It is that time of year again when the great and the good of the international media descend upon the South of France for the World’s most prestigious film festival. The Cannes Film Festival is the industry’s most exclusive soiree: not open to the public, only those with press or professional accreditation are allowed to attend. Cannes is renowned for being far and away the most glamorous of all the film festivals and this year will be no different: the red carpet will be graced by the likes of Brad Pitt, Nicole Kidman, Robert Pattinson, Bruce Willis and Reese Witherspoon, who all have films in competition. But the same question arises year after year and that is why does the Cannes Film Festival matter? Is it really anything more than a self-congratulatory industry get-together?
In recent years the festival’s credibility has been called into question somewhat: many have accused the festival programmers of selling out the artistic ideals of Cannes by premiering mediocre Hollywood blockbusters such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull out of competition in a cynical attempt to increase the number of Hollywood stars padding up and down the Croisette. The reasons such measures are taken may be to appease the festivals commercial sponsors such as L’Oréal and to ensure that the media spotlight remains firmly on the French Riviera.
But the need for glamour and commercial success is necessary for the central aims of the Cannes Film Festival to be achieved. First and foremost, Cannes aims to promote international art house cinema and for its two-week duration it puts esoteric non-Hollywood films centre stage and forces the art of filmmaking to be taken seriously by the wider public. Almost every year, the official selection has maintained its credibility with the majority of films in competition garnering critical acclaim and eventually being shown worldwide.
Despite the majority of media attention being focussed on the Hollywood A-listers in attendance, the real stars of Cannes are the directors. Over the years heavyweight art house directors such as Pedro Almodovar, Michael Haneke and Lars Von Trier have made a name for themselves off the back of Cannes.
In 2010, Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul picked up the Palme D’or for his film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Was it any good? Who knows? Outside of Cannes, only about 14 people watched it. The point is, if not for Cannes, those 14 people wouldn’t have had the chance to watch it because it probably wouldn’t have been picked up for distribution.
Indeed, one of this year’s most ubiquitous films, the Oscar- winning The Artist may not have reached such prominence if it were not for America’s preeminent movie mogul Harvey Weinstein snapping up its distribution rights and manoeuvring it into competition for the Palme D’or. Despite being nine months away, Cannes is now where many films begin their campaign for Oscar glory.
That may be even truer of this year’s festival with an unusually large proportion of the films in contention for the Palme D’or being American. Undisputed king of US Indie cinema Wes Anderson is opening the festival with Moonrise Kingdom, which stars Bill Murray, Bruce Willis and Edward Norton. In addition, director of 2009’s ultra- bleak drama Precious, Lee Daniels is competing with his latest film The Paperboy, which boasts a highly anticipated performance from Nicole Kidman, as well as Mud, the latest offering from Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter), who at 33 is the youngest director in the competition. The film stars Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon and is about two boys who discover a man named Mud hiding out on an island in the Mississippi.
Feted New Zealand-born Australian director Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) debuts Killing Them Softly at the festival which sees him team up with Brad Pitt again and boasts a supporting cast including Ray Liotta and James Gandolfini. In addition, the long awaited screen adaption of Jack Kerouac’s cult classic On The Road starring rising British actor Sam Riley alongside Twilight star Kristen Stewart and directed by Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles.
Despite the atypical American showing, there is only one British film in contention, which comes from veteran filmmaker Ken Loach. In thirty-one years Loach has had 11 films in competition- a Cannes record. Other Cannes favourites such as Michael Haneke,Jacques Audiard and David Cronenberg are all in contention too, rounding off a strong list. The strength of the films in competition at this years Cannes shows how it has achieved its status as the world’s preeminent film festival. Not by being the most glamorous, even though it is, but by promoting and celebrating the best world cinema has to offer.