Cannes 2012: Robbie Collins' Cannes roundup Good, bad – but all unforgettable

On the red carpet at Cannes this year Photo: IAN LANGSDON/EPA

On his first visit to Cannes film festival 2012, Telegraph film critic Robbie Collin discovers that, win or lose, passions run high.
By Robbie Collin

I will always remember where I was when I finally became aware of the grand, unifying theme of the 65th Cannes Film Festival. I was being shouted at by an angry Punjabi man while waiting in a queue to watch a documentary about rubbish dumps.

“How can you say that the Haneke should not win the Palme d’Or?” he thundered, after he overheard me suggest to a fellow critic that Michael Haneke’s Love was perhaps not the most deserving contender for the festival’s top prize. “The Haneke is a perfect film! Of course it should win the Palme! It should win everything!”

He was waggling his index finger inches from my face, and I felt a speck of warm spittle hit my cheek. “If the festival does not give the Haneke every award,” he crescendoed, “it will be a disgrace!”

A lot of this kind of thing goes on in Cannes: strangers shouting and waggling their fingers at you, mainly in queues. But the argument made by my new friend (I didn’t catch his name) was, in a way, irrefutable: Love does have an eerie perfection about it, and for that reason it has been the most critically adored film of the festival. The camera movements are accurate to the millimetre and its two lead performers, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, are precision personified. And if a film is perfect, surely that makes it the best by default?

I’m not so sure. As almightily impressive as Haneke’s film is, I far preferred the imprecise, passionate whirl of Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone; the muddy boots and bloody fingernails of Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly; and the adrenalin-surging moral rollercoaster of Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt.
At a time when most of the world seems to be mired in financial and poltical uncertainty, many of the films at Cannes are about ordered lives upended by chaos. Some directors have tried to control the chaos, others have embraced it. Only on Sunday will we discover which of the two approaches comes out on top.

One film, however, plumps for a bit of both. The astounding Holy Motors by Leos Carax, which has received the loudest and longest applause of the festival so far, neatly slots an extraordinary amount of exhilarating, David Lynch-like lunacy into a rigorous ten-part plot.

It stars the French actor and clown Denis Lavant as Monsieur Oscar, an odd job man who does some very odd jobs indeed. He is driven around Paris in a white limousine with a dressing room in the back, where he disguises himself as various outcasts and oddballs, including a put-upon suburban father, a hobbling gypsy beggar woman and a straggly-bearded, flower-eating buffoon called Monsieur Merde.

After completing a task as each character — collecting his shy teenage daughter from a party as the father; kidnapping a supermodel (Eva Mendes) and eating her hair as Monsieur Merde — M. Oscar returns to the limousine and is driven to the next job. There is also an Entr’acte, in which an accordion ensemble gives a rip-roaring performance of R L Burnside’s Let My Baby Ride, and later there is a big musical number sung by Kylie Minogue.

Holy Motors is a dream of a film, but in it dreams become real and are fetishised and even monetised. In short, it is a film about cinema itself.

Carax’s ideas and images are so stickily memorable I have barely been able to stop thinking about it, and when critics and jurors are watching up to four films a day, memorable counts for a lot.

Other filmmakers have tried to tame the chaotic nature of storytelling, including the venerable Alain Resnais, whose You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet!, a heavy-going deconstruction of actors’ relationships with their roles, has been announced as his final film.

Then there is the Korean director Hong Sangsoo, whose In Another Country drops Isabelle Huppert’s Anne, a Frenchwoman in Korea, into three, or perhaps four, distinct but related romantic stories. Hong’s film rejoices in the capricious nature of romance and the samsaric ebb and flow of life: here, confusion is not always a bad thing.

Among the competition films, there have only been three disappointments so far. Lawless, John Hillcoat’s Prohibition-era western, was a muddled, low-stakes affair: not a bad film exactly, but Hillcoat and his cast, which includes flavours of the month such as Tom Hardy and Jessica Chastain, boded better. On The Road, Walter Salles’s pretty, vacant attempt to bring Jack Kerouac’s divisive novel to the screen, felt unbearably pleased with itself. (“A faithful adaptation, then,” one wag observed.)

The third was After the Battle, a flailing Egyptian political drama set in the aftermath of the Tahrir Square protests of January 2011. While others commended Yousry Nasrallah for making his film so quickly, the pervasive air of slapdashery about the project put me in mind of 60 Minute Makeover.

Comedy was in relatively short supply, but the biggest laughs of the festival came from Ken Loach’s sparkling Scottish crime caper The Angels’ Share. Jury members Ewan McGregor and Alexander Payne were both heard chuckling noisily throughout the competition screening, so Loach may walk away with a prize yet.

And then there was Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, which is released in British cinemas today (see review on page 31). This was a more appropriate opening-night film than the festival’s programmers could have anticipated. The torrential rainstorm that ends Anderson’s film seemed to arrive in Cannes for real less than 48 hours later, and on Sunday, the roof of the Soixantième Theatre collapsed due to flooding.

But the inclement weather has meant spending even more time in the cinema, which with this year’s programme has been no bad thing. Some festival veterans have groused about a lacklustre line-up, but I can’t agree with them: perhaps the unseasonal rain just dampened their spirits. If the 65th Cannes Film Festival has been a weak year, then I can only hope the 66th is every bit as bad.

Nicole Kidman on Cannes red carpet



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