Back at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival to Discover More Great Cinema
by Alex Billington
May 14, 2012
Cannes. Is it just a city? Just a film festival? To many it's just a name, a town on the French Riviera, a far away place that is hard to reach, both in terms of career and distance. Like many film festivals all over the world, the Cannes Film Festival is indeed named after the city it's in, but to me it's more than that. It's my annual summer destination, where I spend half of May every year. It's a place to become engulfed by the experience, to discover and rediscover great cinema, to fall in love with films and filmmakers, to get lost and find yourself in a dark theater. I'm returning for my 4th year in a row and it's always an exciting adventure.
I think I've started to sound like a broken record every time I return to Cannes, writing some glowing piece at the start of the festival, once again rehashing my love for it and why I still return (then reevaluating the thought halfway through after seeing some really bad films). But, honestly, it's all true. And they are still the same reasons I keep returning. Last year (Cannes 2011) was a very memorable and incredible year, as my favorite film of that year, Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, was the final film that I watched there, on top of Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist and Jeff Nichols' Take Shelter (Nichols is returning again with his new film Mud premiering here) among plenty others, like Pedro Almodóvar's new film The Skin I Live In, too.
We, meaning my Quebecois friend Eric of IONCinema and I, also found the ideal apartment five minutes from the Palais and everything went so well, that by the end I was telling myself - as long as I can afford it, I will return to Cannes every single year. And I'd love to keep that up as long as I possibly can - it's worth it.
For those who may be wondering - what exactly is Cannes? Well, it's a film festival that started in 1946, but besides that, it's a small French town that gets turned into cinema heaven for two weeks every May. The red carpet and all the premieres take place at the Palais des Festivals on the Croisette, a huge building right on the ocean containing not only the 1000+ seat Grand Lumiere theater, but many other theaters big and small, from the Salle "DeBussy" and "Bazin" to smaller marketplace screening rooms. It's essentially where the festival happens, where I'll be seeing most films, and where the press office is (an important location at the fest). Here's a better picture from the water of the Palais for those curious where everything takes place:
Photo of the Palais by aamengus on Flickr
I'm not sure if it took me three years to get used to it, or to understand the mystique of Cannes, or to understand how to navigate the streets and crowds and just enjoy the films, but I genuinely love this fest. Many (including particular colleagues who have attended once before and never returned) may claim that Cannes is pretentious, or all about boring international films, or all about the Hollywood stars who walk the red carpet - and nothing more. While I won't deny those are important aspects of the fest for some, that's not my experience. I'm there for the films, to be with cinephile friends (like Eric & Raffi of The Film Stage) and the opportunity to see the premiere of world-impacting films inside the Grand Lumiere. Nothing like it.
While Cannes is in truth just "another film festival", one of many certainly worth attending, it has a high class reputation for a good reason. As long as that reputation and the must-wear-tuxedos-to-every-screening stigma (only true for premieres but not press screenings) aren't too daunting, it's easy to look past all of that and right at the films themselves. While I can't say there is another Drive on the line-up (yet), there are a few films that have the potential. Who knows? (Only Thierry Fremaux, head of selection, does.) Every film festival is about discoveries, good or bad, and about experiencing a movie for the first time. The Artist began blazing its long Oscar trail in Cannes last year, and that was way before there was any negative or any Oscar buzz to begin with (didn't really become frontrunner until the fall fests, Telluride & Toronto, in September).
So what else can I really say? I've already made the 24+ hour trek (three very long flights, plus one bus ride) out to Cannes and I'm already planning to be here seeing films for another two weeks. I always want to fall in love with as much as I can, and I hope there's as many as last year to enjoy, but only time will tell. In two weeks I'll have an entirely different picture of what Cannes 2012 will behold, what cinema gifts Thierry has decided to bestow upon us. Hopefully it will be another unforgettable year. But even if it isn't and there are some duds, I will still be excited to return next year. For another line-up of potential favorites, or disasters.
Here are some of the films I'm personally excited to see at Cannes 2012: Jacques Audiard's Rust & Bone, David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis, Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly, Jeff Nichols' Mud, Walter Salles' On the Road, Lee Daniels' The Paperboy, Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, Adam Leon's Gimme the Loot, Franck Khalfoun's Maniac, Benh Zeitlin's Beasts of the Southern Wild (for my second time!) and John Hillcoat's Lawless. (View the full line-up here.) The rest - I am waiting to discover.