-law.

The festival's innovations and choices led to the most bizarre jury awards in years. 2015 turned out to be a big year for France, starting with the honoring of actress Emmanuelle Bercot, up to now a discreet presence on the scene. Inspired, perhaps, by last year's best award to the two actresses of Blue Is the Warmest Color, the jury awarded two stars, who this time appeared in separate films: Bercot in Maïwenn's Mon Roi, along with Rooney Mara in Todd Haynes'sCarol. Strange bedfellows indeed!

Haynes's adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's Carol, a quiet film about pent-up passion, was a critical and popular favorite to win the Palm. Highsmith's book was published under a pseudonym in 1952, when its subject was still taboo. So the unspoken, a girl's hidden agitation is at the heart of the story of forbidden love. In the film, Mara plays the girl who falls under the spell of Cate Blanchett, an enigmatic beauty from a remote, stony mansion. Haynes paces their story as a cautious pas de deux in an age of stifled passion. Both Blanchett and Mara are impeccable and so are their settings. For me, though, the film was too much about beauty, not enough about alienation and their secret love; I would have liked more mystery and a whiff of misery.

Highsmith, best known for Strangers on a Train and her successful Ripley series, went on to write novels with characters rife with guilt and dread of disclosure. She lived by herself then in the stony Ticino Mountains, in a house safe as a Swiss bank vault, in exile. I met her when she lived in France, interviewed her in 1977, and then when she moved to Switzerland, wrote a piece on her for the New York Times Magazine ("Criminal Pursuits," June 12, 1988). She picked me up at the small railway station in her yellow Volkswagen and seemed happy. I loved her house filled with furniture she had made herself, her office, her cats, and the way she listened for the woodpecker outside, feeding him pizza. There was also pizza for our lunch and whiskey that she drank as we talked, becoming more guarded, less happy. The next day, she had to take her car to the garage and I was sitting with my notes at her long table when I heard a stealthy knock on the door. When I opened, there she was, looking miserable. Why had she knocked?"Well, you never know," she said. And that's when I saw how hard it was for her to be observed and how, in the presence of others, she felt like a refugee in her own house. In Mon Roi, Bercot, a bourgeois lawyer, falls prey to a swashbuckling demon lover (Vincent Cassel) who draws her into his magic kingdom. Actually, all he does is run a restaurant chain, throw money around, and have lots of sex, but he dazzles and drives her to her wit's end. It's a manic domestic sado-maso drama that smacks of somebody's story—perhaps the director's.



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