Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

A changed and unchanging Cannes kicks off

The competition may welcome familiar names, but social media has changed the feel of the festival

Tue, May 13, 2014, 21:46


We’re almost ready to get stuck in. The plates have been laid out, the table cloth has been smoothed and the time has come to, well, stop stretching culinary metaphors and watch some bleeding films. There has already been some criticism that this year’s Cannes competition looks a little familiar. Of the 18 films in competition for the Palme d’Or, 13 are by directors who previously figured in the race. Mike Leigh, the Dardennes brothers and Ken Loach are all previous winners. Oh well. If you want to savour some new blood, sidebars such as Un Certain Regard, Directors’ Fortnight and the Critics Week are teeming with the stuff.

Marcello does not altogether approve of the new ways

For all the apparent stasis, there have been changes in the feel of Cannes over the last five years or so. As recently as the turn of the last decade, journalists still made some attempt to hold back on reviewing films until enough time had passed to draw breath. It seems a little quaint now, but the first screenings are as early as 8.30 am for a reason. There is still some notion that we write reviews and dispatch copy with thoughts of taking up space in the following day’s newspaper. The official screening of that early film will, most likely, not take place until later the same evening. Next morning, like the characters in a 1940s musical, the film-makers are expected to rush down to the newsagent, eager to read what Hiram B Hack thinks of their latest opus. Obviously, the internet began to eat away at that tradition over a decade ago. But, before the arrival of Twitter, some lip-service was still paid to the old traditions. Quite a few papers would hold back their reviews until the big red-carpet screening had taken place. At that point, punters could get to grips with the consensus.

Such is the nature of micro-blogging (as we no longer call it) that one can now assess the standing of a film within seconds of it ending. The steps from the Palais will be blocked with writers trying to get their initial 140 characters in. Now that the finger has been removed from the Great Embargo Dyke, an unseemly contest then begins to see who can get their review filed first.

That’s not quite fair. Most sensible critics will prioritise acuity over speed. But almost all are now required to get some view out there pretty darn quickly. This cannot be a good thing for the reliability of reviews. It is surely absurd that, within 10 minutes of a film’s credits rolling, the critic, whether he or she has taken heed, is writing against, in support of or in some balanced relationship with a consensus. At least let us have time for a cafĂ© au lait and a beignet.

Anyway, we all know that it does no good to fight against a tide when a tide has decided to come in. Twitter is here and, as the events unfold, you can read me on that useful medium. The first day will all be about planes and buses and weather. So, you can safely skip all that. Go to @donaldclarke63 for a knee-jerk response to Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner on Thursday morning. It’s about to get busy.