Yesterday was all red carpets and popped flash bulbs, as the Indie spotlight shone on those lantern-jawed titans that will be battling it out for the ultimate Cannes accolade of the Palme d'Or. In contrast, today's preview is more playful and sparky, a puckish gremlin tweaking the noses of said titans, as the focus shifts to the films screening as part of Critics' Week.
As much as we movie fans get excited by the big name auteurs of the official selection – your Dardennes, your Malicks, your von Triers, your Almodóvars – the main competition at Cannes can sometimes resemble the well-patrolled bastion of the art-cinema establishment, with newer talent effectively being blocked off by those engorged leviathans who can boast festival records as long as one of Mr. Tickle's arms. Just as well then that Semaine de la Critique, or Critics' Week, exists, with that independent event purposefully restricting itself to first and second-time filmmakers. Running from 12 to 20 May, this year will represent the 50th edition of Critics' Week.
For some reason (money), Nespresso has its coffee-fingerprints all over the Cannes Film Festival (money) and this year is no different, with the Grand Prize being named after that Clooney-endorsed brand (money). The jury president with responsibility over the Nespresso Grand Prize is Lee Chang-Dong, the Korean director who won the screenplay award at last year's fest for Poetry, a movie that still makes Indie editor Emma break out in a rash and start drooling like an Arkham Asylum inmate if you ever mention it to her.
Meanwhile, president of the jury for the short film award is Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski, the man behind Essential Killing (and someone Emma recently interviewed).
On to the selection itself, which was announced yesterday, and I'm going to be honest here and admit that the information provided about the featured films on the excellent Semaine de la Critique website easily outstrips my own. So, much of what follows is unadulterated orgy of cut 'n' pasting, with but a few interjections direct from the noggin of yours truly. Here we go...
Semaine de la Critique
La Guerre est déclarée (Declaration of War) (100 minutes), directed by Valérie Donzelli, starring Valérie Donzelli, Jérémie Elkaim, Gabriel Elkaim
'A couple, Romeo and Juliet. A child, Adam. Their fight, his sickness and, more than anything, their love story.'
Donzelli is best known as an actress, having appeared in, for example, Gilles Marchand's Who Killed Bambi?. She wrote the screenplay for Declaration of War with her co-star and real-life partner, Jérémie Elkaim.
1. Las Acacias (85 minutes), directed by Pablo Giorgelli, starring German de Silva, Hebe Duarte, Nayra Calle Mamani
'The motorway between Asunción del Paraguay and Buenos Aires. A truck driver must transport a woman he doesn't know. The woman is not alone. She's carrying a baby. There are 1,500 kilometres ahead.'
Baby-pulling-an-amusing-face alert! Google google splat!
2. Avé (81 minutes), directed by Konstantin Bojanov, starring Anjela Nedyalkova, Ovanes Torosyan, Martin Brambach
'While hitchhiking from Sofia to Ruse, Kamen meets Avé, a 17-year-old runaway girl. With each ride they hitch, Avé invents new identities for them, and her compulsive lies get Kamen deeper and deeper into trouble. Reluctantly drawn into this adventure, Kamen begins to fall in love with the fleeting Avé.'
3. 17 Filles (17 Girls) (90 minutes), directed by Delphine Coulin and Muriel Coulin, starring Louise Grinberg, Juliette Darche, Roxane Duran, Esther Garrel
'17 girls together take an unexpected decision that will change their peaceful little lives and leave them misunderstood by the boys and adults around them: they decide to get pregnant all at the same time. This is based on a true story that occurred in 2008.'
4. Sauna on Moon (95 minutes), directed by Zou Peng
'In Guangdong, the forefront of China's reform and opening-up, the business of a sauna, “Sauna on Moon”, is fairly flat. The boss, Wu, together with his team, pursues his dream and constructs an “entertainment kingdom” persistently with their wisdom, effort and positive spirit. Eventually, after a special “fashion show”, Wu cries for his uneasy success. During the period, some of his employees leave, some are imprisoned, some are still longing for a better tomorrow by his side...'
Longing for A Better Tomorrow? It is a John Woo classic. Have they tried Amazon?
5. The Slut (87 minutes), directed by Ben Asher, starring Hagar Ben Asher, Ishai Goaln, Icho Avital
'Tamar, 35, a beautiful young woman, lives alone with her two daughters. She can't restrain her sexual appetite and gives herself to several men of the village. Shai, a young veterinarian, just moved in the region, soon falls under the spell of Tamar. They quickly become lovers but will Tamar be satisfied with only one partner?'
6. Snowtown (120 minutes) directed by Justin Kurzel, starring Lucas Pittaway, Daniel Henshall, Louise Harris, Frank Cwertniak
'When 16-year-old Jamie is introduced to a charismatic man, a friendship begins. As the relationship grows so do Jamie's suspicions, until he finds his world threatened by both his loyalty for, and fear of, his new-found father-figure John Bunting, Australia's most notorious serial killer.'
The title might conjure up jolly images of this kind, but the film itself sounds as if it will possess a very grim undertow at the very least. The Jamie referred to in the synopsis is Jamie Vlassakis (played by Pittaway), currently serving four life sentences for his part in the real-life 'Snowtown murders' masterminded by Bunting (played by Henshall). In the highly unlikely event Santa does show up, he will most likely get a knife in the gut before even the second “Ho” can pass his cheery lips.
