Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

The Irish Times team waves goodbye to Cannes

A good festival had a worthy winner in Blue is the Warmest Colour.

Mon, May 27, 2013, 01:38


Well, that’s that. When the programme for the Cannes film festival was announced last month, a few punters felt it looked the tiniest bit (just the tiniest bit, mind) underwhelming. In the event, the festival delivered and confirmed its position as a contender for the world’s premiere arts event. What seriously competes? Bayreuth? Hardly. The Venice Biennale? Not quite. Edinburgh? At a stretch. No other jamboree has such an influence on its chosen medium. Before this year’s festival kicked off, Abdellatif Kechiche, director of Blue is the Warmest Colour, was a major film-maker, but not an absolute star. A lot of people admired his film Couscous. He had a very particular voice. He was not, however, a name with which to conjure. Now that he’s taken the Palme d’Or, he has won a deserved place in the top rank.

Ms Brady models the festival bag before entering the Salle Debussy.

In the interests of full disclosure, a confession should be made. About 40 minutes into Blue is the Warmest Colour, I turned to my colleague, Tara Brady, and made various unconvinced gestures. She looked at me as if I were crazy. By the close, I was forced to scoff an entire cooler of humble pie and admit that the film was among the best I had seen in four editions of the Cannes Film Festival. It is sure to drag all kinds of cult energies about itself. The fact that it features long, very graphic scenes of lesbian sex may still (unfortunately) kick up a bit of controversy here and there. But even the most stubborn prude will be won over by its accumulating emotional power. This film — probably more than any recent Palme d’Or winner — will get talked about.

Mr Clarke celebrates Abdellatif Kechiche’s achievement with some Couscous. (Get it?)

It was a pleasure to be here. But the festival certainly grinds you down a wee bit. The hierarchy of press badges — white beats pink beats blue beats yellow — makes one wonder what happened to Liberté, égalité and fraternité (well to égalité, anyway). The pressure to come to a decision within minutes of seeing a film can often lead to somewhat rash judgement.

On balance, however, you’d rather be here in May than most other places. Heck, a visit does give you a chance to scoff in the excellent Le Riad Moroccan restaurant on Impasse Florian. They do a fine bucket of Couscous for — by the standards of Dublin as well as this place — a very reasonable price. Vegetarians get on fine there, also. I mention this not to show off, but in order to bring the fine people there just a tad more business. We raise two thumbs in their direction.

It should also be pointed out that, while queuing, you get to rub up against an interesting collection of people. It’s good to see the big critics swanning past in their sedan chairs. It’s also nice, however, to meet dedicated younger folk who have worked two jobs to finance their trip here. One just hopes too many of them didn’t get too wet in the rain this year.

Of course, it’s really about the films. There is plenty for you to look forward to over the next year. We also did a few interviews that may help you pass the time. Tara talked to Nicolas Winding Refn about the terrific Only God Forgives — the uncompromising, relentless intensity of which knocked more than a few psyches sideways. I was escorted to the world’s poshest hotel to speak with Michael Douglas about Behind the Candelabra. The highlight of that trip wasn’t the view. It wasn’t getting bought champagne by Matt Damon. It was getting to see Douglas slap down an incredibly rude, pushy journalist in uncompromising fashion. “Sorry, do you have a problem? What’s your problem?” he said in the voice that Gordon Gekko probably used to clear away street hawkers. It sounds nasty. But she had it coming.

Between the two of us, we delivered four five star reviews: of Only God Forgives, Blue is the Warmest Colour, Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty and The Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis. That’s more than any Cannes I’ve been to so far. They are all coming your way. That’s without mentioning only slightly less magnificent pictures such as Like Father, Like Son, Only Lovers Left Alive and The Selfish Giant.

Maybe things ended with a bit of a moist squib. Neither Tara nor I were bowled over by Michael Kohlhaas (the fine Mads Mikkelsen as a sort of proto-Robin Hood) or by Roman Polanski’s Venus in Fur (indulgent two-hander starring the director’s wife). But it was still a fine festival. Farewell, pigeon on my balcony!