PRECEDENT: A screen grab from La Tete Haute (Standing Tall) by Emmanuelle Bercot, which will open the Cannes Film Festival this time. This marks the first time in the festival’s history that a female director’s work has been chosen as the opening film.
By Gautaman Bhaskaran
It has been more than two decades since India found a place in Competition at what is considered to be the world’s most renowned movie festival in Cannes — which announced its official selections last week in Paris.
However, India — which produces the largest number of films year after year — did score a double whammy when two of its movies found a slot in A Certain Regard, a section that is second in importance only to Competition. Gurvinder Singh’s Chauthi Koot (The Fourth Direction) and Neeraj Ghaywan’s (a protege of Anurag Kashyap) Masaan (Fly Away Solo) will screen in this section.
Singh shot to prominence at the 2011 Venice Film Festival, where his debut Anhey Ghorey Da Daan (Alms for a Blind Horse) was shown. Chauthi Koot is very different from his first work. It unfolds in the 1984 Punjab, a State in turmoil, in the midst of Sikh militancy, in the midst of fear and suspicion. The movie explores the horrible plight of the common man as he finds himself trapped between the army and the extremists, demanding a separate homeland for Sikhs.
Unfortunately, really nothing much is known about Masaan, except that it will star Richa Chadda, who also essayed a part in Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur. The plot is said to unfold in Varansi.
Kashyap’s Bombay Velvet — which was heavily tipped to be part of Cannes — has been passed over.
It is rumoured that Fox, which produced Bombay Velvet, wanted it to be the opening film. One supposes that Cannes could not accede to this “demand”. Maybe, Kashyap will be back in the Directors’ Fortnight, a parallel section which takes places along with the Festival. His Gangs of Wasseypur was there a few years ago.
The Festival’s General Delegate, Thierry Fremaux, said while announcing the official line-up that about 10 more titles would be added in the coming days — before Cannes kicks off on May 13. Some 40-odd were named on Thursday — 17 in Competition, a section that last saw an Indian work in 1994, Shaji N Karun’s Swaham.
This year, Fremaux has attempted to shake things up a bit, which is quite unlike the French, who believe in eternal continuity. To begin with, the Festival’s 68th edition will open on May 13 with the work of a female director. In French, it is called La Tete Haute (Standing Tall) by Emmanuelle Bercot. This is the first ever occasion in the history of the festival that a film by a female director will set the 12-day event rolling on the French Riviera.
Standing Tall talks about a juvenile delinquent, Malony, and the efforts of a social worker to try and reform the boy as he travels into adulthood. Rod Paradot will play Malony, along with such celebrated actors as Catherine Deneuve, Benoit Magimel and Sara Forestier.
“The choice of La Tete Haute may seem surprising, given the rules generally applied to the Festival de Cannes’ Opening Ceremony,” explained General Delegate Thierry Fremaux. “It is a clear reflection of our desire to see the Festival start with a different piece, which is both bold and moving. Emmanuelle Bercot’s movie makes important statements about contemporary society, in keeping with modern cinema. It focusses on universal social issues, making it a perfect fit for the global audience at Cannes.”
Bercot is also an actress — who studied dance and whose talent was discovered by Cannes in 1997. Her short movie, Les Vacances, won the Jury Prize there. In 2001, her first feature, Clement, was part of A Certain Regard. She also acted in this film. Bercot made several movies since then, including On My Way in 2014 — Deneuve’s performance in this is rated as one of her best.
The official selections revealed that while some of the old timers would be there at Cannes Competition this year (but of course) — Jacques Audiard (with Dheepan, about a Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger working in Paris), Nanni Moretti (My Mother), Todd Haynes (Carol), Hirkazu Kore-eda (Our Little Sister) and Hou Hsiao-Hsien (The Assassin) — first-timers, such as Valerie Donzelli (Marguerite And Julien) and Norwegian auteur Joachim Trier (not Lars Von Trier) with his Louder than Bombs would also walk the Red Carpet.
Fremaux averred that “there are those who say, if you watch 1,800 movies (1850 were submitted this time for possible inclusion), how come the same names always get selected, this year they’ll see it’s not really the case...Not everyone is there. Not everyone is ready...When the big auteurs are present at Cannes, there’s stigmatism… but on the other hand when they’re not ready it’s not so easy to find the young or unknown auteurs, who are talented enough or in a position, to present a film in competition in the biggest movie festival in the world.”
Other debutant directors who made the cut in Competition include Hungary’s Laszlo Nemes with Son of Saul (about a prisoner who retrieves the body of young boy from the fire pits of Auschwitz in order to give him a proper burial), French Stéphane Brizés A Simple Man, (which follows his critically acclaimed A Few Hours of Spring), the established auteur, Denis Villeneuve with a New Mexico thriller about drugs, Sicario, Australia’s Justin Kurzel with Macbeth, and Greece’s Yorgos Lanthimos with Lobster.
Some important names did not figure in the list — at least not as yet (“We had to leave behind some movies we liked”, added Fremaux) and they were Alexander Sokurov (Francofonia, Le Louvre Under German Occupation, Gaspar Noe (Love)), Arnold Desplechin (My Golden Years), Hong Sang-soo (Right Now, Wrong Then), UK’s Terence Davies (Sunset Song), Ben Wheatley (High Rise) and Stephen Frears (Icon).
Gautaman Bhaskaran will cover the Cannes Film Festival this year, and he may be e-mailed at email@example.com
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