Revisiting Cannes – The Bleak, Brilliant 2014

I’m not going to the Cannes Film Festival this year. And have still never been. It gets more devastating to me as each year passes by. Envy is a big deal, when you look at the venue, the range of films that open there every year, the talent that flocks under the sun, I could go on. I do perhaps, then, not envy the choices of a jury having to select prizes from a refreshing, eclectic range of films. Except I do envy them. In 2014 the likes of Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, Nicolas Winding Refn, Willem Dafoe, Carole Bouquet, Gael García Bernal et al must have got headaches with what was, in my view, one of the finest batch of films to come out of Cannes in years. Sure, they were pretty tough going in may ways, sullen, dark, thought-provoking, sad. But I insist update your watchlists right now with these 12 essential films seen at Cannes in 2014 (in no particular order):

Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne)
In 2014 it seemed that the powers that be gave the Dardennes a year off, their regular visit to the festival has already yielded the Palme d’Or twice previous. Their back catalogue of grounded social survival, simplistic tales of great human importance, warrant their inclusion whenever they bring something fresh to the festival table. With Two Days, One Night you have no choice but to rally your heart for Marion Cotillard’s Sandra, a woman breaking at the seams, her kindness and empathy for others shows through her own determined battle to save her job and livelihood while keeping the demons of depression at bay. Every vulnerable, redeemable moment is emotive, penetrating, this is real drama at it’s finest.
Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard)
Over fifty years in the business, the one and only Jean-Luc Godard wanders back to Cannes with a visionary, today-relevant gem with a kaleidoscope narrative somehow reflecting the kind of editing and visuals we know well of the French New Waver. Sharing the Jury Prize, Goodbye to Language has it’s place in the new generation with psychedelic and familiar nods to technology and the rapid change of our modern lives. Showing in 3D had an even greater impact, Godard really gets to grips with the altering world and it’s language, showing a talent who has come so far through the decades, seen more than many of us, and still has the ability to shine a light for us at the other side.
Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh)
Bleak, brave, bittersweet, improvised brilliance, often used to describe the depth of Mike Leigh’s filmography. Film titles like Happy-Go-Lucky, Secrets & Lies, Life Is Sweet, Bleak Moments, seem also to define Leigh’s subject matter and execution. Flushed away in the more expected categories by AMPAS, and more shockingly almost completely ignored by BAFTA, Mr. Turner had a buzz at Cannes that almost guaranteed a prize come the final night – that it was Best Actor Timothy Spall for his devastatingly epic work as the tormented artist was of little surprise.
Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
Slow cooked, and extremely well seasoned, Winter Sleep is epic in emotional scale and narrative pacing. Nuri Bilge Ceylan collected the Palme d’Or for the powerful drama, a film so rich and immaculate you forgive it’s almost at times static movement. Canvassed by some breath-taking cinematography reminiscent of illustrious paintings hanging in a prestigious art gallery – Gökhan Tiryaki executed similar brilliance in his previous collaboration with Ceylan, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. The dialogue, and the performances that speak it, are also compelling here, depicting a true, honest feel for inner conflict, conversations highlighting the troubles of the human heart.
Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg)
This is a real pick-n-mix of movie-making. A film made through the finances and talents of Canada, Germany, America, and France, with the ultra-dark David Cronenberg at the helm, and a satirical, biting screenplay by Bruce Wagner (which I though might win in Cannes), Maps to the Stars is as bonkers as it might be industry accurate. The cast is also ridiculously good, with Best Actress winner Julianne Moore standing out, but also memorable for Mia Wasikowska (having a jam-packed 2014), very non-sparkly Robert Pattinson, Olivia Williams, John Cusack, as well as a brutal performance by kid Evan Bird. It’s Cronenberg through and through in it’s eerie, punchy moments.
Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas)
