Cannes is celebrating its 70th edition. Next year, however, it will arguably mark a more significant anniversary.
It will then be 50 years since the 1968 festival was, shortly after it began, cancelled as film-makers such as Jean Luc-Godard and Claude Lelouche demanded a show of solidarity with the protesting workers and students. Those directors may naively have hoped that the event would henceforth become a people's festival. That's not quite how it worked out.
This is worth mentioning for two reasons. The 1968 festival plays out offstage in the most unexpectedly well-received film of the competition to this point. When the programme was announced last month, more than a few wags fingered Michel Hazanavicius's Redoubtable as the annual punching bag. Previous victims have included Sean Penn's The Last Face, Gus Van Sant's The Sea of Trees and – hence the predictions – Hazanavicius's own disastrous refugee drama The Search. (Tellingly, none of those films received an Irish release).
The director made his international reputation here with The Artist. Telling the story of Godard's romance with the actress Anne Wiazemsky, Redoutable sounded like another ill-advised stretch for seriousness. As the Debussy Theatre finally admitted the press after a security alert, one prominent critic wryly muttered "now for the real bomb".
It transpired that Hazanavicius, known first in France for spy spoofs, had wisely returned to his original taste for pastiche. Redoutable is utterly trivial, occasionally disrespectful and hugely amusing. One might reasonably describe it as Woody Allen's Carry On Up the Godard. The director's key tropes – misleading subtitles, harsh optical shifts, bold political slogans – are played largely for laughs. In a cheeky nod to Allen's Stardust Memories, Hazanavicius has fans constantly approach the director and, after declaring their enthusiasm, wonder when he will return to his early funny films.
Louis Garrel plays Godard as a deluded idealist who expects the world to sing along to his increasingly discordant tunes. Redoutable will infuriate many Godardists – and confuse those unfamiliar with the material – but for the less committed its comic energy should prove irresistible.
That angry 1968 festival is also worth mentioning because the films playing in competition this year seem particularly aggrieved with the dreaded bourgeoisie. At every turn, the Cannes Film Festival is giving it to the sort of people who attend the Cannes Film Festival. Ruben Östlund's The Square, the follow-up to his much-liked Force Majeure, is a sprawling, erratic satire on the Stockholm art scene and all it represents. Claes Bang plays a curator who, following a robbery, sets in train a process that will bring the real world into his safe plush world.
The film is packed full of excellent scenes. In the standout sequence, Terry Notary plays a performance artist who terrorises the attendees at a posh dinner for the museum. The sequence is simultaneously an indictment of their complacency and a pondering of whether confrontational art is ever worthwhile. It is just a shame that The Square doesn't have a bit more order to it. Chip away some of the plaster and you might find a masterpiece within.
That mistrust of middle-class values also floods through Yorgos Lanthimos's The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Michael Haneke's Happy End. The former, an Irish production, shakes up Colin Farrell's American surgeon. The latter, from a two-time Palme d'Or winner, goes among a loaded Calais dynasty. Then there was Andrey Zvyagintsev's brilliant Loveless. That Russian film savagely dissects a well-off couple who have allowed their own disputes to distract from the trauma their young son is enduring. It's an unhappy world out there.
Act Up movement
You could, at a stretch, squeeze Robin Campillo's 120 Beats Per Minute into the same category. The film is, after all, about potential victims standing up and fighting back against the establishment. But this sprawling French film is very different in tone. Campillo, writer of Palme-winning The Class, has raided his own autobiography to tell the tale of the Act Up movement that campaigned for Aids awareness in Paris during the 1990s.
The film is unquestionably sincere in its intentions and is very well-acted throughout, but it falls short in its exploration of the politics and its fleshing-out of character. Too many interesting sub-topics are mentioned and then not properly explored. The two activists around whose affair the films rests are never allowed to become fully rounded personalities.
For all that, 120 Beats per Minute currently looks like the film to beat in the race for the Palme d'Or. Near-universal raves have come its way and the picture has unquestionably a warm feel to it. It is, however, impossible to predict how Pedro Almodovar's jury will jump. Loveless has many admirers. Both Happy End and The Killing of a Sacred Deer have been drooled over in some circles. Were that last film to triumph, it would be the first Irish Palme D'Or recipient since The Wind that Shakes the Barley in 2006. The Irish Times would be happy with either Loveless or Sacred Deer.
We can probably count Bong Joon-ho's Okja and Noah Baumbach's The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) out of the running. Both played well. Okja is a mad ecological science-fiction romp. Featuring Dustin Hoffman as a grumpy older sculptor, The Meyerowitz Stories confirms Baumbach's gift for gently analysing discontents of the New York intellectual establishment. It works well as a companion piece to the same director's The Squid and the Whale and – quelle horreur! – allows Adam Sandler to succeed in a serious role.
The problem, of course, is that both these films are presented by the dreaded Netflix. Muttering about that company's unwillingness to put its films in French cinemas dominated debate on the Croisette during the opening few days. Almodovar indicated that he would be unwilling to award either film. Tilda Swinton, star of Okja, hit back in characteristically robust form. "As somebody who has sat on many juries, it is a task to immediately nobble some people who have been invited to the party," she said. Ouch!
That debate will continue for years to come.