7. Take Shelter (116 minutes) directed by Jeff Nichols, starring Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Tova Stewart
'Curtis LaForche lives a peaceful life with his wife, Samantha, and daughter, Hannah, until terrifying dreams begin to consume him, causing odd behaviour that weakens his marriage and confounds his friends. But the strain can't compare with Curtis's private fear of what his visions may truly signify. Faced with disaster of one kind or another, Curtis confides in Samantha, testing the power of their bond against the highest possible stakes.'
Ooh, looks a bit like Twister, doesn't it? Man, what a great movie that was! And so deep! Helen Hunt's character saw her dad sucked up by a twister when she was a little kid so she grew up to be obsessed by them. Wow, that's like some major Sigmund Freud shit, right there.
Ignore my silliness, as I'm sure you already have done – Take Shelter is actually as close as the Critics' Week feature film line-up has to a star attraction, boasting as it does the acting services of Michael Shannon, of course just cast as General Zod in the new Superman movie, and Jessica Chastain, who appears opposite Brad Pitt in Terrence Malick's Tree of Life, the 11/4 favourite for this year's Palme d'Or.
Take Shelter director Jeff Nichols actually confirmed himself as a Malick acolyte in a Vanity Fair interview earlier this year (note he cites David Gordon Green as the other standard bearer for the TM legacy. Fair enough, but you do wonder what the old fella makes of his former protege's Your Highness). There would seem to be parallels, however, to draw between Nichols' latest film and another movie playing in the main competition, namely Melancholia by Lars von Trier, with both both seemingly using an apocalyptic event as metaphor for personal emotional turmoil – ooh, there's a nice little titbit to unfurl at the next dinner party you attend. Right after you've been sick in the coat cupboard.
Walk Away Renée (90 minutes), directed by Jonathan Caouette
'Filmmaker Jonathan Caouette embarks on a road trip to move his mentally ill mother Renée across the country. As they encounter roadblocks in the present, we begin to flashback to moments from the past, giving us insight into this anything-but-ordinary mother/son relationship. Through musical montage, psychedelic sequences and real and imagined circumstance, Walk Away Renée raises questions about love, sacrifice and the reality in which we live.'
Caouette is best known for his acclaimed 2003 documentary, Tarnation, which also focused on his relationship with mum Renée.
50th anniversary screening:
My Little Princess (105 minutes), directed by Eva Ionesco, starring Isabelle Huppert, Anamaria Vartolomei, Georgetta Leahu, Denis Lavant
'Hannah and Violetta are an odd couple: an elusive mother and a little girl in search of maternal love, a fanciful artist and her reluctant model. When Hannah asks Violetta if she would like to be her model, her life with her loving grandmother is turned upside down. From a normal childhood to muse of the trendy Paris art scene...'
With Huppert bringing the star wattage to this project, that might at least distract the hacks from asking just how close the film resembles the personal experiences of director Ionesco, who was a controversial child model for her photographer mother, Irina, and in 1976 became the youngest ever nude spread in Playboy, aged just 11.
Pourquoi tu Pleures? (Bachelor Days are Over) (99 minutes), directed by Katia Lewkowicz, starring Benjamin Biolay, Emmanuelle Devos, Nicole Garcia, Valérie Donzelli
'A few days before his wedding, a young man has to make unexpected decisions, face-to-face with his fleeting fiancé, the girl he just met, his mother, his sister, his unintelligible-in-laws, his pals and even the workers in his flat... Marriage or passionate love, family past or marital future, balloons or no balloons, flower petals or sugar almonds... How can he cope with such crucial issues?'
Another Critics' Week engagement for Donzelli, this time in an acting only capacity.
Short and medium length films:
Alexis Ivanovitch vous êtes mon héros (directed by Guillaume Gouix, France, 20 minutes)
Black Moon (directed by Amie Siegel, USA, 20 minutes)
Blue (directed by Stephan Kang, New Zealand, 14 minutes)
Boy (directed by Topaz Adizes, USA, 9 minutes)
Bul-Myul-Ui-Sa-Na-Ie (directed by Moon Byoung-gon, South Korea, 7 minutes)
Dimanches (directed by Valéry Rosier, Belgium, 15 minutes)
In Front of the House (directed by Lee Tae-ho, South Korea, 14 minutes)
La inviolabilidad del domicilio se basa en el hombre que aparece empunando un hacha en la puerta de su casa (directed by Alex Piperno, Uruguay/Argentina, 7 minutes)
Junior (Julia Ducournau, France, 21 minutes)
Permanências (Ricardo Alves Júnior, Brazil, 34 minutes)
Of the shorts, I most liked the look of Black Moon, a 'conceptual remake of Louis Malle's oddity of the same name from 1975, and Blue, which in spite of its title seems to have nothing to do with the UK tabloid-bothering boy band-turned-Eurovision hopefuls, but did make me think of both recent American indie, Kabluey, and that Spike Jonze-directed Daft Punk video with the dog wandering round New York City.
Read part one of our really big Cannes 2011 preview here.
The Shout, starring Alan Bates and John Hurt, is a blimmin' marvellous 1978 movie from Jerzy Skolimowski, president of the short film jury at this year's Semaine de la Critique. And those based in the UK can watch it in full and for free on IndieMoviesOnline.