The chemistry, the partnership between French veteran Juliette Binoche and new generation Kristen Stewart epitomizes the very story Olivier Assayas successfully tells here. This is a motion picture with such composure and subtle beauty, the two actresses deserve the majority of the credit for this. Their scenes together that blend the notion of real anguish with the power of line rehearsals rattles the audience, suspending their attention beyond a mere story of age demographics in the performance industry. Clouds of Sil Maria hits home without sentiment, rather the unavoidable impact of allowing actresses to force you to feel their insecurities as much as they attempt to conceal them.
Mommy (Xavier Dolan)
Jury Prize recipient Xavier Dolan played the boy wonder at Cannes in 2014, an up-and-coming young Canadian film-maker churning out vivid films with the execution of an industry veteran. Mommy burst further bubbles in the movie world, through it’s narrative, the acting, the impact of it’s direction, and of course the ground-breaking framing. Mommy appears to play as the result of wannabe film-makers dreaming to produce a movie their way – the right shot, the right performers, the right song, and the rest, free of any life-affirming restraints and full of passionate talent and spark. Anne Dorval is superb in the central role, though Antoine Olivier Pilon as her troubled son, and Suzanne Clément as the coy neighbor that befriends them are also both outstanding.
Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund)
Swedish film-maker Ruben Östlund has crafted an often uncomfortable to watch picture of marooned emotions. Setting the scene via a false-alarm avalanche, the clouds of snow result in carving though a family’s vacation – not just their enjoyment, but the very integrity of loyalty and commitment. The emotive core soon falls on the lap of Lisa Loven Kongsli, who is perfectly poised to translate the fragile, unexpected feelings of the mother of the family. Surprisingly ignored by AMPAS, Force Majeure took the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes.
Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller)
Winning Best Director in Cannes for the darkly subtle Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller went on to nab an Oscar nod too beyond a non-nomination for the film itself and some rather outlandish controversy from Mark Schultz. Played here by a refreshingly dramatic turn from Channing Tatum, the movie focuses on Mark and his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) as their wrestling careers take a strange turn in the company of millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell). Three very different, extremely engaging performances. Foxcatcher is an atmospheric beast, creeping up on you scene by scene, leaving you somewhat uneasy, but utterly compelled, by the end.
The Wonders (Alice Rohrwacher)
Alice Rohrwacher’s Grand Prize winning The Wonders is a fragile family tale set in a rural Italy, where children help their grouchy father tend to bees and make honey, while also dreaming of winning a contest to participate in a rather unique TV show. It is a film like no other in it’s tone and impact. Rohrwacher’s light touch is so affecting here, never treading on toes or forcing the narrative to throttle its audience. The children’s optimism against the struggle-to-make-a-living intensity of the adults creates a kind of comfort in viewing, The Wonders may leave you at any point of the emotional scale come its final moments, but it is pretty hard to forget nonetheless.
Wild Tales (Damián Szifrón)
A blood-pumping motion picture, full to the brim with kinetic energy, thanks largely to writer-director Damián Szifron and an incredible cast. Constructing a bunch of short stories and cannon-balling them across the screen, Szifron has vengeance on the mind. The Wild Tales of the title vary in content, but are all big and bold in delivery. Firstly, a passenger plane is the venue for some truly calculated pay-back, then there’s a more spontaneous act of violence, a ridiculously escalating road rage incident, a demolition worker also loses his shit over parking issues, a wealthy family attempt to buy their way out of a fatal car accident, before finally a perturbed bride discovers her brand new husband’s wicked ways. It’s slick, tense, funny all at the same time.
Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev)
Director Andrey Zvyaginstev won the Best Screenplay prize at Cannes, with his bleak human story of isolation, loss, and the struggles to escape the melancholy of small-town life. A fine film, Leviathan has it’s fair share of gorgeous photography depicting the almost empty landscape – both of the setting and the characters. The acting is first-rate from start to finish, edgy and raw, but somehow heart-breakingly moving. You care for these characters, no matter how they are forced to behave. Zvyagintsev directs with little urgency, which works, his eye for the human spirit is sharp, accurate, while for the most part brutally honest to the dilemmas of the characters.

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