The 2019 Cannes Film Festival felt like a direct response to critics. After opposing Netflix in favour of the theatrical release, Cannes and its director, Thierry Frémaux found themselves in an odd position as the sort of protectors of cinema, but also as the festival yesterday, afraid of innovation, whose relevance has been continually challenged. This is in part due to the lack of star-power turning up to the Croisette, but also filmmaker’s reluctance to premiere their films in Cannes due to the festivals unfavourable distance from the Oscars on the calendar. Venice, Toronto, Telluride and, even London make more sense for filmmakers aiming to cultivate award season buzz.
However, this year on the Croisette, there was star power in abundance. Dexter Fletcher dazzled crowds with his toe-tapping, full-blown musical Elton John biopic, Rocketman(now in cinemas). Quentin Tarantino returned to the Croisette with Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie, all in his new film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, 25 years to-the-day since Pulp Fiction premiered and shook the core. Although, there was much more to this year’s festival than the big glitzy premieres. Across the official and parallel selections, filmmakers from across the world showed a lot of great and innovative work.
Homeward, the film 26-year-old filmmaker Nariman Aliev, a powerful and touching father-and-son road movie set in Ukraine is the first great exploration of the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Mustafa (Akhtem Seitablayev) arrives in Kiev to collect the body of his eldest son who is a casualty of the war and aims to drive across Ukraine, to his native Crimea, and bury him next to his mother. Mustafa is reluctantly accompanied by his youngest son Alim (Remzi Bilyalov) who was studying journalism in Kiev and had no intentions of returning home or, it seems, encountering his father ever again. In true road movie, fashion things do not go to plan, and the pair run into complications which smartly allow for discussion on the relationship between Russia, Ukraine and Crimea. “Crimea is our Jerusalem” is proclaimed. Aliev, a first-time filmmaker, both co-writes and directs an extraordinarily mature and powerful film which is highly political but both balanced and fair in its depiction.
Crowds in Cannes are notoriously hard to please and have no qualms with showing their displeasure at the screen. However, the biggest laughs, cheers and gasps I witnessed were at a very, very early screening of Cannes favourite Xavier Dolan’s new film Matthias et Maxime.
Set in French-speaking Quebec, the film is a soulful love story and part coming-of-age tale centred on a group of guys in their late twenties and early thirties who have been long-time friends but are now all at different stages in their lives. When Max, played by Dolan himself, decides to move to Australia, the gang decide to regroup and enjoy the remaining time they have together. Dolan directed, produced and also wrote this film and the dialogue between his characters is sharp, witty and masterful. In a scene where the guys tease, quip and joke at pace Matthias loses a bet and is forced to take part in a short film with Max where the pair must kiss. This unlocks feelings both had forgotten or suppressed but can no longer be ignored. Matthias et Maxime is a clever film by a filmmaker in complete control of his practice. Dolan manages to weave topics such as class, motherhood, sexuality and addiction all in a film which remains thoroughly entertaining throughout.
Once in Trubchevsk by Russian writer-director Larisa Sadilova is a hilarious story about two married people having an affair in rural Russia. Anna (Kristina Schneider) who lives with her husband, daughter and mother-in-law makes her own knitwear and travels to Moscow frequently to sell her creations. Her lover played by Egor Barinov, whose character’s name is never revealed, lives next-door and is a long-haul truck driver. The pair frequently rendezvous and manage to fool their spouses with a clever ploy, but suspicion starts to arise when their spouses realize that the pair often choose to travel on the same and, at the same time. Sadilova’s film is tight, well written and boasts excellent performances all around. She shows compassion for the pair of cheaters and for life in rural Russia. This film could almost be seen as a love letter to the ordinary, and it ends in a way which is both satisfying and funny.
As this is Nerdy PoC there is no way we could round-up Cannes 2019 without mentioning Atlantics the feature directorial debut by Mati Diop. Atlanticsis a Romeo and Juliet story about young love in Dakar, Senegal. 17-year-old Ada is betrothed to marry a rich man she does not love, but one night she sneaks out to spend time with Suleiman, the man she really loves. But Suleiman and his friends have grown tired of their stressful lives and decide to leave Dakar by sea in hopes of a better life. Diop’s style is distinct and poetic. Atlantics is a confident first film by an extremely promising filmmaker. Diop also became the first black female director to show a film in competition at Cannes and, is the first Black woman to win an award when she picked up the Grand Prix prize. Netflix has quickly scooped up worldwide rights.
Written By: Zac Ntim
Edited By: Keshav Kant