Cannes 2018: There’s only one contender for picture of the year

Cannes daily: A shot of Kristen Stewart glancing admiringly at Cate Blanchett is causing a stir

O president! My president! Kristen Stewart and Cate Blanchett. Photograph: Valery Hache/AFP/Getty

O president! My president! Kristen Stewart and Cate Blanchett. Photograph: Valery Hache/AFP/Getty

 

“Seems like a lock for best picture”

Nobody can stop talking about the stand-away glamorousness of this year’s jury. There’s always a bit of that at Cannes, but the presence of the actor Kristen Stewart, the director Ava DuVernay, the musician Khadja Nin, the French star Léa Seydoux and the jury president, Cate Blanchett, has blown the brains out of the attending Twitterati. “The female members of the Cannes jury have made me forget about the Met Gala,” Kyle Buchanan of Vulture said. Guy Lodge of Variety commented: “Their four male counterparts are about to become the least-photographed Cannes jurors of all time.” Much attention has focused on an image of Stewart glancing admiringly at her president. Tim Grierson of Screen Daily perhaps said it best: “We’re a couple weeks away from knowing what will win the Palme d’Or, but right now this seems like a lock for best picture.”

“Not dead yet”: Gilliam’s stroke adds to Quixote turmoil

We do not mean to underplay the seriousness of the story, but Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote seems unable to avoid catastrophe. A little over a week before the film – in and out of production for decades – was set to premiere at the festival, we learned that Gilliam had suffered a minor stroke. Thankfully, the director said in a message tweeted by the festival: “Not dead yet. We are coming to Cannes.”

Not dead yet: Terry Gilliam
Not dead yet. We are coming to Cannes

A court case that could have stopped the film from being shown has just ended in Paris. Paulo Branco, once a producer on the project, was claiming that his company owns the rights. “In most of Gilliam’s films the budget exploded. But I soon understood that he harboured a deep hatred for producers,” Branco told the French newspaper Le Monde. Introducing The Eyes of Orson Welles, directed by Mark Cousins – who also had an endless struggle with a Quixote project – Thierry Frémaux, Cannes’s artistic director, proudly announced the case was settled.

But then came more bad news. Rumours emerged that Amazon Studios, despite contributing significant funds to the production, was no longer handling The Man Who Killed Don Quixote in the US. It is 16 years since Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s documentary Lost in La Mancha told the story of how Gilliam’s attempt to film the story with Johnny Depp and Jean Rochefort broke down. The current version (safely in the can at least) features Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce. What else can happen?

Turns out everybody doesn’t know

Stand down the irony brigade. Despite naughty gossip promulgated by Variety magazine, Netflix will not be buying the opening film of the Cannes competition. It has been confirmed that Focus Features, in one of the event’s first big deals, will be distributing Asghar Farhadi’s Everybody Knows in a host of territories, including the US, Canada, Australia, the UK and Ireland.

The film received mixed reviews, but its stars, Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz, give the project a mainstream saleability that Farhadi’s earlier films couldn’t claim.

The Iranian director was forthright about the travails facing his compatriot Jafar Panahi. That director, whose Three Faces is also in competition, is currently under house arrest. “I spoke to him yesterday,” Farhadi said. “I have great respect for his work and continue to hope he will be able to come. I would like to send out a message: I hope that the decision will be taken for him to be allowed to come. What’s important for him is not to be able to catch a flight but for him to be able to see how spectators view his film. It’s not by reading the news that he’ll get this experience.”

Panahi is one of two competing directors under house arrest. The Russian film-maker Kirill Serebrennikov, whose Leto is reviewed below, is similarly detained on embezzlement charges that supporters think trumped up. 

And today’s reviews from the festival...

Like Anna Friel in Brookside: Sheila Munyiva and Samantha Mugatsia in Wanuri Kahiu’s film Rafiki
Like Anna Friel in Brookside: Sheila Munyiva and Samantha Mugatsia in Wanuri Kahiu’s film Rafiki

Rafiki
★★★

Directed by Wanuri Kahiu. Starring Samantha Mugatsia, Sheila Munyiva, Neville Misati, Jimmy Gathu. Un Certain Regard, 82 min
Wanuri Kahiu’s second feature made noise at Cannes even before it unspooled in the Un Certain Regard section. Rafiki is the first Kenyan film in the official selection, and, banned in its home country for lesbian content, it finds itself at the heart of a real cause celebre. The story may be familiar – same-gender couple struggle with mean oldies – but it buzzes with such juice and joy that it will surely gain a cult following. An informal fan club is already forming.

Campaigners in Ireland’s Eighth Amendment referendum will perk up at the story of two people from competing political camps who meet up when one catches the other tearing down a poster. Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) and Zika (Sheila Munyiva) are the daughters of rival politicians in the outskirts of Nairobi. Kena, whose father seems the more reasonable, is a serious girl unsure whether she should become a nurse or a doctor. Zika, glamorous, funny, irrepressible, is here to energise her ambitions. Kahiu teases out their relationship cautiously. After glances, giveaway sighs and shared suspicions they find themselves ever so gently in love. The tastefulness of the clinches makes the Kenyan ban all the more mystifying. We’re talking Anna Friel in Brookside here.

