'Spring is here. Spring is here. Life is skittles. Life is beer." So sang Tom Lehrer in Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.
Or is it early summer? Either way, cinema operates to a different schedule than the real world. Unlike the calendar year or the tax year, the movie year ends with the Oscars in late February. We then endure limbo for a few months, before the Cannes Film Festival ushers in the next aeon of entertainment.
You've heard of the Cannes Film Festival. It's where directors such as Pedro Almodóvar, Ken Loach, the Dardenne brothers and Woody Allen premiere their films. What do you know? All those directors are in place for the 2016 edition.
“There are not that many ‘usual suspects’, and we of course make efforts to put new names in the selection,” Thierry Frémaux, director of the festival, argued in the aftermath of the programme’s announcement. “What about the names people ignore? What about the Brazilian filmmaker [Filho Kleber Mendonca], the German director [Maren Ade]? No one asks me about the new names.”
We will be pondering the new names. We look forward to their work eagerly. It cannot, however, be denied that the 69th Cannes Film Festival does spread some familiar faces about the place. I, Daniel Blake will be Ken Loach's 13th film in competition. He thus breaks his own record for the most films in the main race and stakes a claim to become artist-in-residence at La Croisette. Woody Allen never competes, but with Café Society, playing out of competition, he becomes the director whose films have opened Cannes more than any other. If you include the portmanteau picture New York Stories, then he is two ahead of the following pack with an astonishing four movies kicking off the bash.
One of the things that sets Cannes apart is its (very French) determination to take no lectures from anybody. The organisers see the Palme d’Or, top prize in the main competition, as a sort of Nobel Prize for film. It has been over a quarter of a century since a debut film – Steven Soderbergh’s
Sex Lies and Videotape
– triumphed, and few expect that situation to change soon.
László Nemes's Son of Saul was the most celebrated film at the 2015 festival, but that debut had to settle for the Grand Prix. Pedro Almodóvar looks to be the most "overdue" of the frontline contenders. The Spanish director's Julieta has already opened to strong reviews in his native country (it is the only competition film to have already screened), but there is also wind gathering behind the Romanian Cristi Puiu and the Iranian Asghar Farhadi. The former's Sierranevada concerns a family reunion mourning the death of a patriarch. The latter's The Salesman nods towards Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.
Last year, Cannes got in a bit of a tangle in its sincere efforts to celebrate female film-makers. Emmanuelle Bercot's Standing Tall opened the festival (the director then won best actress for Maïwenn's Mon Roi), but the strange scandal – whose details are still obscure – concerning a woman being turned away from a gala screening for not wearing high heels rather soured the atmosphere.
This year, the competition manages three films by women out of 21 entries. It is not an ideal situation, but the festival can, at least, point towards one film-maker who broke through on La Croisette. Andrea Arnold, returning with American Honey, made noise when Red Road, her debut feature, played in competition 10 years ago. The new film, starring Shia LaBeouf as one of several kids bouncing across the US, looks like an early contender. Other, more mainstream entrants include Paul Verhoeven's Elle, a revenge thriller featuring Isabelle Huppert, and Sean Penn's The Last Face, starring Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem in a tale of aid workers in Africa.
Out of competition
Away from the race for the big gong, Cannes, as ever, welcomes a few studio productions out of competition. Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s
, sure to be one of the summer’s biggest films, makes its debut at the festival. Shane Black’s
The Nice Guys
, also kicks off here. Rock fans will eagerly await the presence of
at a late-night screening of Jim Jarmusch’s
, a documentary on The Stooges.
Yet almost all of this will pass almost all attendees by. There are several parallel festivals at play here. The majority of folk at Cannes are here for the business, the schmoozing and the waving of giant wads. Deep in the bowels of the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, the Cannes market sees 1,000 terrible films being flogged on an increasingly varied array of media. While press and programmers are watching Michael Dubok de Wit's The Red Turtle – Studio Ghibli's return to feature animation – in the Un Certain Regard strand, representatives of Blood and Entrails Incorporated will be trying to sell cut-price Bulgarian werewolf films to Indonesian online content enablers.
The technological changes are creeping through the parallel programmes and into the main event. Perhaps the most arresting information in the programme concerns the producers and US distributors of the opening film. Café Society, a comedy of old Hollywood starring Kristen Stewart, is presented by a manifestation of new Hollywood: Amazon. Allen's film is the first emanation of a streaming service to open Cannes.
Things are not quite as they were, after all.