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March 7, 2021

Cannes – Honours List 2016. A triumph for social cinema. Largest Romanian participation in Festival’s history

It is no longer a secret for anyone that Cannes, the largest film festival in the world, wanted and managed to connect itself to the most worrisome realities of the moment, thus offering a relevant political, social and emotional snapshot of the planet, in fact a more than necessary multilateral review. It is not at all surprising that the honours list of the 69th edition, which precedes the anniversary moment of 2017 when the festival will mark its 70th edition, is sounding the alarm which is also more than necessary. It was an edition of social dramas, and the honours list expressed this consensual context, stressing the responsibility of film directors and of the festival as a whole. We should recall that George Miller (“Mad Max”), chairman of the jury, reminded right at the start of the edition that “we have to change the world” and that the time of great stage settings, of oversized shows, of glamour is gone. The Australian film director was warning about the “planetary disorder,” the wounds and catastrophes surrounding us. George Miller concluded at the end that the jury sought to award those films that could become the portrait of the countries in which they were shot. The honours list does not contradict him. Moreover, it seems the debate within the jury, which started at 8 in the morning, was the longest in the history of the festival, being clear that sparks flew. At one point there was talk that Cristian Mungiu’s “Bacalaureat” was on the same level with “I, Daniel Blank” signed by the almost 80-year-old Ken Loach (United Kingdom). The scales favoured the latter also thanks to the film’s blunt social activism message in favour of the downtrodden, of the victims of red tape but also of “dangerous austerity.”

Seen through this lens, the honours list is consistent with itself, without being reproachable for moving away from artistic exigencies. On the one hand. On the other, as the custom goes, the festival tried also to offer a mirror for the constant preoccupations of film directors sometimes ironically labelled as “Cannes’s regulars.” Indeed, veteran Loach is more than that, he is in fact spoiled by juries, but not only by those on the Cote d’Azur. He won a series of awards in Venice, Berlin, San Sebastian, and in Cannes he has been for a long time subscribed to the Ecumenical Award. He is winner of a Palme d’Or (for “Le vent se leve” in 2006) and with the one he won now he enters the gallery of film directors with two of the highest awards, alongside Francis Ford Coppola, Shohei Imamura, Emir Kusturica, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, and Bille August.

“I, Daniel Back,” winner of the Palme d’Or, is a real story that does not plan to offer a simple show deprived of aesthetic ambitions or visions of the complexity of human nature. It simply looks for authenticity, harsh reality, having the courage to rebel (at his age, some scoffing him again, but it does not matter anymore) against inefficient and manipulative measures meant to eliminate protection for the helpless. We find in his film a fellowship of the unfortunate too. He himself ill, lonely, the main character comes to the aid of a single mother of two. This is not the place to engage in a wider analysis of the film in order to fully accept the film director’s plea at the award ceremony, when he emphasised that recent policies “have reduced people to poverty and are leading us to catastrophe.” Here we have the possibility to note how other films expose the austerity that leads to desperation, the constant, focused preoccupation with sensitive aspects of contemporary society, desperation, thus imposing a “remonstrative cinema.” The scaling of desperation is pushing things toward “the far right.” Ken Loach was scoffed on this topic too, being considered the author of “left-wing cinema for a right-wing audience.”

The second title on the honours list was Xavier Dolan’s “Juste la fin du monde” (Canada). At just 27 years of age, like a veritable grandson of the British film director, Dolan tackles life situations using a different compass. He had previously showed (“Mommy”, Jury’s Award, 2014) his interest in family ties set in rigorously presented social settings. Now, having a plethora of top French actors by his side (Natghlie Baye, Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel), the young film director depicts a family that has unusual reactions to the news that one of its members has returned home to, in fact, die. Unable to contain his tears at the award ceremony, crying just as he did in 2014, Dolan stated that he is tempted by “recounting the emotions of hurt people,” moving on to quoting Anatole France: “I have always preferred the folly of the passions to the wisdom of indifference.”

Cristian Mungiu (“Bacalaureat”) made a briefer and more sober statement when picking up his award. “Fait attention!” the Romanian said, seeking to mark the need for responsibility on the part of film directors in the contemporary world. Some castigated the conferring of the same award (Best Director) to Olivier Assayas (“Personal Schopper”). The French film director stated he is honoured to share the award with Cristian Mungiu. There were also gibes such as “thanks to Kristen Stewart,” his lead actress.

A simple look at the films whose lead actors won the main awards confirms the aforementioned statements. The Award for Best Actress was won by the nice Jaclyn Jose for her character in “Ma’Rose,” a story signed by Birllante Mendoza. The Award for Best Actor went to Shahab Hosseini in Ashgar Fahridi’s “The Client,” which also won the Best Iranian Film Screenplay Award. Consistent to itself, the jury conferred its award to Andrea Arnold’s “American Honey.”

A woman – Honda Benyamina – also signs the film that won the Camer d’Or award – “Divina” (Quinzaine selection). Up until the end, I had hoped that Bogdan Mirica’s “Dogs” would win an award in this category or in Un Certain Regard, but it was not to be.

One thing is certain and admirable. Romanian film industry has never had so many films and participants at any other edition before. Apart from the films that won awards – “Bacalaureat” (Best Director) and “Dogs” (FIPRESCI) – we also note the Revelation France 4 award conferred, in the Semaine de la Critique, to a Turkey-France-Romania coproduction, without forgetting, of course, Ada Solomon’s co-participation in Maren Ade’s “Toni Erdmann” (FIPRESCI in the Official Competition selection).

There were many films in other sections too, from Cinefondation to the short-reels’ competition, without forgetting the series of films included in the CORNER programme which took place at underground level in Palais but which featured lots of young people.

We cannot overlook the signing of a contract of collaboration between the Romanian film industry (represented by Minister Corina Suteu and CNC Director General Anca Mitran) and the French film industry. Just as impermissible would be to overlook the jury membership invitations extended to Radu Muntean in the short-reels’ competition, Anamaria Antoci in the Producer of the Movie competition, film director Anca Damian in Talents Adami Cannes, film critic Bujor I. Ripeanu in FIPRESCI.

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