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Cannes must be the place

Last update - Sunday, May 15, 2011, 16:35 By Metro Éireann

Cannes is the global crossroads where culture, politics, art and business intersect. It’s where the global entertainment industry pays homage to cultural diversity – because it’s good business to do so. 

As jury president Robert De Niro said, the jury has undertaken to choose “films that are represented in the world of film at its highest level, and these types of festivals help connect the international film community and have a lasting cultural impact”. 

This attitude is reflected in the jury itself, which includes British actor Jude Law, American star Uma Thurman, Mahamat Saleh Haroun from Chad and China’s Johnnie To, among others.

Likewise, films come from all corners of the planet to participate in this cinematic Babel. And among the hundred or so selected in the official categories are two Irish films in competition.

This Must Be the Place is an Italian-Irish co-production directed by the talented Paolo Sorrentino and starring Sean Penn, who plays a former rock star living in Dublin who goes on a quest to find the Nazi war criminal who persecuted his father. Bono’s daughter Eve Hewson gets a supporting role in this socio-political road movie.

The other Irish film, The Other Side of Sleep, is in the prestigious Director’s Fort-night section. It is a dark and deeply emotional tale about Arlene, a sleepwalker who is confronted with a murder investigation in her rural community. The manner in which her sleeping and waking realities overlap and blur is what promises to make this film memorable.

In parallel with these two, another dozen are for sale in the Cannes market looking for global audiences, projecting Ireland’s identity and cinematic potential.

There’s no shortage of French images, either. One of them was Wednesday’s opening film Midnight in Paris, which could easily be mistaken for a tourism promotion, so lovingly are its legendary locations treated by the lens. 

Of course it also includes Woody Allen’s pithy wit and wisdom about the fickle nature of love and romance. Where better than Paris to continue such filmic forensics? Plus it has the added interest of including the president’s wife Carla Bruni in a bit part as a tour guide.

This frivolous casting contrasts with another film being shown out of competition, one where the president himself is the central character. La Conquete (The Conquest) is a scathingly dissection of President Sarkozy – a ridiculous caricature according to some, or a cringingly insightful parody to others. 

It recounts his relentless quest for power and doesn’t balk at poking around in the messy break-up of his marriage to his second wife Cécilia during the 2007 campaign and following his election to the republic’s highest office. 

With the 2012 election campaign looming, two things are certain: Sarkozy will not be walking up the red carpet for next Wednesday’s screening alongside the celebrities he normally loves to frequent; and the story of the screening will be front-page news for many days and months after.

Political in a radically different way is the third episode is the ongoing saga of Jafar Panahi, the inadvertent leading man in Cannes’ tribute to the raised fist of the Arab/Persian street revolts. 

Forbidden to leave Iran while awaiting trial for trumped-up charges alongside his colleagues, his absence is a most powerful statement than his physical presence. 

Unlike many like-minded but anonymously imprisoned freedom-seekers, he has a voice and widespread international support, through festivals and professional film organisations. Last year his was the empty chair on the jury, followed by a similar homage and retrospective in Berlin in February. This year, his presence and that of fellow filmmaker Mohammad Rasou-lof will be in their work only, with new films made “under semi-clandestine conditions”.

“The reality of being alive and the dream of keeping Iranian filmmaking intact have motivated us to overcome the restrictions we are up against,” wrote Panahi to the festival on 5 May.

In Film Nist (This is Not a Film), directed by Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, is a special screening in the Official Selection, and will be screened on Friday 20 May. This film recounts how for months Panahi has been waiting for the verdict of his court appeal. 

Through the depiction of a day in his life, Panahi and Mirtahmasb, a documentary filmmaker and former assistant director, present an overview of the current situation of Iranian filmmaking.

From relentless political reality-shows to insidious censorship, we live in contrasting worlds. Thanks be to Cannes for underlining these extremes.


Séamas McSwiney is an Irish film journalist based in France.

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