When the international press watched the eventual Palme d’Or winner Titane at a late-night screening they hooted and hollered with relief. Finally, a competition film with gusto and daring. This was to be expected from French filmmaker Julia Ducournau, who had made the graphic cannibal horror film Raw, which also premiered at Cannes in 2016. With Titane, she became only the second woman director after Jane Campion (The Piano in 1993) to win the top prize in the Festival’s 74 years.
With Nitram, Justin Kurzel managed a sense of outrage in a far more realistic sense. He depicts Port Arthur mass murderer Martin Bryant as a backward youth neglected by the health system and with nowhere to go after the death of his benefactor and friend, the Tattersall heiress Helen Mary Elizabeth Harvey, played by Kurzel’s Tassie-born wife Essie Davis. Gun control is the other issue Kurzel raises in the film, and he talks about it constantly in interviews. Caleb Landry Jones deservedly won the acting award for his portrayal as the unnamed protagonist. Nitram, Martin spelt backwards, is the name Bryant was called by bullies at school, as in nitwit.
The big surprise was that Gaspar Noe did not outrage, but with Vortex delivered a highly personal film about a couple in their final stages of life. They hardly even speak but once you take a deep breath and relax, the film has its own quiet rewards and of course Noe is a brilliant filmmaker, no matter what he does. Still, I prefer his edgier material.
Jacques Audiard likewise always delivers and shows a very different side to his talent with Paris, 13th District. Set away from the inner groovedom of the Marais and the Parisian monuments, we are in an area known for its Asian residents and great restaurants. Audiard shoots in black and white, emphasising the steeliness of the high-rise structures and the beauty of his young black, white and Asian protagonists as they have sex and dance in nightclubs. Noemie Merlant (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) looks luminous as always and in Cannes managed to have time to promote her directing debut the romance Mi Iubita, Mon Amour, which screened out of competition to mixed reviews.
Since she’d had a positive COVID test (after being fully vaccinated), Lea Seydoux didn’t make it to the festival. That’s probably just as well as three of her four films, Bruno Dumont’s On a Half Clear Morning, Hungarian director Ildiko Enyedi’s The Story of My Wife and Arnaud Desplechin’s Deception, were some of the most poorly reviewed. Of course, like everyone else, she had a small role in The French Dispatch, which was deemed a lesser work in Wes Anderson’s oeuvre.
In many ways, Adele Exarchopoulos, Seydoux’s co-star and onscreen lover in Blue is the Warmest Colour (which extraordinarily won the actors the 2013 Palme d’Or together with director Abdellatif Kechiche and was another controversial winner) was far more interesting this year in Zero Fucks Given (Rien a Foutre in French) where she plays an airline hostess trying to cope with difficult conditions at a low-cost airline while dealing with a personal trauma.
Two films in the Director’s Fortnight were standouts. The always reliable Juliette Binoche starred in the opening film Between Two Worlds about real life French journalist Florence Aubenas, who wrote a book on job insecurity after experiencing it herself by registering for unemployment and taking on a series of cleaning jobs. The book became a bestseller. Emmanuel Carrere adapted it for the screen and also directs, enlisting many of the actual life cleaners in the largely non-professional cast. The politically conscious Binoche was very much behind the film being made.
Honor Swinton Byrne again stars alongside her mother Tilda Swinton in The Souvenir II, the semi-autobiographical sequel to director Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir. The sequel is far better, possibly because Hogg moved more into fictional territory, adding artistic flourishes.
Documentarian Mark Cousins did double duty at the festival, firstly delivering The Story of Film: A New Generation, another fabulous documentary on cinema, this time looking at films over the past decade — he loves Mad Max: Fury Road – and relating them to films of the past. Then with The Storms of Jeremy Thomas, the Irish-born Cousins who possesses the most melodious voice, filmed a road trip he took with the UK producer on their way to Cannes, as he recalls some of Thomas’s greatest movies, most notably Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor and David Cronenberg’s Crash.