Cannes Film Festival lit up by class conflict
CANNES, France – Cannes doesn’t in any way resemble the site of roiling class conflict. It’s a French Riviera playground for the 1 percent, a sun-dappled land of velvet ropes.
Yet at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, which came to a close Sunday after 12 days of cinema and glamour, the films that flashed across Cannes’ grand theaters coursed with the conflict of rich and poor, navigating the wide distance between the two. Inequality often propels big-screen dramas, but the 67th annual Cannes fest was striking for its global view of haves and have nots, from Pennsylvania to Russia, Argentina to France.
The fest’s top honor, the Palme d’Or went to Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Winter Sleep,” a slow burning, three hour-plus drama thick in class tension set on Turkey’s wintery Anatolia steppe. An arrogant, unaware landlord sits high above his village tenants, oblivious to their struggle even after a child of a family behind in their rent throws a stone against his passing truck. Ceylan dedicated the award to “the young people of Turkey” and Turks that had died over the past year, referencing the anti-government protests that have raged in the country – including in recent days after a coal mine disaster killed more than 300 workers.
In the powerful Russian satire “Leviathan,” which won best screenplay, a small-town family is ruined when a corrupt mayor (a portrait of Vladimir Putin looms in his office) dispossesses their home. “Two Days, One Night” by the Dardenne brothers (longtime filmmakers of working-class struggle), stars Marion Cotillard as a woman who strives over a weekend to convince her co-workers to vote against a pay raise that will terminate her job. Each is faced with the choice of taking less to help another. David Michod’s lean thriller “The Rover” imagined a near-future Australia after the total collapse of its financial system. (Hint: It’s not so nice.)
Economic disparity is also the backdrop to Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher,” a true-life psychological drama about two elite athletes – Olympic wrestling champs Mark and Dave Schultz, played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo – and a wealthy but strange benefactor (Steve Carell in a striking dramatic role) who lures them to train at his Pennsylvania estate, with tragic results. Miller took best director at Cannes for the film, which is expected to be an Oscar contender come December.
“What happens when everything is for sale? What happens to talent when it’s for sale?” Ruffalo reflected on the film. “What happens to people when they’re in a system that values almost everything at a price?”
In “Wild Tales,” the most raucous film of the festival, those people go berserk. In it, Argentine director Damian Szifron stitches together six outlandish, comic tales of revenge. Road rage between a speedy luxury car and plodding truck ends in a fireball; a man outraged by an unfair parking ticket spirals out of control. Szifron called his unhinged characters the anxious products of Western capitalism.
“We’re constantly overwhelmed by ads, by pressure. We’re a bit like a (caged) dog who goes crazy,” said Szifron. “People live very stressful lives.”
The British director Ken Loach, the grandfather of social realism, premiered his record 11th film in competition with “Jimmy’s Hall,” a based-on-a-true-story drama about 1930s Irish communist James Gralton, whose dance hall angers local authorities and the Catholic church. Loach saw contemporary relevance for modern institutions.
“Jimmy would absolutely be in there in that fight,” said Loach of today’s social battles. “He’d be trying to build a movement against the big corporations and the way they are determining every facet of our life now, beyond democratic control.”
Cannes, of course, asserts its own class system, and not just in its myriad levels of press-badge access and rigid red-carpet decorum. Its cacophonous mass of media and industry professionals form a giant Roman emperor-like thumbs-up or -down that – while a judgment far from foolproof – declares a film a masterpiece with marathon standing ovations or sentences it to the dust bin with resounding boos.
This year, Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut “Lost River,” the opening night Grace Kelly melodrama “Grace of Monaco” with Nicole Kidman, the Chechen war drama “The Search” by “The Artist” director Michel Hazanavicius, and Atom Egoyan’s kidnapping thriller “Captives” were chewed up and spat out like stale macaroons, casualties of high standards.
But Gosling’s film, a theatrical fable about a Detroit family living in poverty, may have provided the line of the festival, one in which so many characters struggled in unjust economies. As a predatory mortgage broker, Ben Mendelsohn presses a single mother into performing at his underworld club. Quoting the Ol’ Dirty Bastard lyric he hisses: “Everybody’s got to shimmy shimmy ya.”
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: twitter.com/jake-coyle
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