Mugatsia and Munyiva bring their own fire. The actors bounce contrasts off one another as we build to an inevitable meltdown with the conservative parents. The picture addresses religious fundamentalism and homophobia within toxic masculinity. But, for the most part, Rafiki is a celebratory picture. The music is terrific, hot African beats giving way to pretty ballads. The compositions make inventive use of such everyday features as colourful clothes on washing lines. There are no bad performances. We left whistling the good will.

The Eyes of Orson Welles: what a shame Mark Cousins’s documentary couldn’t play as support to The Other Side of the Wind
The Eyes of Orson Welles: what a shame Mark Cousins’s documentary couldn’t play as support to The Other Side of the Wind

The Eyes of Orson Welles
★★★★

Directed by Mark Cousins. Cannes Classics, 115 min
The restored version of Orson Welles’s unfinished The Other Side of the Wind was probably the saddest casualty of the great 2018 Netflix wars. That film would have delighted attendees at this event. We did get some compensation with the premiere of Mark Cousins’s characteristically eccentric documentary, structured around unseen artwork by the great man. Cousins, Belfast’s most prominent cineaste, appeared to reference the dispute while introducing his film at the Buñuel Theatre. He noted that work “aesthetically of the big screen should be seen on the big screen”.

As anyone who has seen one of Cousins’s documentaries before might guess, the new picture is structured as a letter to Welles. “Dear Orson,” he intones as he contemplates a carton containing his hero’s sketches, paintings and notes. “What’s in the box?” he asks over and again in unmistakable Cousinsian vowels.

What indeed? The artwork leads us from Illinois to north Africa and on to Hollywood as Welles’s singular sensibility forms itself. Along the way we settle down in Ireland, of course, where Welles travelled precociously after leaving school. Nothing compares with the scenery Galway had to offer, apparently.

As The Eyes of Orson Welles goes on the film becomes less about the art and has more to do with Cousins’s own diagnosis of Welles. He believes in chivalry. He was a king figure. He had an inordinate love of place. No pat conclusion is reached, but Cousin does note that, unlike Laurence Olivier’s, Welles’s Shakespeare films were defined by space and shape. This is, he surmises, why fans of Olivier’s contemporaneous pictures are rarely keen on Welles’s grander strokes.

As ever with Cousins’s work, audiences will be divided by the idiosyncratic nature of his delivery and the oddness of some conclusions. Those on board will savour an unashamedly enthusiastic celebration of a talent who defies easy summation. The Eyes of Orson Welles is a sprawling, frustrating, mad thing. But it is also rigorously thought through. That’s what Mark Cousins does.

What a shame it couldn’t play as support to The Other Side of the Wind.

Leto: featuring Maniac Killer by the Heads Who Talk
Leto: featuring Maniac Killer by the Heads Who Talk

Leto (Summer)
★★★

Directed by Kirill Serebrennikov. Starring Teo Yoo, Irina Starshenbaum, Roman Bilyk, Filipp Avdeev, Aleksandr Gorchilin. In competition, 126 min
Well, we have the winner of the worst (temporary, to be fair) subtitles so far at Cannes. At the lead-in to one of several rotoscoped musical sequences, an unnamed narrator announces that we’re about to hear “Maniac Killer by the Heads Who Talk”.

Maybe they should just leave it in. Kirill Serebrennikov’s study of the early 1980s Leningrad rock scene takes – to non-Russian ears and eyes, anyway – such a puzzlingly skewed view of post-Beatles rock that the line hardly seems out of place.

The director of the excellent The Student has based his film around the true story of the short-lived Russian musician Viktor Tsoi. It’s a familiar rock yarn. A younger singer muscles in on the old guard and threatens to run away with fans and romantic partners. Shot (mostly) in gorgeous widescreen monochrome, the picture improvises enough original flourishes to keep interest alive. But Leto is muddled, aesthetically confused and profoundly uninterested in its women characters.

We begin with a delicious scene in which youngish people clamber through the window at the back of a state-sanctioned rock club. The officials have decided that, if listened to in polite, formal silence, such music may have a place in Soviet society. Mike (Roman Bilyk) leads one of the most popular bands: playing a strummy, bland rock hybrid that leads nowhere. Later, hanging out at the beach, he and his girlfriend Natacha (Irina Starshenbaum) bump into Viktor (Teo Yoo) and embark on a professional and romantic partnership.

The least said about the treatment of Natacha the soonest we can return to the 21st century. Of course, the patriarchal rock world often viewed women as housewives and chattels, but it would be nice if Serebrennikov acknowledged this was going on. “Mike has allowed me to kiss you,” she says to Viktor at one point. How are we supposed to process this?

Meanwhile, like rock bores everywhere, the boys drone on about Bowie, Bolan, the Stones and Billy Joel. Hang on. Billy Joel? Forgiveness is reasonable. As the film explains, these guys were forced to pass around albums on reel-to-reel tapes in hand-painted boxes. The music was coming through as Chinese whispers.

It’s hard to imagine many outside Russia being won over by the sludgy nonpunk Viktor eventually devises. But the inventive fantasy musical sequences – Psycho Killer on a train, The Passenger on a tram, lyrics apparently learned phonetically by nonanglophones – make a virtue of their oddness and their (possibly unconscious) kitsch.

There may well be an international audience for Leto, but, as things stand, Serebrennikov will not be able to join it. At the red-carpet screening the cast and crew held signs protesting his house arrest by the Russian authorities.

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