The red carpets will soon be rolled out on the Croisette for the 71st Cannes Film Festival (8-19 May), the most prestigious film festival on the calendar. Actors and actresses, directors and producers, and assorted celebrities from all around the world are preparing to glow under the Mediterranean sun.
There will be parties by pools and on yachts. And there will be films — this year kicking off with the new film by Asghar Farhadi, Everybody Knows, starring Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, screening opening night. This year’s Jury President, our own Cate Blanchett, will preside over a diverse group of four woman and five men drawn from several national backgrounds. Over 12 days, the jury will watch every film screening in the official competition, while a number of side projects will have their own contests.
Aside from all the glamour, Cannes is the world’s busiest movie market, and prizewinners do especially well, although a prize is no guarantee of success. But for smaller films screening out of competition, or in the Un Certain Regard or Director’s Fortnight programs, any sort of recognition can make a huge difference.
Ahead of this year’s festival, why not catch up with this collection of past Cannes prizewinners, now streaming at SBS On Demand.
I Killed My Mother
Director: Xavier Dolan
Starring: Xavier Dolan, Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clément, François Arnaud, Patricia Tulsane, Niels Schneider, Monique Spaziani, Pierre Chagnon
Xavier Dolan’s debut film as writer-director, I Killed My Mother, made just before he turned 20, first screened during the Director’s Fortnight — an independent program of films chosen by the French Directors Guild that runs parallel to Cannes’ main slate. The film won three awards, including the Prix Regards Jeune, and launched Dolan as a Cannes regular, where all but one of his films have been awarded.
A semi-autobiographical exploration of the tumultuous process of coming out, I Killed My Mother charts the deteriorating relationship between 16-year-old Hubert Minel (Dolan) and his mother, Chantale (Dolan regular Anne Dorval), within the confines of the Montreal suburban home they share. Dolan captures both the fragilities and frustrations between mother and son, and the deep hurt each unleashes in the name of love.
I Killed My Mother announced an audacious cinematic stylist making images of visual and emotional daring. The eight-minute standing ovation I Killed My Mother received at Cannes wasn’t for nothing — it signalled the arrival of something special.
Director: Alice Rohrwacher
Starring: Alba Rohrwacher, Alexandra Maria Lungu, Sam Louwyck, André Hennicke, Monica Belluci, Sabine Timoteo
Italian filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher grew up in Umbria, where her parents — Italian mother and German father — were beekeepers. Memories of that very particular childhood help build her second film, The Wonders, about a family resisting modern methods of beekeeping and sliding into financial ruin. Rohrwacher crafts a beautiful yet unsentimental view of Italian country life. Shot in tactile 16mm, her film has the sparse realism of a documentary.
Starring sister Alba Rohrwacher (I Am Love, 2009), as Angelica, the mother of four girls and wife to irritable Wolfgang (Sam Louwyck), The Wonders emerges from the point of view of the eldest daughter, Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu). Two newcomers precipitate the 12-year-old’s coming of age — Martin (Luis Huilca), a silent young man who comes to work at the farm, and glamorous television presenter Milly (Monica Bellucci).
Rohrwacher elicits a maximum of feeling from a minimum of action. The Wonders competed for the Palme d’Or at the 2014 festival, but won the Grand Prix, effectively second prize. Rohrwacher has another chance at the top prize this year with her third feature, Lazzaro Felice.
A Short Film About Killing
Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski
Starring: Mirosław Baka, Krzystof Globisz, Jan Tesarz
A Short Film About Killing won both the Jury Prize and the FIPRESCI Prize (awarded by the International Federation of Film Critics) at Cannes in 1988. An expansion of the fifth episode of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s extraordinary television series, Dekalog — 10 stories set in contemporary Warsaw built around the Ten Commandments – A Short Film About Killing presents a bleak view of life in Poland at the end of the Communist era.
Using the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" as its framework, Kieślowski’s film presents three men on a collision course with each other — a middle-aged taxi driver (Jan Tesarz), a 21-year-old drifter called Jacek Łazar (Mirosław Baka) and a newly minted, still idealistic lawyer, Piotr Balicki (Krzystof Globisz). Drawing a line between the murder of a man by an individual and the murder of another by the state, Kieślowski creates a dehumanised and ugly world — a green-filtered lens and handheld camera work amplifies the suffocating bleakness.
Kieślowski, who died in 1996 at only 54 during open-heart surgery, is best known for his Three Colours Trilogy, but the troubling A Short Film About Killing remains one of his most powerful achievements.
Taste of Cherry
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Starring: Homayoun Ershadi, Abdolrahman Bagheri, Afshin Khorshid Bakhtiari, Safar Ali Moradi
Taste of Cherry shared the Palme d’Or in 1997 with Shohei Imamura’s The Eel, two outsider winners in a year that featured Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, Wong Kar-wai’s Happy Together and the Hollywood noir L.A. Confidential in the official competition. Arguably the least conventional of all these films, Taste of Cherry is one of Kiarostami’s most vital achievements, a master class in minimalism, form and intellectual cinema.
