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As The Film Unravels: Cannes 2015

As Sitting in a park in Paris, France… cue up Joni Mitchell’sBlue” album (get well soon, Joni). Sitting in that park in Paris after screening a couple of Cannes Film Festival titles (sales agents often have early screenings in Paris before the festival starts), one starts to salivate, wanting to see more and more films.

As I write this (now in Cannes), final preparations are underway before the festival begins tomorrow. Carpets are being nailed into place – both inside and outside the Palais. Journalists and film professionals are scurrying to the accreditation office to pick up their badges. Then everyone will take a deep breath before the races begin, and it does seem like a race. There never seems to be time to stop, reorganize yourself, and shift your screening priorities. (They shoot critics, don’t they?)

In terms of the festival slate, the number of veteran filmmakers with works in this year’s program is staggering. The official competition boasts names such as Kore-eda, Garrone, Moretti, Van Sant, Haynes (as in Todd), Trier (as in Joachim, who is approaching veteran status), Paolo Sorrentino, Jia Zhang-ke, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Denis Villeneuve (who had two films in release in the U.S. last year). Ahem, we won’t mention the lack of women’s names here – certainly no “veteran” female directors are gracing the competition, but that’s another article.

In other sections, masters such as Woody Allen take a bow without the stress of a competition slot. Naomi Kawase opens Un Certain Regard and the lineup in that sections features a new film by past Palme d’or winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul (remember that name and learn how to pronounce it; in a few years – if not now – you will be glad you did).
noteBold face names of the auteurist kind, Arnaud Desplechin and Philippe Garrel, both make appearances in the Directors’ Fortnight. Why Desplechin’s film, “My Golden Days,” is not in the competition will be the subject of debate in the days to come. And two stars known in front of the camera – Natalie Portman and Louis Garrel (yes, Philippe’s son) – will make their directing debuts on the Croisette: Portman will present A Tale of Love and Darkness out of competition at a special screening, while Garrel’s film “Les deux amis” will bow in the Critics’ Week.

Big names, maybe big films, hopefully big ideas. In the festival’s Classics section, some past movie giants will be remembered with new documentaries, among them Orson Welles, François Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock, Ousmane Sembène and Sidney Lumet. All of these names bring me back in Paris, where the Cinématheque Française is currently presenting an exhibition on the life and work of Michelangelo Antonioni. Beautifully mounted, it invites us to take in all aspects of this genuine Master of filmmaking.

From photos taken during production of almost all of his films, to his own abstract paintings to letters, cameras, music that inspired him (or did he inspire it?) and clips of his seminal films, the exhibit is a portrait not only of the man and his work, but the culture and politics of the times. Times which, of course, he prefigured in his films. In fact, I took a very low res (and compromised by the shine of the plexiglass) of a handwritten note to Antonioni from Roland Barthes. I had to capture at least a small portion of correspondence between these two cinematic intellectuals!

The Cinématheque Française and critics write of Antonioni and his heirs. How many of these heirs will we discover – or rediscover – on the Croisette this spring?  This is the beauty of the Cannes Film Festival: the conversation of images that will take place for twelve days in which our cinematic past can connect with its future.

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