Feature: Once Upon a Time in the Riveria

Having read about Cannes from afar for some time, the prospect of visiting the festival and experiencing the finest in world cinema sur la plage was surreal enough without the added factors of sleep deprivation and Tarantino fever. As I shuffled into the festival zone ‘fresh’ from two buses and a plane, dinner-jacketed and glad-ragged ‘beggars’ lined the streets with scribbled signs pleading for tickets to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Quentin Tarantino’s latest. This was the Cannes I’d heard about: queuing for hours on end; a festival zone sub-divided by a strict hierarchy; the glamour of the red carpet; oh yeah, and sometimes watching films. I waded through the avid hordes, picked up my key to the city (my pass), and capitalised on the repeat screenings provided during the festival’s last gasps. Here are my picks of 2019’s selection…

The UK’s sole representation in this year’s competition came in the form of Ken Loach’s brilliant Sorry We Missed You, spiritual successor to 2016 Palme d’Or winner I, Daniel Blake. This new political battle-cry puts the zero-hour contract phenomena under the microscope in Loach’s understated but piercing manner and, despite the subject matter, is littered with humour and fantastic performances (especially Debbie Honeywood). Considering the current political climate in the UK, Sorry We Missed You could stand to be as successful as I, Daniel Blake – Loach’s biggest haul at the UK Box Office to date. It certainly merits it.

Other finds include the newest Xavier Dolan endeavour Matthias & Maxime, which sees the young auteur return to a sweeter, romantic sensibility. His calling cards are here in abundance – 90s pop music, aspect ratio changes, mother/son dynamics – yet the endearing heartache at the film’s core makes this a more accessible watch than a lot of Dolan exports. Portrait of a Girl on Fire also caught critics’ attention upon its premiere and rightly so. Céline Sciamma’s follow-up to Girlhood swaps modern-day Paris for 1770 Brittany, where painter Marianne is commissioned to produce a portrait of the wealthy Héloïse for her arranged marriage. An elemental, richly drawn love story ensues where ‘every frame could be mounted on a gallery wall’ according to Indiewire’s David Ehrlich. To me, both of these french-language films have the potential to resonate with young audiences.

Ultimately, this year’s Cannes Film Festival was a rare case of critical and judicial consensus. The Palme d’Or was awarded to Bong Joon-Ho’s devilishly entertaining, satirical farce Parasite, and it couldn’t have gone to a more deserving winner. Those familiar with Joon-Ho’s unique style will delight in his graceful hopping of genres, in what can only be described as a cross between last year’s Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters and recent hit horror Us (and twice as funny as either). Based off the popularity of Shoplifters at the UK Box Office, Parasite is a prospective broad hit and (dare I say) could eclipse Shoplifters’ reach when it arrives in Blighty – individual scenes elicited rounds of applause in the screening I attended, like the movements of a symphony.

All in all, this year’s programme has been widely regarded as the best in some time: Pedro Almodóvar’s semi-autobiographical Pain and Glory went down well with critics/audiences, and is sure to find wide distribution; a huge amount of buzz circled around Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse, a psychological horror powered by two frenetic performances (Robert Pattinson & Willem Dafoe); and Quentin Tarantino returned to Cannes with five-star reviews across the board, marking 25 years since he won the Palme d’Or for Pulp Fiction. So, as much as I’d like to pooh-pooh Cannes as a festival reliant on yacht parties and red carpets, the quality of 2019’s crop legitimised its prominence in the industry calendar. Unlike last year, where tensions between the industry and Netflix revitalised the age-old ‘death’ of cinema debate, this year proved that quality film is still very much alive and kicking – which you can expect to enjoy (in dribs and drabs) over the coming year.


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