Overlapping Dark Themes at the Cannes Film Festival

Following a limping opening with the controversial biopic “Grace of Monaco,” that was panned by the critics, condemned by the royal family of Monaco, and avoided by its American distributor Harvey Weinstein who was glaringly absent from the red carpet, the 67th Cannes Film Festival picked up steam and offered a delicious feast of international movies that kept film fans and critics drooling for 10 days. The movies in the competition selection were so compelling that punters struggled to pick one clear winner.

Although the films were varied in their style and subjects, their themes were sometimes strikingly similar. Ken Loach’s “Jimmy’s Hall,” which depicts the Catholic church’s pernicious hostility towards liberal thinkers in 1930s Ireland that led to the extrajudicial deportation of activist James Gralton to New York, echoes elements from Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu,” a grim portrayal of life under strict Islamic law imposed by fanatic Islamist group, Boko Haram, who ruled Mali for over a year in 2012 before they were pushed out by French forces, and currently are holding a group of Nigerian young girls hostages.

Meanwhile, three movies dealt with aging artists, who refuse to accept the passing of time and defy its impact on their health and career. Mike leigh’s “Mr. Turner,” offers an unflattering portrayal of celebrated 19th century British artist J.M.W. Turner (brilliantly played by the festival’s Best Actor Award winner  Timothy Spall), who denies his children, sexually abuses his maid, badly treats others and recklessly rejects his doctors’ advice to take care of his health, While Cronenberg’s satire on Hollywood, “Maps to the Stars,”  and Olivier Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria,”  both focused on middle-aged female actresses (played rivetingly by the festival’s Best Actress Award winner Julianne Moore and Juliette Binoche respectively) mentally crumbling under their desperate attempts to assert their relevance and regain deserving roles that are being awarded to younger peers.

“Maps to the Stars,” expands beyond the subject of aging actors and exposes the moral decadence in Hollywood, where people are ruined by their own arrogance and vanity and where one’s tragedy is another’s celebration. This subject resonated in Bennett Miller’s real-life wrestling drama “Foxcatcher,” in which a vain, self-possessed tycoon, John Du Pont (Steve Carell) inflicts pain and destruction on himself and olympic wrestlers Dave and Mark Schultz, who come from a humble background.

By and Large, films in this year’s prestigious film festival across the different competitions dealt with dark subjects, grim themes and tragic events. Un Certain Regard competition was no different, with offering like the Hungarian winning film “White Dog,” a dystopian Canine thriller that delves into contemporary ethnic cleansing, and one of the most pre-festival hyped movies and later one of the festival’s grandest disappointments, Ryan Gosling’s Lost River, a bizarre violent tale of a fractured family trying to survive in violent Detroit.

A particularly dark film from the out of competition official selections was post-apocalyptic thriller “The Rover” from Australian David Michod, in which life is cheap and humanity is stripped off its values as loners Robert Pattinson and Guy Pearce wreak havoc and leave a mountain of dead bodies on their road trip to seek revenge from a gang of thieves,

In spite of their grim themes, the majority of the movies in the main competition selection have found buyers, in addition to winners in other competition. “White God” was snapped up instantly by international buyers when it was announced as the winner of Un Certain Regard Friday evening. Having said that, other films, including the ones in the market, attracted little attention, and many left the festival empty-handed.

Jane Campion to lead Cannes Film Festival jury

New Zealander filmmaker Jane Campion is to lead the 2014 Cannes Film Festival competition jury, which will be tasked in handing out the prestigious Palm D’or and other top prizes to the approximately 20 competing films.

Campion was thrilled to receive this honour, she said in a statement posted on the festival’s website. “It is this world wide inclusiveness and passion for film at the heart of the festival which makes the importance of the Cannes Film Festival indisputable.”  she added. “It is a mythical and exciting festival where amazing things can happen, actors are discovered, films are financed careers are made, I know this because that is what happened to me!”

In 1993, Campion made history in Cannes when she became the first and only female director to win the Palm for “The Piano,” which went on to garner her an Oscar for Best Screenplay. The film, which tells the story of a mute mail-order bride who arrives to New Zealand with a large Piano, also netted Academy awards for actresses Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin.

Most recently, Campion and Hunter reunited on a television series “Top of The Lake,” which played in Sundance and screened on BBC 2. The show has received critical praise and a nomination at this year’s Golden Globes.

Campion succeeds Steven Spielberg, who presided over last year’s jury that handed the Palm D’Or to the highly controversial french drama “Blue Is the Warmest Colour,” which has become one of the most talked about movie of the year due to its explicit lesbian sex scenes and the infighting between the director and his cast.

The festival, considered the most prestigious in the world, is scheduled to be held May 14-24.

The Great Gatsby to Open Cannes Film Festival

Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan in The Great Gatsby

It has been announced today that Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby will open the 66th Cannes Film Festival, which will run May 15-24th.

Adapted from the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, the film follows the tragic figure Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he tried to re ignite a romance with Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), who is married to Tom (Joel Edgerton), during the Roaring Twenties. Rapper Jay-Z scored the movie.

“It’s a great honour for all those who have worked on The Great Gatsby to open the Cannes Film Festival,” said Luhrmann, who has twice been honoured by the festival for Strictly Ballroom (Un Certain Regard in 1992) and Moulin Rouge! (Festival opening in 2001). “We are thrilled to return to a country, place and festival that has always been so close to our hearts, not only because my first film, Strictly Ballroom, was screened there 21 years ago, but also because F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote some poignant and beautiful passages of his extraordinary novel just short distance away at a villa outside St Raphael.”

The film will open in 2D and 3D formats May 10th in the US, 4 days before its premiere in Cannes.