Cannes 2013: My Top Films of the Fest - 'Blue', 'Llewyn Davis' & 'Lost'
by Alex Billington
May 28, 2013
The best of the fest revealed. Over the last few years I've notoriously disliked the Palme d'Or winner in Cannes. Ironically enough, this year's Palme d'Or winner and Grand Prix winner happened to match my own #1 and #2 best films. And I wrote up this list on the flight home before the winners were announced. As a recap, I've also listed 4 other favorite films of the fest, ones that left an impression and have been lingering in my mind ever since first seeing them. My #1 film (Blue!) I saw late in the fest but it swept me off my feet and I fell in love with it, even though it runs 3 hours long (the longest film I saw). Other than that, I enjoyed a good variety of other unique films and wanted to highlight the best out of the 24 Cannes movies I watched.
As I was attempting to organize my top 5 favorites, I kept trying to include two specific films (The Congress, Jodo's Dune) that I felt really needed to be mentioned. So I decided to just list all six of these films, my favorites out of everything I saw the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Without further ado, here are my top films:
#1. Blue is the Warmest Color - Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche
Also known as La Vie d'Adele, or the Life of Adele. This phenomenal three-hour long exceptionally sensual drama is about an adolescent girl named Adele discovering she's a lesbian and exploring her sexuality with her first love Emma. While there is a ~10 minute all-out lesbian sex scene, that's not the (only) reason why it's so good. It's a comprehensive and utterly perfect look at love, and passion, in our modern society. The performances from the two leads, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, are remarkable. It would be hard to convince me they weren't actually in love in real life, as it comes through in every last scene, every frame. Give or take a few scenes that ran too long, this film is a masterpiece, my first thought the moment it ended. It shows that sexual preference is all about passion and wonderfully captures the pains of first love.
This is a film that will be controversially argued and endlessly discussed for its sexual content and focus on the LGBT community, however it has so much more to offer than just a simple story about a girl discovering her sexuality (since we also saw another film like that in the fest, François Ozon's Young & Beautiful). It's an achievement on many levels, especially in the way it captured so raw and so intimately the blossoming of this relationship. The more I think about the film, the more I love it, hands down my favorite of the festival.
#2. Inside Llewyn Davis - Directed by the Coen Brothers
This isn't the Coen Brothers film anyone was expecting, but they still nailed it. From the perfect production design and washed out look, to the cast and lead performance by Oscar Isaac (who I will be rooting for to get the Oscar) as folk musician Llewyn Davis, to the amusing but tragic story at its core, everything about this film is near perfect. While it may not be the greatest film ever from the Coens, it has stuck with me since first seeing it midway through the festival and has grown on me since. I can't wait to watch it again and listen to the soundtrack while gazing out my own snowy Manhattan window. The story doesn't provide any sort of enlightenment, but it's the way they tell the story and the performances that elevate it. Oscar Isaac should be getting accolades for this - he's incredible in it and gives my favorite performance of Cannes 2013.
#3. All is Lost - Directed by J.C. Chandor
Before the festival began I really wasn't expecting this to end up as one of my favorites at all, even though I was looking forward to it. However, the film that writer/director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) has made with Robert Redford is extraordinary, it's about so much more than just being lost at sea. This was the one film I went to see twice at the 2013 festival (I saw Post Tenebras Lux twice in 2012) because I had the chance to see it again and was more than willing to repeat the experience. Redford delivers one of his finest performances - without any dialogue, mind you - in many years. The film weaves an impressive amount of metaphors and societal commentary, on nature, humanity and patience, in a meticulous and affecting story.
#4. Jodorowsky's Dune Documentary - Directed by Frank Pavich
One of the very few documentaries I saw at the festival, I had a feeling this would earn a special spot in my heart considering I love sci-fi and behind-the-scenes stories. Jodorowsky's Dune is a fairly straight-forward but nonetheless incredibly fascinating look at Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky's attempt to adapt Frank Herbert's Dune in the 1970s, after 2001 but before Star Wars. Coming off of the success of Holy Mountain, Jodorowsky amassed an incredible team of talent - Moebius, H.R. Giger, Dan O'Bannon, Dali, among others - to develop an ambitious, visually astounding version of Dune. The project fell apart before it was made, but the doc explores its inception and all of the stories behind it, and hints at how much of an influence it had on many sci-fi movies that came after. An inspiring doc for any and every filmmaker.
#5. Bastards (Les salauds) - Directed by Claire Denis
My very first experience with filmmaker Claire Denis and it was a good one. There is just something about this film, her camerawork and the way she tells an especially complex story through intricate shots. It's a riveting film that demands the attention of the audience and will leave most viewers confused throughout, trying to catch up with what's happening and who's who until they finally put all the pieces together. While I wasn't happy with the ending (though discussions after made me reconsider), it's the fact that the end made me feel anything, even frustration, that makes this such an intriguing film. Stand out performances from the two leads, Vincent Lindon and Chiara Mastroianni, combined with the cinematography and tragic but heartfelt story of a lone wolf seeking revenge helped this earn a spot on here. Not for everyone, but I dug it.
#6. The Congress - Directed by Ari Folman
For some odd reason I was expecting to hate this film, but it's actually rather brilliant and probably the most thought-provoking feature out of everything I saw at the festival. The opening half (in live-action) focuses on Robin Wright, the actress, talking about the future of her career. It then gets kind of wacky as she jumps into a fully animated world created by movie studio "Miramount", made to almost look like old school cartoons updated. And from there it explores some incredibly ambitious and bold ideas about the future of entertainment and our society's obsession with celebrities and identity. It's a mesmerizing experience and worth seeing for the futuristic concepts it explores in an extremely unique way with some superb animation.
I saw this with my friend Raffi and love what he said in his review on The Film Stage: "While not without its issues across some aspects (some of the live-action scenes feel a bit stilted), one can overlook these faults in favor of the grand scope and ambition of Folman's larger oeuvre. This is a man pushing the boundaries of what's possible within the realms of cinema, proving that, if you have the imagination to dream big, you can execute some remarkable feats." It's those kind of big ideas that kept this film bouncing around in my head.
Honorable mention: Like Father, Like Son directed by Hirokazu Koreeda (a beautiful, beautiful film also worth seeing). You can find the full list of 24 films I screened here. There were a few other films I missed (and heard good things about as well) including: Borgman, Blue Ruin, Zulu and Le Grande Bellezza.
Coming out of Cannes 2013, all I want to do is champion some of the films that I saw there and loved. The Congress, Bastards, All is Lost and Blue especially need plenty of support. They need to break out of the small French town they premiered in and make an impact on the world. At the least I wanted to recap my favorite films this year, which is the first time I've done this for Cannes. By the last few days I was starting to put together a clear list and I knew exactly why they were my favorites, because of their accomplishments and because of how they stuck with me through the fest. The best cinema evokes empathy and makes us feel the same emotions, passions, frustrations and desires as the characters in them, and these certainly do that.
Be sure to keep an eye out for these films at other festivals or eventually in theaters. I recommend seeing all of these and encourage discussion and reflection after each one. They each have something unique to offer, but are the kind of films that I hope spread from the Croisette out into the world. All our Cannes coverage.