by James Mottram

To stream or not to stream; that was the question on everyone’s lips at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The 70th edition of the world’s most prestigious cinematic showcase was dominated by talk of Netflix. The streaming giant had, for the first time, two films playing in competition, Bong Joon-ho’s Okja and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories, bought by Netflix after it was made. Also playing in Director’s Fortnight was action-adventure Bushwick, another Netflix acquisition. Is this finally the moment that cinema had to admit that the times were a changing?

Well, not quite – not yet anyway. Aside from the rather childish booing of the Netflix logo before screenings, the company’s films came and went. A story of corporate greed, food industry drama and one girl’s love for her genetically-modified pig, Okja divided critics, but one thing everyone agreed upon: Darius Khondji’s fine cinematography meant this was a big screen experience. Whatever the quality of the films in Cannes – and this year was good, if not vintage – watching a projected movie still far outstrips streaming one to your own home cinema.

Once again, the question of the ratio of female-to-male directors was raised, although with three women in the main competition – Sofia Coppola, Naomi Kawase, Lynne Ramsay – and a further nine playing in other strands, the selectors had done something to address the issue. Perhaps it was more obvious on the Tuesday, when major celebrations took place for the festival’s 70th birthday. Lining up alongside various Palme d’Or winners was Antipodean director Jane Campion, the only woman (still) to ever win cinema’s top prize, when her film The Piano tied with Farewell My Concubine.

“It was even worse at the Sixtieth celebration, when we had a lot more Palme d’Or winners there,” Campion told FilmInk the next day, “Maybe 40. All the guys would walk out, walk out and walk out and finally I walked out, and everyone went, ‘Oh my God, there are no other women – it was abrasive.” Fortunately, this year’s jury took note. Sofia Coppola became just the second woman to ever claim Best Director for The Beguiled, her exquisite reinterpretation of Thomas Cullinan’s Civil War-era novel previously filmed by Don Siegel in 1971.

Also taking home a prize was Ramsay for her muscular thriller, You Were Never Really Here, which starred Joaquin Phoenix as Joe, a war veteran who reads on the page like Travis Bickle with a hammer, as he fights his way into sordid underground brothels to rescue young girls caught up in sex trafficking rings. The film arrived unfinished (with Ramsay promising she wants to further “explore” Radiohead star Jonny Greenwood’s score) but won Phoenix Best Actor and Ramsay a share of the Best Screenplay prize.

Jointly winning that with Ramsay was Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou, co-writers of Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the other film after The Beguiled to feature Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman paired up. If Coppola’s film was a bloody tale of period girl-power, Lanthimos’ film was almost Biblical with its eye-for-an-eye story, all seen through the oddball relationship between Farrell’s surgeon and a young boy, played by rising Irish star Barry Keoghan. Darkly funny, utterly twisted.

Kidman, of course, had a rather wonderful festival, even if her out-of-competition film, John Cameron Mitchell’s How To Talk To Girls At Parties, in which she played a supporting role as a Croydon punk queen circa 1977, endured its fair share of critical vitriol. It didn’t matter, with the jury awarding the Australian a special 70th Cannes prize. Managing to appear in four extremely different roles, the best was arguably saved for the second season of Campion’s sublime procedural Top of the Lake.

With all six episodes screened back-to-back, a first for Cannes which usually overlooks television, it was a triumphant moment for Campion and co-writer Gerard Lee, who successfully shifted the series from New Zealand to Sydney, picking up four years after events of the first season, with Elisabeth Moss’ detective Robin Griffin even more broken up than before. With the murder of an Asian call-girl driving the story, Kidman pops up as a lesbian feminist with grey frizzy hair; it was a fabulous, gutsy performance – typical of her work of late.

Indeed, it’s hard to say who had the better Cannes, Kidman or Moss. The former Mad Men star, marvellous again in Top of the Lake, also appeared in Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s The Square, the film that ultimately claimed the Palme d’Or. Another critic-splitter, this story of a museum curator (Claes Bang) in Stockholm whose life begins to unravel after his phone is stolen saw Moss pop up as a journalist who enjoys a one-night stand with Bang’s character (and has the best post-coital condom scene you’ll ever see).

The Square – a reference to the latest contemporary installation at the museum – had some fine moments, puncturing the pomposity of the art world. One scene, featuring Terry Notary, a motion-capture specialist whose work can be seen in the recent Planet of the Apes, lives long in the memory – partly because it was so long. The Square felt like a series of great isolated scenes that never quite knitted together over a protracted 142-minute running time. The jury, led by Pedro Almodóvar, thought otherwise.

Where was the love for Loveless? True, Andrey Zvyagintsey’s contemporary Russian drama about an estranged couple in the midst of divorce when their son goes missing claimed the Jury prize (think: bronze medal in the Olympics) but this deserved better. It was by far the most accomplished movie of the competition. The most fun, on the other hand, was Josh and Benny Safdie’s Good Time, an urgent crime yarn that dunked Robert Pattinson into a hellish 24-hour odyssey after he and his brother commit a bank robbery that goes awry.

Disappointments included Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck, which never managed to synch its disparate stories (in 1927 and 1977) of two deaf children into anything meaningful. Even Michael Haneke’s Happy End, the story of a bourgeois family living in modern-day Calais, lacked the impact of his earlier work. With oblique references to his own canon – everything from Amour to Benny’s Video and Time of the Wolf – it felt like a doodle compared to the more heavyweight extremes we expect from the two-time Palme d’Or winner.

Critics were also left indifferent to Michel Hazanavicius’s Redoubtable, the story of the revered Jean-Luc Godard in the late-Sixties, at a time when Paris burned with revolution and he was one of the most famous filmmakers on the planet. Godard worshippers hated it, but with good-humoured performances from Louis Garrel as Godard and Stacy Martin as his love, actress Anne Wiazemsky, it proved one of the more palatable productions in an otherwise grim-faced competition selection.

Outside of the main competition, there was rightly a lot of affection for Director’s Fortnight-programmed Sundance hit Patti Cake$, the story of an overweight New Jersey rapper (excellently played by Australian-born Danielle Macdonald). It’s the sort of genuine crowd-pleaser Hollywood never gets right. Another intriguing tale was Oh Lucy! Playing in Critics Week, Atsuko Hirayanagi’s 2014 short gets the feature treatment here, and the presence of Josh Hartnett, to create a sort of reverse Lost In Translation. Modest but charming, in its own way.


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