Death at Cannes


The Cannes Film Festival always reflects the vicissitudes of the world. And if tens of thousands of film professionals flock each year to the Croisette, it is mainly to better understand the world we live in through the eyes of old, young, and new talents. Artists, after all, help us see more clearly what we may only sense in a disorderly manner.

This year, the official competition line-up only showed two properly political films. And both were awarded top awards by the Cannes jury headed by the Coen brothers. Dheepan, by French director Jacques Audiard, scooped the Palme d’Or while the French actor Vincent Lindon received the best actor prize for The Measure of a Man by Stephane Brize.

Dheepan is a tense film about a Tamil Tiger fighter who flees Sri Lanka with a woman and a young girl. They pretend to be a family in order to obtain refugee status in France. However, their life in a banlieue estate run by drug dealers, is not the peaceful environment of which they dream. They left a civil war in Sri Lanka only to find another war – a social war, almost as violent, in a rich European country.

As for The Measure of a Man, it shows the ruthlessness and growing inhumanity that big conglomerates impose on their workforce or, in other words, how capitalism crushes vulnerable individuals. Apart from Lindon in the leading role, the cast is made up of non-professional actors playing their real-life roles.

This year, however, politics were not the overriding concern of directors. There were no films about the plight of living under ISIL rule, no films about migrants drowning in the thousands in the Mediterranean, no films about the annexation of Ukraine by Russia, no films about the resurgence of racial segregation in US cities.

This year, it seems, film directors have been gripped by a more abstract topic. Indeed, if there was one overwhelming theme at Cannes 2015, it was death. Death in all its shapes and forms: suicide (successful or attempted), palliative care, murder, the inevitable death of elderly parents or the shocking and sudden death of children, the death of love, the death of a king, the slow decay of old age, and the death on a massive scale at the extermination camp of Auschwitz.

All this, alongside the lack of will to survive. In an historic or intimate setting, in a forest near Mount Fuji in Japan (Gus Van Sant’s Sea of Trees), or in a hospital room in Rome (Nanni Moretti’s Mia Madre), in a luxury spa in Switzerland for the rich and famous (Sorrentino’s Youth) etc. Festival-goers could simply not escape this fate.

The darkness of all these film directors’ thoughts worked in unison, combining to depict an atmosphere of universal pessimism, as if they all provided a kind of meta-commentary on the state of our world.

Even more striking, there was not one redeeming element in those films, not a single one offering some solace, except perhaps for those who decided to treat death in a fantasy or far-away world, such as Matteo Garrone’s excellent Tale of Tales, Yorgos Lanthimos’ surrealist Lobster, and Hou Hsiao Hsien’s beautiful The Assassin set in medieval China.

The Taiwanese director has not made a film in eight years, but offered the Croisette the only glimmer of hope when his highly trained assassin (the mesmerising actress Chu Qi) struggles to fulfil her contract and kill her target.

A world where redemption has become an old forgotten concept is what the Cannes Film Festival has delivered in 2015.

Excerpted from: ‘Death at Cannes’. 


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