Kiarostami employs an ostensibly simple premise to reimagine the meaning of life and death, on screen and beyond the frame. A Tehrani man, Mr Badii (Homayoun Ershadi), wishes to commit suicide and drives around looking for someone to assist him, to bury his body or rescue him if he fails. He never explains why he wishes to die, but in the process, he has long conversations with three men who respond quite differently to the request — a young Kurdish soldier, an Afghani seminarian and Turkish taxidermist — and offer diverse perspectives on why Badii should choose life.
Kiarostami’s is a cinema of open spaces and sparse narratives; of humanism without sentiment. Nevertheless, Taste of Cherry is a very moving film because Kiarostami elicits our sympathies in unexpected ways.
Director: Todd Haynes
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Jack Lacy, Kyle Chandler, John Magaro
Every festival courts controversy. In 2015, Carol, Todd Haynes’ gorgeous adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel, The Price of Salt, was dropped in the middle of one when it lost the top prize to Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan amid suggestions that jury member Xavier Dolan had sabotaged the film’s chances of winning. Whatever happened behind closed jury doors we will never know, but Carol survived that drama to emerge as one of that year’s most sublime film experiences — that rare thing: a same-sex love story with a happy ending.
Rooney Mara shared the Best Actress prize at Cannes (with Emmanuel Bercot for Mon Roi) for her complex performance as Therese Belivet, an aspiring photographer working the toy counter of a New York department store in the lead up to Christmas. It’s here she meets Carol (Cate Blanchett), an unhappily married older woman in the process of divorcing. There’s an immediate spark — over lunch and other outings, a nervous attraction blooms into love.
Haynes lusciously recreates the 1950s, both physically and psychically. He appreciates just how much Therese and Carol have to risk by being together — the thrill and the danger of their desire tangible in every glance and gesture.
A Time for Drunken Horses
Director: Bahman Ghobadi
Starring: Nezhad Ekhtiar-dini, Amaneh Ekhtiar-dini, Madi Ekhtiar-dini, Ayoub Ahmadi, Jouvin Younessi
The Camera d’Or is awarded to the best first feature film. In 2000, Kurdish filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi won for his first, the poetically titled A Time for Drunken Horses. Ghobadi’s place in the Iranian New Wave is evident in his commitment to realism, location shooting and his use of non-professional actors. He learned his trade working on short films and as an assistant director on Abbas Kiarostami’s The Wind Will Carry Us (1999).
In A Time for Drunken Horses, the focus is on children — orphaned Kurds — struggling to survive. Without cliché or sentiment, Ghobadi stays close to his characters, five siblings, concentrating on the eldest girl and boy, Amaneh (Amaneh Ekhtiar-dini) and Ayoub (Ayoub Ahmadi), and their relationship with their severely disabled brother, Madi (Madi Ekhtiar-dini). They need money for an operation that might buy Madi some time, and undertake frequently dangerous work smuggling truck tyres across the Iraqi border.
The first film in the Kurdish language to have an international release, A Time for Drunken Horses is not explicitly political, nor does it rely heavily on symbolism to tell its story. But its impact is unforgettable.
France, Turkey, 2015
Director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Starring: Güneş Şensoy, Doğa Doğuşlu, Elit İşcan, Tuğba Sunguroğlu, İlayda Akdoğan, Nihal Koldaş, Ayberk Pekcan
Among the awards presented by the Director’s Fortnight program is the Europa Cinemas Label Award, given to a European film with the aim of increasing its visibility in the international market. In 2015, Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s debut feature, Mustang, was a winner, which helped promote the film to non-European audiences and led to Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for Best Foreign Language Film.
Mustang is a personal and evocative story about five orphaned sisters living in a remote and conservative village in Northern Turkey. An innocent, playful splash in the sea with some boys on their walk home from school one day sees the world dramatically shrink for the girls — banned from school, phones and computers, the house they live in with their grandmother and uncle becomes a sexually repressive prison.
Ergüven, who was born in Turkey, but grew up and went to school in France, makes complex use of space, to suggest both acts of restriction and resistance. The youngest of the sisters, spunky Lale (Güneş Şensoy), repeatedly finds ways to disrupt this subjugation — her hope lets the light in.
Director: Mike Leigh
Starring: Timothy Spall, Dorothy Atkinson, Mario Bailey, Paul Jesson, Lesley Manville, Martin Savage, Ruth Sheen
Mike Leigh’s historical drama about the great English painter JMW Turner (1775-1851) screened in competition at the 67th iteration of the festival. It didn’t win the Palme d’Or, but Timothy Spall rightly walked away with Best Actor for a performance that repeatedly dares us to love an unlikeable man.
Turner’s light-filled paintings of land, sky and sea are epic and expansive. But Leigh narrows the scope, to show us Turner, warts and all, in the final 25 years of his life. Turner emerges as complex and unheroic — the artist as a flawed, mortal being. He’s often rude, shambolic and rough, especially with his long-suffering housekeeper, Hannah Danby (Dorothy Atkinson).
Spall spent two years learning how to paint in preparation for the part, creating some 300 drawings and 20 full-size paintings — and sequences depicting the highly physical act of painting are among the film’s most impressive. Cinematographer Dick Pope saturates Mr Turner with a colour palette that references Turner’s own work, adding to the highly textured, visceral 19th century world Leigh creates. It’s so vivid and real you can almost smell it.